What do you do for a living?

People who had job titles and business cards could say easily where they worked and what they did for a living, but those who worked for themselves, doing things of a complicated nature, learned over time that it was not worth the trouble of supplying an explanation if its only purpose was to make small talk. Better to just go directly to airline travel.

~ Neal Stephenson in Reamde

Neal Stephenson is my favorite author. I love the way he blends technology, historic events and deeply descriptive prose to tell compelling stories. Check out his books if you enjoy post cyberpunk sci-fi. The quote above made me laugh because I often find it difficult to describe what I do to people I meet.

When first meeting someone the first question normally asked is “So, what do you do?”
It is terribly cliche, and possibly bordering on bad manners, but what the person answers gives a context for where that person is coming from and what their interests are.

Some of my usual answers when someone asks me what I do are:

  • Web developer*
  • Software developer
  • Plugin Builder
  • Digital tentmaker

*I am trying to get away from “web developer” because then I’ll get the response “Oh! You design websites? I need a website…”  To which I uncomfortably respond, “Well, no I don’t design websites. And I don’t do client work. And most of the people I know won’t build you a site for your small budget.” I find those conversations very difficult to get out of so I try to avoid mentioning the web.

What do you say when someone asks you what you do? How do you explain your work?