Every part of the corporate world has its share of unusual and even strange jargon. IT is no different, offering us clouds, ecosystems, waterfalls, sprints and scrums, and even cookies and breadcrumbs. Does anyone outside of IT really know what these expressions mean? Here are the top 12 annoying, overused IT terms that we should replace with normal language. (No need to limit ourselves to 10 just because David Letterman did.)
It’s not Biosphere 2 with an IT twist, and it’s certainly not an indication that environmentalists have taken over the corporate world. It is simply a way of talking about how numerous systems and technologies integrate and are interdependent on each other. In concept, it does make sense, but the term has become so widely used that many non-IT types just tune it out. Maybe we can keep the term ecosystem in the global warming conversation and out of the IT systems migration discussion.
The use of the term the cloud or in the cloud is not that new. We’ve been talking about cloud technology for a while now. Most of us know that it doesn’t have anything to do with some sort of Dr. Seuss story about cloud creatures who speak only in rhymes and store our stuff for us in boxes on top of puffy clouds. But the cloud is actually complex, and most of us don’t have much appetite to understand the inner workings of the cloud and cloud computing. Suffice to say that we kind of understand that our data is somewhere but not on our hard drives. Let’s just keep it at that.
Is this IT Special Forces? Or maybe I’ve been playing too much Call of Duty. The reality is that most non-IT people don’t really know what either Dev or Ops is let, alone what you get when you complicate things by combining them. Really, what most people in the corporate world want is to know that the systems they use have been developed with the business needs in mind and that there is an infrastructure to support it when it is live. But DevOps? Just keep that to yourselves.
We used to talk about waterfalls. Maybe waterfalls aren’t cool anymore, although I certainly like to check them out when I’m out on a good hike in my ecosystem. Now we talk about agile development. While most of us know that this doesn’t have anything to do with IT guys doing gymnastics while simultaneously programming a computer, we really don’t know what the methodology is. To be fair, most of us didn’t really know what the now-outdated waterfall methodology was either, but we got good at faking that one. Give us time and we’ll learn to nod our heads as though we totally get what agile development means.
I don’t know much about rugby, but I do have a vague notion that a scrum involves a lot of huge guys with no necks diving on top of each other. Are IT guys doing that behind closed doors now? Maybe that’s why it took longer than usual the other day when I called the IT help desk. My guy was potentially buried under 20 big dudes. It may make sense in the IT department, but I would lobby for it to stay there and use another easy-to-understand term that might not get confused with a bruising contact sport.
Who knew that Joe from IT was in the same league as the great Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt? You wouldn’t know it from looking at the guy. The IT term sprint — as part of agile development and representing a short, focused development and testing cycle — makes some sense. The problem is that we always seem to be doing a sprint of some sort without much time to catch our collective breaths. Maybe if we could start including “catch your breath” into the methodology, we’d be more receptive.
I’ve got an 18-month-old at home, so we watch a lot of Sesame Street. I love Cookie Monster, but somehow I don’t think that IT talk about cookies and breadcrumbs is the same thing. Most of us who have done anything on the internet have some sense of what cookies are and get the concept of trails that show where we’ve visited or what we’ve searched. Maybe breadcrumbs are the same. Or maybe they’re different. Most of us don’t know. Bottom line for most of us is that we’d love to leave the cookies for Sesame Street and the breadcrumbs for Hansel and Gretel.
I can honestly report that 83% of people outside of IT have no idea what the difference is between firmware and software. And of the 17% that do, at least half of them are applying for jobs in the IT department. So they don’t count. My 15-year-old son talks about firmware a lot as he tries to explain it to me and my wife. As much as we try to pay attention, it’s hard to stay focused. One definition is that firmware is software that is built into the computer. So firmware is really software? But not really? But it has special powers of not being erased easily like software. There you go. Let’s go with that.
It is definitely official. Gamers have taken over the world. I recently worked with a client who was “gamifying” its HR interviewing training with superheroes, or something like that. I guess it is cool to turn everything into a game, but the terminology has gotten a bit out of control. In my next meeting, I’m going to suggest that we gamify the gamification. Now we’re getting into a whole other level that might put us in the Matrix. I know I took the blue pill.
I have to confess that whenever I hear this term, I immediately think about Marlon Brando as The Godfather. Is there an IT godfather back there pulling strings and manipulating all of us? Sometimes, it feels like it, with all of the new technologies that are driving my work habits. Then there is this definition: Puppet usually uses an agent/master (client/server) architecture for configuring systems, using the Puppet agent and Puppet master applications. It can also run in a self-contained architecture with the Puppet application. That clears it up for sure. I’m going to go watch The Godfather now.
Contrary to what those annoyingly loud sparrows do outside my bedroom window in the spring, nesting in the IT world seems to apply to programming and software applications where different logic structures are combined. Suffice to say that when IT talks to the business and starts referring to nesting, we start drifting to things we understand even just slightly better — like the annual operating budget process.
Front end/back end
The good news here is that most of us know what a front-end user interface is and are aware that somehow we are accessing data from somewhere else. Maybe more important is that the front end is all we care about. We know there is a back end, but when we start having to listen to the intimate details of data access layers, distributed data systems, and server-side files, we start to feel just a little violated, out of our element, and totally confused. The bottom line is that we just want the front end to be easy so we can spit out some sort of TPS-like report (thank you Office Space) that we can take to our next meeting to help us sound intelligent.
James Sudakow is a management and organizational effectiveness consultant and author of Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit... and Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World (Purple Squirrel Media, 2016).