When his friends from his generation were asking “What does Thomas do for a living?”, my late, great uncle used to reply: “He works with the Moon!”. I never really tried to correct him. I liked it that way. May he rest in peace.
What shocked me a little bit more was how difficult it was for my mother to understand my job, and, most of all, how hard it was for her to explain it to somebody else. My uncle was 80 years old, seems legit. But my mother just turned 50. She has an iPhone, she works on a computer 4 days a week and she regularly books online vacations.
It was like she did not understand what I could do on a daily basis. The concept that websites, applications or softwares were made of code was an established fact for her. But, in her mind, if you work on a software, you are a developer. And if you are not writing code, then what are you doing? Why do people need you? And most of all, why are companies paying you so much to do what you do?
What do I really do for a living, Mom
One of the easiest way to explain my work to somebody who has no clue about how you build a software is to draw a parallel between the world of software development and the world of construction. And on a global scale, if you need to explain a technical subject to somebody who is not from this world, try to compare it to a physical thing.
If, like me, you are a technical project manager, you will often speak to clients like my mom, that do not really know what you do on a daily basis. The difference is: they know they need you to build their project. And chances are that these people have been evolved, directly or not, in a construction project. They built a house or they had renovations done in their apartment for example.
The thing is: it is easier to understand the work of somebody when you can physically see it. And yes, my mom knows if she needs renovations in her house, she will contact a renovation company, she will exchange with an high-level profile to explain her needs, then she will get a quote, then she will have workers in the house but she will get reports from their manager about the advancement level.
Which means that she can understand that it takes at least 10 different types of professional profile to build a house, but she is not able to explain that I am not a developer but I still work on digital projects.
Why do companies need me?
If you are working in a finance company, you could say that I work in the middle-office. That is actually a term that is starting to trend in the IT business. Basically, I am not a developer, I do not produce the actual solution and I am not the business, I do not imagine the added value of the solution nor I pay for it. I am in the middle.
In a kind of meta way, companies need me because I can write this type of articles. The one you are reading right now. To make it simple, I am employed to help the business team and the production team communicate. Like I explained in another article, large companies tend not to employ developers because they are not able to manage them. Essentially because the managers do not have the technical knowledge.
Whether I am employed as a technical project manager to manage developers, or as a PMO inside the IT division of a large group. My real purpose is to help the business formulate their demands and to help developers make their voice heard.
There is still a lot of miscomprehension between tech teams and business teams. Mainly because they do not understand that they are working toward the same goals but not the same way. Both teams tends to view the other one has a blocking point. So my job is to speak both languages and manage priorities, criticities and egos.
Why you should speak to “muggles” more often?
After all, in my professional life, I encounter profile like my mother’s on a regular basis. People who needs solutions to their digital problems but do not know how it works at all. And they are often put in front of a tech team without real training. Which is a situation where humans tend to go on the defensive. And you can be quite certain that your project will end up being a failure.
So I encourage you to talk about your job to people from other horizons. If, like me, your job is essentially based on communication, it will be a tremendous training to explain it to your family, to your elders, to friends, or just to people that have never even heard about your job. Take if from me, it is easier to have this talk with your 80 years old uncle than with your marketing director!
Thank you for reading my lines.