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I'm currently looking for part time work. I have been in touch with a radio company however I can't quit understand what it is they want. For example they emailed me saying:

First off, we will need from you a report of the state of the [computer] systems. When it's done, we'll decide together what we can do to improve it.

and there's no further details. I'm also unclear if this is a paid or volunteer position; or a one time thing or a part time job or a full time job etc.

I know these people are nontechnical and want someone to help them with their computers, but it's hard to be able to say if I can do the job without knowing what the job is. How should I proceed? I can't think of the words to ask them what they actually want.

They didn't have a job posting (that I saw), I was put in touch with them through email, by networking.

  • @JoeStrazzere that's the thing, I'm not sure how to phrase "what do you really want" when asking them? – JoeT Feb 1 '16 at 1:00
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I know these people are nontechnical and want someone to help them with their computers, but it's hard to be able to say if I can do the job without knowing what the job is. How should I proceed?

You talk with them. Preferably you meet with them and talk in person. If that's not viable, then you talk by phone.

You ask enough questions until you get a sense of what they need you to do, and what kind of time and effort it might take to help them.

You basically act like a consultant in the discovery stage.

You may have to engage in a conversation. Even if you asked "what do you really want" non-technical folks won't know the answer. You have to learn what is bothering them. That starts with a discussion. Think of a doctor trying to diagnose and treat an illness. A doctor wouldn't ask "What do you really want?" A doctor would ask about the problems.

If you cannot get that, then either they can't really express what they want, you aren't capable of delivering what they need, or both. It's possible that you might not have the skill for this job, if it requires this sort of diagnostic ability. And in that case you walk away and seek a different part-time job.

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Look it as an opportunity: many companies ask their developers and administrators to take on tasks that larger companies bring in a BA for, so this will very likely not be the last such position you see that asks for something like this. Also, soft skills are a set of skills that are useful practically everywhere you go, even if you are the back-endiest of back-end developers, and the best way to learn them is to figure out how to put them to use.

There's an art to explaining technical stuff in a way that non-technical people get but that doesn't sound condescending, and I would not expect you to master this your first day on the job at a place like this. If you put in the effort, though, and are at least aware of those two extremes, you're probably a couple steps ahead of most devs and admins placed into a similar position.

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