Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The engineer's fascination with adjectives

In multiple former jobs, many of our latest products were adorned with the modifiers "Advanced" or "Next Generation" in order to make them sound sexy, cool, and modern.  The folly of this was recently brought to my attention while reading about RSA's woes from a cyber attack.

The latest form of cyber attack now goes by the moniker "Advanced Persistent Threat."  Described in detail in Wikipedia, the APT is distinguished from the previous forms of cyber attack, such as "Distributed Denial of Service."  The big thing about APT is that it usually involves multiple people (although DDOS's usually do, too), it's "advanced," and it seems to last for a while.

My problem is that everything is advanced these days.  So, what adjective do we reserve for the next form of cyber attack?  The Very Advanced Persistent Threat?  Oh, I know -- we'll call it the Next Generation Persistent Threat.  Look, the things that make an "Advanced Persistent Threat" today are going to be commoditized and brought to the masses within a year or two, and are going to become commonplace.

I think you see where I'm going with this.  Calling something Advanced is short sighted about the future, as today's "advanced" is tomorrow's "obsolete."  Or, worse yet, today's Advanced is tomorrow's "No Way Do I Have To Be Backwards Compatible With That Piece Of Crap."

If I'm ever a project manager, developing a cool new technology, I will be sure to stay far away from calling anything "advanced" or "next generation" or "new concept."  Instead, I think titles and project names should simply be descriptive:  Widget 2.0, Multi-Peer Sharing Algorithm, or Shiny Plastic Toy (to distinguish it from the previous Dull Plastic Toy).  The next generation of engineers can thank me fore it.


  1. Don't worry, it's not just engineers. I think that's a problem with just about any new version of a thing, technology or otherwise. If you'd asked me two years ago, my preferred example would probably have been "Modernism" as in "Modernism just looks so dated these days"

    But as a relatively new homeowner, I think my current favorite example is Behr Ultra Premium Plus. You get the impression from that brand name that they got started and just didn't know where to stop...

    Also, when you are a project manager developing a cool new technology, can I help you name it?

  2. Hah! You bet!! Folks like you, my wife, and my sister-in-law are way more creative at that stuff than I am.