Friday, July 01, 2011

Generic terms

One of the job titles that's pretty common is Systems Specialist. What does it mean? The word Systems is pretty generic. The solar system is a system. The one we live in has a star, some planets, asteroids, comets, and so on. So a Planetary Scientist is a Systems Specialist, right? But i work in Information Technology (IT), which is another overly generic title, but which is nearly always taken to have something to do with computers. So what is a Systems Specialist in terms of computers? Well, computers have parts too. There's the thing that actually processes data, the Central Processing Unit (CPU). There's at least one of them in every computer. But there's also specialized memory called cache, Random Access Memory (RAM), disk, networking, and various other devices. That's a computer system. Computer systems come in a number of varieties. Sometimes the same hardware can run very different software. For example, the exact same hardware might be able to run MS Windows, Linux or Apple Macintosh operating systems. So the same hardware might have very different personalities. And a Systems Specialist might not be a specialist in all of them. What kind of Systems is this person a Specialist in? Why not say Unix Systems Specialist, or whatever? Then examine the word Specialist.

When i'm asked what i do for a living, it is often the case that i'm talking to someone who doesn't do what i do. I assume they don't know the details of computers at first. So i don't launch into the details unless asked. I say, "I do something with computers". It's pretty generic. I've been asked what my job title is, and i tell them. But when they ask me what that means, and it's as generic as Systems Specialist, the only really good answer is "My job is so secret, not even i know what i'm doing".

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