What I do for a living

So, what do you do for a living?

—Hardest question ever

Whenever I am speaking with people who don't know me [1] that's the question I dread.

If someone asks my wife what she does, all she has to do is say "I'm a lawyer". If someone asks my mother, she'd say "I am a retired teacher". Everyone understands what a lawyer does, or what a retired teacher did.

If someone asks me... oh, boy, that's hard. I usually weasel out by saying "I work with computers" but that has several problems:

  • They assume I repair PCs
  • They start telling me how their windows box was slow until they installed some kropotkina which supergarbled their frobnozzles [4], then ask me my opinion on frobnozzle garbling. For or against?

It's really hard to explain that yes, I work with computers every day, but I almost never open one (in fact, I have a policy of not touching my customers computers), and I have no idea what a frobnozzle is.

I have tried saying "I work on server side things, like mail servers and such. I install them, support them and also consulting work, explaining companies what the best ways to improve their services are.".

That one usually gets glassy eyes and a general "what?" look.

I could lie and say I program for a living, but that's not true. While I program a lot, it's usually not for money, and what little I do for money is just using programming as a sysadmin tool.

I could say "I'm a sysadmin" but most people have no idea what that is. It does tend to end conversations, though, so it has one thing going for it.

Nowadays I could say "I have a company", which is true (we are awesome, you should hire us to do whatever it is we do, more details at http://www.netmanagers.com.ar )

So, I usually manage to work around this question, but I have a problem: I'm not telling the truth, or if I am, I am not telling the truth in spirit because I am not conveying what my work is, but only what I do.

So, this post is about trying to explain what the hell I do for a living, in another way, which is more ... internally true, so to speak. This is really hard to do, so I am trying to just let the writing flow, maybe you can understand what I do even if it's not clearly explained.

I work with computers. I make them do what I want them to do. Whenever a regular user sits before his keyboard, he tries to make his computer follow his orders, which variable rates of success. I always succeed.

Sometimes, I am logged into a computer that manages data for thousands of people. They all are on my care. No, it's not their lives at stake, but a little part of their fun, or work is under my care. I help them. I care about them, and I want their fun, their work to be smooth and pleasant.

Often the computer will not do what they need. I will try with my craft to make it happen. I will write little programs, search for others on the Internet, carefully piece together a puzzle and make their needs be fulfilled.

I will write or install and configure those programs and do it well, because I am skilled, I have literally decades of training and experience, but I will mostly do it because I like order and function. I like when things flow unimpeded, I like when serendipitous accidents make things just click together.

I do those things for a living, yes, because I need to make a living. And later, when I'm off the clock and my boy is asleep and I have my own time, you know what I do? I do the same things because they are fun. And I will bother writing a 1300 word post about how I migrated my blog's comments from one site to another because it was fun.

Yes, I know, to most people that would not be fun at all, it would be a boring job, and they would hate doing it. And that's one of the many reasons I am a lucky man [5]: I have fun doing unusual things. That's really lucky, because if my idea of fun was watching "Gossip Girl" I would never have found anyone to pay me to do that!

But going back to what I do for a living, I create things. I don't create large, impressive things, I am not a bridge builder, an architect, I create small, useful things and try to do it with a certain taste or elegance. I am more like a silversmith doing cutlery. Sure, I'll try to make it nice to look at, but it must cut a chunk of beef first.

Yes, I work with computers, but how does that convey what I feel when after a solid day of work I can see that what was a lot of stupid computers and cables are now a working machine that can make 50000 phone calls a day?

How can I make anyone see the beauty in 3 hard lines of code that do nothing but print a bunch of numbers?

How can someone who makes a living any other way understand that I think things and they become real? No, not real as in a puff of smoke and there they are, but they become real through work and effort and thinking and cursing, which is what makes them really real.

I know most of this will sound like mysticism, but it's not, it's my honest truth, I really feel all these things as I work, all these things are my work. Sometimes when I crack a hard problem I want to fucking sing [7] that's how awesome it feels.

So, that's what I do for a living. I work with computers.

[1] Given my shyness problem, that's not too often [2]
[2] To those who only know me from public speaking [3]: I am painfully shy.
[3] Yes, it's perfectly possible to be a decent public speaker and be shy.
[4] At least that's how windows users sound to me half the time
[5] The others are of course y wife and boy, and if they ever read this: kisses for both. [6]
[6] He's just 2.9 years old but you know, the Internet keeps things forever.
[7] If you know my voice, you know why I don't. My own son says "no, don't sing, daddy", except for his good night song, which is the only one he lets me sing. Oh, and sorry for the cursing, but no other word fits.


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