I'm a software engineer and just started a new position a few weeks ago in a specialized industry. I write iOS apps and do a little bit of webdev. People have been inviting me to meetings to discuss new features they want in our app, but they describe them in terms that I don't understand. They're words or phrases that mean something to our domain, but aren't really about software or programming. Things like "executed sub-batch" and "verified dematrix", there's dozens of phrases like these I haven't been able to figure out what this means by googling. I've tried making educated guesses like asking "Executed sub-batch means a function called by a Batch script, right?" and my coworkers say "No".

I've asked everyone who uses these phrases to explain them and they all say that they don't need to. I told my manager that I'm having a hard time understanding and he said "No you aren't. That wouldn't make sense if you were. You're a professional and professionals don't need this kind of thing explained".

I'm searching for another new job outside this domain, but I'd like to not lose employment. How should I deal with this?

  • 2
    If it is domain specific and (possibly) related to programming, may stackoverflow (including its chat rooms) represent a helpful resource for you?
    – Buttonwood
    Jul 28 at 20:48
  • 1
    Was any of this terminology used during your interview(s)?
    – sf02
    Jul 28 at 20:56
  • 1
    What is the domain? Why do they assume you would already know the jargon?
    – Seth R
    Jul 28 at 21:46
  • 1
    How many people are at these meetings? Are other people also receiving tasks, or just you? Are there interactions in the meetings between other people, or is it always aimed at you? Are you getting other non-cryptic tasks (like e.g. from your manager)? Jul 29 at 3:21
  • The only thing that drifts to the surface if I google for "dematrix" is that's something in SAP: tcodesearch.com/tcodes/search?q=buyer+dematrix and that could explain why it sounds like gibberish if you don't have any experience with that. It's jargon from another field.
    – ObscureOwl
    Jul 31 at 12:57

It's not uncommon for people to get this idea, "What? You don't know this? I thought everybody knew this."

Furthermore, people who work in a particular field or for a particular company often forget that, while they spend their entire lives working with this product, the rest of the world does not. Things that are routine to them may be very strange to others. Just for example, I remember once talking to someone from a software company about one of his company's products, he sent me a file and told me to install it. So I asked what seemed like a pretty obvious question to me, "How do I install it?" And he took on a tone of voice like I must be a complete idiot to ask such an obvious question and told me to copy the file to such-and-such a directory. I asked if I didn't have to run an installation program or set up some kind of configuration file. No, he said, like one would explain to a 2 year old, just copy the file to this directory. So okay, that's all I had to do and it worked ... but how was I supposed to know that? He worked with this product every day so he knew what directory to copy it to and that that was all he needed to do. I had never heard of the product before so I did not know any of that.

I'd simply tell them, "Look, I like to think I'm a smart guy and I know a lot about software development. But I'm sorry, I don't know much about widget manufacturing (or whatever the domain is). Maybe these terms you're using are very common in the widget industry, but I don't know them. Could you please explain them to me or point me to some source that I can study that would explain them?"

I'm a software developer, too. One thing about this business is that you often jump into some entirely new field. Like my first job was for a company that made kitchen appliances and my second job was for a company involved in maintaining aircraft. When I took the second job they understood that I knew all about computers but I knew nothing about aircraft maintenance, and so they took some time to explain what I needed to know as I went along. Then I moved to the furniture business and had to learn a whole new industry. Etc.

If they can't grasp that there are human beings who weren't born knowing their domain, and that if you don't just know if you must be some kind of drooling idiot, I don't know what you can do. Explain to them that you don't know it and ask for some explanation. If they're not willing to give it, and it's not something you can research or just figure out, yeah, you don't have much of a future in this company.

  • 1
    I could see how OP may not be familiar with some domain-specific language, but it seems unlikely that there would be no mention at all of verified dematrix (etc) anywhere on the internet, never mind if OP knows what it means or not. OPs problem seems to be that these terms don't actually exist in any real way.... Jul 29 at 17:50
  • I didn't try to look up the terms. Maybe they are not technical terms common in this domain, but rather are terms invented by the people at this one company and no one outside this company uses them. As he openly says that he is not familiar with the terms, maybe he doesn't have them quite right. Like maybe it's not "verified dematrix" but "vertically metric" or whatever.
    – Jay
    Jul 29 at 17:56

It sounds to me like they might be messing with you. And I say this as an experienced mobile software developer myself.

If you think that might be the case, do it back to them. Invent your own jargon and pretend that you heard it from your other colleagues. If they tell you they've never heard of this new jargon you're using, then I suppose it's possible that they were not messing with you.

However, if they go along with the new jargon without batting an eye, then you'll be closer to your answer. And that's when the real fun can begin.

You can create an elaborate nonsensical vocabulary and see if your colleagues begin adopting it. If you don't know what words to use as your new vocabulary, use your parent's names, use the name of your hometown, or use...(SPOILER ALERT for Usual Suspects)

...use the names of everyday objects around your desk like the main character does in Usual Suspects.

  • 1
    Hazing definitely right to me. If this was a real thing, at some point someone would have explained it. Jul 28 at 23:09

Call their bluff

First of all, you are right. Terms they are using do not mean a thing. It´s 2021 and you could find any technical term in search engine, from Eigenvalue to Toxoplasma gondii. And not only in English.

Therefore, at your next meaning, if they start tossing gibberish at you, stand up and tell them to stop. If they pull the routine "you are stupid peasant" demand that they explain the term right there and right now. If they refuse, leave the meeting.

Obviously, it would be a good time even today to start looking for a new job. Working with idiots is never worth it, no matter how much do they pay you.

  • There are still terms used in a company-specific way, particularly things like names of internal software and projects. If someone in the company has written programs called Castle and Tree, they might say "Castle this and then try it in Tree." You won't get that on Google. Even worse, they might have written a program called Compile that isn't actually a compiler. And acronyms are another thing: look your typical TLA up online and you might get 50 or 100 meanings, if it's not company-specific again.
    – Stuart F
    Aug 4 at 15:13
  • @StuartF They could call it Castle and Tree but obviously by using pseudo-scientific terms like "executed sub-batch" and mocking OP, these are not some internal terms. Anyway, even if it was, OP is not required to know their internal jargon, and has to stand up and call their bluff.
    – rs.29
    Aug 5 at 0:10

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