Explaining Our Professions to Our Parents

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Have you ever had a difficult time explaining what your job entails to your parents or other family members? You may be working in a field that didn’t exist 20 years ago, such as mobile device development, or your job may be so specialized that non-technical people will never understand.

Now that my job title is “editor,” I pause for a few seconds when someone I don’t know very well asks me what I do for a living. Since I have been a developer or database professional for over 20 years, I want to just say that I work with databases. I end up explaining that I now edit an online technical journal, but my specialty is data. My ego makes me think that a technical career is a higher calling, so I end up explaining more than is needed.

I’m not alone in having a difficult time explaining what I do, especially to non-technical folks. For them, it is often easier to say “I work with computers.” Of course, that is a risky answer because some of us do not want to be the helpdesk for family and friends. I managed to avoid that trap years ago. When asked for help, I would say that I could help them design a database, but I’m not that good with personal computers.

In today’s world, the number of possible titles is growing. Try telling your grandmother that you are a “Scrum Master.” That sounds more like the name of a rock band than a profession. Other titles that might confuse grandma are “Architect” and “Evangelist.” There are many specialties, and sometimes a title at one organisation will not mean the same at another.

As a database administrator, I did whatever needed doing to keep things running at the organisation. Sometimes these were typical DBA tasks, but I needed to be able to understand the front-end applications as well. It was not easy explaining my job to my parents. On one holiday trip with extended family, I had to skip out on the fun for a few hours and be online for a software upgrade at the company. My parents didn’t understand why I couldn’t just tell them that I wasn’t available. To my parents, work was something that they were always able to leave behind and forget about when they were not at the office or factory. That was not the case for me, especially at that particular job.

Explaining our careers to the people in our lives is not always easy. I’m convinced that just saying “I work with computers” is good enough most of the time.

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