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7 Terms Everyone Not in IT Gets Wrong

Technology is the fabric of modern life. As we spend more time looking at screens, the more people pick up the IT vernacular — at varying levels of proficiency.

In linguistics, there are two warring tribes — the prescriptivists and the descriptivists. Prescriptivists believe that rules are worth following. Descriptivists think meaning and usage can change over time. There’s no right or wrong way as long as the thing you’re trying to communicate comes across to the receiver.

Here is a list of IT terms that everyone gets wrong, but it doesn’t matter. (It really doesn’t.)

1. App or Application

“Application” is simultaneously the most misused and also the most missed term on this list. When the term pops up in the mobile realm, it’s used correctly nearly 100 percent of the time. Mobile applications are easy to identify. Every mobile platform clearly lists their app section, and it’s clearly a purpose-built program for your phone.

Desktop applications are easy to identify, too. But that’s where precision language falters. For the IT descriptivists, there’s a big problem with calling apps programs. Programs are any set of instructions that can be executed on a computer.

This is a Powershell program that detects palindromes: Get-Content words.txt | Where { $_ -eq -join $_[($_.length-1)..0] }

This is an application. It’s called Google Chrome. It’s a web browser.

Keith Barker’s Network+ video is playing on the CBT Nuggets web-based application.

So, now we’ve got apps playing inside apps. No wonder precision language has gone out the window.

2. User experience (UX) versus user interface (UI)

These two are often used interchangeably — and it drives some people crazy. User interface, loosely, is the design and presentation of an application. User experience is how the person uses the product, system, or service. Most people who work in user experience design (UXD) will vehemently argue that UI is nothing without UX. Meanwhile, user interface designers argue that UX would merely be a wireframe without UI. Let’s agree to disagree.

Bonus: In recent years, some companies have thrown Customer Experience (CX) into the mix, to provide a little clarity.

3. The Cloud

Oh, the cloud. Everyone talks about the “cloud” as though it were one thing — from newscasters to your iPad-toting grandma. Eventually, it’ll just be Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, but right now there are so many clouds, run by so many data centers. It’s not technically correct to lump them all together, but it’s acceptable shorthand for anything hosted off-site. For on-site or private clouds, then a simple modifier of “our cloud” will clear it all up.

4. The system is down

As the great philosopher Strongbad once said (over and over again for 106 seconds), “The system is down.” Let’s troubleshoot this because more than one help desk ticket has been written with these four words in the subject line and nothing else.

Is it? Maybe it’s a network connectivity issue. Perhaps a server is down. Maybe it’s a problem with an application — desktop, mobile, or web-based. We may never know what Strongbad meant.

5. Outage

For the general public, the word “outage” is usually prefaced by the word “power.” In some instances, maybe even “Verizon.” In the IT world, as stated above, it’s often easier to say, “The system is down.” You know what that means even if you don’t know what caused it.

Also, outages are either planned or unplanned. Outages are often required for updates and maintenance. Unplanned outages is an acceptable term, and even preferred to “it’s broken and we don’t know why.”

6. Big data

A few years back, you couldn’t get away from these two words. We were guilty of this as well. We wrote a few posts on the topic, and even developed a Big Data training subcategory. Big data is merely unstructured data — and lots of it. However, big data doesn’t get interesting until you start talking about storing, automating, and analyzing it.

In sum, there was lots of buzz about the promise and application of Big Data. But there was little mention of the ecosystem of powerful tools that make it all possible.

Everyone has calmed down since then because we’ve got a new word — machine learning.

7. Product

There are often many definitions of “product” in a single company, and that means things can get confusing. Project managers, marketers, salespeople, and developers all talk about products. For marketing and sales, the product is the thing they’re promoting and selling.

For IT shops, particularly those governed by Scrum product owners, products are either an application or features in an application. Scrum ingeniously has its own vocabulary, so that everyone is on the same page.

Let’s all just get along

The notion of communicative competence was first introduced into second language acquisition in the 1960s. It states that if you’re conveying meaning, even clumsily, then you’re communicating. That was in opposition to the earlier prescriptivists who declared that you didn’t know a language until you could write a college-level essay with it.

Technology has its own language — a full vocabulary of discrete words with precise meanings. Sure, it’d be nice if every ticket were able to communicate with the exact vocabulary. Sure, it’d be nice if your project teams were all speaking in the same terms. But, as long as everyone can figure out what’s happening, then it’ll all be alright.


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