Sent by Jonathan Stark on October 16th, 2017
This weekend I was in the yard watching my kids draw Pokemon characters on the front walk with chalk when a neighbor walked by with a friend who was visiting from out-of-town.
She introduced us to her friend (“Josh”) and after a few minutes of pleasant conversation, I asked Josh the Cocktail Party Question:
“So, what do you do?”
The ensuing exchange went something like this:
Josh: “I'm a software developer”
Me: “Oh yeah? What kind?”
Me: “Oh yeah? iOS? Android? Web?”
Josh: “I'm an iOS developer.”
Me: “Oh yeah? Do you freelance?”
etc etc etc...
Josh seemed like a nice guy but he certainly wasn't in the mood to be forthcoming about what he did for a living.
Honestly, it was like pulling teeth.
Most people would have given up on this line of questioning but I knew I was going to write an email about it so I kept going :-)
After some more digging, I finally learned that he's an iOS security specialist who works for a funded startup.
This is a helluva lot more interesting than “software developer”.
Josh is now positioned in my mind as “iOS security expert” - but only because I dragged that info out of him.
To most people, he's a garden variety software developer.
When someone asks you the Cocktail Party Question, give them the real answer. Don't water it down because you think they won't understand. Not only is this bad for your career, it's incredibly rude.
Think about it... you're judging them.
You’re subconsciously thinking something like, “this cab driver (or grandpa, or middle schooler) is too uneducated (or inexperienced, or ignorant) to understand my fancy job, so I’ll dumb it down to their level.”
Give people the benefit of the doubt. If they want more information, they'll ask.