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Growing the industry: Language

Victoria MacLennan. 06 April 2022, 8:43 pm
Growing the industry: Language

Our industry - the digital technology industry - has a lot to offer. As a workforce we are paid well, the opportunities to learn new things are almost unlimited as technology improves constantly, it's really creative, vibrant, stimulating and the ability to use our capabilities to do good things is unmatched.

But there simply aren't enough of us to keep up with demand or to realise the opportunity digital technology can offer Aotearoa.

Growing the industry is a complex challenge and requires a concerted aligned effort at all levels - by us as individuals, by companies, in the education system, the levers of government and in wider society.

The Australian Computer Society recently wrote to their government on one of governments most effective levers - procurement:

"Better procurement practices can have enormous flow-on effects. It can ensure that money and jobs remain in Australia. It can contribute to a fairer and more diverse workforce. It can increase the skills of the local workforce and reduce sovereign risk."

Replace Australia with Aotearoa New Zealand and the same applies.


In another life I am involved with a fabulous initiative the Digital Equity Coalition Aotearoa - a community group focused on creating a healthy backbone for everyone involved in closing the digital divide.
I am told on a very regular basis by grass roots equity advocates that one of the biggest barriers to understanding digital technology is our language.

We use a lot of acronyms and jargon, we speak in a code that is impossible to understand if you're not "in on it".

On one hand this has come about as a result of our engineering orientation, the need to create shortcuts to describe complex technical elements.
On the other hand it has come about as a sales tactic, to create the appearance that digital technology is complex, that you need to pay specialists to help solve challenges (big and small).
The vendor community have also done an excellent job of this inwardly facing as well, reinventing, repackaging and rebranding their products on a regular basis requiring new certifications to be undertaken, new licenses to be acquired (although SAAS has significantly reduced the latter). Personally I don't blame them, these are great sales tactics, but they further entrench our elitist unapproachable veneer.

"Plain English"

In this context I am referring to the use of non-technical language, interestingly our government has a reference site describing this notion.
The legal system embraced this some years ago introducing plain English contracts. We even have Plain English Awards in Aotearoa.

Many IT Professionals tell me they don't bother telling their friends or whānau what they do because others find it boring. Lets turn this on it's head. Find ways to describe our roles, our creative, vibrant, important jobs to anyone we meet - without jargon, without acronyms, without vendor hoopla (is that even a word?).

Lets try a few examples.
Instead of saying I am an AWS Certified Systems Administrator, you could say, I look after customers data and information so it's safe and easy to access.
Or instead of saying I am a PHP/C#/JavaScript Developer, you could say, I build awesome apps - like the ones you use on your phone - for businesses.

SFIA can help with our language

Personally I love to use SFIA (the Skills Framework for the Information Age) to guide me as I build position descriptions and job advertisements. Using accessible language, focusing on the competencies of a role vs the technology specific elements.  

As the owner of a Data Services business I have long held the view that all Data Integration tools are created equally - a good data engineer can turn their hand to any of them (Informatica, Oracle, DBT, Microsoft etc) because they can identify data sources, design solutions, structure, store and harvest data - and so forth from the SFIA competency framework.  

I was in a meeting today discussing skills and professional development, with a group of educators, and within minutes natural barriers arose when the "techos" started speaking our own special language - as we do. One of my industry colleagues, in plain English, described the role SFIA needs to play in creating a common language to bridge the conversation between education and industry.

Give it a go! this is a great way everyone can help change the face of our industry.

Kia pai to rā Vic

This is one post in a series of blog posts on Growing the Industry: 


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Ros Lee 08 April 2022, 12:24 pm

The key is to use replace nouns with verbs. This turns rigid abstract concepts into processes with life.

eg Collaboration becomes the process of working with others to achieve a result.

This can help to make the tone less formal and jargony.

Mark Foster 09 April 2022, 10:40 pm

All sectors have their own jargon. Try working in a military environment. Or a medical one. Or a commercial environment. EBITDA?

At one level learning the lingo of the industry you are integrating with should be seen as necessary for full integration (when you do IT + Medical, or IT + Military, you're going to have a good time!!). On the other, it behoves all of us to consider the audience for the material we write. If it's a position description, it should be written for the target audience (applicants). If it's the description of a system, it should be written for the target audience (the users). Users of systems are frequently not experts in IT jargon.

Remembering your audience and crafting your written words to the audience should be the norm. Jargon has its place but should be helping us, not hindering us.

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