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A 'Sideways' Story from a Wayside Techie

Posted by TestOut Staff on

Two years ago I joined the GoCertify team, and it’s been a great experience. I enjoy my coworkers, working environment, and writing about certification training. My biggest challenge has been learning the lingo. Like most computer users, I understood basic terms like mouse, keyboard, and screen, but was completely in the dark when it came to the more tech-specific words and terms. My interactions typically unfolded along the lines of the famous clip from King of the Hill where a consternated Hank exclaims, "Do I look like I know what a j-peg is?!" In fact, the first time I was asked if I knew my “IP address,” I cautiously responded, “The bathroom?”

Looking up word

Nothing builds your confidence like being on the receiving end of exaggerated eye-roll from a techie.

Since then, I’ve worked hard to learn the industry argot, constantly looking up new terms and phrases. Unfortunately, too often the “official” descriptions of these words are as baffling as the terms themselves. For instance, Webopedia defines “DDoS attack" as: “a type of DOS attack where multiple compromised systems, which are often infected with a Trojan, are used to target a single system causing a Denial of Service (DOS) attack.” Huh?

Fortunately, we tech neophytes no longer need fear exposing our ignorance by asking IT pros to explain concepts using small words. Sideways Dictionary, a recent creation of Google’s Jigsaw incubator, uses analogies, metaphors and plain old English to explain technobabble. This nifty tool takes nothing for granted and assumes that you’re hearing the description/definition for the first time. The definitions/descriptions are simple to understand, easy to remember and guaranteed to elicit a chuckle or two. Sideways’ description of a “DDoS Attack” is a great example: “It’s like 20 sumo wrestlers trying to get through a revolving door at the same time. The server jams up pretty quickly.” 

Sideways currently has definitions for 73 tech-terms, all written in plain-English. All terms have more than one definition, some have four or even five, and users can up-vote those they find most helpful. Users are also encouraged to add a new definition/description of their own, “the quirkier and more personal, the better.”

If you’ve got a clever way of describing a tech-term, just sign-in with Google or Facebook, select the term and write your definition/description. The Sideways editors will ensure that submissions are “relevant” before posting them to the site. 

One caution: It’s easy to lose time while using Sideways — many of the user contributions are so cleverly written that it’s sometimes difficult to select a favorite. I especially like the offerings for “Troll”:

  • It’s like road rage ... people shout and get aggressive in ways that would never occur to them if you were talking face to face.
  • It’s like playing chess with a pigeon ... however good you are at chess, the pigeon will knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and strut around claiming victory.
  • It’s like a stray dog. If a troll starts following you around, don’t feed it, don’t engage with it, and don’t encourage it. Keep walking and it will lose interest.

The Sideways Dictionary is a fun and useful site for everyday users to better understand or explain tech concepts. So if your inner muse is calling, go ahead and start composing. Normal people will thank you.

Chuck NorrisAbout the AuthorCalvin Harper is an associate editor for GoCertify and a veteran of the publishing industry. Calvin looked up 'denial' in the dictionary and found a picture of the head cheerleader from Jake's high school.


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