what's the right word for the technical debt that comes from some piece of technical knowledge that is transmitted orally (instead of in documentation or source control, etc)
the "oh yeah you'll want to talk to Barbara about how that works" technical debt.
It's not quite "bus factor" (and bus factor has the unfortunate problem that I can never decide if the bus goes in the numerator or the denominator).
I'm tempted to say "lore-bound", but "lore" isn't quite _icky_ enough to convince my directors of the problem
may go with "ephemeral"...
@alpha ew no thank you (though I'm sure that would be understood).
I may go with "ephemeral and word-of-mouth"
@trochee it's not just ephemeral though, it's also the retrieval cost is high… maybe it's the "6 degrees sounds like a small world until you're the person who has to trek to iowa in the winter to ask the only guy who knows why the service was architected that way" problem… eventually shortened to "iowa guy factor"
@jbigham retrieval cost is high, and the information is not stored redundantly; there's something near "single points of failure" there too.
@trochee Isn't that what they call "jargon"? (As in the original Jargon File, before ESR started meddling with it.)
@acousticmirror i think "jargon" is more like "shared technical vocabulary; possibly undocumented" .
Thus jargon is not this kind of technical debt because it *is* known holographically -- most fragments of the community will understand most of the jargon.
The kind of debt I'm after is the "one well-aimed bus could cripple this organization for months as we figure out the things that only Marie and Yonatan knew how to do" kind of debt
@trochee I think this is one meaning of "tacit knowledge" although that is not specific to tech in any way.
It has been a while since I read any of it, but the research on tacit knowledge is sort of infuriating bc it seems structurally bound to the idea that tacit knowledge is undocumentable but also to a program of identifying ways to document it. So in practice it just seems to mean stuff that isn't documented...yet.
@dan i think "poorly distributed tacit knowledge" is close to what I mean, yes
@trochee Then I think "lore" is closest. The problem is, "lore" is shared knowledge. This is more like "Elon, we can't get the server back online because yesterday you fired the only engineer who had the credentials to do it. No, the fridges don't work either, because yesterday you fired..."
@acousticmirror right, "lore" and "jargon" are both properties of _shared_ knowledge.
This is more like a "sacred mystery" / inner rites, known only to a few elite -- and an antipattern in software teams, because if the inducted elite leave the team, the outer rites are not sufficient to keep the God-engine running
... sorry, carried away by a little digression into @cstross 's Laundry Files, there
@trochee But in this case (also digressing a bit bit here), if, say, Anne Marie is the only person on the team that handles the CMS and knows her way around its arcane markup syntax, and then one day Anne Marie is laid off, it's terrible, because now no-one knows how to update the CMS. But the technical debt her stems from before her firing: there is debt only because nobody asked her how she did it, nobody offered to share the CMS duties, nobody thought a less arcane system would be a better idea, etc.
Say, what's the opposite of "ubuntu"?
You have stumbled upon my secret plan -- by highlighting processes run by "secret rites" i hope to improve my team's, well, "ubuntu"
I have to convince my directors that ubuntu is desirable ("has impact"), & they… respond better to fear than to wholesome aspiration.
So I'm looking for a suitably scary & terse name to describe this bad state of inadvertent gatekeeping, bus factors, job security thru obscurity, & generally non-holographic knowledge of How To Do It
@trochee That sounds like "creating a bottleneck with a single point of failure," even if the information in question is held by more than one person in the organization. If all the people who know win the lottery and leave the organization, and that knowledge is both critical and undocumented, you're hosed.
Maybe the correct thing to call it is a "knowledge management crisis," because that's what it is and what a knowledge manager is supposed to help guard against.
@TheyOfHIShirts i have gone with
"this process is undocumented (institutional knowledge passed around by word-of-mouth rather than documentation or encoding as a tool)"
Which is indeed quite close to "knowledge bottleneck"
I think institutional knowledge is the term most people use for this, or maybe human capital? Could say "accumulated knowledge" or "old timers who know stuff."
agree, but this doesn't cover the toxic nature of the information-hoarding that (often inadvertently) happens when only a few people have the accumulated knowledge/are the old-timers
@trochee @TheyOfHIShirts I like information hoarding! Or something something blackmail/hostage-taking. Knowledge landlord.
@taoish @TheyOfHIShirts too deliberate, though definitely awesome framing.
When done deliberately, there's a family of "if I told you then what would _I_ do around here" job-security moat-building, but I'm still operating on the assumption that this happens because everybody's just getting it done as well as they can, they just aren't thinking about the fact that only Jacob and Marnie know where the keys are to the server closet (etc)
@trochee I think you can be divided by a train, anyway
@marnanel haha also, is it "how many bus accidents would it take to disable your organization?" (in which case, higher bus factor is better) or "what fraction of your organization is disabled by a bus accident" (lower is better)
... Trains add a whole new wrinkle
@marnanel yikes 🙈
@trochee @acousticmirror It won't work for this particular purpose, I suppose, but I wonder whether the Bantu have a word for that as well
@marnanel @acousticmirror this is an excellent question.
I'm not even convinced I'm using 'ubuntu' correctly, so if I found that there _were_ such a word in Bantu I would think _really hard_ before using it with a bunch of white people
@trochee and whether you would pull the lever, etc :)
But I think it's important for everyone to remember that nobody is bus-proof.
@marnanel in the present world I am 100% in favor of buses and trolleys.
I am occasionally amused by the conceit that the American self-destructive impulse around public transit is some kind of retrocausal revenge for all those "trolley problems"
@trochee @acousticmirror (it was a long time before I saw that "ubuntu" and "Bantu" were forms of the same noun)
@marnanel @acousticmirror TIL, and i even had all the metalinguistic knowledge available to me already!