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Getting granular with Microspeak: Working at Microsoft (especially for people
who come from journalism and the entertainment industry like many of us at Cinemania and
Music Central) is a lot like passing through the looking glass. Microsoft is a distinctive
world with a culture (including bizarre customs and rituals) and a language of its own.
(Unfortunately, this culture is rapidly becoming more mainstream as the company itself
becomes more traditionally corporate and less colorful; "The Suits" are
definitely taking over...) For those of us who love words (as opposed to code), Microsoft
is a Wonderland of bizarre and exotic terms and phrases, not all of which resemble English
as we (use to) know it. I fell down the Redmond rabbit hole in 1994, and Ken Barnes
followed shortly thereafter. Ken is a collector -- of music (mostly on vinyl) and of
language (mostly on paper) -- and as we discussed the exotic jargon we heard and read in
e-mail, he took it upon himself to compile this lexicon as a "living document"
guide to himself and others who found themselves strangers in this strange land. That
earned him not only a feature story in the MicroNews, the company's
corporate newsletter, but the undying respect and admiration of his fellow a-dashes, and
even a grudging chuckle of recognition from a few blue badges.
P.S. Jeeem's CinePad is set primarily in the Arial typeface that is used for almost all Microsoft e-mail, the preferred mode of discourse.
Compiler's Note: This lexicon's goal is to provide a representative compilation
of slang peculiar to the Microsoft working environment. Every attempt has been made to
avoid listing examples of widespread computer or software industry slang or generalized
geekspeak. However, it is impossible in many cases to avoid it, since Microspeak borrows
from the geekspeak vocabulary, while elements of Microjargon also penetrate the world
outside. Hardcore technological terms have also been avoided where possible in favor of
more sociologically oriented terminology.
A-dash: Prefix used for e-mail names (transcribed as "a-") and in conversation to distinguish Microsoft contractors (also see Orange Badge), who are hourly and paid by temp agencies, from Microsoft employees (see Blue Badge, Headcount), who have salaries and vesting stock options.
Action Item: Something you need to follow up on as part of your ownership of an issue. (See Own, Issue)
Admin: Group administrator, a position designed to facilitate matters such as supplies, payment of contractors and vendors, acquiring new equipment, dealing with the Microsoft bureaucracy, allocation of office space, moving (a ritual practiced every six months or so whether needed or not, as a corporate-approved application of chaos theory), planning parties, etc. Normally serves as a roadblock to all but the last function. Admins also serve executive assistants or secretaries to top executives, who in the nominally egalitarian environment of Microsoft are not authorized to have e.a.'s or secretaries but still need (or feel they need) them.
Adminisphere: Organizationally speaking, the levels starting directly above you, characterized by their general cluelessness about issues you're well versed in and tendencies to make policy decisions that ignore your expert input.
Alias: E-mail name for individual or group, mostly used for the latter.
App: An unappetizing shorthand abbreviation of application, meaning a way of using a product or program. Ex: "That app doesn't work on the PowerMAC."
Ask: Used as a noun, preceded by "the," as in "What's the ask?", which basically means "What are you asking ?", or "What's the bottom line?", or, more simply, "What's the question?" Essentially, then, a gratuitous verb-to-noun transmogrification, creating a useless synonym for question.
Author: Person who assembles various multimedia componentstext, audio, graphicsinto a cohesive presentation. Not to be confused with a traditional author in fiber media (q.v.), who is known in cybermedia as a content provider (q.v.). Also used as a verb ("You need to finish production so Mark can author that piece.")
Bandwidth: Essentially a cumbersome synonym for "time," as in "I don't have the bandwidth to deal with that issue," but with implications beyond the merely temporal, encompassing the larger issue of mental resources or capacity. Also, "mindshare" (as in share of mind available to deal with the issue).
Big R/Little R: Archaic but still used by lifers. In the now-obsolete Xenix e-mail system, an upper-case "R" was used for a general reply ("reply all"), while a lower-case "r" denoted a response to the sender only. Thus, a "little r only" request in e-mail means "reply only to me," or "keep the lid on this."
Binary Problem: A method of paring down a complex issue to a two-possible-solutions scenario (yes or no, 1 or 0, stop or go, etc.) Described by resident Microsoft philosopher Stephen Brown as "classic MS reductivism clearly an economical way of thinking, since it eliminates all need to consider the vast gray area that occupies the psychic space of most issues and problems."
Bitstorm: (Probably general industry usage) A volume of traffic on a service high enough to cause the digital equivalent of gridlock.
