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To The Side

What Every Manager Should Know About Buzzwords

When people use technical "buzzwords", it irritates me. However, I couldn't figure out exactly why until just now.

When you have a long series of technical positions, it is inevitable that at some point you will have a non-technical manager. Now, it's OK to have a non-technical manager--management is a skill of its own. The problem is non-technical managers who pretend to be technical, or make technical decisions. Even if you don't ever have that experience, it's almost certain that many of your friends will, and you will hear about it all the time.

So, in other words, every technical person is familiar, themselves or through others, with somebody who makes decisions that they shouldn't be making. We've all had to deal with or clean up the total disasters caused by that situation.

And here's one trait that almost all of these non-technical crazy people have: they don't know what they're talking about, but they know and use buzzwords. And they use them to order you to do ridiculous things. They say, "So-and-so is all the rage, so our product should now use so-and-so!!"

Think of any "fad" that you've ever thought was stupid. Now imagine that you had a manager who forced you to engage in that fad. Like, say, wearing striped tube tops. "All employees must now wear striped tube tops every day." After a while, any time in the future somebody said "tube tops", you'd think of that manager, and you'd get mad.

That's what happens with technical people, too! Eventually all buzzwords will start to become associated with "idiots who don't know what they're talking about", and then when you, a non-crazy person, mention some buzzword to a technical person, they'll get irritated, or stop listening to you, or suddenly seem less excited about their job.

What can you do instead? Just use plain English. If you want your website to look nice and work on everybody's computer, just say that you want it to look nice and work on everybody's computer, not that you want it to "use semantic XHTML and CSS 2 to create an engaging Web 2.0 experience".

Leave the technical words to the technical people, and just say what you mean, and everybody will be a lot happier.

-Max
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Comments

Your mom and I created an engaging Web 2.0 experience last night.

I get the feeling some non-technical think of technology fads like regular fads. In high school, if striped tube tops are in style, you accept them without question in order to be cool - there's no real reason behind why one particular fashion is cool. Non-tech managers sometimes seem to act in the same way, grasping at something because it seems cool some day rather than looking at any of the reason behind why it is cool. That's the difference between tech fads and fashion fads - in tech, there's a technological reason why something is considered cool, and the technology is what you should be looking at rather than the buzzword itself. If you don't know any tech and can't look at the backend - well - buzzwords are much easier to understand. Just belt it out and you iz cool, right?
Hey, that's a really good point! :-)

-Max

(Anonymous)

Buzzwords and Managers

Having worked as a Business Manager at a zillion dot coms, I can say I agree with Avatraxiom 100%. While technical buzzwords can be meaningful in a community that utilizes them in a technical format, they are sometimes used to mask the fact that no one knows what the Billy Blue Blazes the product actually is or how to communicate it clearly to the regular shmo at a coffee shop. But sometimes, as Avatraxiom says, they are just following what they think is the cool or accepted way to say stuff. We've all done that! But that doesn't mean we have to continue doing that. I do appreciate the encouragement to use direct language, no matter how esoteric, informed, or cool we think we sound when we don't. In my opinion, simplicity and direct language create a much more engaging Web 2.0 experience.

Re: Buzzwords and Managers

The mysterious buzzword poster! I'm a big fan.

Re: Buzzwords and Managers

:-D What's hilarious (particularly in light of your first comment) is that this mysterious poster is actually my mother. :-) (Who has indeed worked as a business manager at a zillion dot-coms!)

-Max

completely random...

But I googled under "computer + buzzwords + hilarious" and it came up with your entry. I'm actually writing a paper about jargon and the effects on the outsiders who don't know it and/or try to use it.

Re: completely random...

Ha, how cool! :-) Nice to meet you. :-)

-Max