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Tech Glossary for the Nontechnical: Edition 1

Tech words to help you sound more like Steve Jobs and less like Steven Mnuchin

Photo by Alexandra on Unsplash

When you’re trying to speak to a group of techies, it can feel as if you’ve stumbled into a conversation where everyone is speaking a dialect of Mandarin. Also, you don’t always have time to frantically Google “CMS” or find out why our friends in Europe are getting so upset about Cookies.

Sometimes all you want is a short and simple explanation of a thing, no long drawn out, man-splained commentary. That’s precisely what we’re trying to do here: a jargon-free, plain-English tech dictionary. We’ve compiled fundamental terms you’ll need if you’re considering speaking to anyone that knows how to ‘computer’. There’s a lot we didn’t cover here. It’s part of a series of weekly posts I’ll be doing to try to boost your tech vocabulary.

Web Browser

A program you use to look at and navigate between pages on the World Wide Web. The two main browsers are Chrome and Firefox, although there are many others. If anyone mentions that they use Internet Explorer, turn around and start walking. Fast.

Some people call a web browser “the Internet”, but they really only provide the ability to view pages on the web.


A small text file sent to your computer by a web site you have visited. They can be very useful because they allow the website to recognize who you are when you come back. Cookies cannot store viruses or malware. They can be used to track your movements across different websites to provide, for example, those much needed “targeted” advertisements that we’ve all come to love!


A firewall is a piece of computer software that restricts the data that is allowed to flow through. Firewalls stop web traffic that may have nefarious motives.


Although to many this may sound like a yummy nutritious dish you’d cook up for your family on a Sunday, in tech terms it means uninvited email messages sent out in bulk trying to sell you something.


This is kind of like the virtual version of standing outside an exclusive club and being asked for the password before the doorman will let you in. We’ve all seen this before, find [insert name of thing here] in this picture before you can send us this form!

CAPTCHA checks are the letters and numbers that have to be typed into web pages before something can be saved or submitted. Although very annoying, they are there to help us. Setting up these checks blocks any automated process — like generating spam — from using the page, while still allowing a human to submit a form.

The acronym CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart” —If I was naming things, I’d go for something easier like “Spam Blocker”.

Alt Text

“Alternative text” or “alt text”, is the text associated with a picture. It’s usually the file name of that image or a short description of the picture. When a picture isn’t able to load in an email, website, or blog post, the alt text is displayed instead.


“Application Programming Interface”–A computer programming term that just means a series of rules. APIs enable an application to get information from a service and use that information in their own application.

Think back to the last time you were asked to sign in with Facebook or saw a Google map on a contact page. These are both examples of an API in action.

Browser Cache

When you revisit a web page, it should take less time to load than the first time you visited. This is because a cached version of the page was already saved the first time you viewed it. Because you have a cached version of the page, your web browser doesn’t need to send a new request to see that page.

Responsive Design

The method of designing web pages that automatically appear in their optimized form on all devices (mobile, desktop, tablet, etc.). A responsive design automatically reformats your website for all screen sizes so your user can easily interact with your site no matter what device they’re using.

IP Address

“Internet Protocol Address”–A unique string of numbers separated by periods that identifies each computer using the Internet Protocol to communicate over a network.

Watch this space for my weekly list of ‘words to know’ in tech!




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Kevin Meldau

Kevin Meldau

Software engineer at Polar Notion

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