7 Computer Terms Everyone Should Know

Computers run on jargon, and given the predominance of these beasts in our lives, it’s worth understanding what some of the most common words mean. Say goodbye to pretending to understand opaque words such as ‘phish’ (nothing to do with tuna or any other seafood): below is a  list of computer terms with explanations calibrated to be understood by even the most computer-illiterate.

See also: 10 Tips to Help You Work Smarter - Not Harder  

1. Beta

You may already be familiar with beta as being the second letter of the Greek alphabet. In computer lingo however, beta has two distinct meanings. When you click on a website and you are greeted with, “this software is still in beta”, this means that the software is in its pre-release version – it isn’t the final, polished version yet.   There is also an alpha stage which, as you will have guessed, comes first. Alpha, incidentally is the first letter of the Greek alphabet. (And guess where the word ‘alphabet’ comes from?) Products enter the beta stage of development when they have successfully passed the alpha testing requirements and a developer deems the product robust enough to be opened up to others who have not been involved in the product’s development. The second use of BETA is to describe a computer programming language which tells a computer how to display information.

2. Cache

It’s first thing in the morning and you simply cannot wait to read through the latest posts on Career Addict. So you go to Google and start typing the first few letters of Career Addict and, by some miracle, Google finishes the typing for you! Ever wondered how this clever search engine manages to read your mind? The answer is more prosaic, I’m afraid. It’s your cache at work. In everyday vernacular, a cache is a store of food, or anything valuable, sometimes hidden underground. In the world of computers, however, a cache is like a secondary memory in your computer that stores recently accessed material so your computer can access that material in a heartbeat.

3. Trojan

You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m taking you on a tour of Virgil’s Aenid, whereby the Trojan Horse was used as a means of subterfuge to attack an unsuspecting enemy, the defenders of Troy. In the land of computers, Trojan is a “malicious” program used to break programs, disguised to take the form of something harmless, such as a game. Beware Trojans in sheep’s clothing: they mean not what they say. They will carry out an array of actions, depending on the type of Trojan, which include loss or theft of data and probable harm to your computer system.

4. Algorithm

This is the term given to a finite, step-by-step set of rules that define operations and are used to perform functions such as calculations (eg calculating how much pay an employee will receive), “data processing and automated reasoning”.  Machines today can now loop through an inordinate number of steps, more than the human brain could manage alone.

5. Phish

An informal definition of phishing is an attempt to steal private information by sending fraudulent emails and trapping the unsuspecting victim into their personal information. Typical examples are emails that contain a fabricated story to lure you to click on links within the email. These emails can appear to be genuine, with content such as, “We have reason to believe there has been an unauthorised transaction on your account. To ensure your account is not compromised, please click on this link to verify and update your information.”

6. Geotag

Do you ever find yourself going through your photos, scratching your head as you try to remember where you took particular photos? If so, welcome to the world of geotags. Geotagging refers to the process of adding geographic information to various media; information such as latitude, longitude, place names, altitude and distances. Many cameras that have GPS will enable you to geotag your photos and videos which means you never again have to struggle to remember where and when you took particular photos.

7. Back-end

Back-end software applies to any software that performs the last stage in a process and which is not visible to the user. It is distinct from the front-end, which is the interface with which users interact. The backend usually comprises a server, an application and a database and is the ‘behind the scenes’ work built on technologies such as Ruby, PHP and Python. Simply put, the back-end works directly or indirectly to support the front-end.


Hopefully these explanations will help you feel a bit more confident around all those clever tech people.

If you think there are other common computer terms that should be in this list, please add them to the comments box.

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