You’ve probably been using computers for a while, and you feel like you’ve got the basics down pretty well: you type more than forty words per minute, use Google as your first tech support line, have at least one backup, and can Ctrl + C/Ctrl + V with the best of them. If you still don’t feel like you’re “the computer person” you could be, though, it’s never a bad time to take a few steps towards the next level of tech-savviness. This isn’t a comprehensive guide by any means, but practicing a few of the skills below is pretty much a free upgrade.
Being savvy isn’t about skill – it’s about attitude
This may appear to contradict the following list of skills, but it’s an important thing to internalize once you get beyond the basics in pretty much any field, especially tech. Things are changing constantly, and being able to adapt quickly is more important than memorizing computer facts. Try new apps, devices, services. If you don’t understand how something works, do a little research. Knowing the ins and outs of every processor and program is great, but tech literacy is really about setting yourself up for lifelong learning and maintaining a spirit of experimentation.
Intermediate Google-Fu: search operators
You’ve probably Googled (or researched using a search engine of your choice) a lot of things in your lifetime, and you’re probably not writing formal queries like “Dear Google, where can I find the nearest bubble tea emporium? Cordially yours, tealuvrxxx.” You know that a simple keyword search for “bubble tea near me” is the way to go. Once you’ve nailed keywords, it’s time to move on to search operators, and once you start using them you won’t want to stop. Here are a few of the basics in the order that I personally find them most useful.
“find these exact words”
Putting quotes around your query will search the web for that exact string of words. Only remember a few words from a song? A few lines from a quote? Wrap them in quotation marks and you’ll only see “exact matches.”
site:example.com search term
Know which site you want to find something on, but the site doesn’t have a built-in search feature? Google has bots crawling all over, so if you just tell them which site to look on, they’ll find you all matches for your search on that site.
please find these keywords –but –not –these
The lowly minus sign is one of the most useful search operators out there. Searching for a less-famous indie musician and you keep getting hits for a more-famous athlete with the same name? Just put “-” in front of each word you want Google to specifically -exclude.
[I can’t remember the * I’m looking for]
Got a word on the tip of your tongue? Just enter a query with an asterisk in place of the word/name you can’t remember, and Google will automatically know that it’s looking for a place where that * will fit.
X AND Y/ X OR Y
Just what it sounds like: AND will only give you results that include both of your search terms, while OR will look for either term.
There are a lot more out there, but the more you grow accustomed to using these basic operators, the more valuable you’ll find them on your Internet research journey.
Intermediate troubleshooting/problem solving
Just like being able to do basic auto repairs doesn’t require you to be a mechanic, being tech savvy doesn’t mean you have to know how to take a computer apart and put it together again. You can solve a lot with Google, a little confidence, and these steps:
- BACK EVERYTHING UP. It keeps your data safe and frees you to tinker around without worrying too much.
- Did you turn it off and turn it back on again?
- Identify the problem and your best guess for what’s causing it.
- Enter keywords related to the problem into Google.
- Official help resources can be useful, but discussion threads on tech sites are one of the best places to find answers.
- Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty – if you have to do some things that are a bit outside your comfort zone, go for it – that’s how you learn. Don’t understand something? Google it!
- When you’re out of options, get the expert.
The big takeaway here is that tech-savvy people often aren’t computer wizards with PhDs in fixing technology – they just know how to diagnose, find solutions, and apply fixes.
Back up everything, everywhere automatically
Even people who are pretty good at technology often neglect to back things up just because it’s kind of annoying to do all the time. That’s why, whether you’re a Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, or iPhone user, you should have some kind of automatic backup that you don’t have to worry about. Having at least one in the cloud is a good idea (there are lots of secure services out there), but having a hard copy, whether it’s a USB drive you plug in once a week or network storage tapped into your home Wi-Fi, isn’t a bad idea either.
More advanced keyboard shortcuts
You might know the basic tricks, like Ctrl + Z (undo), Ctrl + T (new tab), etc., but those barely scratch the surface. The universal shortcuts and the shortcuts specific to your operating system (Windows/Mac/Linux) are the most generally useful, but if you use any particular program on a semi-regular basis (Word, Photoshop, web browsers, etc.) you should make an effort to learn useful keyboard shortcuts for them as well.
Any command that’s buried in a few layers of context menus probably has a keyboard shortcut that will save you some clicks. Handily enough, the shortcut is usually written right next to the command in the menu, so learning your hotkeys is often as easy as navigating to the command once or twice and paying attention to the key combo.
Okay, you have your antivirus, you’re updating on a regular basis, and you don’t open attachments from people you don’t know. That’s a good start. Here’s some more stuff you should be doing to earn that “tech-savvy” badge:
- Use unique passwords! Having the same email/password combination on multiple accounts is asking for trouble. Longer passwords are best with sixteen or more characters. While you’re at it, try to change these passwords roughly once a year.
- Get a VPN – some are free, but paying just a few dollars a year will get you a fast, reliable one that should serve you well. Connect to this VPN every time you’re on any kind of public network. This prevents anybody on the same connection from snooping on your traffic. This also applies to your phone. Try to get a VPN that has an app.
- Use 2FA (two-factor authentication) if it’s available. Google Authenticator/Authy are the most secure 2FA methods, but if a text message is all that’s available, go with that.
- Use browser add-ons to force your web browsers to use HTTPS and enhance security in other ways.
There are other steps you can take to ensure that you remain fairly safe, but another important lesson in cybersecurity is that if someone really wants to hack you, they can probably do it. It’s always good to keep an eye out for suspicious activity and be ready to shut it down.
While it’s completely possible to be tech-savvy without knowing a line of code, knowing at least a bit has two big perks: 1) you’ll have a more intuitive understanding of what’s going on in your machine, and 2) people who don’t know how to code will be disproportionately impressed.
It’s the same as a car: if you know a little bit about how it works and which parts do what, maintenance and repair are a lot easier. Picking up some programming skill isn’t difficult at all. There are many beginner-oriented programs freely available online, and it can actually be a lot of fun. Math/advanced computer skills are not a prerequisite.
Languages you should consider:
- HTML: you encounter this every time you visit a webpage, and it’s very easy to see how the basics of it come together to create a visual page layout. It’s simple and can be very practical in a lot of jobs.
- Python: it’s fairly easy to learn, can be used in a wide variety of real-world applications, and has a lot of beginner-friendly material.
- Java: It’s everywhere. It’s not as easy to learn as some other languages, but it’s not insanely difficult either – you mostly just need patience and perseverance. The payoff is worth it, though. Java is hands-down the most common language for developers to work in.
- Ruby on Rails: It’s pretty easy to learn and very widely used.
- C#: if you really like knowing how things work from the ground up and don’t give up easily, C# is a good option. It’s the foundation for a lot of other languages and is very flexible.
It’s never been a better time to learn how to learn
Computers are extensions of our minds the same way that other tools are extensions of our bodies: we use them to store information, perform calculations, and create worldwide brain-to-brain connections. Being “the techie guy” used to be a lot of work — you had to invest a lot of time and effort figuring things out on your own, and your knowledge often wasn’t extremely applicable to the average person’s life. That’s no longer the case: you can find the answers to most of your questions online, and you’ll have no shortage of opportunities to exercise your tech skills.
Being tech-savvy in the 21st century is more about being willing to go deeper than the screen and developing intuitions for the best ways to navigate an ever-changing constellation of technology. Just get out there, play around, experiment, and Google things. That’s what your techie friends do.