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A new vocabulary

I’m lucky to be the kind of researcher I am.  I get to observe and interview people who do really cool work and to learn about what they do.  A couple years ago I learned how vaccines for Black Plague get made.  My dissertation lets me learn about how bridges (real ones, not just metaphorical ones) get built.  Now, at Microsoft, I learn how software is built.  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been interviewing managers of developers and testers at Microsoft in an effort to recruit them for my study on remote onboarding and to learn about what they do.

Years ago, before I came back to grad school, I had the illustrious title “Developer” at a web start up in Chicago with about 100 employees.  A “software team” there was a project manager, a developer, an architect, and a designer.  We built websites.  My job was to write ASP code that made the designers and project managers happy.  Towards the end of my career, I wrote ASP.NET code.  Somewhat more complicated, still produced a website.  “Developer” at Microsoft means something a bit different.  Developers at Microsoft build stuff that matters – Windows, for example.  They do it in teams using tools such as Source Depot, Razzle, test harnesses, RSOPs, WTT, and TFS.  They meet in scrums, war rooms, Live Meetings, Office Communicator, one-on-ones, and code reviews.  Those 12 phrases and acronyms are new to me. Not one of them had I ever heard before.  I now know what 5 of them mean.  I’ll leave you to guess which 5 I know.

Learning the vocabulary of my subjects is just one part of my research, but it’s been a while since I had so much specialized vocabulary to learn.  The phrases and acronyms the engineers I study use seem a bit more intuitive to me, things like “pancake test” and “aggregate” are nearly self-explanatory.  Granted, “code review” means about what you think it does but “scrum”?  No, developers are not playing rugby.

Being a new employee while studying new employees is so meta I can hardly handle it.  Perhaps next week when I meet my first new employee subjects I’ll start to feel like I have a better handle on the situation.  For now, while I’m meeting with managers, I’ll just keep typing as fast as I can and hope that I’ll know when to ask for help.

So, what do you think ?

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