Black Hole: A project requiring infinite amounts of work. In other words, the vast majority of Microsoft projects.
Bleeding edge: (General industry usage) Synonym for "cutting edge," with an added implication of the pioneer's vulnerability. Ex: "We're really on the bleeding edge with this product. Hope it sells through." Being "edgy" is still, however, a desirable Microsoft quality.
Bloatware: (General industry usage) Software that takes up a huge and disproportionate amount of space on your hard drive. Synonym: Spacehog.
Blocking Issue: (see Issue) A barrier or problem that prevents a neat solution to an issue. Usually technical but can be any sort of potential roadblock.
Blue Badge (or Blue Card): (sometimes, slightly derogatorily, blue badger, or just plain blue) Synonym for full-time Microsoft employees, the Brahmins of the deeply ingrained Microsoft caste system, whose card keys have a blue background rather than the orange used for contractors (see Orange Badge) and green for vendors. Derivative terms include "turn blue," meaning to earn full-time status.
Bookmark: Possibly of extra-Microsoft origin (or usage). To make note of a prospective hire ("I bookmarked her after I saw her speak at a convention"; "Bookmark him, Danno"). Derived from the Web practice of bookmarking favorite sites.
BOOP: One of at least 10,000 peculiar-to-Microsoft acronyms. There are so many casually-tossed-off acronyms (mostly of three letters, such as OOF=Out Of Facility) in daily use that there's even an acronym for the concept itself: TLA (three-letter acronym). This particular four-letter acronym is especially disarming; it stands for "Bill and the Office Of the President," meaning Bill Gates and his three top honchos. At one time you could e-mail to BOOP and the message would get to those four gentlemen. After a reorg (q.v.) on December 3, 1996, BOOP was replaced by the less-endearing Executive Committee.
Bouncing: Cybernetic equivalent of going off the airfor repairs, a new app, or other internal tinkering. "The system is bouncing at 4:30 and should be up in 20 minutes."
Braindump: A process by which a departing Microsoft employee or contractor imparts the essential information vital to performing his or her job to the designated replacement. The process normally consumes no more than five minutes immediately prior to the incumbent's departure from the company, nevermore to return.
Broken: Temporarily disabled; currently not working ("You can't access the site right now; it's broken"). There's a distinct (and often optimistic) air of impermanence about this term, implying a deep-rooted faith that anything can be fixed.
Bucket: A virtual container in which tasks can be dumped: e.g., "Stick that interface issue in Ed's bucket." Sometimes, a container in which low-priority concepts can be consigned: "Toss that simple exit function in the feature bucket; we don't have the bandwidth to deal with it this build."
Bug: All-purpose term for mistake, error, glitch. Standard usage for the industry; now fairly widespread throughout the computer-literate world. Despite its universal acceptance, the term is, according to the not entirely objective web source Woody's Office Watch, deliberately avoided by Microsoft technical support personnel when referring to MS software. Employed instead are such euphemisms as "issue" (in various permutations) or more highly evolved doublespeak terms such as "undocumented feature" (cf. Feature), "challenge," or "design side effect." Company loyalists insist, however, that one reason for this circumlocution is that in Microspeak, "bug" has the all-inclusive definition of any problem or complaint filed about a product, whether valid or not, as opposed to the general usage, which refers only to actual problems. According to this line of reasoning, any discussion of bugs with outsiders can give the impression that Microsoft products are far more buggy than anyone else's. Others respond, "And your point would be "
Build: The drive to complete a project or new version of a product. "The IE 4.0 build is eating up all our dev resources."
Bump: Synonym for "push back" (q.v.); i.e., readdress an issue after an unsatisfactory or dilatory response. "You'll need to bump legal again on the permissions issue." See Ping.
BusDev: (pron. "BIZ-dev) Most likely also common outside Microsoft. Verbal and written shorthand for business development, the arm of the company responsible for well, developing businesses, or assessing the pros and cons of continuing, discontinuing, or moving into established business realms.
Buttoned Down: Compliment, meaning tightly reasoned, clear, concise, etc. Not often heard of late.
Buyoff: (Also buy-off) Approval from above; green light. "We need BOOP's buyoff before this project's a go.
Buzzword Bingo: Deeply, perhaps uniquely cynical pastime, a competition taking place at company meetings. The meetings, essentially monster pep rallies usually held at the Kingdome, feature inspirational speeches from top company execs; in buzzword bingo you're electronically issued a bingo card inscribed with Microjargon and industry catch phrases deemed likely to crop up in the day's orations, and every time one of your buzzwords is spoken you get credit. Overzealous players have been known to leap up in the middle of a speech and proclaim "Bingo!"
