Was ist DAS? The importance of metaphors in IT

Lego house mock-up

“Was ist das?” was an event created by the Applications and IT Systems Development Unit of the Directorate-General for Translation in order to “open a window” (hence the French homophone vasistas) to curious translators and explain to them how the translation tools they use are created and constantly improved. After a presentation, the audience had the possibility to participate in a number of workshops to see the stages of the development of a fictitious project.

Nuno and Juan Jose (Project Management)

The premise of an IT workshop like this is that, in order to communicate effectively, you’d need to speak IT. But how does that work?

Bearing such a question in mind, I was first happy to find myself getting an IT glossary specifically compiled for this event. “Now, everything will be easier,” I said to myself… until I stumbled upon terms like waterfall. Instinctively, my thoughts wandered towards landscapes. In IT however, waterfall is defined as “a sequential software development process adapted from the manufacturing and construction industries and based in 5 phases: requirements, design, implementation, verification, maintenance”. This instantly put a stop to my Instagram-fed reminiscences, which was not a bad thing in itself since I realised that some rather abstract and complex procedures in IT are signified by a term in a metaphorical way. This hypothesis has been thoroughly confirmed by the different activities which were part of the workshop.

was4One metaphor struck me particularly: a project in IT is depicted like a house. The project manager is the architect, the rooms correspond to the requirements: if you want more rooms than you initially planned, you either need more funding or you need to build them in a more economical way. Those metaphors are quite handy, assured me Marianne, analyst for DAS. In fact, it can happen that words do not suffice if you want to communicate effectively. Using pictures (i.e. metaphors) can not only help move the conversation forward, but can also convey complex ideas in a simple manner.

Marianne (Analysis)


Written by Amaury Neumann

Study visitor at TermCoord