A new name for an old job

Oct. 10, 2002
Engineers in particular are criticized for not using straightforward language when writing reports or presenting technical papers.
View other Ron
Khol editorials

Technical people often talk and write in high-flown ways to make what they do sound more sophisticated and more technically in-depth than it really is. But engineers can't hold a candle to computer people when it comes to obfuscation of the language.

Almost every time people take a routine activity and begin doing it on a computer, they feel obligated to invent new high-tech terms to describe their work. Even names applied to software have become perverted. Modern software, for example, is rarely described in terms of what it does specifically. Today, almost all software performs the amorphously ambiguous job of "providing solutions."

At first I thought computer specialists invented highfalutin terms to make their work seem mysterious and too complex for mere mortals to comprehend. But more recently I have come to the conclusion that they invent language because the more they are immersed in computers, the more their verbal skills atrophy. They simply lose the ability to express even simple ideas in an everyday vocabulary.

And that brings us to a newspaper article I happened to see describing a job search being conducted by a woman who, at the time the article was published, had been out of work for more than 18 months. She had been laid off from her most recent job after spending six months as research director of an Internet start-up with a salary of over $100,000 per year. As an aside, it is interesting to note that an Internet start-up was paying a research director $100,000 just before going out of business. With a financial burn-rate that high, it is no wonder so many dot-coms have bitten the dust, but that is another story.

At any rate, the tenor of the article is that the woman should have landed a job long ago because she is an expert in knowledge management, which the newspaper calls a hot new field. Evidently I missed the boat somewhere because I was not aware that there is a field called knowledge management, let alone that it is "hot." The article didn't give a clue to what "knowledge management" actually is, other than to say it involves extracting and sharing key information from a company's employees and files. The thing that struck me as ironic is that I myself was extracting and sharing information years ago using pencil, paper, and file folders. But I didn't know I was doing knowledge management.

Trying to find out more about the modern version of this field, I went to someone who knows more about computers than I do and asked what knowledge management is. He explained that it is the collecting and filing of information in a computer database. That was interesting to hear because I thought one of the things people did with computers dating back to the first mainframes was the storing of information in a database. In fact, right here in our own company, we have people storing information in computers, but none of them realize they are working in a hot new field. Even a computer jock I talked to said that knowledge management sounds to him a lot like the work librarians do.

An interesting aspect of the unemployed woman's story is that, in addition to being out of work a long time, she isn't able to line up much in the way of meaningful job interviews. But I think I know what the problem is. When she sends resumes to prospective employers and tells them she is an expert in knowledge management, they really can't figure out what she does.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor
Send feedback to MDeditor @ penton.com

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