Battling the Buzzwords: Bootstrapping

When clients and developers get together, both can use the same word to mean totally different things.

“Bootstrapping” is one of these words.

The etymology of “bootstrap” points to the phrase, “to pull oneself up by one’s bootstraps”. This original saying highlights the impossibility of that very action, or the action it’s being used to describe.

But the world has changed.

To most startups, “bootstrap” means “build the business without needing to raise external funding”. And many, many companies “bootstrap” themselves. To do this, they may sell services to get revenue in order to then build products (or to build larger services companies), or they may live off savings or in someone’s basement.

Developers understand and use that meaning, but they also have a third meaning for the phrase.

You may hear a developer mention Twitter Bootstrap, (, a software library for making a single website look good on devices of all sizes, whether full-size monitors on desktops, down to smartphones.  Bootstrap provides CSS and HTML components that the developers can then tie into their site — getting many of the benefits of Twitter’s experience with web design.

So for a developer, “bootstrap an app” might mean “apply Twitter Bootstrap to the application to make it a modern, responsive design” or it might mean the same thing the client is thinking, “start an application business without getting outside funding”.

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