Do you harbor a little stress around using the newest tech tools at work? The solution is to take a Slack class, right? Or should you start with GSuite? While that’s a good plan, the easiest place to start may not be a class at all. Instead, tech meta-learning is a shortcut to handle any tool you’re asked to adopt.
This is not unlike the experience of renting a car. Sure, when you first get behind the wheel at the airport, you feel a little uncertain. How does the car start (key or keyless)? Where are the windshield wiper controls? How do you adjust the side mirrors? Can you connect your phone? You go slowly, observe what’s in front of you and apply what you already know to this new situation. The fact is, you’ve been driving a car for decades. It’s just a matter of getting oriented to the particulars of this car, and starting out with a teeny bit of caution.
Similarly, when your company adopts a new tech tool, or when you’re applying for a role where you may be called upon to use unfamiliar technology, it’s natural to feel a little uncertain. While some newish tools are ubiquitous (Slack, for example), it’s highly likely that you’ll also be called upon to use a more specialized SaaS (Software as a Service) tool that you really can’t prepare for. So more than training on specific tools, I’ve found it valuable to focus on a few key habits that set me up for success–and give me the confidence I can handle just about any software.
Slow down, establish peace of mind
My husband teases that I’m a magician: When he asks me to help with a software issue, as soon as I stand by his desk and he attempts to demonstrate the problem, suddenly everything works. My hypothesis is that there’s no magic (well, obviously!), it’s just that my presence has slowed him down. When you slow down, you can read the instructions in order, you see where the design is guiding you to click, and you can suddenly take in the full ecosystem of the screen. So, step one, take a breath!
Talk back to the voice in your head
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies when it comes to tech, and if you’re over 50, chances are you have a voice in your head that announces this loud and clear. It says, “I’m too old to get this,” or, “Why do I need to learn another new tool at this point in my career?” No. While digital natives at first glance appear to be more intuitive with technology than we digital immigrants, research actually shows that to be a myth. Be willing to think of yourself as capable. You can do this! And new tools are new for everyone, no matter the age. The intimidation is all yours, so banish it from your head.
Learn the new language of visual design
User experience/interface designers across platforms have a common graphic language they share and incorporate into sites and tools. If you can become cognizant of the universal visual cues, your understanding will carry across many platforms. For example:
- A carrot > indicates a hidden menu that can roll out.
- A button with color means “on;” no color means “off.”
- Click on the bell icon to see notifications.
- The gear icon is where settings are located.
- The link to log in will often appear smaller and sometimes below the button to sign up.
These patterns may all be obvious once pointed out, but developing an awareness of visual cues reduces stress and opens you up to quick competence.
Observe the shortcuts of others
I make a point of glancing over the shoulder of others at their phones or desktops whenever possible (unless it’s creepy). This is because I’ve noticed that even when I have solid knowledge of a program, watching someone else use it always yields tricks I hadn’t thought of. And it doesn’t have to be in person. Any YouTube instructional video about software is an opportunity to look over the shoulder of an expert.
Google it, without judgment
Which leads to the final point: Whatever is stumping you, there’s a 100% chance someone has created a short video to demonstrate how to solve it. Sure, courses are great, but most important is just a willingness to jump in, play with the tool and learn at every speed bump. At the speed bump, Google it! And most importantly, no judgment. Catch that voice in your head that criticizes your need to learn from someone else. Digital natives do it, too!
Finally, f you’re interested in learning some common new tools like Slack and GSuite, here’s a guide to do that and how to practice.
I hope rather than stressing over specific tools, tech meta-learning will give you the confidence to tackle whatever technology comes your way. Figure out how to start that car, proceed with a slight modicum of caution before getting on the freeway, and then you’re on your way!
Nancy Branka is founder of Startup Decoder, which offers resources on startup employment for those over 45. She headed up content for an early-stage startup for four years, and prior served as managing editor of Executive Travel magazine, an American Express Publishing title. She lives in the SF Bay Area.