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Gavin for RudderStack

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How do you describe your job to family?

I've always had a difficult time explaining my jobs to my family. None of them work in tech or have ever developed, and almost none of them went to a university. So the context about what my job consists of (or that there are even jobs like mine) just doesn't exist for most of my family.

When I was fresh out of undergrad, it was easier. I could just tell them that I built software, but, if they probed deeper, like what software I build or what part of it I work on, the train came off the rails. It's gotten even more difficult as I've progressed in my career.

How do you describe your job to your family or your parents or, even better, your grandparents?

Cover photo by Nielson Caetano-Salmeron on Unsplash.

Top comments (24)

jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller • Edited

yeah, interesting. When I don't want to continue the conversation, I usually say something like "I build websites" and end with that. Even my least tech savvy relatives have used websites before.

For my more technically inclined relatives, I go a bit deeper and try to give a relevant example like "...when you deposit a check, I run some validations to make sure the check is valid, make sure this matches that, and issue a transaction to another system that does additional processing"....that's usually enough.

I always, always always, stay away from answers that might make me sound like some expert in setting up smart TVs, fixing printers, setting up a home wifi network, or being a zoom call expert etc. lol

thtmnisamnstr profile image

TVs, check. Printers, check. Wifi, check. Zoom,... Damn it. That's a new one. I'm telling everyone I use WebEx. Nobody will ask anything about that.

dramaticbean profile image

I just make stuff up so that they don't ask me for help with those things

codr profile image
Ilya Nevolin • Edited

Just say you build software, when they ask for specifics just throw some random term like "CI/CD, Kubernetes, Containerization, Virtualization, Keras, Tensorflow" or some other dangerously sounding word. Now watch them say "aha" and change topics. But if they insist on explaining more, say it's a trade secret and you cannot go into specifics.

thtmnisamnstr profile image

That solves for ending the conversation. But what if you actually want to describe what you do, not just move on to the next topic?

codr profile image
Ilya Nevolin

Talking about tech with non-tech people is kinda cringe :D

Thread Thread
egilhuber profile image
erica (she/her)

I think talking about tech with non-tech people is super important. Breaking down the nitty-gritty of your job into layman's terms that are easy for non-tech folks to digest is a soft skill that I think a lot of devs gloss over.

In a professional setting, it's important to be able to communicate about a project to stakeholders that aren't necessarily tech savvy - project managers, customer support teams, C-level employees (CEO, CFO, etc), IT folks that are more hardware fluent, and other folks that want/need to know about your role and duties.

Talking to friends and family that aren't tech-minded is a great way to build this skill!

nocnica profile image
Nočnica Mellifera

Me [opening a beer]: I work with computers

thtmnisamnstr profile image

[5 beers later]: It's called "serverless." You write code to run on a computer but not a computer you own and not really even a computer when you think about it and Amazon owns all the computers. Yeah, the store.

dscdngnw profile image

I explain to my parents with construction analogies.. like we're the "developers" and theirs an "architect".. and we "design" a software.. and then "build" it.. even "bugs" and "fixes".. It's easier and I think they get it too

thtmnisamnstr profile image

I like this approach.

q0rban profile image
James Sansbury

Heh, I just ran into this today, trying to describe to family what Tugboat is. "It's like carbon copies for websites."

When my day-to-day job was architecture consulting and devops, I would say things like, "I help build the internet," which at least seemed to avoid the, "oh, my friend wants to do The Blog™, can you help?"

dumazy profile image
Fré Dumazy

"I create solutions for increasing business value for companies using binary technology."
If they ever find out I work with computers, I'd constantly be fixing everyone's wifi, installing Office and advising which phones to buy...

shrikant9 profile image
Shrikant Raut

I tell my family that I develop the internet. Shape its existence such that their lives are made easier and more convenient.

Although it does backfire sometimes in a "smartphones make people dumb" kinda way, but this has been the most relevant way for me to tell my family what makes my employer provide my paycheque.

crimsonmed profile image
Médéric Burlet

For me it really depends on the target audience.

if I don't want much conversation I just say I get payed to hack stuff but no I won't help you hack your partner's facebook

If its more business targeted or a deeper convo about jobs then I would describe the various scopes, security, project management, company scale up and more.

ahferroin7 profile image
Austin S. Hemmelgarn • Edited

I actually tell them pretty accurately what I do. Rather surprisingly, most people, even those who have almost no technological background whatsoever, understand the concept of ‘performance monitoring software’ with very minimal explanation, and the concept of my being responsible for managing the installation and release processes with no explanation whatsoever.

Such conversations were, ironically, a lot more difficult when my primary job was just being a sysadmin for a small manufacturing company. In that case, the extent of what I could get most people to understand was ‘I make sure the company network keeps working so everyone else can do their job.’.

gnsp profile image
Ganesh Prasad

I just say that I build/maintain website(s) that serve some specific purpose. People generally understand the purpose/goal and the business/operational processes behind achieving that goal. I tend not to delve into the specifics of tech unless the audience has some relevant technical knowledge.

djtai profile image
David Taitingfong

I always start with an ELI5 version, something like “I take the boring processes and automate them so people aren’t bored”, lol. If they probe deeper I give an example: “well every time we release software, we publish this document. We used to copy & paste data into that document manually. I wrote some code to do it semi-autonomously”. At that point if they’re still thirsty for more then I just nerd out. 🤷🏽

hwolfe71 profile image
Herb Wolfe

I usually say that I do the same type of work as Chandler from Friends.

menaiala profile image
Menai Ala Eddine

I'm struggling with that, especially when I tell that I will work remote for a company in Europe!

When I tell them that I build website they reply: Could you build another Facebook?!

When I tell them that I build apps, they reply: Could you build a TikTok?

So, most of the time I took their daily apps and show them the teams behind them on Youtube to get a tangible definition of the job.

cwraytech profile image
Christopher Wray

I love sharing about what I do… When I have the chance. Most people don’t really want to know, but when I am able to share I compare it to building a house or a building.

mrzenw profile image

I'm a "typist". That's all.