Clearing Up Techy Buzzwords

Startups love them, as do resumes. The rest of us, however, are rolling our eyes. Limited to a brief life span and popularity, buzzwords provide entrepreneurs, techies, and finance types with a flashy lexicon. They are the seeds of future cliches and are notoriously vague and ambiguous.

Here are a few examples of buzzwords, and all their different meanings.

-Big Data-

Big Data sounds more like the nickname for the office’s overweight IT guy than the analysis of copious amounts of data. At least the nickname would be concise, compared to the near dozen definitions that crowd the tech sphere. The term refers to data so large and unruly that the logistics of processing it become challenging.


A “unicorn” has a few meanings. In finance, A “unicorn” means a company valued at $1 billion. Those companies often seek technical “unicorns,” individuals who possess the skills of a UX designer, a front and back end engineer, and a systems operator–which is someone who manages to do four different jobs poorly. Apparently, “unicorn” isn’t restricted to just tech and finance: a co-worker mentioned that her friend was the “unicorn” of the orgy. That is, she was a single, bi-sexual female willing to be in threesomes. A baseball “unicorn” might be an errorless shortstop with a .401 batting average. What these “unicorns” lack in glittery horns and magic, they make up for in being the top talent in their respective industries. They are multi-talented, capable, and impossible to find.

-The Cloud-

“The Cloud” refers to a network of remote servers connected to the internet for storing and processing data. This is often more convenient than storing that data on a local server or computer. Because we want faster internet, the information we need is stored in these servers, or “the cloud”, located in near proximity. This quickly becomes overly technical, and when that happens, an audience begs for metaphor. This is probably how we got, “the cloud.” Which sounds better to you? A third-party data-center used to store cached information in order to optimize rendering time, or fluffy, white, internet clouds?


Scalable is ambiguous. It crosses over from business to tech and then back to business again. If your scalable application gains a lot of users, then you better hope that your servers can scale as they process more and more requests. Your business is scalable if it can handle a huge shift in users and manage to operate smoothly. A scalable business model is one that looks attractive to investors: the product multiplies revenue without taking unnecessary blows to the company budget.


A responsive application or website operates smoothly on a mobile device as it does on a tablet and a desktop. Responsive applications implement graceful degradation and progressive enhancement. These ten dollar terms mean that the application will work on the brightest and best web devices, but still look nice on your grandmother’s outdated Internet Explorer browser.

In a scene as bustling as the tech industry, Buzzwords gain popularity because they can describe a quickly growing trend. The problem is that when a trend dies, so do its words. Something tells me “unicorn” will be out of lingo by 2017. What they also provide is an opportunity to join the club: if you know the new word, then you know about the latest trend — and that gives you value. At least temporarily.

However annoying Buzzwords can be, they seem inescapable at meet-ups, conferences and classes. Techies use them inevitably — probably due to the influx of people in the field. People like me who, until 7 months ago, had absolutely nothing to do with the tech scene. Buzzwords tend to get everyone on the same page and create a vague, unanimous understanding of what’s going on. However valuable the words, they are still fragile.