How do we developers best describe our work?

Half a year ago I ended up in a really interesting conversation with Erlend Klakegg Bergheim about how we as programmers describe our work to non-programmers.

I decided to write up a blog post on the subject to try and retrieve some feedback and opinions from others, but ultimately ended up postponing it indefinitely.

This summer though, the same conversation came up during lunch, and my interest was sparked again, so I finally decided to write up some of my thoughts.

The problem

Programming/Informatics is hard. Both for us - “the experts” - but even more so for those never exposed to our way of thinking. Even trying to explain the problems we try to solve every day can sometimes be hard.

“What? Why can’t you just click a button and the computer will make that fancy word processing tool for you? Isn’t it just there? Kinda like all that great meat that is grown in our grocery stores?”

  • Almost true story.

So up until last year every time someone asked me what I was studying, the conversation usually went something like this:

Parent/Cute girl/Someone from my High School/Whoever: So, what do you do? Me: Informatics. I love that stuff! Them: Wow, that sounds exciting. What does that mean?

At this point, after having tried to explain this a thousand times before, always ending up with them thinking I live in a basement hacking kernels and playing WoW, i usually just ended up doing some typing gestures with my hands while saying “compuuuters” with a bored voice, and then changing the subject to whatever generally exciting subject I could come up with as soon as possible.

After reflecting upon this a bit I realized that this behavior both made me look boring, and made me seem like I wasn’t proud of what I do. In short:

My Solution

Needless to say, I love computers. I love programming, and I love studying informatics. So I decided to come up with something like an elevator pitch for what I do (probably way to much of) every day.

Now when I’m asked I usually go into the wonders of all our modern gadgets and how every possible item in our society is run by computers, and that we programmers - we make that happen! Everything from Facebook to, even your watch or cell phone contains lots of technology, and someone gotta make that stuff behave. That’s my job.

Instead of trying to explain programming, discrete mathematics and algorithms I now go on about the concepts and problems we have to solve, on a much higher level than what I used to, and I love the way it has made me more aware of being proud of studying something as awesome as informatics.

Now my question is: How do YOU describe your work as a developer/computer geek?