Most of us will be familiar with the IT Crowd. If you’ve never seen it you should definitely check it out. It’s pretty funny. It does though rely on the stereotype that all us IT folk work in dingy basement offices and rarely get out into the real world. Other people with cooler non-IT jobs pity us, you see, because we somehow aren’t living life to its fullest.

I can be guilty of perpetuating this. Often when someone asks me what I do for a living I’ll just say, “IT stuff”. I shouldn’t though and I feel like this view of people in our profession is really an anachronism and one that I’m not sure has ever been true.

As developers, contractors, consultants and people in the IT industry in general, we get to work in a much wider variety of companies and working environments. More so than many other professions. One month we might be working at a big financial company with a top floor office and great views of the city. A few months later we might be working in a more modest government organisation. More often than not, we’re front and centre while these companies are going through some big changes, and we will more than likely be delivering software that fundamentally changes how the company operates. There are not many other professions that offer this ability to affect change. We don’t work in literal basements and we don’t work in metaphorical basements.

We don’t work in literal basements and we don’t work in metaphorical basements.

We become part of these companies. We are there for the extended periods of time. We gain a great deal of domain knowledge and get a feel for what it would be like to have a career in these different industries. We become friends with the staff. We go for lunch with them, we go on nights out with them, we see new hires come on board and we see people leaving or retiring. We get to know what it’s like to be an employee in these companies and we’re constantly communicating with the stakeholders to make sure we’re delivering the maximum value we can. We literally couldn’t do this job if we conformed to the stereotype. Not if we hope to get paid.

We literally couldn’t do this job if we conformed to the stereotype.

Just thinking about some of my own experiences: I helped create a system to manage patients through a cancer screening process; I’ve written code that is used every day by officers of the Queensland Police Service. If you’re lucky enough get stopped by one of them with an iPad then you’ll be interacting with a system I had a hand in writing; I’ve also debugged and tested code in a neonatal intensive care unit, which is a challenging environment to say the least. The sight of the very ill new-borns is upsetting. They are often connected to several machines and may have tubes in their nose or down their throat. They will often be crying and the parents, when they visit, will often be crying.

Ultimately, it was a very rewarding experience and one that I’m glad to have had. There are not many other professions that offer interactions with people on such a personal level. We get to do it every day, either in person or via the software we create.

There are not many other professions that allow you to interact with people on such a personal level. We get to do it every day, either in person or via the software we create.

As developers these days, we are writing code that runs in increasingly diverse environments and as technology evolves our job is going to be less about the typical screen and keyboard experience and more about interacting with users in more personal ways. I’m thinking about MR, VR, bots and conversational UI.

It’s hard to think of an aspect of our lives that isn’t somehow reached by software. As developers we are at the heart of all these interactions. So, it’s kind of crazy to me to portray developers and IT folk as people who are somehow lacking in life experience when the job we have offers up such a diverse range of them every day. More so than most professions, and more so than professions that don’t have such a stereotype attached.

We write code to solve interesting problems for interesting people in interesting places.

We write code to solve interesting problems for interesting people in interesting places. Many other jobs seem to me to be much more limited in their scope for meeting new people and don’t offer nearly as many opportunities to contribute back to the community and to society as we have.

When someone asks you what you do for a living, please, don’t just say “IT stuff”.