Geeks With Blogs


Scott Miller Appsguild - Software craftsmanship, project management, and the biz of software
What do you do?

Many people, particularly men, have their personal identity defined by what they do for a living.

At a recent church picnic, there was the usual small talk, which eventually leads to the question, "What do you do?". And, even though people mean well, they may feel better about you or themselves, or even evaluate you differently, based on your response.

One of the guys was embarassed and avoided the question. Later, he said that he used to have a prominent job with a big office and large salary. But he got laid off. Now he is working at UPS and is waiting for his 6 month anniversary so that he can eligible for full-time work.


In American society, our jobs are treated as a defining point of our identities. Maybe it is appropriate since we spend more waking hours working than doing any other activity.

I have always found the response "I work at XYZ company" to be almost a statement of "I am owned by XYZ company". According to an article in Fast Company magazine a couple of years ago, they apparently agree. It was recommended that the correct answer to the question should be : "I am currently employed at... and I do xyz there". This is supposed to show that you are not defined by your current job, that you are not "owned" by the job/company, and it also supposedly shows that you are open (and available) to other opportunities, especially since the best job leads are from contacts.

What do you do? (geek style)

As geeks, the "What do you do?" question takes on even more levels of meaning - with the usual tech posturing and questions like "what tools do you use?", etc. Someone in this group of preening peacocks will always feel better about themselves after this exchange.

Who am I? I am a ...

I updated my resume this week. This inevitably leads to the question of "Who am I?", which is not much better than "What do you do?".

I am a Business Analyst, Project Leader, and Project Manager. And when I say that, you will filter that based on your personal and professional experience. I have had technical people immediately avert their eyes and mumble, "Oh...". I know. I saw you. Some have even quoted The Dilbert Principle - stating that companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management. Such BS...

I used to primarily be a developer. I worked on some cool projects - but it was always someone else's ideas or directions. I am now more interested in IT strategy.

Oh no, I'm doing it again. "I am"..."I do"...

The funny thing is that I am much greater than the sum of my parts. And my potential is much greater than the "trail" I have left professionally, as evidenced in my resume. God knows I am under-utilized at my current employer!

Maybe it is more

Maybe we are not supposed to be defined by our jobs. So many of the GeeksWithBlogs bloggers are much greater than the sum of their parts also, and most are defined more by what they do outside of their current job.

D'Arcy, consultant by day, is an aspiring motivational speaker with his Ignite Your Life series.

Chris Williams, while being a Microsoft MVP, is just as known for his blogging, tattoos, and XNA presentations.

And George Clingerman is not defined by where he works, but by his XNA game development.

And really, my most enduring memories of the last two years have nothing to do with work, but are parts of life - bike rides, rock climbing, sunsets, vacations, bunnies (ok, I made that last one up). They make the other BS with the job seem pretty unimportant by comparison.

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2008 10:06 PM | Back to top

Comments on this post: What determines your identity?

No comments posted yet.
Your comment:
 (will show your gravatar)

Copyright © Scott Miller | Powered by: