What I Do In Simple Language

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do recently, and because it’s a bit ephemeral, or at least “meta”, I need to be able to describe it clearly. A recently-developed tool has made it a lot easier.

Late last year, Randall Munroe’s excellent xkcd webcomic published a diagram and description of the Saturn V rocket, with a twist – he only used the top thousand most-used words. After seeing that, and realizing how having to reduce the description of something complex to simple words makes you think harder about describing it, Theo Sanderson hacked together a text editor that only lets you use the thousand most-used words. In fact, because ‘thousand’ isn’t on that list, it lets you use the “ten hundred” most used words. Here it is: Up-Goer 5, named in honour of Munroe’s rocket.

Here’s my description of my profession, Systems Engineering, written using Up-Goer 5:

When a business or group of people wants to build a big thing with lots of different parts, and each part is built by someone different, it is hard to make sure all the parts work together. This is because each person builds their own part without talking to the other people, or they think that building it the same way again should work this time.

I look at the thing as one big thing, then break it down into smaller things, while making sure that the parts will still go back and make the big thing work. Then each person can build their thing and be sure that when all the bits are joined, the big thing works.

I make sure that the important words that tell people what to build are written so that: everyone can understand them, they are clear about what to do, they say when the part is needed, and they are not too hard to do.

If some important words talk about something that two people need to agree on, then I make sure that they both agree, and they sign a piece of paper to say they agree. This is good when a part is needed by one person, but is made by another person.
If some of the important words need to change, I make sure that the change doesn’t cause lots of other changes in the other important words – sometimes these changes can cause surprises and problems.

I use a computer which stores the important words, and joins the important words which talk about one part with the important words which talk about another part. Then I can see what happens when some of the important words change, and check that the part that each person builds does all the things that the important words say it should do.

The computer can also make a nice book with all the important words in it, in different orders, to give to the people with the money.

How would you describe your job using this tool?