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Favorite IT Metaphors,Sayings and Aphorisms

In my Linkedin Profile, I write that I’m a fan of “elaborate IT Metaphors” yet, in a very literal way, I’ve never actually written a list of my favorites.

Listing out my favorite IT metaphors, sayings, aphorisms and such is risky. Too much pithiness, and I risk not being taken seriously. Too much cynicism and no one wants to talk to you.

And yet I must take that risk, because if you’re a practitioner of the IT arts as I am, then you’re used to engaging in these sorts of thoughtful/silly/humorous reflections.

Or maybe you don't but will find humor and value in them nonetheless. Enjoy and if you like, add your own!

MetaphorMeaningUsed in SentenceOrigin/Notes
Dark side of the moonWaiting for a host or device to reply to pings after reload/rebootServer's gone dark side of the moon, standby.NASA obviously
Eat our own dogfoodApplying same policies/tech/experience to IT that apply to usersThat dogfood tastes pretty nasty and we've been dishing it out to our users for yearsNot sure but heard on TWiT
DNS is like a phonebookComputers speak in numbers humans speak in wordsLook, it works like a phonebook, alright? Do you remember those things?My own metaphor to explain DNS problems
Fat fingerA stupid mistake in perhaps an otherwise solid plan (eg IP address keyed incorrectly)Jeff totally fat fingered itFormer boss/Homer Simpson?
Go FQDN or Go HomeAdmonishment to correct lazy IT tendency to code/build with IP addresses rather than FQDNThere are to be no IP addresses listed on the support page. Go FQDN or Go Home, son.My own
Garbage in Garbage OutYou get out of a system that which you put inI can't make beautiful pivots with a GIGOed setUnknown but s/he was brilliant
Debutante in the DatacenterA server or service that is high-profile/important but prone to failure and drama without constant attentionHyperion is doing its debutante thing againHeard it from someone somewhere in time
Cadillac SolutionA high-priced solution to a problem that may require only ingenuity/dilligenceDon't come to me with a Cadillac solution when a Kia will doMy own but really…Cadillac…I'm so old
The Sun Never Sets on InfrastructureA reference to the 24/7 nature of Infrastructure stack demand by way of the British EmpireAnd the sun never sets on our XenApp farm, so schedule your maintenanceI used this metaphor extensively in last job
Infrastructure is Roads/Applications are cars/Users are driversReference to the classic split in IT departmentsSee hereFormer colleague
Two Houses Both Alike in DignityAnother reference to AppDev & Infrastructure divide in IT-My own liberal abuse of Shakespeare's opening line in R&J
Child Partition/Parent PartitionReference to me and my son in light of Hypervisor technologyChild partition is totally using up all my spare compute cyclesMy own
Code is poetryThere is something more to technology than just making things work/be an aristan technologistJust look at that script, this guy's a poet!Google but adapted by me for scripting and configs
Going full FibonacciThe joy & euphoria inherent in a well-designed subnetting or routing plan wherein octets and route summaries are harmonized & everything just fitsHe went full Fibonacci to save memory on the routerMy own abuse of the famedFibonacci Sequence which honestly has nothing to do with IP subnetting and more to do with Dan Brown. Also applies to MAC address pools because encoding your MAC address pools is fun
Dystopian ITDysfunctional IT departmentsI thought I was going to work in the future, not some dystopian nightmare IT group!Not sure
When I was a Child I thought as a ChildHow I defend poor technical decisions that haunt me years later-A (perhaps blasphemous) homage to St. Paul
There are three ____ and the greatest of these is ____Another St. Paul referenceAnd then there were three storage systems: file, block and object, and the greatest of these is fileUseful in IT Purchasing decisions
IT White WhaleHighly technical problems I haven't solved yet and obsess overI've been hunting this white whale for what seems like foreverBorrowed from Herman Melville's Moby Dick
Servers are cattle, not petsA pithy & memorable phrase to remind systems guys not to get attached to physical or virtual servers, to view them as cattle that are branded at birth, worked hard throughout life, then slaughtered without pomp or circumstance. No more Star Wars references as  server names, ok? It's a cow, not your pet labrador! The guys who built Chef
Drawer of TearsThe drawer in your desk/lab where failed ideas -represented by working parts- go. My drawer of tears is filled with Raspberry Pis/Surface RTs etc Yeah I tried that once, ended up in the drawer of tearsMy own
77 Comments
Level 17

"Screen Shot or it didn't happen!" / "Cap or didn't happen!"

