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This Dictionary Will Get You Ready For “Talk Like Silicon Valley” Day

Do you know what “Button’s Law” is? How about a “Bus Factor” or a “Dave Ratio”? You can find out in a new Silicon Valley Dictionary

3 min read

This Dictionary Will Get You Ready For “Talk Like Silicon Valley” Day
Illustration: Erik Vrielink

Remember “Talk Like a Pirate Day?” Yes, that ship sailed some time ago. And instead of talking like pirates lately, the denizens of Silicon Valley have been inventing their own language, one that is often as incomprehensible as pirate-speak outside of the Bay Area.

Early attempts to encode this emerging vocabulary were informal. There were a few videos that went slightly viral in 2012, including “$#!% Silicon Valley Says” and “$#!% Venture Capitalists Say”.

Now there’s a Silicon Valley Dictionary, and it’s growing daily. It started as a weekend project in June, when three software engineers at Valley startups, Kilim Choi, Matt Hui, and Zeeshan Javed were watching HBO’s Silicon Valley, and thought the jargon in the show—vocabulary they’d heard frequently in their day jobs—needed its own dictionary.

During the last weekend of June they put together a “Silicon Valley Dictionary” website with ten words and definitions, and opened it up to contributions. In the less than two weeks since the vocabulary list has grown to some 300 words, and ten or so contributions arrive daily, Hui reports. The two delete entries that they consider insensitive or irrelevant, and they do some minor editing for grammar, but generally they leave the evolution of this phrasebook to the wisdom of the crowd.

Hui’s favorite submission to date is Waterloo: A mythical University in Canada where many good Engineers and Computer Scientists come from. [as in] Sam: "Where are all these Canadians from?"  Matthew: "We hired 10 interns and 20 full-times from Waterloo. They get $#&% done because if we don't hire them, they'll have to work for Blackberry. (Hui, by the way, is Canadian.)

Choi leans towards Soylent ProfitableA term that can be used interchangeably with ramen profitable [that is: when a startup makes enough money to pay its founders' expenses]. With the increase in [soylent’s] popularity, its rich nutrition and affordability, more and more health-concerned entrepreneurs are changing their diet to soylent.

A few of my favorite examples, edited slightly for length. Most of these I’ve heard in the wild. (I just added that term: In the wild. Seeing a new technology out in the real world, not just at launches and demos. “Have you spotted the new Google car in the wild yet?”)

  • Apple Maps Bad: A phrase used to indicate the low quality of a product because Apple Maps is barely usable.
  • Brogrammer: When you mix your typical engineer with your typical frat boy. The official heuristic to identify a brogrammer in your organization is when you can't tell whether the suspect is part of your engineering team or your sales team.
  • Bus Factor: The number of people that need to be hit by a bus before their project is dead."Our engineers work in teams of 10 for the higher bus factor."
  • Button's Law: Inspired by Benjamin Button and Moore's Law, this is an observation that the average age of new engineers and entrepreneurs decreases by approximately 1year with every passing year. “Did you read about that 7 year old entrepreneur? He started his own car company to compete with Tesla and has already raised funding.”
  • Code Ninja: A euphemism that is used by Bay Area recruiters who don't actually know what in particular they want in a Software Engineer, just someone who can pretty much do everything and anything that's handed to them. “We're looking to recruit the best Code Ninjas possible for our startup of 4 currently employed non-technical founders. Free pizza will be provided on Wednesdays.”
  • CUICoding under the influence. “Last Tuesday, Jeremy decided to code from a bar near his house instead of going to work. His code was very sloppy so the PM on the team gave him a CUI warning.”
  • Dave Ratio: It's very difficult to achieve gender parity at a startup. The next best metric is to compare the number of men named Dave to the number of women. Alex: “It's hard finding a company that has a reasonable number of women.” Kourtney: “Have you tried working at a company with a 10:1 Dave ratio?”
  • Nomophobia: The irrational and all consuming fear of being out of cell phone contact.
  • Outside-In Engineer: An engineer who doesn't display fear, anger, happiness, sadness, or disgust—five key emotions popularized in Pixar's Inside Out.
  • Tech Drowning: How you feel after living in Silicon Valley for a while, because it seems like everyone you talk to is either working at a startup, trying to start something, or is a VC. It's normal to feel a little annoyed when you overhear your bus driver say he is preparing a Y-Combinator application.

New entries are being added every day. Add your own here and tell us about them below. And study up, it won’t be too long before someone declares a “Talk Like Silicon Valley Day.”

Update: While this article was being edited for publication, Business Insider extracted their favorites from the Silicon Valley Dictionary and my submission, “In the wild,” was their number one pick. Just sayin’.

Updated 17 July to add name of third founder.

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