When people ask me what I do it always puts me on defense trying to figure out how much knowledge you could handle and then speaking within a few seconds. I heard a colleague, John Willis, speak and he discussed the standard response of “computers” which is a solid answer to avoid a long discussion. Even better, a former colleague, who was an amazing saleswoman at EMC, used to say “I sell bananas!” when it was clear there was nothing happening.
I’ve thought about this a lot and kept thinking back to Officespace with the Bobs asking Tom Smykowski the question above. Tom responds with a painfully obvious “nothing useful” that he seems to realize as he says it. Basically he brings the specs to the engineers from the customers so the engineers don’t have to. When the Bobs ask why can’t the engineers bring them to the customers themselves, Tom shouts that he is a people person, gets flustered and exhorts, “What is wrong with you people!”.
While I don’t think my job or most others falls into this, it’s important to be able to describe what you do. There is a saying that if you truly understand a subject, you can explain it to anyone, even a child. I believe this to be true and I think it’s important that those in IT be able to understand their job and be able to explain it.
If you’re wondering, I have tried explaining what I do to my kids and wife with varying degrees of success. I’d also encourage you to do the same. If you get flustered or worried, I think you have every right to circle back to your manager or senior level company person and get some answers. If they don’t know, take advantage of that open-door policy the CIO or CEO always brags about.
In DevOps, I always stress Value Stream Mapping. This is a process where we take a workflow that involves our business (like a customer ordering a product and us making it) and we break it up into boxes, visually, and look at cycle times, delays and where we are in the process. It’s important to do this visually because we don’t always see the big picture clearly when we are on the floor or entrenched in work. It’s also invaluable because it shows where you add value (or where you don’t) and gives you the opportunity to change that. You can see that when I do this, I do not add any value to the overall goal, or you may find that you are adding tremendous value and not realizing it. In any case, the goal is to understand how your company works, how it makes money and where you are in the process. If you take this and apply it to IT, you should find that your role is a part of the business and does add value. If not, or if no one knows how your company works, you should start asking questions and looking for better opportunities.
Today I work at Red Hat. Red Hat takes community projects and turns them into enterprise products. If that’s hard to grasp we take free software and add support and stability for companies to use and be able to trust. I get paid based on the sales made from the 2 salesmen I support. Our products help businesses focus more on their business and less on IT.
Next time you want to say computers, try to explain it. If you fail, you’ll get another shot. However I think in time, you’ll either learn to explain what you do to anyone or realize you can do something a lot more worthwhile.