Silicon Valley Glossary: 6 Slang Terms to Master if You Want to Be the Next "Decacorn" (Take That, Unicorn)

10:00 AM 7/18/2016

by Josh Sens

From "brogrammer" to "eating your own dog food," translations of the latest technobabble from the authors of 'Valley Speak.'

Silicon Valley -Episode 20 (season 3,epic 2): T.J. Miller, Zach Woods, Kumail Nanjiani, Martin Starr, Thomas Middleditch-H 2016
John P. Fleenor/HBO

In addition to an HBO comedy series, Silicon Valley has spawned its own language and culture, a colorful range of terms and customs that can be as unintelligible to outsiders as a screenplay penned in Javascript. “[The Valley] is a small world filled with brilliant people developing creative products very quickly, so new lingo tends to spread fast,” says Rochelle Kopp, co-author, with her husband, Steven Ganz, of Valley Speak: Deciphering the Jargon of Silicon Valley. We asked her to translate some of her favorite technobabble into language the rest of us can understand.

  • Brogrammer

    Combine the macho swagger of a frat boy with the pencil-necked neediness of a software engineer, and you’ve got yourself a brogrammer. Famous examples include identical twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, the competitive rowers-cum-internet entrepreneurs who were played by Josh Pence and Armie Hammer in The Social Network. Though not of the same immediate family, the brogrammer has a close relative in the “tech bro,” which is tech-speak for a tech-world jerk of any kind. See: Justin Keller, a software developer who gained notoriety earlier this year after penning a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in which he complained about having to deal with homeless “riffraff” on his way to work.

  • Decacorn

    Once upon a time, the unicorn (a tech company valued at $1 billion) was a rare and magical creature. But the valley has moved on. Meet the latest evolution of the species: the decacorn, a tech company that isn’t necessarily 10 times better than a unicorn but which is 10 times more valuable, with a estimated worth of $10 billion.

  • Nootropics

    Otherwise known as smart drugs, nootropics are a family of supplements aimed at improving cognitive function. “The idea is that you should be able to optimize yourself much in the same way that you optimize your computer,” says Kopp. One of the better known examples is a dietary supplement developed by David Asprey, a tech entrepreneur who claims to have hacked his own biology to lower his biological age. Sold under the brand name Unfair Advantage, this nootropic is said to enhance mitochondrial function, among other benefits, through a “patented colloidal delivery technology.” Got it? Good.

  • Eating Your Own Dog Food

    Not to be confused with drinking one’s own Kool-Aid, this unappetizing-sounding phrase is startup speak for a company using its own products internally as a way to test or market them. Dog food can also be used as a transitive verb, as in, “We’re dogfooding this new app before we release it to the public.”

  • Brain Rape

    “They’re brain raping us, right?” So says Erlich Bachman, the raunchy blowhard played by T.J. Miller, in a season two episode of Silicon Valley. Brain rape being the underhanded tactic of using an investment or acquisition meeting as cover for stealing a company’s intellectual property. But never mind the TV show. It also happens real life, says Kopp, who recalls coming home from a valley meeting one evening and telling her husband: “You wouldn’t believe it, but a brogrammer from a unicorn tried to brain rape me today.”

  • CEO Uniforms

    Not a phrase but a custom, embraced by select high-ranking Silicon Valley executives, of wearing the same casual outfit every day. Pioneered by Steve Jobs, whose blue jeans and black turtleneck getup was an outgrowth of his effort to recede into the background so that his company’s products could take center stage, the practice today conveys a slightly different meaning. “It’s almost a way of marking yourself,” Kopp says. “Whether it’s Elizabeth Holmes [of Theranos] in her black turtleneck, or Mark Zuckerberg in a gray T-shirt. When you show up at a meeting, you can tell the difference right away between the founders and the engineers.”