There is a good chance that if you are reading this blog that you are well versed in a fair amount of telecom industry jargon. I do my best in writing this blog to stay from as much jargon as possible, but it’s not easy. Jargon is shorthand, and it lets folks already in the industry talk about topics without having to explain basic concepts every time they arise.
Every segment of the industry has its own jargon. Wireless folks know what’s meant when a colleague talks about MIMO, QAM, and RAN. Fiber folks understand what is meant by OLT, jitter, and backscattering. Cable company folk can talk about DAA, CMTS, and DOCSIS. The folks that finance broadband networks talk about yield, basis points, and acid test. Regulators all know what is meant by NARUC, NOI, and CPNI.
But I challenge any industry folks reading this blog – go look out your front door and ask yourself how many of your neighbors know what DOCSIS or XGS-PON means. How many know what you mean if you refer to NRTC or WISPA – or even that those are shorthand for organizations?
It’s hard to avoid using jargon. It’s nearly impossible to talk to a network engineer about the performance of a network without going quickly into jargon. It’s challenging to read an FCC order if you don’t know the regulatory jargon. You better understand the banker jargon before agreeing to new loan for a network.
But jargon can quickly get in the way when we want to communicate with somebody who doesn’t know our shorthand. As an example, I recently sat through a presentation by a water engineer with a City Council. This engineer used jargon throughout, and I could tell that the elected officials weren’t following the nuances of what he was talking about. I would hope that after the presentation that somebody explained the presentation to the elected officials – but since this engineer couldn’t describe his concept in plain English, most of the points he was making went over everybody’s heads.
Most folks assume everybody in the industry understands their jargon, but I know this isn’t so. Just listen to the way that a field technician and a customer service representative answer the same question from a customer – they are likely to use very different words.
I try my best to keep jargon down in this blog, but sometimes it’s almost impossible to do. It’s hard to write a 700-word piece and make a point if you have to explain each technical concept. I have to laugh when I get comments on a blog from a technician who is sure that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I try to summarize technical terms into plain language and use analogies to explain a concept. I can just hear them sputtering that I’m not being precise enough.
But this blog is a reminder to industry folks that we need to take a step back from jargon if we want folks to understand us. I can promise you that in a meeting of telecom folks that there will be attendees who don’t know what some of the jargon means, but are too embarrassed to say so. Jargon can be a total roadblock when trying to explain broadband to non-industry folks.
I had a college English teacher that told me something that has always stuck with me. She said that a good writer should be able to make any concept understandable to their grandmother. This doesn’t mean you have to write or speak without jargon if your target audience are folks who understand the jargon. But it means that communication can easily fail if you can’t explain things in a way that a listener will understand.