I've been having a think lately about what I do. Not just what is the nature of the work that I perform, but what do I bring to that work which is special in some fashion. This is a rather annoying form of navel gazing, but if one wants to be most productive at work and most effective at gaining work, probably a useful exercise.
From my perspective it is useful to look at what I'm doing right now and in the past and see how those things are artifacts of what I actually do, not the actual doing itself.
At the moment the vast majority of my time is involved with TiddlySpace: adding features, fixing bugs, reviewing other people's changes, engaging with the community, helping to drive and orchestrate the development. This involves doing a lot of web development, especially in Python. And a fair bit of system administration.
But I wouldn't consider myself a web developer, or a Python developer, or even a developer. This despite the fact that I appear to be able to code with above average speed, correctness, persistence, etc. The coding, the development, is a means to an end.
And I'm certainly no longer a sysadmin. I was a sysadmin in 1996. I'm a bit out of date now.
I took the job because it was working with ways of improving access to and use of information.
I was in a similar position at Socialtext. I did a bunch of Perl programming there and made lots of useful improvements to the product. But I'd never call myself a Perl developer.
I took the job because I had bought in to the idea that wikis were (and still are) one of the most effective tools for shared learning and synthesis. I took the job because it was working with ways of improving access to and use of information.
Before that I was working on an Information Science masters. An organization and representation of information and knowledge course introduced me to Doug Engelbart. I was so impressed and enthusiastic I helped form a collaboration think tank and built a toolset for high performance access and reuse of information.
I didn't get paid for all that but I did the work because it was working with ways of improving access to and use of information.
Before that I had the lovely title of Director - Systems at an ISP. The single most important factor in our ability to do our job well was accessing and using information. Effective communication and synthesis became our most important tool.
What I've learned is that using information well is the sine qua non of effective collaboration (using the term loosely for any group oriented pursuit).
This is on the one hand completely obvious but on the other extremely hard to reify. The roadblocks are often cultural, invisible to insiders, and difficult to overcome. Getting past them will always require the full support of leadership. This is often hard to get as its the leaders who set the culture.
I've become good at seeing the roadblocks and strategizing ways to work through or around them (depending on the context and level of support).
I'd like, then, to think that I'm a guy who analyzes and optimizes information flows. The analysis is informed by the problem solving attitude of developers and sysadmins and colored by my own philosophy of information. But that's not quite right, so I guess I'll have to write a What I Do 2.
Can you get paid for that? More thought required.