WTF are techies saying? A linguistic guide for the aspiring tech hustler | The Knowledge Dynasty

WTF are techies saying? A linguistic guide for the aspiring tech hustler

In Silicon Valley, being ahead of the jargon curve can bring great social and financial rewards and it may even be confused for true innovation

Its as common as the hoodies and the Soylent: Silicon Valley loves its jargon while simultaneously groaning over the weight of its pretense. However, this pain point is also an opportunity for enterprising wordsmiths.

In the Valley, speaking fluent cutting-edge startup is the bare minimum required to inspire confidence. Being ahead of the jargon curve can bring great social and financial rewards. It may even be confused with true innovation.

Lets imagine a conversation between cofounders of a startup called DoubleNewSpeak, maybe as they launch a Minimum Viable Vocabulary. If the product is sticky, they will soon be considered visionaries and showered with venture capital at which point they will scale like crazy. In two years, everyone will be speaking this new language, as they shall devote their energies to overseeing the construction of an enormous Ikea-style ball pit in their open-plan office.

Twenty full minutes of ideating and six rigorous minutes of beta testing later, heres what they come up with, a linguistic guide for the aspiring tech hustler:

Evangelist? Bah! Your head of marketing should be a product demagogue. Were not conveying enthusiasm here, people were conveying dangerous rabble-rousing obsession with our product. But, you know, in an artisanal way. Growth hacker is so 2014 replace it with lumberjack.

Were all trapped in a punishing cycle of job title inflation. The future looks grim without a modern-day Scott Volcker to drag us over the coals and tame the beast (shout-out to all those 1970s monetary policy fans out there). So your former digital prophet really needs a promotion to high sparrow of the worshipful B2B CRM space. Your thought leader should probably just start borrowing directly from Kim Jong-il. Acceptable forms of address include: Mastermind of the Revolution, Ever-Victorious Iron-Willed Commander and Guiding Star of the 21st Century.

Continue that military aesthetic with a cheeky blitzkrieg no one does sprints anymore. But definitely avoid bootstrap given the Valleys woman problem, these days its garter or bust. Or bustier, I suppose.

Layoff is old-fashioned. Why not call it a freedom cull? Or a quarter quell? Perhaps even a staff detox?

Pivot is out, pirouette is in it sounds almost like I planned it.

As for adjectives sticky can be viscous, frothy is either rabid or lightly sparkling, and agile is being replaced with spry, limber or lithe.

By the way, this paradigm shift should be referred to as a thought schism.

Lets double-click on the phenomenon of tech jargon (a year ago, wed be drilling down, and two years ago, wed be going granular). Jargon is interesting because its not inherently bad. Its an efficient form of communication, initially but when new words dont actually describe a novel concept, they tend to have less benign purposes.

In the tech industry, fresh buzzwords are often a shortcut, a way to sell a less-than-impressive reality, gain unearned credibility and join an in-group. Early adopters are advantaged and holdouts exposed to increasingly high costs.

In fact, the economics of platforms and luxury goods collide in the jargon economy. Owning a dominant platform allows you to capture value from users activity. If your language becomes popular, it brings industry credibility and allows you to capitalise on the reputational boost. But your terminology can become overused and drained of meaning hello, disruptive innovation. If utility is based partly on rarity and novelty, like a Chanel bag, this tips the delicate balance; mass adoption is both the goal and the beginning of the end.

Jargon is not just a tech problem, but a classic strategy. Management consultants have been attempting to legitimize themselves with superfluous systematised vocabularies for decades. And despite its protestations, tech is not that different from other sectors; it is distinguished mainly by the scale of peoples ambitions and the super-profits made possible by infinitely reproducible solutions (software).

Ironically, in trying to avoid corporate Americas deadening euphemistic vocabulary, Silicon Valley may have created a parlance equally stripped of meaning.

Its tone also reflects its American origins; if, say, Denmark had been the epicentre of the technological renaissance, tech would feel very different. Silicon Valleys jargon draws on manifest destiny, refusing to admit failure outside a narrative of eventual success. It tends toward hype and hyperbole, mixed with the saccharine dead-on-arrival enthusiasm of American consumer service. With its talk of
rockstars and gurus, it buys into that libertarian worship of the individual which so often teeters into celebrating arrogance.

It feels only fitting to end a whine about America with a grumpy Englishman but unfortunately, Orwell is over-quoted on the evils of doublespeak. However, Thomas Paine said it well in The Age of Reason:

All this is nothing better than the jargon of a conjuror, who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.

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