What I Do (for money)
Last updated: October 2016
I am one of those people who sighs audibly when people ask me what I do for a living. The most familiar job titles are too inaccurate, and the most accurate ones are too obscure. Job titles are like music genres anyway: if they're much younger than you are, they're probably meaningless to most people.
Job titles suck. They're a short answer to the question "What do you do?" but they're an extremely bad way of encapsulating the totality even of one's professional life, never mind anything else. I have been: a History teacher, Director of E-Learning, Researcher/Analyst, Badges & Skills Lead, and Web Literacy Lead. I'm currently a consultant.
The thing at the heart of all of these positions has been educational technology, an extremely brittle and ill-defined domain that people assume is concerned with shiny new things bestowed upon us by the gods of Silicon Valley. I'm a knowledge worker, in the way described by Davenport (2005):
Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution, or application of knowledge.
A few years ago, the team I was working with took a Belbin Team Inventory test. The results were eye-opening for me, and explain a lot of what came next in my career. The top words used to describe me by colleagues and external people I dealt with regularly were:
- encouraging of others
- technically skilful
- professionally dedicated
I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my life, but people seem to know me best for my work around Open Badges and digital literacies. I started the former work even before I joined Mozilla, and the latter was the subject of my doctoral thesis (and subsequent book).
There's plenty of things I don't do well (show deference to 'superiors', repetitive work, etc.) but what do think I'm pretty good at is investigating new, complex, abstract ideas and explaining them in a way that makes sense to the intelligent layperson. In this sense, I am involved in all four activities that Davenport (2005) lists as types of things that knowledge workers do:
Those who find existing knowledge need to understand knowledge requirements, search for it among multiple sources, and pass it along to the requester or user.
Other workers create new knowledge. Examples include the researchers in a pharmaceutical firm, creative directors in advertising, or authors of books and movie screenplays.
Knowledge packagers put together knowledge created by others. Publishing is a prime example of knowledge packaging. Packaging is often designed to make the work of other knowledge workers more efficient - we read a newspaper packaged by reporters and editors, for example, so that we don't have to read all the wire services.
[...]Those who work professionally with knowledge management are most frequently distributors of knowledge. They create systems and processes to increase access to knowledge for others, and get it to those who need it.
My particular skillset involves the translation and application of ideas - or, more accurately, mashing together ideas and approaches from various disciplines.
Concretely, then, the things that I do for money involve:
- Advising and coaching senior management on strategy
- Writing critically about about the education/technology 'zeitgeist'
- Creating resources that scaffold people's skills
- Facilitating workshops, thinking sessions, and webinars that allow people to dive into issues
- Speaking at events about my research and projects
- Davenport, T. (2005). Thinking for a Living: How to Get Better Performance and Results from Knowledge Workers. Harvard Business School Press. Boston, MA.