You know the scene: You’re at a holiday gathering with relatives you haven’t seen in a while, or you’re accompanying your partner to their work happy hour, or you’re just sitting quietly at a dinner party, and someone asks you what you do for a living. If you work in tech, your answer might be long-winded.
Telling your in-laws or your 3-year-old nephew that you’re a Back-End Engineer probably doesn’t convey what it is you actually do all day — job titles rarely paint a full picture of someone’s career and work life. But instead of rolling your eyes or dismissing your well-meaning friends and family members for not “getting it,” why not take the opportunity to share what it’s like to work in tech and why you’re passionate about it?
Translating your highly technical career into a digestible sound bite is tricky, especially when you’re put on the spot in a social setting. To help you field these (very reasonable) types of questions, we asked Codecademy team members how they explain coding and their tech jobs to non-technical people in their lives. Read their responses and consider trying them out this holiday season. Who knows? Your thoughtful answer might inspire someone to learn to code who never considered it before.
How to explain coding…
“Think of coding as tools in a tool box, different languages are used for different situations.” – Adam Herman, Curriculum Program Manager
How to explain computer programming…
“Programming is how we teach computers what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.” – Fede Garcia Lorca, Community Manager
“I happened to be showing my kids some Kodable videos where they explained variables and loops in a kid-friendly way. Then, I said, ‘That’s what I do at work!’ And they go, ‘You program?!’” – Julie, Software Engineer
How to explain data science…
“As a Data Scientist, I tell my parents, ‘They pay me to do math.’ To be honest, I don’t think it’s a helpful answer.” – Brit, Senior Data Scientist
“Data science is like cooking a special holiday recipe, asking your family how it tastes, and then adjusting the recipe for next year based on what they say. You’ve collected data, cleaned it (ignoring, for example, that one cousin who always gives joke answers and asked for more M&Ms in the soup), and figured out what actions the data indicates.” – Ada Morse, Curriculum Developer, Data Science
“We can use data on past experiences to have an idea of how likely something is. The more good data and context we have, the better we can predict things. Computers can do the same thing. The more computing power something has, the more info it can take in to make predictions. At the end of the day, there’s no magic… just statistics and really powerful computers.” – Eva Sibinga, Curriculum Developer, Data Science
How to explain project management…
“I basically talk about project management for, like, a construction company, so it’s a bit more tangible. Then I replace the physical items with the digital items and explain how it’s similar. The crux is: I’m responsible for making sure projects are planned, resourced, and completed on time and on budget, while also putting out fires along the way.” – Megan McCoy, Curriculum Project Manager
Hopefully these responses will help you demystify coding to your loved ones, so they can better understand what you do and why. Tech can be intimidating, and there’s no question too basic to ask. Even people who’ve worked in tech for years might not understand the scope of their teammates’ roles — which is all the more reason to ask.
You can read all about the unique and rewarding careers you can have in tech, the coding skills you need to break into the business, and more on the Codecademy blog. And if someone you chat with this holiday season is interested in learning how to code, or pursuing a career in tech, be sure to suggest signing up for a Codecademy account! We have lots of beginner-friendly Codecademy courses, career paths, and tutorials that will help answer their pressing questions.