I found this term in a sci-fi novel I read last year, called Blindsight by Peter Watts (Tor Books, 2006). This excerpt from a review explains …
“His official job description defines him as a Synthesist – though many people would refer to him as a ‘jargonaut’. What he actually does is a form of translation – he ‘rotates the topography of complex information’, passing discoveries from the ‘bleeding edge’ of augmented intelligence down to the ‘dead centre’ of baseline humanity in a form that they can actually understand. This makes him inherently an outsider, a conduit, a go-between – a character defined by his passivity and non-involvement, at least at first.”
In the protagonist’s own words …
“and when your surpassing creations find the answers you asked for, you can’t understand their analysis and you can’t verify their answers. You have to take their word on faith – … You hire people like me; the crossbred progeny of profilers and proof assistants and information theorists. In formal settings you’d call me Synthesist. On the street you’d call me jargonaut or poppy.”
I’ve worked in a lot of different environments, and found that there are always experts – always people who are brilliant at what they do and who get the results they’re asked to produce. But that’s not the end of the battle, because those results have to be translated into something that the next step can take and use. Your customer needs what you have, but not necessarily in the form you’re offering.
Who’s your customer? Do you even have a customer? You may think you don’t, especially if you don’t serve the public directly. You may think this won’t apply. Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong wrong WRONG. You have a customer, and it’s the person you hand your work to. If you write, your customer is your reader. If you are Step 5 in an 8-stage widget building process, your customer is Fred at Step 6. If you maintain a database, your customer is the user. You have customers. Now you have to start thinking of them as people who have needs and abilities that maybe – just maybe – are not best served by how you work.
Scary, isn’t it? As awesome as you are, as hard as you work, as much as you care, perhaps you’re still not getting the job done.