Daily Archives: January 26, 2011

Separated by a common language... IT English is different

I am not a stupid person, but I simply cannot keep up with all the new information technology (IT) terminology!

I know that every industry has acronyms and terms, but it seems that IT artifactis unique: every time a new methodology comes in, English words are redefined.  Today, IT English is expanding.

For example IT English uses Scrum (but not for rugby), Ruby (not for birthstones), Java (without caffeine), and Artifacts (but not from Egypt).  Certainly, English English is different from American English and Australian English, but IT English is a dialect unto itself.

If I, as an engineer with experience in IT, am daunted by the ever-changing IT English, how much worse is it for laypersons who work on software projects?  It can be intimidating.

I read an “introductory article” written by an IT colleague today and had to read and re-read it several times before I gave up. Despite visual aids and process flows, I felt I needed a geek-to-English dictionary to make sense of it.  (Yes, it was written in English.)

Most of us are not bilingual, so it should be no surprise that many technology professionals only know IT English. In fact, some do not even realize that there are other English dialects. When engineers find a new way to do things, you can expect a flurry of new acronyms and variations on IT English.

This happened with “waterfall”, client/server, web development, agile, lean, and Kanban. Once you understand that old words get new meanings, it all makes sense, but it is a learning curve every time.

Do you know that everyone (outside of IT) asks

Why can’t IT just speak English?

Outside IT, it’s no mystery why software projects fail (to meet user needs).  Just when users and the business learn enough IT English (technology) words to converse, a new method comes in and the dialect changes.

In my post earlier this week (IT’s all about the people, stupid), I touched on the need for “soft skills” in technology, and mentioned the communication factor.  Soft skills or EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) covers more than communication (such as empathy, consideration, mutual respect, cultural sensitivity, communication, and a host of other people skills), but communication is the linchpin.

My first IT English “encounter”

I’ll never forget my first engineering job in Alberta, Canada working for a pipeline engineering company. During the first week, a colleague suggested that I should “sign on” to the mainframe.  I gave him that “are you nuts – why would I want to do that and have to call IT?” look and walked away shaking my head. No one in his/her right mind would purposely “interface” with IT unnecessarily.

monitorAs luck would have it, I found myself working in IT a year later. On my first day, I had to sign on and predictably, the system crashed within an hour.  I became the network operations’ comic relief when they asked me my terminal address and I responded that I was on the eighth floor. Over muffled laughter, they told me they needed the 16-digit number on the side of my terminal (monitor)… and added that they were also on the 8th floor.

I had no idea that my English fluency would be so tested in IT.  While I knew that English is the language that separates so many across countries, I didn’t know it also was true with IT.

What is the solution for IT English?

misunderstandIf we truly want to make progress with technology, we need to recognize the walls that IT English puts up around us.  It’s not enough to know that there are walls and to converse with each other – we need to care about the misunderstanding that arises whenever we redefine English words and expect the world to understand.

IT needs to stop talking in acronyms and start translating our IT  English into English English or American English (a dictionary or savvy translator can help) so that when we talk technology, others will listen.

That is, if we truly want to communicate with the business.  It reminds menapoleon of the English Channel Tunnel (Chunnel) project:  did you know that it was originally started by Napoleon over a hundred years earlier?  The project stopped when Napoleon realized that the tunnel would not be a one-way deal…

What do you think? Am I being too cynical about IT?  Is there hope for IT English to become mainstream or vice versa?

(Fade to black with the strains of Dr. Doolittle’s “I want to talk to the animals…” )

Have a productive week!


P.s. Don’t forget to register for the #LSSC11 FREE Webinar series – Feb. 2, 2011 (noon-1pm PST — 3 -4pm EST!)  Session #1: INTRODUCTION TO KANBAN with Janice Linden-Reed. Register here: http://tinyurl.com/69ae36w