Celebrating Excellence in Communication within IT in NZ

Posted on July 22, 2013


I’m flying a kite – looking for feedback and a vague non-committal indication of support in principle – or at least an idea of who I might talk with to begin a conversation.

I’m thinking that there is an opportunity to address the standard of communication seen in computing graduates. I want to produce a book/let that celebrates communication standards within the NZ IT industry.

All ITPs have courses on communication within their degrees. Universities are similarly developing communication courses. Our students know to “suit up” for professional presentations. Besides looking smart, the suit signifies to the students that a higher level of professionalism is required in assessments. And it works. But take the suit off, or they know the assessment is not for “Dr Red-Pen-Dragon”, then the standard slips. Plummets in fact.

Besides consistent feedback in every industry survey ever, I have spoken to colleagues from several institutions. The consensus is that the standard of communication is not at a level we should be proud of. By communication, here I’m referring to everything we might consider under a professional practice banner: from code comments to technical reports; everything from formal presentations to answering the phone and behaviour on social media; and everything from ethics and sustainability to standards of dress.

The problem is not that it isn’t being taught – it is. The problem is not that they can’t – most of them can. I believe a big part of the problem is that students think it doesn’t matter. They are convinced that no one cares what it looks like – so long as it works, no one will notice the spelling.

So. I propose a book that celebrates excellence in communication within IT in NZ.

At this stage I’m imagining case studies of communication expectations from the big companies (that students across the country will know and respect) and the smaller ones many of them will actually work in. In as far as companies are prepared to share, what are their standards of communication? Do they have standards, and how are they maintained? Examples?

I don’t think the intention is to duplicate texts such as Bliq and Moreto’s Technically Write, although we might want to explore how much such detail would be needed to make it a useful resource. Nor will we have space to reproduce tomes such as Microsoft’s style guide, but rather should celebrate the fact such things exist.

I’m hoping that it can be nicely designed, be properly edited and be distributed to every incoming IT student nationwide with an accompanying website. Jade’s John Ascroft points out we’d need to proof-read it REALLY carefully (thanks for volunteering John).

So. What do you think? Do you know who I should talk with? Would your organisation be keen to contribute material? And what might be the nature of that material?

Update (1/8/13). From the businesses I’ve spoken to so far, there is a diverse mix of approaches out there – some do indeed strictly enforce style guide approaches, others prefer that staff “get” the importance and would like to see student reading Shakespeare. In the middle are approaches that focus on empathy in communication, and strategies to overcome personal weaknesses.