So, What Do You Do?


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)
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.



After many awkward moments and several canned speeches, I finally have narrowed it down to “web developer”.

But, that always leads into a conversation about websites, the cousin who uses frontpage, etc. as noted by a lot of the earlier comments.

So, I am thinking of using “internet programmer”, or simply “I write software for the internet”. That covers websites, web-apps, server admin and a host of other hats that I wear.

I will DEFINITELY be using “I try to call in sick but always get a busy signal”. :^)

Bram Pitoyo

Hmm… What about trying to slowly change the nature of the question?

Them: What do you do?
You: What don’t I do?
Them: Oh… (either becomes intrigued or runs away)

Amber Case

Thanks so much for writing this! I feel similarly, except my entire family asks me to teach them search engine optimization. I want to wear a T-shirt that says “No, I will not optimize your website!”.


Haha, great post. I get:

Them: So what do you do?
Me: I work for a webhosting company.
Them: Derr…
Me: You know websites? Well, our company provides hosting space on our servers so you can create a site with tools we provide, the ability to buy a domain name (you know, and email addresses at your domain.
Them: Oh, sorry; were you still talking?

CJ Millisock

For me, it’s more like:

Them: So what do you do?
Me: I’m a Programmer/Analyst for a company that writes banking software.
Them: Sigh…

I guess my job sounds too boring, but it’s really a lot of fun and challenging!

Jason Glaspey

I just tell people that I make the internets. But I love Deanna’s: “I don’t know. I get up in the morning, and there’s a laptop there, and I sit at it and type things…”

I’ve got to use that one…


Oh how familiar this all sounds. I’m really tired of well-meaning people trying to hook me up with a real job. It’s actually kind of insulting after having been self-employed for 4 years. Don’t they think if I wanted a real job I’d have been able to find one by now?

My latest answer to The Question is “I’m currently running my own business developing subscription-based web applications.” Those that care will ask for clarification, those that don’t will just nod and smile.


I do web development and sometimes i dabble with web design…

Them: In your line of job it’s easy to demonstrate your skills… They ask you to do this and you do it there on the spot and presto… While in Human Resources i cannot do such a thing.

Me: Sigh

They truly believe that it’s as easy as sewing and singing…


I also love this one:

Them: You make websites! That’s cool!

Me: Yeah it is fun, challenging, and allows me to be very creative

Them: (excitedly) WIll you make me a website?!

Me: Well I charge for it… but I could cut you a discount since you are in my family.

Them: Oh… how much will that cost do you think?

Me: Sigh…. (thinking in my head: They don’t want to pay for a website) oh about $1000 to $2000.

Them: oooooh……..?


My favorite is the infamous:

Them: So you make websites?

Me: Yes, I do web design and hand code websites

Them: Oh cool! Do you use Dreamweaver? I’ve used dreamweaver in High School.

Me: *pause* um…. yes but I do the coding myself – no templates here..

Them: I love Dreamweaver & Photoshop…. blah blah blah.

Me: sigh….


“Me too” on the anecdotes from the Web devs in the comments.

“So what do you do?”
[flatly or diffidently] “(Web|Internet) stuff.”
[blank stare] “Like what?”
“I would say more, but it usually bores people to tears. I can go on, if you really want me to.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“What do you do?”

Brutal honesty FTW.

More irritating are the ones I run into on airplanes. They all know somebody who does what I do… and then it turns out that half of them are schlepping for Quixtar, and nine-tenths of the others would be lost without the most recent version of Dreamweaver.

…But it’s still better than seven or eight years ago, when the truth got you hairy eyeballs for apparently being one of those out-droppin’, in-Aeron-sittin’, worthless-options-havin’, fusball-playin’, blueshirt-wearin’ upstarts who stood by while your bosses took the markets to hell in a handbasket. Which I definitely was NOT.

Irene Schwarting

It depends on if I want to actually have the conversation. If I do, I can say something like, “I help people and businesses find ways to earn more while working less,” If I don’t, I can say, “Management consulting”. That makes their eyes glaze over and they start scrambling about for a new topic.

If they actually know something about technology, I can say, “I’m in infosec,” and then see where the conversation goes.

Taylor Brooks

Knowing that the conversation is probably doomed for awkwardness from the jump, I just tell people I’m in the adult film business or a drug dealer. At least you can control (or attempt) to control the awkwardness.

Travis Chillemi

My least favorite goes like this:

Them: What do you do?
Me: I am a web designer.
Them: Oh! My dentist also does web design. He/She is really good with Frontpage and stuff. He/She even has their own website. It has something to do with geocities…
Me: Yeah. I do dental work on the side, too. I even have my own drill and chair.
Them: Huh?

Deanna Zandt

I often try to make a joke first, it takes the weird edge off for some reason.

Them: So what do you do?
Me: I don’t know…
Them: What?
Me: I don’t know. I get up in the morning, and there’s a laptop there, and I sit at it and type things… [drift off]
Them: Um…
Me: I’m just kidding. I’m a consultant who does online strategy and builds websites. It’s a weird job and it’s a blast.


When I get the glazed over look, I just say I’m a part-time rodeo clown/psychologist. I’m in marketing, so I’m not actually lyin’…


Just when I thought I had figured out how to explain what open source software was and why anyone would create it for free, I took my current job with GNOME. Now I get to explain free software and GNOME to many people who don’t even know what software is, really.

The hardest are the people that really want to know.

Dawn Foster

As I was writing this post, I was thinking that it would be really embarrassing if I was the only one dreading this question. It’s great to see the comments with so many similar stories!

My grandmother once told me that she didn’t really understand what I did; however, when she told people I worked at Intel, they looked impressed, so she knew it must be a good job :)


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


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.


“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.”


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.


(I know. Pity me.)

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


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.”


Steve Robillard

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.


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


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?”
them, “oh so you design websites?”

me: (Sigh)”yeah. What do you do?”



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


“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?”


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

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