Coming from the service / help desk / crazy techs do weird and illogical things - all of those WTF, and 'how did you manage that?' When Explained to another agent/tech they would reply, "Screen Shot or it didn't happen!"

Some times shortened to "Cap or didn't happen!"

Level 11

....aaaaaaaaaaaaand bookmarked for later. Nice work!

Level 12

The one we use around here the most "Technical Solutions.... for managerial problems".

Level 10

"oh-dark-thirty" is commonly used in our shop to describe a change order that needs to happen late at night due to business day impact.

A change order would 'be an' or 'scheduled for' "oh-dark-thirty"

Level 9

You can have it Fast, Correct or Cheap - Pick 2.

Level 11

Packets never lie, people do.

I don't care what the vendor said, show me the network capture and we'll get it sorted.

That's a layer 8 issue.

We can't fix stupid.

Using Bits to solve a Bio problem / Using tech to solve an HR issue

Do we really need that new system that tracks employee bathroom breaks?  Isn't employee time management a job for managers?

Level 13

Networks need 3 "eens" to keep running: Caffeine, nicotine, and codeine.

_____ is happening soon?  Is that soon in human terms or geologic terms?

(one of my favorites taken from The Register) Total Inability To Support Usual Performance.

MVP
MVP

Sooo many times I have used "Garbage In, Garbage Out"

Level 13

My helpdesk compatriots thought I was crazy when, during a meeting, I said that most of our helpdesk calls are Layer 8 (User doesn't understand the directions we provided and needs us to walk them through/ always forgets their password)

I've also said before that the problem is in Communication layer - user didn't understand the directions we gave

MVP
MVP

This actually reminds me of the following:

  • PEBKAC - Problem exists between keyboard and chair
  • ID 10 T issue - This one is usually said out loud rather than written down
  • H2IK issue - Hell If I Know...
Level 10

Oh man... don't forget...

RTFM - Read The F'ing Manual

Level 13

PEBKAC and also PEBCAK. I'd always thought of it as the second.

If we were in a nitpick-y mood we could call PEBCAK problems with the user inputting things into the computer and PEBKAC is a problem with the user not understanding something? Or is that taking it too far?

Level 13

I thought it was the Frienly/Fine Manual    

Level 17

or PICNIC - problem in chair, not in computer

Level 8

Don't forget the famous "blue screen of death" Or BSOD.

Level 11

For personal support (like family and friends), I am still trying to teach them to use their mobile to take a picture

Level 11

"Keep It Simple Stupid" or KISS, apparently from the US Navy: KISS principle - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

People tend to go "Ooh, there's a handle, let's turn it" and end up in a situation where the installation is so specific that no one has applicable experience

Level 11

Clear in house first.  Meaning--Do a thorough check of your own area before you point the finger in someone else's direction.  Used in sentence--Shop motto; Clear in house before passing the buck.  Origin--Heard it from some old retired Navy guy, a marine (once a marine always a marine), and the Rock.  Whoa  network defender goodzhere maniel02

Level 9

awesome. lol

Level 15

"Keep it Shiny"

During my time in the Marines, it was common to have Officers in charge who were not what you might call 'technically-gifted'. Moral of the story: if there are status reports to be sent, "Keep it Shiny" and only show actual critical events (hide warnings). Otherwise, be prepared for a 2 hour discussion on why things are not always green and how that's OK in the real world, no matter what the 2nd LT wanted to believe.

MVP
MVP

SSDS - same "stuff" different shop , a reference to common issues in IT that you have seen in other shops.

Fat fingered - if I recall that goes back decades to a typing mistake as if you had fat fingers and hit two keys at once or the wrong key.

To me GIGO (garbage in garbage out) is a throwback to programming where you need to validate your input data in your program otherwise you get garbage in and therefore garbage out.

Level 11

As a former Marine, can confirm in the "Keep it Shiny" principle. We liked to call it "Officer Friendly."

Level 21

In addition to "Packets never lie, people do" Logs never lie. 

Level 21

"Looks like a plumbing problem" = it's a network issue.

Level 9

My favorite from a fellow co-worker not in the IT field, is "black magic". Anything she could not understand about technology is just "black magic" -- it just works.

