Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting By in Portuguese

I spent the last week in Lisbon, Portugal. My husband was there on business, but I wasn't, so I was free to go wander around the city, see all the tourist traps, stuff myself silly with all sorts of delicious food, etc. All in all, a great time.

There was only one drawback: I don't speak any Portuguese at all. I did learn "obrigada", "bom dia" and a few other key phrases, but effectively I was mute. Now, I got lucky in that there were many helpful people who spoke English, and I was able to get by. I was also helped by context; for example, when I was buying a bottle of water, I knew the next phrase in a simple purchase was probably going to be the price, so I knew to get out my money. Gestures and other contextual indications let me complete transactions successfully.

Now what does this have to do with software?

It's all about language. I got by but didn't thrive in Portugal because I couldn't speak the common language. The same is true in software, and particularly in software management.

If you speak the common language - pipelines and queues, or REST APIs, or whatever your jargon is - you can thrive. If you don't speak the common language, you'll never do more than get by on context and people who are feeling helpful.

So learn the language - and thrive.

2 comments:

  1. Exactly - I've been learning Ruby on Rails and now that I know the basics of that I have a much better grasp of what the devs are talking about and the work they are doing.

    Learning actual languages can also help in testing - here's a blog that shows how knowing Portugese ( and mobile telephony lanuages ! )helped

    http://spin.atomicobject.com/2011/09/08/converting-utf-8-to-the-7-bit-gsm-default-alphabet/blog entry

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  2. Many times Portuguese speakers don't understand you even if you know the right thing to say - if your accent is a little off. So I think it's not just about language, it's more about communication in general: being in tune with others, which is important for foreign countries and teamwork alike.

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