Campus: What more industrially oriented corporations would call a "plant" or "facility." Microsoft's collegiate orientation is worth an appendix of its own.
CLM: TLA (q.v.) for "career-limiting move." Badmouthing adminispheric dictates, no matter how ill-considered, can be a CLM. So can compiling lexicons.
Code Complete: When the program codes of a project have passed all the tests that program management and testing have determined there's time to throw at it. Ready to go, though not necessarily (in fact, probably not) bug-free.
Code Warrior: A developer; a writer of code; the building block of traditional Microsoft success. See Dev.
Config: Particularly displeasing shortened form of configuration.
Content Providers: (General industry usage) Writers, usually, although the term can also apply to artists, musicians, and anyone else whom the code lords condescend to allow to provide the raw material for their tools to propagate or facilitate.
Context-switch: A verb, unbelievably, meaning "change subjects." Ex: "Enough about outsourcing issues. Let's context-switch to planning the rollout."
Cookie: Webspeak term for the electronic location in a browser where basic information and preferences supplied by the user about him or herself are stored.
Cool: Basically employed in the same generation-spanning, mildly hip way as in general parlance, but overused vastly out of proportion to its applicability, generally in a one-word response. Origin of the term's primacy is mysterious but it is all-pervasive, up to the very loftiest levels. Ex: "We showed the prototype to BillG, and he said it was way cool." Gag-reflex-inducing customized spelling gaining currency: kewl.
Core Competence: What Microsoft is good at. Subject of heated internal debates between conservatives who want to stick with the software basics and expansionists who favor venturing into untested waters, likehorror of horrorscontent.
Core Product: A tangible, salable product, such as a CD-ROM, as opposed to a web app of the same information. Increasingly less relevant as Microsoft shifts emphasis more strongly to the Internet and discontinues most CD-ROM products.
Crisp: Well-reasoned, precisely reasoned. Opposite of Random.
Cycles: Another approximate synonym for "time" (see Bandwidth), as in "there aren't enough cycles in the day to drive this issue." The internal, informal Cityscape Microspeak Dictionary defined cycles economically as "human brainpower measured in computer metric." Often used in tandem with the verb "burn," as in "He's really burning a lot of cycles trying to resolve those UI issues."
Death March: The long, lingering final countdown to a ship date, involving 16-25-hour days, catnaps on couches, and plenty of "flat food" (food, mostly from vending machines, that you can slip under people's doors so they can keep working).
Deliverable: A task that you "own" and are responsible for delivering. Ex: "What progress have you made on your deliverables?" VariantKey Deliverable: a more important task/project than a mere, run-of-the-mill, mundane deliverable.
Delta: The distance, or period of time, between where a project or item is and where it should be. Derived from the mathematical term (as opposed to river mouth, Greek alphabet, or fraternity usages) describing "an incremental change in a variable." Used in reference to all manner of things"testing delta," "production delta," or "stock delta," defined as the difference between an employee's "strike price" (the lowest price of MS stock during the first 30 days of the blue badger's employment) and the current price, often a figure inspiring boisterous gloating.
Dependency: A necessity; something that has to work right or come through for a larger project to be accomplished. VariantsZero-Dependency (does not affect the project in question); Key Dependencya really necessary necessity.
Dev: Short for Development, the developers (or code warriors)not unknown to be a trifle eccentricwho make everything work. "We'll hand that issue off to dev." "Dev's not here, man."
Disambiguate: A remarkably unclear way to say "clarify."
Disconnect: Miscommunication. Always used as a noun ("We had a disconnect on the HTML issue").
Disintermediate: Almost certainly an example of pure Marketing-speak, rather than Microjargon, but difficult to resist including anyway. Essentially means, once the syllables are peeled away, disposing of intermediary entities between two primary market forces; i.e., maneuvering to dispense with distributors and manufacturers that "interfere" with the basic relationship between the creator of a work and the consumer. Colloquial English translation: eliminate the middleman.
Doc: Casual, widespread abbreviation of "document."
Dogfood: Software code not fit for public consumption but good enough for internal purposes, very unrefined and buggy (that is, full of bugs), but containing the basic nutrients. Alternately, code you're developing and using in daily functions simultaneously (a process known as "eating your own dogfood").