Level 7

Put in a ticket

That's how we handle business around here because...

If it's not documented, it didn't happen

Self explanatory

Level 7

My former DO referred to it as "Wizardry"

Level 10

Does anyone else remember the term "ponytail guy" being thrown around?

Way back in the day we had an upper IT manager that used to throw out in cross function meetings "I'll get my best ponytail guy on it."

Maybe that was just him...

Level 9

Last year we retired our last server named for a Star Wars reference. That was an enlightening and hilarious article.

Level 17

The greats just let it flow in the wind, who needs all that constraint. I mean, except for a FW.

Level 7

Great fun here, but if read closely, there are lessons to be learned from these quotes.  I truly appreciate the borrowed quote from R&J.  Went through two wasted days efforts of trying to meet an app request on the IT departments highest priority project.  After 4 months of weekly meetings, Apps (via QA testers) finally came forth with requirements for engineers.  Three weeks before roll-out.  We had some unscheduled meetings to correct the Dystopian silo-ed project planning.

"The CPU is the worker, and the RAM is his tool box."

(Explaining to my mother-in-law why CPU and RAM are important to her home computer, and what they do.)

"The CPU is a one-armed worker you hired to build you a garage.  He has to follow a simple set of rules:

1.  He can only hold one tool at a time.

2.  His tools can only be in his hand, or

3.  Hung up in their proper place on the tool bench, or

4.  Be stored in his tool box.

The garage you want him to build is far away from his work bench.  Maybe across the yard, maybe across town . . . 

While he's working, eventually he needs to saw a board, so he goes back to his work bench and gets the saw, comes back to the board and cuts it.

Now he has to hammer the board to another board to build a wall.  He must go all the way back to the work bench, put away the saw, pick up the hammer, come back and hammer the board.

Next he has to cut another board.  Another trip to the work bench to put away the hammer, pick up the saw, come back to the board.  You can see how long this is taking.  If only he had a place to store his hammer nearby.

It turns out he DOES have a spot--he can store the hammer in his tool box right by his side!  That tool box is the RAM in your computer--a place for frequently used tools to be stored temporarily.  It makes your worker more efficient.

So he puts the saw in the tool box (RAM), goes back and gets the hammer, and pounds and cuts more more quickly without all those trips back to the work bench.

His next tasks require a screw driver and a pliers and a wrench.  Three trips minimum back to the work bench, but his tool box isn't big enough to hold all of them, so now he's slowed down again making trips to the work bench and back.

So . . . you buy him a bigger tool box by installing more RAM.

Pretty soon he's building like crazy, without anymore slowdowns.

But you've got big plans, and before the new garage is complete you'll ask him to build a house AND a barbecue/fire pit patio at the same time ( You did this by opening up two applications without closing the first one, expecting your CPU to multi-task).  Then you ask him to go buy you a new book (at Amazon.com), go to the post office (check your e-mail), call your kids (Skype) . . .  and the house & garage don't get built on schedule, you go hungry because he can't get your groceries fast enough, your kids wonder what's up with you . . .

Obviously you need a faster worker.  So you upgrade your CPU to one with a faster clock.  Maybe you REALLY splurge and hire a small group of workers to help him out (by installing a multi-core CPU)."

The analogy goes on and on, and if you're an Uber Dweeb and if your Mom enjoys any rare moment she can get you to spend with her, you can bring in additional improvements with spinning disk versus SSD, modems versus Ethernet, powerful video cards versus 16-bit color--as much as your Mom can tolerate or accept. 

Be kind; just let it go at the hammer and saw.

Rick S.

Level 10

ID-10-T is the most common error thrown in our office. I've personally generate ample amounts of those.

Level 11

"Be kind; just let it go at the hammer and saw."


Obligatory joke:

So you've heard about the blind carpenter, right?
He picked up his hammer and saw.

You're the only one who caught that oblique pun reference--congratulations on having a sharp wit and a quick eye to correlate obscure items.  I bet you do well on jig saw puzzles!

The way I learned it:

"I see!" said the blind man to the deaf woman, as he picked up his hammer and saw.

Level 20

It really is honestly not usually the network... humbling when it is though...

Level 11

Agreed, it's not "never" the network, but for some reason, people sure like to blame it. Compared to the blame that it gets, it's definitely "almost never" the network.

