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Summary:

During the rest of the year, my life is filled mostly with other technology workers and freelancers who easily understand what I do for a living. However, the holidays can be a different story when I’m faced with people who know little about what it means to be a web worker.

Connected Consultant

This is the question that I dread more than any other over the holidays, which is saying quite a bit, since my vegan diet also tends to generate another set of awkward questions.

During the rest of the year, my life is filled mostly with other technology workers and freelancers who easily understand what I do for a living. However, the holidays can be a different story when I’m faced with people who know little about what it means to be a web worker.

Over the past few years, I’ve held a number of jobs involving various types of web work. While at Intel, I managed teams of people spread out over several states. I’ve telecommuted from Portland to a company in California. I’ve managed online communities of people with members located around the world. Currently, I work out of my house and coffee shops as an online community and social media consultant.

Here are a few of the scenarios I have encountered as a result of the “What do you do?” question:

Scenario 1: The goof off
Me: I work for Company X managing their online community.
Them: Never heard of Company X. Where is the office?
Me: In California.
Them: Are you moving to California?
Me: No, I work out of my home office over the phone and email mostly.
Them: Cool, I wish I had a job where I could goof off all day.
Me: Sigh

Scenario 2: I can help you get a “real” job
Me: I’m a freelance consultant helping companies with online communities & social media strategies.
Them: Oh, so you’re between jobs. I have a friend over at Sprockets, Inc. He might be able to find you a real job.
Me: Sigh

Scenario 3: Avoidance
Me: I work with computers.
Them: Eyes glazed over
Me: Sigh (subject change)
or
Them: Me, too
Me: Great! (Safe to continue conversation without running away screaming).

I suspect that I’m not the only telecommuter or freelancer dreading this question.

What creative ways have you found to response to the question? What is your funniest, “What do you do?” story?

Photo used with permission from Aaron Hockley.

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By Dawn Foster

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  1. SkepticalRepublican Monday, December 29, 2008

    When asked “What do you do?” I respond, as little as possible. That usually moves the conversation on to other, more interesting topics.

  2. “I work with computers” – ha ha, I must have used that a thousand times over the years. But people want more than that deliberately brief answer now, so once I’ve expanded on this, the killer question I tend to get is “So, how do you make any money from that?”

  3. “I work with computers” is always followed by “Oh really? I think I have some spyware on mine.” I don’t use it.

  4. me, “I am a freelance web developer, I code, I program, I am behind the sceens guy. I make the website function.”

    them, “Oh so you sell things on eBay?”
    or
    them, “oh so you design websites?”

    me: (Sigh)”yeah. What do you do?”

    ugh

  5. Same. I tried to explain what a web developer did. I ended up attempting to explain how amazon works.

  6. Steve Robillard Monday, December 29, 2008

    Me: “I am a consultant, I work mostly with higher ed.”

    them: “Oh, so you work for yourself, I wish I could do that. I would work so much less. It must be great.”

    Me: “Yeah except everytime I try to call in sick I get a busy signal.”

    Most of them need to think about this.

  7. When I was still in college, one of my cousins (from my rural family; I was the first person in my immediate family to graduate from HS, much less go to college) asked me what my major was.

    “Physics.”

    (I know. Pity me.)

    ::beat:: “Does that mean you’re going to be a gym teacher?”

    *sigh*

    Then there was the time when my mom was telling me about a gentleman that she worked with at the bank.

    “Do you know how smart he is? He’s so smart, when I told him that you worked at JPL, he knew what that was.”

    *sigh*

  8. “Must be nice to get to sit in front of a computer all day and surf the web.”

    “Yeah, I used to have to commute to an office to do that, but it’s much better now.”

  9. When asked “What do you do?” I reply with something like “I travel,” “I like to ride my bike,” or “I get horribly wasted on Sundays.”

    But when it comes to defending my job, that’s rare. Anyone who doesn’t see the benefit in a life spent working less and living more is probably going to be a bore for a conversation anyone. Either way, I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t appreciate the flexibility a freelance life can provide.

  10. In my case “I work with computers” is followed either by “they say it is the future” or “I have a problem with Word”…

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