A Weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch





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March 29, 2002

Starting to Surf

© 2002, Douglas E. Welch


A few years ago, I was a volunteer at my local library. What started out as a few introductory Internet classes turned into a 5 year stint helping anyone who came to open up the wonders of the Internet. I gave this class to over 2000 people over this time and each and every class was enlightening. It is often said that in teaching you learn as much as you teach. I learned about people and how best to communicate high-tech topics to even the most novice computer users.

So many people had heard of the Internet, but they had little idea what it might do for them. My goal was to send them away, after about an hour, with the skills they needed to sit down at any web-connected system and start finding the information they wanted. If you can find a similar way of connecting with these types of clients you can dramatically increase the scope of your high-tech career.

How it works

Right off the bat I would give my students a quick and dirty overview of how the Internet works. I am sure my explanation would have appalled your average computer guru, but I found that relating Internet concepts to things people already knew dramatically increased their understanding. The simple equating of URLs to phone numbers set the stage for their first leap into the Web.

Almost everyone in the class had seen a URL on the side of a bus, in a magazine or at the end of their favorite television show. I would show them how to open the browser and enter one of these URLs. The look on their faces was priceless. Something that had been arcane just a few minutes ago suddenly became clear...and fun. After a few more examples most everyone was hooked. They now had access to all those neat recipes from Food TV, the NASA Information for their kids science fair project and the companies their retirement accounts were invested in. Before long they were calling out URLs for me to load so that they could see them for the first time.

The world opens up

Now that everyone was hooked, it was time to "kick things up a notch," to quote Emeril Lagasse. I quickly showed them that even if they didn't have a URL, there were places to go that could help them find the info they engine web sites.

Showing these users how simple it was to get the answers to their questions blew them away. As before, the students shouted out items they wanted to search for and I gladly showed them how. I gave them a few tricks for narrowing their searches and a list of search engines to get them going. Then, it was over.

I would continue to answer questions until the library staff literally pushed us out the door, but I was reasonably sure that I would see these folks the next time I walked into the library, huddled around a computer, enjoying their new found informational freedom.

Beginner’s Mind

The most important thing to remember, as a high-tech careerist, is that you are going to meet people who don’t know what a URL is or how the Internet works. Those who don’t know, but want to learn, make up an important base of clients. If you can help them to understand, without talking down to them, you can almost guarantee the improvement of your career. High-tech people who can communicate clearly with the novice are in great demand wherever you go.

Develop innovative ways of communicating complex concepts in simple ways. Work hard to understand where confusion lies and how it may best be dispelled. When you find yourself getting frustrated, think back on the time when you didn’t know these concepts. A time when you were as confused as those you are teaching.

The next time someone comes to you with a question, take a moment to reflect on all that you have learned over the years and what it was like to not understand high-tech concepts. Take a moment to collect your thoughts. Take a moment to truly assist someone else a few steps down the road to high-tech enlightenment. You will find that you benefit from this experience as much as those you are helping. Each meeting is an opportunity to grow, both as a person and as a high-tech careerist.

about this column.

Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on Douglas' web page at:

He can reached via email at

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