Is IT jargon too inaccessible?

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Communications
IT Jargon

At a recent MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, Georgia Papathomas, vice president and CIO at J&J Pharmaceuticals stated:

 "The biggest challenge I'm finding in IT is not finding the talent -- sometimes it can be difficult, but you can find them. … The biggest challenge is getting IT not to talk the IT language."

 Every specialized industry has its own jargon, but as the role of IT evolves from demand management to business solutions consulting, is there a need to streamline IT communications so that they are more accessible to the less tech savvy?

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It can be. Here is the mobile version I used to break in IT noobies: Mobile Acronyms

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  • CharlieBrowne
    Regardless of the industry when speaking, we need to speak to the current audience at a level they will understand. That can be hard because we assume that everyone is at our level. Although I believe some speakers just try to make themselves sound impressive with the big works and TLAs
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  • Ben Rubenstein
    As a non-IT guy, I definitely would say that simplifying language would help in communicating with the rest of the business. The challenge I see is that a lot of the things IT works on include concepts that aren't easily explained using laymen's terms - jargon does sometimes exist for a reason. I want to believe it's not just complexity for complexity's sake. That said, money/support won't come unless others really understand the value. 
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  • AndreaF
    I am often the interpreter at our workplace. Coming to technology late in life, I had trouble learning to use the proper terms (I felt that "configuration" was just a pretentious way to say "set up"). When I see end users' eyes glazing over, I make an effort to rephrase my conversation, which is well worth the effort.
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  • TomLiotta
    I don't get it. Who needs IT jargon to become more comprehensible? Is it CIOs who need it? Or is it other CxOs who need to understand CIOs? Is it somehow users who need to understand IT workers? Why? What do they need to understand? In particular, what would change and for whom would it change?
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    IT pros are often expected to understand the specialized terms of other groups in the organization. Why is it important that the opposite isn't true? And why is there any focus on IT jargon at all?
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    If some concern is over TLAs, would it be better always to say "domain name system"? When we use the word "domain", should we always include a context to differentiate between an Internet domain and a Windows domain? Would it become more comprehensible?
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    When I mention anything about a computer's "memory", it's usually easy to tell when the other person has no real idea what it actually means. There is usually some vague idea that a computer somehow "remembers" things and that "disks" and "memory" are somehow involved. But there's often no hope in explaining how or why the two aren't really synonymous without providing a course in electronics, nor is there any need for that person actually to know any difference. If discussion is about some higher level of abstraction such as the value of a 'public cloud', the need to understand should be far less and any useful foundation would need to be that much greater.
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    If IT jargon needs to be more accessible, why is there no similar need for accounting jargon to be the same? For example, the apparently simple and straightforward principle of "substance over form" might sound obvious to many. But how many other than skilled CPAs can actually understand it?
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    The words "substance", "over" and "form" are all known to everyone. Used together, the resulting phrase seems clear enough. Yet it doesn't take much reading to see that the actual accounting reality is very slippery at best. Does it help that the jargon uses common terms? If even accountants find it difficult to pin down clearly for themselves, what should we learn about the much more precise jargon in IT? Should we substitute other common words? Will it help or will it make it just as slippery?
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    Accounting is business in a very real sense. Is its jargon any clearer to those who aren't accountants? If "substance over form" isn't a good enough example, I'm sure that a real CPA could quickly supply an acceptable list. It often seems that many businessmen don't clearly understand their own jargon. Why expect understanding of jargon from a different area of expertise?
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    Tom
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  • Kevin Beaver
    If you don't have the ability to adapt your communication to varying audiences, people won't take you seriously long term. Here's a bit I wrote about geek speak and what management really needs to hear: http://www.acunetix.com/blog/web-security-zone/it-geeks-speak-and-what-management-needs-to-hear/ Tom's right, there's a double standard here (think doctors and lawyers). Regardless, this is such an important topic. Best to prepare yourself for it.
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  • TomLiotta
    Mostly we only need a liaison. There is talent or skill in adapting communication, as there is in assessing an audience. Developing the skill takes time that most of us don't have, and most don't need. Our time is full enough with actual work and learning technologies. . The appropriate method should be to recognize individuals who have the talent or the aptitude for adaptive speech and letting them be the face of any project when needed. Project members should be chosen and assigned according to the skills they bring. Communication with non-technical groups is necessary for all projects that have scope outside IT. . Note that a project's 'Face' does not have to be from within IT. He or she only needs to know IT jargon and to communicate its relevant elements to others. . Tom
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