I get the same kind of reaction when I describe the process of publishing a book. You'd think I could just stop at "I'm a writer", but noooooooooo
I get that if I talk about work *and* if I talk about the music theory that's my main out-of-work interest.
Yea, see that's why I usually just stop at 'computer monkey'
While working on my PhD (in numerical linear algebra), my parents' neighbor wanted to know what was I working on. "Oh, you can give me the details, I was very good at math".
Few days later, my mom calls me on the phone and asks me "What did you tell our neighbor?" I explain what happened and ask her why is she asking. She said "I talked to her the other day and she told me that she couldn't sleep for three nights, trying to figure out what you told her."
Luckily, I only relayed the basic introduction to her... <g>
Try being an engineer and dating.
Q:"What do you do for a living?"
I can either answer like this: "Well, I do cyber security for power plants, substations, and control centers. My job is to build firewalls to keep hackers out, ensure companies are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and I investigate incidents involving viruses in control systems."
or I can do this:"Computers. I work with Computers."
Guess which one usually ends getting me a second date to fix her computer.
Yeah, I am a network and server technician. I also analyze network traffic for malicious content/intent. But I also handle domain registrations/renewal/transfers. I am also working as the technical side to our billing department and sales. Lately I have found myself to be an auditor as I recently saved my company somewhere around $70K annually through free services (provided but not charged) and licenses that we pay for but do not use. Our company is only 40 some people so that's a lot of cash. I have a B.S. in Information system security and I am working towards my M.B.A. For all the crap I do, I cannot find a single title that encompasses all that I do. Any ideas?
Unless you live in Canada.
"I keep the magic smoke inside the computer."
"Computer Security and Finance Specialist"
"Root's younger brother."
Some facetiousness may be found above. :)
What you tell people varies according to the outcome you want from the conversation, so the 'single title' thing isn't it, I'm afraid...
I should preface this by saying that one thing engineers are specifically awful at (because they have zero training in it) is putting themselves in the position of being the social listener to what they are saying - which generally makes them a social death-trap, as Jam has illustrated. The important thing here is working out why people want to know this, and there are a lot of reasons for that. And almost none of them have anything to do with you, but everything to do with whether the other person can find you either useful, or socially acceptable. At least at a basic level, anyway. This appears to be news to most engineers, unless they've already had a lot of practice at it.
So, if you want to get laid, then the answer to what you do for a living is more along the lines of "Oh, I'm a computer troubleshooter, but that's boring. Tell me about you - I'm sure you've got a far more interesting job than I have..." The idea is that you're getting *you* out of the way quick.
If you're in a social situation where you want to get away from somebody, then start telling them in technically explicit detail what you do - that generally works fine with most people. If it doesn't, and the other person starts conversing about it in even more detail, then I'm afraid you're on your own - both of you!
If you're in a situation which could be described as 'neutral', then stop at the end of your first sentence, but add the name of the firm. As an opening gambit, that's quite sufficient, because usually, that's all anybody wants to know. If they want more, then let them ask you specifically, but try to be at least a little reluctant in your answers - then you won't come across sounding like a nerd. In other words, try to make it look like you're doing them a favour by not behaving like one!
I'm sure you get the basic idea. Why this isn't taught to all engineers/technicians is beyond me. It would make one heck of a lot of difference to the way we're perceived, across the board.
Unicorns... Monkeys... Sparkle Science... Flux Capacitors....
I wanna come work with you!
I just say "computer programmer". If they're interested, I'm happy to elaborate about what kind of software I write and what kind of company I work for, etc., but they have to show some interest before I execute the brain dump. :-) Boiling it down into one phrase that points in the right direction without necessarily being completely accurate is key; I think in Angela's situation I would say something like "I design factories". Whether that leads to a stimulating conversation is still doubtful -- most people just aren't interested in engineering. Their loss!
Flux Capacitor, nuff said
I have a different challenge.
If I explain my job in the simplest form "I design chocolate (products/recipes/processes)" then everyone wants it, or thinks it must be the awesomest role ever.
My job is engineering chocolate. Yup, someone has to figure out how to get the crystallisation of the sugars and fats right. And how to mix and pump it. And how to get old factories to make exciting new products.
So far as I can tell, people are genuinely interested in this. Perhaps because chocolate and cookery are things people are familiar with. The knack is explaining engineering in a way that people can relate to.
That said, you still have to know when to stop. Most people can grasp big particles = gritty, small particles = smooth, but if you start talking about the viscosity effects of an entire particle size distribution, then they'll still get bored and lost!
"The knack is explaining engineering in a way that people can relate to."
Yup, I'd vote for that!
Please forgive me for asking the most obvious question though - do you actually like eating chocolate? I'm genuinely interested, as almost all of the other people I've asked who work in food engineering either don't like, or can't stand the products they work with. Or even if they did to start with, they rapidly go off them.
Many years ago, on BBC radio, I heard an interview with a tea blender. This guy spends his entire day chewing on tea leaves, adjusting the blends for some major tea seller. So what does he do for lunch? "I love to just sit down with a nice cup of tea".
Hmm, the obvious question. I still love to eat chocolate, although I must be honest, I was horrified the first time I weighed out all the ingredients to make a pilot batch of chocolate. When you're pouring in the fat, and heaping in the sugar, you suddenly realise just how calorhorific the final substance is! If I've been making chocolate in a pilot plant all day, I don't want to eat it in the evening. Breathing in chocolatey smells all day does make you feel like you've been eating it non-stop. I have also developed the irritating habit of evaluating all the chocolate I eat "Hmm, small particle size in this, very high fat content" etc, which you could say rather spoils the experience...!
"Calorhorific" <- delightful portmanteau. :)
I am a civil engineer, doing geotechnical and environmental work. My wife, when she discusses my work with others, tells them that I play in the dirt.
I know a guy who heads a company who contracts itself out to other companies to make precise nano-apertures for them. He says his wife calls it "John's hole business".
I'm an aircraft maintenance engineer (avionics). I generally just tell people i'm an electrician on planes, and that seems to satisfy them.
As a mechanical engineer, I tell people that I help design, assemble, and test medical equipment for helicopters and other aircraft. Oh, and armor plate. The next question is inevitable... "why medical and armor?" My current company upgrades military medevac helicopters, so it's not uncommon for our equipment to take ground fire during operation.
Most people grasp this concept immediately, so I don't have much trouble explaining my job.
Yes, been there when working on my MS and explaining my research. Also, now with the whole hydraulic fracturing thing (aka fracking), as a geologist dealing with sand, gravel, and stone, I have to be careful to say I work in the construction industry, and not the mining industry. Before the question was always "what kind of mining is there around here?". Now its "oh, you don't mean fracking, do you?".
Another take at one of my least favourite conversations in the *whole wide world*.
Usually they reply to my job description with "and......... you enjoy that?"