Top 10 Most Hated Tech Buzzwords of 2021 and How We Misuse Them

April 27th, 2021 15 min read

The tech industry prides itself on offering cutting-edge solutions to the world’s problems. But the language we use tends toward an overabundance of misused, overused, or simply bad buzzwords.

We surveyed over 1,000 tech professionals to surface the tech buzzwords that annoy us the most. Since this is our second year tracking this data, we can also see how people’s opinions on certain words have changed year over year. We’ll also dig into where these technology buzzwords get so horribly misused according to Google Trends.

We’re here to help keep the tech industry accountable and hopefully have a little fun. Let’s go.

The Top 10 Most Hated Technology Buzzwords Today

1. Zoom [verb] 

(New in 2021)

Let’s take a moment to be very specific about the feedback we got from our tech community. The most-hated technology buzzword of 2020 is not Zoom, the web conferencing product. People actually hate the use of “zoom” as a verb. 

An unfortunate hallmark of the COVID-19 pandemic is that everything moved to virtual spaces. The most culturally popular tool for these interactions is Zoom.

However, Zoom now faces an interesting marketing dilemma. It’s hard to maintain a positive brand image when your name is constantly associated with a pandemic. That’s not Zoom’s fault—they were perfectly positioned to take the top spot in the cultural lexicon. But a year into the pandemic, nonstop “Zooming” has led to Zoom fatigue for many. 

It’s hard to gauge how much the tech community dislikes verbifying Zoom. I’m sure we all just dislike Zooming as the only way to interact with colleagues, friends, and family. 

2. AI 

(Was #7 in 2020)

With the largest jump on this year’s list, AI is now the second-worst technology buzzword of 2021. The reasons for this are already evident in how your eyes just glazed over. Many people aren’t really sure what “AI” means, even though it’s all the tech world can talk about right now. 

“Artificial intelligence” can mean so many things. There’s usually very little context to explain it in any given sentence. Even within the technical world of AI products, not all technologies are alike. Bucketing them all together leaves the phrase largely meaningless. You’d go in circles trying to determine the capabilities of a given product. 

“AI” is a pervasive and frustrating software buzzword today, especially in the state of Delaware (according to Google Trends). 

And now, for a piece of meta-commentary:

3. Disrupt

(Was #3 in 2020)

“Disrupt” and its variants—disruption, disruptors, disrupting—holds a high position on our list of most-hated jargon in 2021. “Disruption” is usually a market term for when a business introduces something new that forces the rest of the market to adjust. 

This is a fairly high bar for any company to reach, and an enviable position to hold. But there’s no concrete metric for whether something is truly “disruptive.” That’s why this IT buzzword is often misused. Companies are tempted to use the word “disruptive” for even the most minor feature improvements. It’s obnoxious. 

Apparently, this term is super popular in the DC metro area—with nearly double the interest of the next metro, New York City. 

We’re surprised that “disrupt” maintains its position at #3 despite all the newcomers on our most hated tech buzzwords list. Maybe “disruption” takes on a new meaning when a global pandemic literally “disrupts” every facet of the tech world. Next to COVID-19, all other examples of business “disruption” pale in comparison.

4. Synergy 

(New in 2021)

A mainstay on our most hated business buzzwords list, “synergy” has now found its way into tech jargon as well. While synergy holds a legacy context in the business lexicon, it means basically nothing today. 

Over the past few years, the tech community has complained about different products not integrating well. This ends up perpetuating manual processes and “janky” fixes for tools that were supposed to make life easier. Many SaaS companies now proclaim the “synergy” of their products as a solution to these pain points. 

The vagueness of the term “synergy” lets tech marketers off the hook. Companies can avoid getting too in the weeds about how their product fixes instead of… ahem… contributes to the problem. 

Unfortunately, this term sees high search interest every year—with Nebraska leading the ranks.

5. Cloud 

(Was #1 in 2020)

If you work in the tech industry, you probably hear about the “cloud” more than any other concept. While it sounds futuristic, this term simply refers to a program that’s hosted on 3rd-party servers. This frees you from having to host the software on your own infrastructure. 

There are certainly benefits to hosting things on the cloud, but there are drawbacks as well. Like any other, this a decision that buyers and users have to weigh carefully. 

However, you wouldn’t know that if you looked at the average technology seller’s website. “The cloud” is an all-solving deus ex machina of the technology and business world—regardless of whether it deserves that position. That’s what makes this one of the worst IT buzzwords today. 

