Tech Slang & Jargon: A Fun Little Primer

We get it. Information Technology is broad and often confusing, with seemingly endless facts to absorb just to grasp what happens inside all those wires and up in that cloud. But besides all the facts – which require years of continuing education (just ask our techs) – complicating matters even further is that IT has a language unto itself.

And, even if the words look somewhat familiar, the lexicon of IT is enough to make the uninitiated scratch their heads.

For example, if you think a “white hat” is something you’d wear with a white tuxedo, well, you’d be right only if you weren’t speaking to IT professionals. To them, a “white hat” describes a person – a hacker – who identifies a security weakness in a computer network but, instead of taking malicious advantage of it, exposes the weakness so that the system’s developer can fix it before the cyber-criminals (also knowns as “black hats”) can inflict their damage.

White hats might employ “fuzz testing” or “fuzzing,” a software testing technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. Those using the technique input massive amounts of random data – called fuzz – into the system in an attempt to make it crash.

So, today, as a public service – and to bolster your IT vocabulary – here is a smattering of other IT jargon.

A war dialer is a computer program used to identify the phone numbers that can successfully make a connection with a computer modem. The program automatically dials a defined range of phone numbers and logs and enters in a database those numbers that successfully connect to the modem.

Pen-tester has nothing to do with ball-points, but is short for penetration tester, someone who tries to break into a security system to test its effectiveness.

Abandonware is slang for software still under copyright but no longer distributed, sold or supported. But someone has it. And it’s probably not working.

Bloatware may sound like something you put on after a big dinner, but it’s actually slang for software that has lots of mostly useless features and requires considerable space and memory to install and run. It’s particularly pervasive now because, since the cost of RAM and disk storage has decreased, software developers disregard the size of their apps, and viola, bloatware.

Whack-a-mole is indeed a carnival game, but in the IT world, it’s the practice of repeatedly getting rid of something, only to have more of that thing – or something seemingly random or unrelated – appear. For example a tech who’s spent a lot of time deleting spammers’ e-mail accounts or closing pop-up windows in a web browser could tell his coworker “I’ve been playing whack-a-mole for three hours.”

A doorstop is a piece of non-functioning or outdated equipment inexplicably kept on premises – and perhaps its best use is as a doorstop. Not as a piece of IT equipment.

When something is bug-for-bug-compatible, it was actually reproduced with the bugs intact. In other words, the known bugs of product A were replicated in the “bug-for-bug compatible” product B, because software often relies on bugs (or undocumented behavior) in order to function properly. Therefore, retaining these bugs is sometimes important.

Code smell doesn’t mean that someone burned up the server; instead, if it exists, it indicates that someone made poor choices elsewhere in a code base.

Software rot is a hypothetical affliction that causes programs to run more poorly over time. Software doesn’t actually rot, rather a program’s assumptions may become out of date, newer operating systems may not function in exactly the same way, and the like.

Brute force, in this case, has nothing to do with physical strength. Rather, it’s closer to ‘non-elegant,’ in a way a problem is solved using the sheer amount of computer processing available, rather than finding (or inventing) a smarter technique. You might hear a tech say, “I was tired of reading CRLS, so I wrote a quick-and-dirty brute force algorithm.”

If your hardware or software contains a bug that makes it unusable – i.e. crashing on startup – you’ve got a showstopper on your hands, which is pretty much the opposite of what the word means in the world of theater (a moment that elevates a performance). “Showstopper” bugs certainly must be fixed before a product can be released, and often need to be fixed before development can proceed.

The glossary of tech terms could fill several blog posts. Next time up, we’ll look at some fun slang being used by “regular” (non-techie) internet users.