MVP
MVP

ecklerwr1​ key word is "Usually". 

MVP
MVP

"If it's not broken, then fix it until it is..."

Dunno where I heard that one, but it has been stuck in my head ever since...

MVP
MVP

good one wluther​ ! 

MVP
MVP

Why don't my eyes see anything that mentions "sneakernet"?

MVP
MVP

There are but few of us here that have lived that term....

Once I worked where one department was dependent on an in-house network fax service for providing critical materials to another department.  An extended maintenance window resulted in the second department frantic for supplies--how could they place their orders to the other department, when their process required computers? 

They were in a panic.

I breathed a calm cleansing breath and asked "They're just down the hall from you.  Could you carry a requisition over to them so your team can continue doing their work?"

You could've heard a pin drop.

"YES, YES, that's a WONDERFUL idea--THANK YOU!!" and they hung up the phone quickly . . .

Sneaknet to the rescue.

MVP
MVP

Around 3 decades ago as an operator we sneakernet-ted 9 track round reel tapes from one side of the data center to the other to move daily sales datasets from the comm systems POS interface over to the mainframe at midnight so they could process sales and inventory information during nightly batch processing.  Then around 5 AM we'd sneakernet all the backups over to the mainframe to be duplicated into their tape management system for offsite storage, cataloging and such while we retained the originals onsite for a week or so depending on the type of backup.  This was usually a tape carts worth of round reels.  Of course there were always boxes of write rings laying around that could spontaneously spark a write ring skirmish.

That solution was reliable--and healthy!  And VERY easy to troubleshoot.  Sometimes I'm amazed by our dependence on the network and remote communications for things that can easily be done in person.

When I e-mail or I.M. the guy on the other size of the cube wall, instead of talking to him in person . . .

MVP
MVP

Understood. The days before email it was a phone call or hit the stairs to next floor or 8 to speak with someone.  Then when email became the norm everyone reverts to it because it is easy.  Then came instant messaging.  At times it is convenient but I usually hate it as everyone wants to use it.

Level 14

Ahh,,, the good old days... Mainframes and reel to reel...

We used to initialize at least 100 tapes every two days... You remember the little red/white "tape" that held the leader to the rest of the reel on a new tape?

Well we created a baseball size ball with these pieces...

Working 11 PM to 7 AM requires caffeine and the desire to make the night go quickly.... So we decide to hold batting practice with the "ball" and using a cardboard roll from our photo developer for a bat.

Here's the pitch...

Whack!!! ball hits mainframe console power button... everything come to a scretching and very silent halt!!!!

Note in log for that night:

00:10 Unexpected Power outage of short duration....

(good for us we we in a quiet period about 10 minutes before the start of our mainline process!!)

It seems like someone's taken a page out of the B.O.F.H's manual . . .  ;^)  I LIKE it!

MVP
MVP

Ah...nothing like the increasing deafening sound of silence in a datacenter as all the DASD spins down and fans shut down...

There was a time where I had to hit the EPO switch in the side of the mainframe just after shift change one morning.  I was the solo operator on duty.

There was the acrid smell of something burning and the cpu alarm started going off.   Had to call the supervisor on duty who was hung over from a bowling tournament from the prior night and not ready to be up for the rest of the tournament that night.  He came in grumbling, powered it up checked the hardware console and powered it down again.  One of the TCM's (Thermal Conduction Module) had failed (these cooled the cpu).  Mainframe was down for 2 days waiting to IBM to get one onsite from I believe it was Colorado.  But, since I ran the mini's I had plenty to do.  We had three days of batch to catch up on the mainframe once it was back up.

Your story reminded me of two occasions where a primary data center's cooling failed.  Everyone was scrambled for an all-hands-on-deck deployment of how to temporarily reduce the heat load without shutting down mission critical systems.

Resilient/redundant power supplies were disconnected, industrial fans were brought in and security doors blocked open.

Business continued as usual for the rest of the users, who remained blissfully ignorant of the IT Heroes working in the background for them.

About the Author
A 16 year veteran of SMB IT shops, Jeff has seen it all and likes to share. Broadly-skilled just like the IT Generalist he thinks of when writing, yet deep enough on virtualization & storage to hold his own, Jeff practices good IT at home so that he can excel at work.