How to Explain Your Tech Job to Your Family

November 21, 2017 Mischa Nachtigal

A quick metaphor that might help you explain your tech job at the dinner table.

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, which means it’s time for all the great holiday staples: falling leaves, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and blank stares from family after you attempt to explain your tech job to them. If you work in technical role, or at a technical company (in any capacity), then you’re probably no stranger to looks of utter confusion at the dinner table after you try to explain what an API is.

So here’s a metaphor to help explain the general concept of software-related work to friends and loved ones on the precipice of a food-induced coma.

It’s a metaphor. A delicious one.

The Set-Up

Your company is a bakery. The baked treats are the code. Sometimes the bakery sells these treats to people directly (consumer software), but sometimes the treats are sold to other businesses (B2B software), who will either resell or consume them themselves.

Very similar to how an engineer gets the bugs out.

The Roles

Product Manager

You are tasked with figuring out the strategy for the bakery, or for a specific product—like what spices and characteristics the baked treats should have, or what new items you should offer. When developing product, you represent the customer’s voice. You help synthesize feedback into new ideas (it could be new flavors or new pastries entirely), and you help make decisions that ensure you achieve the scale and quality you want the bakery to be known for. You don’t manage the baker or the chef, you manage the baked good itself: when it comes out, what its goal is, and who it’s for. Sometimes you might even explore other products entirely to expand the experience of the bakery: like coffee, music shows, dinner service, pop-up dinners, etc.

Product Designer

You are kind of like the chef. You identify customer cravings, design recipes, and validate that the solutions being baked are actually desired. But you don’t just design treats, you figure out the whole experience of how this treat will make it’s way to the customer — from menu and packaging to presentation and taste. You make sure your team is baking the right type of treat, with the right flavor profile — not just for new pastries either, you do this for existing ones too, to make sure they’re still satisfying. When it comes to new products, you might prototype how they should appear and feel, which helps determine if they’re worth pursuing.

Engineer

You are the literal baker. You know how to cook all kinds of different pastries and put them in the oven. You employ the techniques required — dicing, chopping, sautéing, whipping — to bake each treat. From tarts to scones, muffins to breads — you know what technology and processes you’ll need, and the temperatures and tools so everything comes out perfect. You work with the Product Manager and Designer to make sure you build and deliver something people will want. Sometimes, you notice how a design or product decision may make it hard to sustain the right bake, so you point that out and as a team, you figure it out. If there’s a whole new product, you’ll determine if it’s technically feasible, but you’ll try to master whatever technology you need to in order to ship it out.

Operations

Imagine a large-scale bakery, with thousands of different pastries all vying for baking time in the same massive oven, but all require different temperatures. You are there to make sure everything flows smoothly, that every pastry gets a chance to bake and go out to customers, and that the bakery itself doesn’t overheat or crumble by trying to do too much. You also ensure the safety of the bakery (fire prevention and extinguishing) and are always looking into ways things can run more efficiently.

Product Marketing

You work on the storefront, and sometimes, the menu design itself. It’s up to you to draw new customers in to sample and buy the treats. You also provide input to the team that helps ensure people keep coming back.

The Terms

APIs

The dials on the oven.

Cloud

A big networked oven that helps make your goods available all around the world at fast speeds.

Machine Learning

Ovens are now getting smart and can do some things automatically, like adjust temperature based on the treat, or help with specific parts of the process (rolling or kneading dough, proofing, etc). Machine learning can also help the bakery itself, by making customer recommendations based on previous purchases and other data.

Pair Programming

Two bakers bake a treat together, helping each other and talking about the approach as it’s happening. This usually results in higher quality bakes and more efficient teams. Baking with both bakers means better batter gets baked, basically. (Say that five times fast.)

Happy holidays, enjoy the time with your family (and the baked goods). What are some other roles or terms you’d add to the list to help round out this metaphor?

Change is the only constant, so individuals, institutions, and businesses must be Built to Adapt. At Pivotal, we believe change should be expected, embraced and incorporated continuously through development and innovation, because good software is never finished.


How to Explain Your Tech Job to Your Family was originally published in Built to Adapt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

About the Author

Mischa Nachtigal

Mischa Nachtigal runs editorial and social media at Pivotal.

Previous
Designing for Millennial Parents
Designing for Millennial Parents

Parents are changing and technology isn’t keeping up.Working hard at Winnie’s San Francisco officeThroughou...

Next
Security: The Offensive Line of Enterprise
Security: The Offensive Line of Enterprise

It’s time to rethink classic approaches to security, and build a playbook that ensures safety and success.A...