Stealing Terminology

July 2, 2013

One of my favorite tricks is to borrow terminology from other walks in life. This is particularly important for me, since it’s all too easy for engineers to end up living and talking in pure engineering speak. Looking to other careers for the correct words to describe something allows one to express ideas that might not be easily communicated otherwise.

If you look carefully, you can see examples of this in engineering blog posts. People talk about fighting entropy, or the metaphysics of data. These are terms that did not originally have any engineering context whatsoever, being brought in to express ideas and concepts about another subject.

My most recent borrowed term is Force Multiplier. A force multiplier is anything that allows an group or individual to be more effective without an increase in effort. It’s normally a military term referencing how better weather forecasts, equipment, or intelligence can allow a unit to accomplish much more without increasing effort/losses. I like to use it in reference to things like unit tests and automation, that make me more effective as an engineer without costing me more time. If I don’t have to babysit a build waiting to type in the next step, then I can get back to work while a CI server works for me. I’m instantly more effective without actually spending more time at work. With a comprehensive suite of unit tests I can spend less time worrying and validating that my refactoring has damaged the quality of the system, thus I can get more work done in the same period of time.

I’m sure there are far more examples of this than I’ve listed, but they’re always fun to find and analyze.

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