I try to teach them the basic concepts more than just how to do specific things (though this doesn't fit everyone's learning style). For example, always read what error messages say before freaking out.

What are your strategies?

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    Maybe you can use UML? :P hehehe – user4100 Aug 24 '09 at 6:45

The latest xkcd sums this up splendidly.

enter image description here

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    Might not want to answer your question right away, it looks 1. redundant or 2. spam. – RCIX Aug 24 '09 at 5:10
  • how timely of the xkcd strip for this question :) – Nick Josevski Aug 24 '09 at 5:44
  • @RCIX: it could be construed as spam, but I put some of my answer in the question text. I'll leave it up to the voters. And I would like to hear other people's actual answers as well. – jtbandes Aug 24 '09 at 6:03

Slowly and usually with Metaphors referring to cars!

  • I often try and use Metaphors and for men cars seem to work best. – Paul Woodward Aug 24 '09 at 10:30
  • When did "Metaphor" become a proper noun? – nohat Sep 18 '09 at 21:11

Link everything with real-world examples. Explaining arrays, for example, I use a small town, with one or more street of one or more houses, each person remembering a value.

If you can, try to link things with something the person has a good interest, or grasp of.


I usually try to teach them how to use google to solve their problems. This may sound stupid to some but I have noticed that many non-computer-people have a hard time searching the internet the way they want. And the problems they have are most likely very common and they will find lots of solutions once they know how to search for them.

  • I tell them to think like the clues on the the game show Jeopardy and phrase their question in the form of an answer. Don't search for "How big is France?" - A question likely to point them to other people who also don't have an almanac. Do search for "France's land area is"... - This teaches them to use keywords (e.g. land area) likely to be in the answer they are looking for. – Chris Nava Aug 24 '09 at 22:08

In an office, business environment I try to refer to things as office / business functions.

Replication is like memos being handed around File server is like a filing cabinet. Backup server is like a record management archive room

Stuff like that.

I know people who use various metaphors and get people so mixed up in things that it confuses the user more than helps them. Keep it simple.


For non-technical-persons who want to buy a computer, my advice is: buy a Mac. Not only because it just works but also because I can help them on that platform.

The general advice is: buy something that your friends, colleagues, family know well so that they can help you.


People tend to find computers impersonal, faceless, inscrutable objects with a whole culture and vocabulary of their own attached... Not sure how this feels, but I can remember the intimidation I felt the first time I sat in front of a PC:

C:\> _

The difference was, I had the patience and inclination to read the DOS manual cover to cover.

The most important piece of advice I have for novice users is: Don't panic (if someone is the panicky type, stick this near the computer on a post-it with a smiley face beside it). Second is: Google is your friend. You will probably need to show them how to use Google properly.

If that fails, be available. Being free tech support for family and friends is the price you pay for your ease with a computer. Get used to it and try to be nice about it. The computer is scary enough without you adding to it.


Very carefully. I also make sure to talk slow and use small words.

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