ELI5: How these senior engineers translate their work to non-technical colleagues

by John Siegel
September 14, 2017

Tech companies are known for the technologies they develop, but a look at most rosters will reveal that engineers are often outnumbered by sales, marketing and ops employees. For many engineers, explaining their work to those colleagues takes a certain amount of finesse. Here’s what three engineers have to say about translating heavy tech jargon into digestible information that others can understand.


With employees spread across several offices all over the world, Tala engineers often have to translate information into terms that can be understood by anyone — and then literally translated into several other languages. Thankfully, said Sev Burmaka, software engineering manager, many employees possess a passing familiarity with the tech team’s work.

"We are very lucky in that many of the non-engineering employees at Tala have a fairly solid technical knowledge, and we work cross-functionally often enough that we pick up each other’s language," Burmaka said. "When further explanations are needed, we’ll hold brief one-on-ones or schedule a broader meeting if there are multiple people who are curious."

Burmaka and his team don't stop with surface-level explanations of the new features they are working on. Since coming on in May, Burmaka and his engineering colleagues have been hosting presentations to convey new updates to others in the company, which have been well received, he noted.

"Every few weeks, we host a sprint review where we share the latest updates of each product with the team," he said. "These have gone from jargony presentations, to an engaging afternoon, often involving app demos. We find this important to our team because we can usually highlight how the work of different functions comes together in our product updates."


Currently, in the process of building the company's second app, Betagig co-founder and CTO Melissa Hargis doesn't approach communication with non-tech colleagues any differently than she would to her team.

"I don't often have to play the role of the educator to non-tech folks within our company or in dealings with clients," she said. "I simply have a way of abstracting away the engineering details when communicating with the non-tech types. People are smart, they get it."

As in any company, Betagig’s team has a multitude of backgrounds and skill sets. Hargis said part of her job as a chief technology officer includes facilitating the sharing of new processes or strategies among her team members.

"Within our engineering team, we all have certain expertise that we have to teach each other."


El Segundo-based Ace Metrix offers a platform that provides a suite of video analytics to help marketers more effectively reach consumers. Instead of explaining product updates using tech-speak, Patrik Braun,  vice president of Core Data Systems, prefers to convey technical details through numbers.

"Most of the issues that need explaining throughout the organization are math related," Braun said. "Our team is generally expressing the math in code, but we're not responsible for explaining the purpose and origination of the math itself. When we do have something interesting to explain, it usually gets presented to the rest of the company in a large meeting. I tend to focus not on the technical side of what we're talking about and more on what it means for the audience."

While explaining the numbers might be relatively straightforward, Braun admitted that part of his job is to break down complicated-sounding processes into sentences that just about anyone can understand.

"Saying, ‘We developed a new persistence tier using this technology and that pattern,' gets a lot less traction than 'We made this part of the service architecture go really fast and here's how in a nutshell,'" he admitted.


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