“What do you do?” is a question I frequently fear being asked. The timing of my response is critical, so too the terminology. If you want to guarantee an impact when you’re meeting new people it’s probably best to avoid these questions at all costs.
It was worse three years ago. Back then I worked in IT support and had done for sever before then. Replying with the stock, simplest phrase “I work in IT” or “I work in IT support,” left me feeling cold. If I was feeling cold then it was a pretty safe bet that whoever was expecting a response was going to be disappointed.
The problems came in how to explain the finer points of my role. My job title back then (Senior Network Analyst) gave no real indication of what it was I worked in. Referring to some generic description of the kind of work I did only led on to the most irritating of questions. “What’s the best laptop to buy in your opinion?” Like I give a fuck what the best laptop is or trying to assist you with a stress-free laptop. I don’t know what the best laptop is to buy. “I usually ask someone in the desktop support team. Do you have someone in your desktop support team you can ask?”
What it reveals is that I am (and I suspect a considerable number of other people) are essentially defined by the jobs I do. If it is that your job doesn’t necessarily reflect your true, core personality then it could well be the case that talking about it is nothing more but an irritation. That’s not an indication of my ability to do the job, I hasten to add.
Three years later things are a little different although, surprisingly the definitions still present some difficulties. If I tell people my job title now I am, rather disappointingly, greeted with guffaws of laughter. “No, a webmaster doesn’t wear a cloak like Harry Potter. No, I don’t wear round John Lennon glasses and no I don’t have a big floppy wizards hat.”
A webmaster, in case you’re not up to speed, is someone who manages either a website or manages the systems which allow others to manage their website. That’s it in a nutshell. To be a webmaster I need to know about websitey-stuff, I need to be able to server-type things from time to time and, from time to time, I have to do pesky admin. Don’t be misled. I’m not complaining. I can feel the grotty world of IT support long behind me. Things are easier on the mind now.
There’s still an etiquette challenge though. And for this you need to know one small fact. As a webmaster, I provide a service which supports the BBC website. The most widely website in the world (which also happens to be part of an insitution I’ve wanted to work for since I was a small boy) is the one, in a sense, I “work” on.
Anyone who works for the BBC-proper will back me up when I say that if you mention you are in any way connected with the BBC the most predictable questions then start flowing?
“Oh .. do you know ‘such and such’? He works on News 24”
“No,” I reply, “the BBC is staffed by 20,000 people and I can’t get into the newsroom.”
“I really hate the fact that the BBC’s Listen Again function keeps failing whenever I’m listening to the Archers.”
“I can’t do anything about that I’m afraid. I don’t work in that department.”
“I really love the BBC website. I use it all the time. I think it’s fantastic. I really love the CBeebies website”
“That’s great. I use it to. It’s terribly good.”
It’s all quite ironic really. For years I’d wanted to work for the BBC and now, for the past couple of years, I’ve been working the closest to the corporation than ever before. Now I find I don’t want to reveal my association with it for fear a string of predictable questions will start flowing. It is, perhaps with justifiable reasons, BBC people tend to keep their cards close to their chest about their employer.
If that wasn’t enough of a problem, the company I work for isn’t part of the BBC. It used to be but now its a separate entity staking its claim in the commercial sector. Explaining who actually pays my salary leaves the listener as cold as when I used to explain I work in IT support. What, exactly, am I to do?
The answer is to be found in the things which many people have said to me over the past few days, completely unprompted I hasten to add. Based on their comments, I offer up the following explanation as to what I do ..
I am a writer who can do techie things with websites and computers. I have an eye for design although I don’t really consider myself a designer. I’m told I’m a good communicator. I’m fiercely loyal, team-driven and yet, ultimately goal-orientated. I’m a creative individual who has a dream and, wherever possible, I try to follow it. I work for a company who provides services to the BBC and am fortunate enough to work at the BBC, in amongst wonderfully creative and supportive individuals across a variety of different departments and disciplines.
You know now. If we ever meet each other at a party please don’t ask me the question, OK?