Newsletter Issue: "Jargon"

Hello everyone,

This week's topic is a scary one: Crossing the Jargon Chasm.

For the past few months, I've been interviewing researchers about their experiences working with software developers. One common theme has been a difficulty with ordinary communication. There are many ways this can happen, but this week I just want to focus on one: the vocabulary that developers use, and how it can lead to a lack of confidence.

Software engineering, like any other professional endeavor, has its own "universe of discourse." The jargon and terminology can be an obstacle to effective communication with their clients. A successful software project depends on a high level of collaboration. When communication is strained, collaboration becomes compromised. The entire project is put at risk of a reduced outcome or outright failure.

Here are a few ways you can bridge the gap when you're meeting with your development team:

  1. Ask immediately for a definition when you hear an ambiguous term. Don't wait until later, because then the context is lost.

  2. When asking about timeline, get an answer that makes sense to humans, i.e. the calendar. If you hear "that feature is slated for this sprint," ask for a translation to an actual date on the calendar. Don't let the dev team own the process to such an extent that you're not sure when certain milestones are expected to be completed.

  3. It goes both ways! Researchers tend to use acronyms of their own. One researcher I spoke with recently said there was confusion over the term "ROI". The developers used it to mean "return on investment," but the clinical team used it for something very different. You can imagine the misunderstandings this caused for both sides.

Because this is such a big problem with software projects, I've started a glossary here:

Got any technical terms I should add to the list? Just hit REPLY and let me know! I'd love to have as many contributions to the glossary as possible so we can all help each other.

(By the way, if you'd be available for a brief interview about your experience with software developers, could you let me know? Interviews are over Zoom, last 20-30 minutes, and are completely confidential. Just hit REPLY and let me know!)

Got questions?
Ask me anything.

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