Mange Tout, Rodney

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What’s in a name? What if mispronouncing it were part of a secret language? Decades ago, I encountered exactly that. It didn’t end well.

Tech background: the Postgres database system was built to replace Ingres. Postgres is portmanteau of Post-Ingres. When SQL support was added, they did it again and we got PostgreSQL. Many people call it Postgress, some add the SQL part in some way.

If there is a pronunciation of PostgreSQL that’s wrong, it’s Postgree. I can understand the confusion, though, so when the management team started saying that I tried to be nice. As the company’s foremost database geek, I figured if I dropped “Postgress” into conversation a few times they’d catch on. After all, if the management of a technical business mispronounces technical words, that doesn’t promote confidence in the business – and we were all pulling in the same direction there, right?

We were not. If anything my “help” made matters worse. I even started to hear the overall technical lead call it Postgree. So I invited him out to the car park for a polite word.

“It’s a management thing,” he told me, “it’s one of the ways they distinguish if you’re one of them.”

Omitting much for the sake of brevity, A them and us culture had developed (or perhaps was deliberately fostered). It included a secret language used by the management team. They were perfectly aware that all the buzzwords they were using were ridiculous and that they were, indeed, mispronouncing PostgreSQL. It was a tool which allowed them to talk openly but still exclude people from the conversation.

It won’t surprise you to know that the business struggled, in many ways.

I met up with someone from there a year or so back, “We’re dead,” he told me, “COVID has killed us.” The company couldn’t recruit technical people, which he firmly blamed on the rise in remote working. What he had wrong was that the company couldn’t afford to pay enough.

It’s true that some people focus only on the wage slip. It was a factor. Most of us are far more complex: we want job security, job satisfaction, camaraderie, things that make the course of the day a more pleasant experience.

That company still had a toxic culture. Nobody wanted to work there, but options in that region – before COVID – were limited. Now tech people had much more choice, they were choosing not to work there.

In a market where good people are excruciatingly difficult to attract, if you want to build a successful business you have to build a positive and progressive culture, make somewhere people want to work. It’s a necessary investment that’s good for all of us.