Doorstop: Possibly general argot. A computer that's become obsolete for reasons of insufficient processing speed or storage capacity. As of Summer '97, this class included all 286 and 386 models and most 486's.
Drill down: To delve deeply into the core of an issue, rather than deal with it in a superficial manner; to analyze the details.
Drive: To push; to captain the initiative on a particular issue or project. "Ed is driving the HTML issue for the product."
E-Mail Names: On the surface, a reasonably logical method of distinguishing 20,000 or so Microsoft employees and contractors on the internal corporate e-mail system. Consists of a five- or six-letter alias (q.v.) constructed from first and last name if Leonardo Di Caprio worked for Microsoft, for example, his e-mail handle would be something like "leodic." Where it gets strange is that the corporate culture fosters a substitution of the e-mail name for the real name, in memos, formal documents, and even, repellently, in conversation. (Ex: "johnd owns that issue," "contingent staffers report to edcur," and constant casual references to Bill Gates as "billg.")
E-mail names also instantly serve to identify the e-mailers rank in the hiring hierarchy full-time employees' handles solely comprise the first-and-last-name combo; contractors have an "a-" affixed to the front of their handles (e.g., a-hosim; the a- [pron. "a-dash" (q.v.)] stands for agency, meaning a temp-agency employee); vendors' handles are preceded by "v-" (v-dash); and "temporary employees" (probationary full-time employee hires who don't receive all the perks of conventional FTEs, meaning no stock options) get a "t-" (t-dash). This system conveniently enables, for example, a busy FTE scanning his e-mail to note that a message in his in-box was sent by a contractor and therefore can be safely ignored.
EOD: (Sometimes lower-cased.) Endemic TLA meaning "end of day." Ex: "I need your take-away from the off-site by EOD tomorrow."
EOM: (Often lower-cased.) End Of Message. Appended to subject line of e-mail to indicate that no further communication is forthcoming.
Exposure: Defined pithily by an anonymous MS Glossary contributor as "those areas for which one's ass is not covered." Ex: "Our exposure for the 3.0 version is the skimpy content."
Extensible: Marketing usage. In reference to products or features, capable of being build on, elaborated, or extended. What might, in plainer English, be called "extendable."
Eye Candy: Not exclusively Microspeak, but a commonly used term denoting visually attractive material, analogous to "ear candy" in the music business (although not to "nose candy").
Eyeballs: Users of a website; audience (a vague equivalent of listeners to a radio station).
Facemail: Technologically backward means of communication, clearly inferior to voicemail or e-mail. Involves actually walking to someone's office and speaking to him or her face to face. Considered highly inefficient and declasse.
Feature: Euphemism for bug (q.v.). Dysfunctional attributes in a product are often "explained" away by apologists with the phrase "It's not a bug, it's a feature." As a result, "it's a feature" became a shorthand expression for "it's a screwed-up situation," or synonymous with "it's a bummer."
Feewall: (See Firewall.) A barrier of demarcation for financial responsibility. "Does this project fall on our side of the feewall?" translates directly as "Do we have to pay for this?"
Fiber Media: Material published on the hopelessly archaic medium of paper. Ex: "Yeah, I used to be a writer in fiber media, but now I'm a content provider in cybermedia."
Firewall: (General industry usage) A cyber-barrier. Ex: "Let's build a firewall on the website to separate editorial from advertising. Also increasingly common parlance for a barrier or separator in any context, not just cyberspace.
Flame Mail: A term in widespread general usage, meaning unpleasant e-mail in which one's ancestry, intelligence, and upbringing are brought into question, usually with a wolverine-like viciousness far out of proportion to the severity of the original offense. At Microsoft, flame mail is often sent when an individual has committed an egregious error, such as using the "Reply All" function in answering a company-wide e-mail requesting the serial number of all 20,000+ employees/contractors.
Freeze: Point in a project's timespan after which no more changes can be permitted. Or, as Cityspeak Dictionary eloquently puts it, "Point in product development after which the answer to all great new ideas is no."
Full Plate: More than enough to do: "Someone else will have to drive this one; Ed's already got a full plate." Likely not of exclusive Microsoft origin.
FYIV: FLA for "Fuck you, I'm vested." Delightful expression invoked under stress by MS employees whose stock options have matured, assuring them sufficient financial independence to reject work demands they feel are out of line. Ex: "You think I'm gonna go on a death march for this product? FYIV!"
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© 1995-1988 by Ken Barnes and associates. All rights reserved.