How do you describe what you do?

This is an actual conversation I’ve had a couple times:

Them: “What do you do for work?”
Me: “I’m a Program Manager at a web company.”
Them: “Oh, so you’re a Manager.”
Me: “No, not exactly.”
Them: “Then you’re a Programmer.”
Me: “Not exactly. I’m actually more like a…”

At that point I’d often try a variety of metaphors, none of which really conveyed the true sense of what I did (nor were they all that glamorous), “translator”, “middleman”, “interface”, “coordinator”. Somewhat sadly, “middleman” is probably the closest. I’m in between the business folk and the tech folk and I make sure they both understand each other. And then sometimes I throw in the exciting point that I write documentation to achieve this communication from the business to the engineers. I “manage” the “program”. I always hated saying that, but it’s true. We wrangle all the folk together, make sure they’re talking, sticking to the things that the business requested, and figuring out how it’ll all fit with the way the website/product/whatever currently exists. Of course the roles can be drastically different depending on where you are. And that’s without even throwing in the other PMs; Product Management, and Project Management.

And now I have to figure out a whole new awkward spiel about what I do, when I now say, “I’m an Information Architect”. I’ll babble about how it’s organizing the information, and features in a product to best fit the user’s needs, and how it involves user research, testing, and getting inside the mind of the user. I’ll have to borrow some of the explanation from the good Wikipedia entry on Information Architecture. I may not even need a metaphor for what I do, since a pretty good one is already in the title; “Architect.” Reversing the title in the same way and saying that I “architect” the “information” is pretty close to it. But for the sake of confusion, try sorting out the fuzzy lines between: Interaction Design, Interface Design, Product Design, Experience Design, User Experience Design, Usability Engineer and Information Architecture.

There are plenty of common cross-industry jobs that are much easier to understand. A Sales-person is a Sales-person. A General Manager is a General Manager. An Accountant is an Accountant.
Do you find yourself in a position where it’s tough to explain? How does the conversation usually go? Any good metaphors?

3 thoughts on “How do you describe what you do?

  1. Jed

    yeah mine is pretty easy to explain.

    Them: ‘do you handle this stuff?’
    Me: ‘yup’
    Them: ‘how about this stuff?’
    Me: ‘yup’
    Them: ‘so that means you also handle this stuff?’
    Me: ‘yup’
    Me: ‘ballcock nipple cock-hole-cover toilet’

    yeah, it’s pretty easy to explain.

  2. shannon

    I work for a greeting card company and my title is “Experience Designer.” The description changes based on audience. Some recent explanations:

    – I draw trees. Mostly pines. With stuff on them.
    – I draw hearts. Red hearts, pink hearts, and purple hearts. Sometimes other colors.
    – I draw eggs and bunnies. Mint green eggs, sherbert orange eggs, pastel yellow eggs. The bunnies are usually white.
    – Lately I’ve been drawing shamrocks and four leaf clovers. Are those the same?
    – I create memorable experiences for people by allowing them to easily and genuinely express their feelings to cherished friends and family.

  3. Chris

    I say “I’m a programmer” and make wiggly typing motions with my fingers. There’s rarely if ever a followup question, unless the person asking is also a programmer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>