The personal website of Chris Coyier

Authentic Startup Gibberish

I’m pretty excited to see Upstream Color. I hope it plays around where I live soon. It’s from Shane Carruth, the creator of Primer, which is amazing. I recently watched Primer again and I noticed something interesting: authentic startup gibberish. I’ll try and explain.

At Wufoo, we had a meeting once a week on Friday. We didn’t have an office, so we rotated houses. The meetings lasted a few hours. Tons of stuff would be talked about. Very technical discussions about every layer of Wufoo. It took many months to have a strong grasp on what the heck was even being talked about. At the time, a lot of the discussions were way over my head. They involved technologies I knew very little about if I had heard of them at all. The conversations were littered with not only technical terms, but little pet names for things that they developed over the years.

“The digital doctor is having problems again.”

What the heck is that, I would wonder. Probably some web process that runs on our servers monitoring for problems? No, in that case, it was just the name of a particular guy who wrote into support a lot. That’s not a great example, but it was stuff like that that made understanding the conversations difficult at first.

It’s like a tiny culture with a million tiny colloquialisms.

Sometimes other people would be present at the meetings (other people who just lived at the houses who had nothing to do with Wufoo). They might not be in tech at all and had no particular motivation to understand our conversations. I remember thinking how we must have sounded like we were speaking a completely different language. Like we were speaking gibberish, making no sense at all.

That’s what struck me about Primer when I watched again. The guys in Primer building those machines were a startup. I felt like an outsider listening to a Wufoo meeting. Shane Carruth didn’t try to make the conversations in Primer accessible. He made them sound authentic.