3 LA engineers share how they explain their jobs to their grandparents

by John Siegel
October 14, 2016

In the startup world, explaining your job is a tricky proposition, and while it might be easier to simply state a job title, we all know that the rules of small talk dictate that you actually explain what it is you do. For engineers, this is often met with confusion, especially if there's a generational gap. We asked three LA engineers how they explain their jobs to their grandparents.

 

Laurel & Wolf lead architect Michael Graham has no problem explaining to his grandmother what his company's interior decoration platform does. However, getting her to understand what role he plays in the whole process is an entirely different ballgame.

How do you explain your job to your grandparent(s)?

Whenever I'm explaining my work to non-technical friends and relatives, I must determine how technical I should get. If I get too deep into details, the person will likely be frustrated that I'm speaking over their head, but if I keep it too high level, I run the risk of coming off as patronizing.

How do you know if your explanation was successful?

I had a recent conversation with my grandmother on the topic and she said to me, "You know, I have no idea what it is that you do."

I responded by first describing our company, and then what our engineering and product teams do. I explained, "We're an online platform for interior design, matching clients and designers together and providing robust tools for them to work together. Our teams build and maintain the software to make this happen."

She paused for a moment, then said, "Well, I know that, but what do you actually do?"

 

Explaining 3D, let alone 3D printing can be tough, but luckily AIO Robotics CEO Jens Windau has his presentation down. His company develops 3D printers, as well as apps that users can install for certain uses, meaning that Windau has to be an expert in both hardware and software.

How do you explain your job to your grandparent(s)?

I'm building a 2D printer that can print vertically.

What was their response?

Where do you insert the paper into your 3D Printer?

Do they understand what you are talking about?

It took them a while to learn about the concept of 3D printing. Once they saw a 3D printer they understood.

Do you have any funny stories about talking to your grandparents/relatives about what you do?

They were laughing and shaking their heads when I told them that in a few years you will print "multi-story houses, human organs, rocket engines and many more things in daily life." Now they are fascinated about the progress in 3D printing.

 

From Springsteen's Telecaster to Hendrix's Stratocaster, Fender has developed and manufactured some of music's most iconic instruments. Fender Digital, however, is dedicated to creating apps, websites and platforms to compliment the equipment that they create. For Senior Engineer Michael Sean Becker explaining what he does to his grandparents involved harkening back on shared experiences, something he feels has made him become a better engineer.

How do you explain your job to your grandparent(s)?

When I first began working on the web, I was incredibly excited about the possibilities and potential of the web. I had grown up loving Star Trek and had watched with my grandfather whenever I stayed with them. I definitely used that shared experience to show him that we were on the edge of the future that was shown in that show.

What was their response?

I think he loved seeing the promises of Star Trek come alive in his lifetime. The first time we used Skype to video chat from California to Florida was an incredible experience. He loved seeing pictures of his great-grandsons minutes after they were taken from across the country. My other grandparents didn't have the same context so I think it took me a while to figure out how to connect this new technology with their experiences. My grandmothers had both worked on telephone switch boards, so I was able to connect the dots between the new ways of communication and their work experiences. My other grandfather was a salesman working with cutting tools to the automotive industry, and it took a while for me to figure out how to connect with him on my work, but when I started working on our internal tools I realized that we were basically building the cutting tools for web. Once I figured out how to approach it I was able to open up about what I was building. We actually have a line drawing in my house of my grandfather working on a Thompson Grinder, hanging on the scaffolding. I definitely feel as if I'm hanging up there with him.

Do they understand what you are talking about?

In a general sense, I think they were. Explaining what I was doing was a huge help for me long term because it is very easy for engineers to fall into speaking in jargon and going very specific on discussing what we do, even if someone lacks context. We are a company focused on entering the digital world and speaking to the next generation of players but also have a long history building physical products. That being said, those past experiences with family have helped me  speak with all areas of the business about the projects my team is working on.

Images via Fender, Laurel & Wolf and AIO Robotics.

Have a news tip for us or know of a company that deserves coverage? Let us know or tweet us @builtinla.

 

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