2010 says: You’re on your own, software user!

Having spent much of the last few months consulting on two projects implementing new software tools/systems, I’m intrigued by two very different attitudes within the same company. One camp seems to think the company should develop extensive training guides and resources to help all the users learn/migrate to the new software. The other camp seems to think that the new software is pretty consistent in interface with most other software and fairly user friendly. (The thinking in the latter camp is that any user who needs to use the software regularly and is modestly familiar with modern software should easily be able to learn on the fly.)

Since I’m an advocate of moving users from something familiar to something new — and I know I’m not alone in the industry in believing that to implement change, you have to acknowledge current state before you can move to future state — I understand the first camp’s reasoning. But I also understand the logic of the second camp. It does seem that hand-holding users to learn new software has gone the way of the dinosaur. Gone are the manuals. Gone are the in-software help apps. (Help is increasingly appearing as a purely on-line phenomenon with installed software.) We seem to live in a software world now, so doesn’t it make sense that software skills (generic — not tied to a particular piece of proprietary software) would be a core requirement of employment? At one time, knowing how PC software worked was probably considered marketable. But I think that ship has sailed, and it seems others think so as well. But, again, not everyone I talk with thinks so. And I wonder if The Software Generation Gap has anything to do with it. Do those who still consider computing “new” expect to be trained while those who already understand software (and consider it part of their everyday life) don’t see it as any different from other new technologies they learn on their own?

In your personal computing (at home), it’s up to you to learn your software, isn’t it? So, don’t hold back; tell me what you really think on these questions:

  • In a corporate environment, are you (the employee) responsible for learning to use new software, or do you think your employer owes you training?
  • It is reasonable in 2010 to expect an employer to develop and support training for each new piece of software, or is it more reasonable to expect that knowing how generic software works to be a core skill of the employee for their employment?
  • Is most non-proprietary software hard enough to learn that it requires training? Or is software becoming generic, uniform, and consistent enough that once you’ve learned a few pieces, a motivated user should be able to learn nearly any other piece of software sans training?

Lastly, I’d like to specifically ask those of you who run your own companies or employ others: would you hire candidates who didn’t already know how to pick up any generic piece of software and at least understand how to begin exploring it without assistance?

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