This, Jen, is the Internet

There’s this great show called The I.T. Crowd about three people working in an I.T. department. One of them, in classic sitcom fashion, has no idea what she’s doing. She knows nothing about I.T., including what the letters I and T stand for.

When she’s voted employee of the month and gets to give a speech to the shareholders, the other members of the department are furious. Long story short, they end up giving her a box with a red light on it and tell her it’s the Internet. The whoooole Internet. They recommend that she should present it to the shareholders, and that it would get quite the reaction.

Her coworkers’ attempt to humiliate her backfires, however, when the shareholders also believe it is the Internet. Like Jen herself, the shareholders have no idea what she does for a living.

In a way, I can sympathize with Jen (although I know quite well what I’m doing for a living). When I first moved to the Silicon Valley, my tech knowledge ended at some basic HTML. When the head of the engineering department told us about the unicorn sending out workers to keep the system running, I accepted it without question (as I should have – he is wise in the ways of science. Er, coding). But the phrase “a unicorn sends out workers to retrieve it” struck chords of “this, Jen, is the Internet” in me. I wanted to learn more about what happened on the back end, both so I had a better understanding of how our system works and so I could help keep work flow smooth between the departments.

In particular, there were three quotes from The I.T. Crowd that actually helped me accomplish this, by showing me the opposite of how to act:

  1. “I like you, Jen. You don’t ask questions.” First, I started keeping lists of the questions that came up for me during the week. This helped me find common themes in what I didn’t understand. Knowing where to start was a challenge, and keeping track of questions that I (or others in my office) had helped me to identify the best place to begin.
  2. “I have it on good authority that if you type ‘Google’ into Google, you’ll break the Internet.” Instead of listening to random hearsay, I went to Meet Up events where people were discussing some of these same themes – search engine functionality became a popular topic, and it actually led me to groups and events about SEO.
  3. “I have a lot of experience with the whole computer…thing. You know, emails, sending emails, receiving emails, deleting emails. I could go on.” I brought some friends with me to these panels, and together we made sure to take a more hands-on approach to getting better acquainted with code by signing up for Codecademy, Team Treehouse, or a few other free online intro classes through several universities.

As painful as it is to admit, this was also a great example of the benefits (albeit small) of T.V. in everyday life. Who knows, maybe next Liz Lemon will teach me the best way to leave a meeting.