According to Google Trends, New York is the reigning leader in searches related to cloud technology. 

In a COVID-dominated world, “the cloud” has become more ubiquitous than any of us expected. Maybe that explains why this software buzzword no longer holds the top spot on our list.

6. Digital Transformation

(Was #5 in 2020)

“Digital transformation” should mean something very specific.  Broadly speaking, “digital transformation” means using tech to make your business easier. However, this IT buzzword is often used as code for “buying another digitization product to replace an existing manual process.” 

This interpretation can sometimes be appropriate. But it risks being underused internally and overused in marketing copy. 

The events of 2020 may have made “digital transformation” more relevant than in prior years. Most businesses were forced to digitize processes that had previously been physical or in-person. 

While this may be a deviation from what “digital transformation” meant in the past, 2020 may have made this term more applicable than in prior years. 

7. Pivot 

(New in 2021)

“Pivot” is a new buzzword at the top (or bottom?) of our lists for both the tech industry and the broader business world. 

“Pivoting” gained infamy in 2020 when COVID-19 forced companies to change everything. Tech companies changed their product roadmaps and shuffled dev work to meet new priorities.

The problem is, “pivot” doesn’t do a great job of explaining what is actually being “pivoted” or what we’re doing instead. The one guarantee is that if you hear about an upcoming “pivot,” your work is probably going to get disrupted. You may not get clear answers until it’s particularly inconvenient for you!

8. Big Data

(Was #8 in 2020)

“Big data” is another IT buzzword that once had a specific meaning but is now used far beyond that original context. 

Originally, the term referred to data pools that were so large, businesses had to adopt new analytics tools, AI, and machine learning technologies to wrangle them. These new technologies allow businesses to manage data far beyond the scope of what they could normally handle. 

However, “big data” has become a moving target in recent years. Data is exponentially more plentiful now. But it’s also become more accessible with better analytics tools. While we celebrate improved accessibility, this shift has changed the scope of what “big data” actually entails. 

As this term became more abstract, it also obscured attention from an important facet of big data. It’s not just a question of how much data is being used, but how well you’re using the data. This distinction will likely become even more important in the near future. 

Google Trends shows most interest for “big data” in New York and the Bay Area (which makes sense). 

9. Virtual 

(New in 2021)

“Virtual” is the final newcomer on our 2021 list of most hated tech buzzwords. It’s also the first to reflect the *cough cough* unprecedented circumstances we’ve all experienced in the last year. 

“Virtual” as a concept is actually pretty straightforward. It’s so simple that it’s hard for people to actually misuse it, per se. However, by the end of 2020 many professionals have had more than enough digitized things they’d rather do IRL!

Working from home is the most common example of how virtualization took on a painful connotation for many people. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as much as 65% of the tech industry was working from home. In this all-virtual environment, few folks need any more reminders that we have been forced into an entirely digital world.

10. Agile 

(Was #6 in 2020)

“Agile” has become a repeat offender in both the tech world and the broader business world. Once upon a time, “agile” had a very specific, contextual meaning. Those familiar with project management or software development know the term well. 

“Agile” refers to a work methodology that emphasizes adaptability and continual reevaluation during a project cycle. Agile contrasts with the waterfall approach, which prioritizes planning ahead and maintaining a consistent vision. 

However, “agile” is now used everywhere. Business professionals use the word to imply some vague amount of flexibility or adaptability. When pressed, you may find precious little substance behind what people think it means to be “agile.” At its worst, misuse of the word can cause substantial confusion between casual users and people who actually know what the word means. 

Fortunately, “agile” dropped down a few places in the top 10 this year (although it’s still wildly popular across California, according to Google Trends). Hopefully, this means that, if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that being able to adjust to unexpected circumstances is the new default.

Predicting the Future of the Most Hated Tech Buzzwords

Buzzwords often serve as a proxy for the themes that our community is highly focused on. The jargon that gets the most hate can indicate which parts of our professional lives we’re ready to leave in the past—this year more than ever. 

While there’s more work to be done to correct the gross misuses of technology buzzwords like “disruption” or “AI”, we’re hopeful that the COVID-related jargon that emerged this year will soon be in the past. 

And while I will remain a satisfied user of the Zoom platform, I eagerly look forward to the day when no one ever asks me to “zoom” them again!

Want more Buzzwords? Check out our list of MOST ANNOYING business buzzwords

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