This is the first question everyone asks you when you meet. It’s an amazingly annoying question for many people, especially for those poor souls who are students or, heaven forbid, unemployed. But for me, this question is annoying because it is so hard to answer. Allow me to explain.
If I was a fireman, I could say, “I’m a fireman.”
If I was a doctor, my answer would be something like “I run a small medical practice on xxx street.”
If I was a clown, I could answer, “I entertain at kid’s birthday parties.”
If I was an assassin, I could answer, “You got anyone you wanna rub out? I’m your man.”
The answer gets even easier if I was a teacher, a farmer, a garbage collector, a tax collector, or even a taxidermist – even those who can’t spell know what these jobs are. As soon as the word’s out of my mouth, I’m conveniently slotted into the right box and we can get on with the conversation.
The problem is, I’m none of the above. I’m an Oracle programmer. I design database systems. I write SQL and PL/SQL, use Designer, create Forms and Reports. I write system design specifications.
For about 99% of the population, for me to say the above always gets a glassy-eyed stare. Probably about 10% of people I meet might latch onto the words “programmer” or “database” and ask something incisive like “Is that something to do with computers?” The rest will just ask “what is that?”
I don’t say that I’m an Oracle programmer, or any of those other things. When asked the dreaded “what do you do” question I do some analysis before answering. This requires a bit of guestimation of the listener’s level of knowledge.
Do I just say “I’m in computers”? For some people, this is enough for them to understand – and their next words will be something about how computers are the “next big thing” or that computers are where “it’s all happening” now, as if the I.T. revolution happened just a year or two ago. For other people, however, this is not specific enough, and they lump me along with a newbie I.T. graduate on his first year on a help desk somewhere.
So, the next step up is “I’m a database programmer”. I always avoid the word “Oracle” now because everyone outside the Oracle community thinks this means I’m a priest in some wierd religion or something. So I say “database programmer” which most people don’t misinterpret. Of course, they don’t have anything intelligent to add to it, so the conversation has to either (a) end or (b) go on to something about them. Fine with me, mind you. Get me started talking about databases to someone who couldn’t care less, and that’s the end of it – a few hours later I realise I’ve been talking to a zombie.
Next time someone asks me “what do you do for a crust?”, I’m going to answer, “I’m an intergalactic warrior on a mission to save the Earth. What do you do?”