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Unravelling IT Jargon

Cat with wool~Navigator member Jacqui Hogan is a management consultant ~

I’ve worked in IT for over 30 years and take it for granted that everyone understands what these terms mean. This works fine during the day, as most of my clients work in IT. But when I get home, my husband, who is a retired Architect (a real one who designed buildings), just looks at me blankly. Here is some of the IT Jargon he says he finds confusing – and an explanation.

The Cloud

No, not that fluffy thing up in the sky. ‘The Cloud’ often refers to the Internet in general. Strictly speaking, it refers to where you store data and use software applications that are not on your own computer. Whereas you used to get a CD or DVD, install it on your PC in the office, now you can go onto the Internet, and just start using software there. This means you’ll always be using the latest version of the software, and will only be paying for what you use. Or at least that’s the theory! If you have good access to the Internet, this can be pretty convenient.

You should be mindful to the security of your data and check backup policies/procedures, especially if the data is crucial to your business.

Big Data

This is a broad term used to describe ‘data’ that is very large or complex, usually deriving from a variety of different sources. This data is often difficult to analyse using traditional applications.

For organisations with big quantities of records like policy documents, invoices, customer records, social media information etc., Big Data is a way to bring it all together in one place so you can make enquiries that encompasses all of these data sources in one go. While this might simple – it isn’t; this is why IT specialists can charge so much money to make it happen. This is such a useful idea though that costs will come down eventually.


Most of us take our phones, pads and laptops for granted these days. But IT departments are tearing their hair out because of the potential security issues of BYOD or ‘Bring Your Own Device’ to the office. It may seem unfair if you are asked not to use your personal phone the office, but these devices introduce all sorts of uncontrolled apps (application software), with the potential for viruses and other nasties. Because these devices are all so different, it is extremely difficult for IT departments to put security in place that safeguards everyone. In the same way that you as an individual need to be vigilant about someone stealing your bank details, organisations need to be even more careful about someone stealing their bank details, important commercial or customer information.

If your organisation doesn’t have a BYOD policy, suggest they put one in place fast! Just because you’re careful, it doesn’t mean that Joe Bloggs in the office next door will be.


Something that is both helpful and annoying! Essentially, a cookie is a small data file stored on your computer by a website, in theory to allow it to “remember” your preferences, but in practise mostly used to track which adverts you have seen. You can set your browser to reject cookies, but this can generate multiple error messages on some websites and is generally more hassle than it’s worth – they are pretty harmless. If you work in a very secure area, your organisation will probably have a policy about cookies.


This is a term used to describe capacity for transmitting data, often used as part of a description for how fast you can access the Internet. Broadly speaking, the bigger the bandwidth the faster your access. Certain activities need more bandwidth than others e.g. anything interactive, especially if it has graphics or video (games, TV programmes etc.)


The first bit of software your PC runs when you start it up. The Basic Input/Output System or BIOS makes sure all the components work together properly e.g. the disk drive, keyboard, mouse etc., and loads the operating system e.g. Windows 8 etc. You are unlikely to ever need to know how to do anything to it, as it sits there doing its stuff behind the scenes. Rather like having a good doorman or concierge.

Device Driver

A small program used by the operating system to control hardware such as a sound or video card. All hardware e.g. monitors, need one to work properly. Sometimes, downloading the latest driver for a device from the manufacturer’s website will improve its functionality (most people don’t do this). Otherwise, the only time you’re likely to need to know about these, is if you upgrade your operating system or attach a new device and the device no longer works.


URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator, but most people know it as the Internet Address or Webpage, but it also refers to a few other things like File transfer addresses, mail address etc.


Before we had WordPress, people used to put information on webpages by transferring it in files using File Transfer Protocol or FTP. It is still used in older and bigger webpage designs.


Not a physical restraint, like a train buffer, but a temporary storage area for data, often used to “smooth out” audio or video. Data transfer often happens in bursts depending on how fast your internet or network connection is. Since it is annoying to listen to or watch jerky video (data), a buffer can make this smoother. Several seconds’ worth of material is stored in the buffer and it is then played back from there, so that if there is a brief interruption in the data transmission your music or video doesn’t stop.


Webpages work the way they do because they are written using Hypertext Mark-up Language or HTML. It’s a bit like sophisticated punctuation, in that it defines the structure of information on your screen e.g. paragraphs, lists, links etc. It brings in other elements like pictures etc. Increasingly, people are using CSS to deal with much of the formatting.


Cascading Style Sheets or CSS, are becoming the method of choice now for doing much of the formatting work that used to be done by HTML e.g. fonts, size, layout etc. The advantage of using CSS is that you can set these up once for your whole website instead of having to write HTML for every page.

Open Source

With the rise of the Internet, came the ability to share the development of software. For many people, collaboration became the norm rather than the exception, creating questions about who owned the source code and the software products created. Many believed that this collaborative development of software should belong to everyone, and the Open Source movement began. The main principle is that this code is freely available to anyone. Probably the best know is Linux, an alternative operating system widely available on PCs and Servers.

I’m sure this is far from an exhaustive list. But if you have any IT Jargon that confuses you, please add them in the comments, and I’ll find a simple non-techie description!

Jacqui Hogan (@cocreative) is a sought after business mentor, author, consultant and trainer with Cocreative Ltd, a consulting and training company that helps IT business owners and directors connect the technology they love with the business environment they need to succeed.

My latest book is ‘Field Guide to the Workplace Jungle’, which will give you a new perspective on the people you work with. For example, how do you deal with the Office Clam? Or make the most of your Minimal Mouse? Why is the Office Meercat so annoying? For more information, click here. 

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