Sunday, June 25, 2006

What Do You Do For a Living?

On the metro ride home yesterday, a woman who had been to the wine tasting festival went all Bus Uncle on a kid who refused to give her a piece of gum. She and her friends concluded that he didn’t have a job and wasn’t in school, so they started talking about how important it was for people to go to college and have a job. After the kid and his friends got off, they started asking everyone in sight if they were in school or if they had a job and what that job was. I was quite literally in the middle of all of this, with Metro Aunt and one friend in front of me, another standing to my right, and another wandering around on my left, wine glass still in hand. I was hoping against hope that they would not turn to me. I have enough trouble explaining what I do for a living to people who are sober and not determined to prove a point to someone who has left the room. Shortly before my stop, they did turn to me, but only to apologize for my getting caught in the middle.

So as I sat there, making myself invisible, I thought about the question, which you inevitably end up having to answer when you meet new people, not just tipsy folks on the subway. People have very different ideas of what an engineer is. Those who don’t know to ask “what kind?” usually either think of a train engineer or a civil engineer. If I say “electrical engineer”, the closest concept many people can wrap their minds around is “electrician”. And those who know the difference still have to clarify, because electrical engineering is very broad. If I answer “computer engineer”, people often think “computer programmer”. Which… closer. But don’t tell the programmers I work with.

Maybe I should just say that I’m a rocket scientist. At least people have heard of that one.


Blogger Jody said...

I think in general the strategy is to pick some well-known thing related to your field (no matter how tenuous) and say you do that.

Consider the following two options:

1) I'm developing game theoretic techniques for analyzing the interactions of cogntive radios in MANETs.

2) I'm making cell phones work better.

As rocket scientist is pretty close to 2), it's probably your best bet unless there's something more popular that you can reasonably glom on to.

6/26/2006 8:58 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

Although, in your situation, I think I would've just said,

"I work for the government. If I tell you what I do, I'll have to kill you. [flash govt badge]

Hmmm... that I'm authorized to kill you may have already identified what I do.

I now have a moral quandry to resolve before the next bus stop.

When I come to a resolution, you'll be the first to know."

6/26/2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger Walt said...

If she does it properly, the person may never know.

6/26/2006 1:12 PM  
Blogger Harry said...

1. I'm the key figure in an ongoing conspiracy to conceal the truth about the estimated and actual costs to maintain the republic.

2. I work for the government

6/27/2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

I can't have any witnesses. Did you see anything?

6/27/2006 9:59 PM  

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