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Cocktail Party Computer Science: How to Build a Conversational Knowledge of Tech

You’ve got email, Facebook and even spreadsheets down pat. You can show off with some cool keyboard shortcuts, and you regularly back up your photos and files. (Well done!) But do you head for the buffet table when the party talk turns to technology?

Are terms like SSD, OS and NFC just alphabet soup to you? Do you get tongue-tied when your colleagues debate Apple’s next product release? Never fear! Cocktail Party Computer Science is here! With the three tips below, you’ll soon be up-to-date and ready to converse about almost any tech topic – no C.S. degree required!

Whether you’re going to start the conversation or just join one, you’ll need to start by having some general subjects to chat about. Categories you can consider in this case include: computers, mobile phones and tablets, gadgets (Google Glass or smart watches, anyone?), websites, apps, companies (think Apple, Google, Microsoft and the like), gaming, security, social media, and personalities (Marissa Mayer, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, etc) — Just to name a few.

As with all small talk, being prepared to talk about a few topics is often the key to getting a conversation started or just feeling confident about participating in a discussion. So, choose some subjects that you’re interested in as well as some that you think would be interesting for most of the people you might be talking to.

Even if neither you nor your conversation partners work in tech or have it as a hobby, your lives are almost definitely filled with tech. So, think about how computer science is connected to your jobs, hobbies, family, home, city, vacations, etc, etc. And then follow those leads when you’re looking for topics to explore.

Once you know what you want to know, you need to decide how much time you have to devote to learning about it. It doesn’t take long to build up a bank of general knowledge about tech. If you can carve out just five to ten minutes a day, you’ll be well on your way. I know, I know – You don’t have any free time. Who does?! Well, actually, we all probably have at least a few free minutes each day. We just have to look for it…

How about when you’re standing in line for your morning macchiato, waiting for your dentist appointment, walking your dog or trying to fall asleep at the end of the day? As you’ll see from the next point, you can increase your knowledge of tech almost anywhere so all of those moments are perfect opportunities to concentrate on your cocktail party cleverness.

And, if nothing else, you can gain a lot of insight by just asking questions and listening closely when discussions turn to tech. So, instead of spending your next coffee break scrolling through the latest GIF’s on Tumblr, try following along with the computer science talk in the kitchen and maybe even asking your colleagues to finally explain some of those mysterious terms to you.

Now comes the fun part – picking out the “tools” you want to use to beef up your knowledge. All of them are easy to use and provide a virtually endless stream of information so you’ll always find something fascinating to bring up at the next company soiree.

  • Tech news sites: free and fast! These sites cover the top tech stories so they’re an easy way to structure and streamline your reading. Examples: MashableTechmemeGizmodoTechCrunch, ReadWrite, Wired, The Verge
  • Apps: curated news right in your pocket. If you want to build your computer science knowledge on the go, there are plenty of handy (and beautifully designed!) apps that pull together interesting news from a wide range of sources.
    Examples: Feedly, Flipboard, Yahoo News Digest, Paper (from Facebook), Interesting (for iPhone), Circa News, News360
  • rss: just click to subscribe. Even though some people say rss is a technology that’s on its way out, you can still use it to subscribe to the feeds of websites you’re interested in (usually by just clicking on the orange rss icon on your websites of choice). Then, get yourself an rss reader and watch the stories stream in.
    Examples: AOL Reader, Reeder 2 (iOS & Mac), gReader (Android), Digg Reader
  • Google: lmgtfy! (That’s “Let me Google that for you” – in case you hadn’t heard). Of course you can do a Google search for any topic you want to know about. But you can also use Google News to find the top stories on topics of your choosing and even get alerts about them straight to your email.
  • Twitter: not just for tweeting pictures of your lunch anymore… Twitter and tech go together like bacon and, well, anything! And, if you take advantage of the Twitter list feature, you can easily make your own personal tech news feed so you can quickly go through headlines or click on the links to go deeper.
  • Podcasts: the perfect way to learn on the go. There’s a podcast about almost every aspect of technology at this point so you’re sure to find a show about what you’re interested in.  (And don’t forget – You can even crank up the speed on podcasts so you can learn more in less time!)
    Examples: Check out “Don’t Be A Dinosaur: How To Keep Up With Tech Trends in 5 Minutes A Day” for a list of several tech podcasts to start with.

So, now instead of staying home to binge watch another series on Netflix, you can take on these three “T’s” to get started getting smart so that you too can talk tech with the best at the next cocktail party!

P.S. If you want to super-charge your computer science learning, join our free 10-day Skillcrush Bootcamp at Once you sign up, you’ll get an email every day explaining a hot tech term in easy-to-understand language – and you’ll even get a chance to try your hand in coding so you can both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”!

Kelli Smith

Kelli is our Operations Manager here at Skillcrush – plus she's an early alum of Skillcrush 101! She's also taken advanced web development classes and has been an organizer in the Helsinki Rails Girls chapter. In addition to helping the Skillcrush team, Kelli loves tech podcasts, Corgis, emojis, and, most of all, catalan-style line dancing – as a true Texan living in Finland would!