What do you do?
I absolutely loathe this question. Not because it’s difficult to answer, or because I’m unwilling to discuss my job or my work with strangers at parties. I hate this question because of the way people answer it.
I work for … as a …
It’s become common place for people to define what they do with their lives in terms of which company employs them or the title printed on their business cards. When friends introduce me, it’s often along the lines of, “meet Eric, he’s a developer” or an engineer or a coder.
That’s not me, though. My role in my job is not the limit to who I am.
For the past year I’ve been writing code for a Portland-area startup called Tozny. It’s a fantastic team, agile in the sense of both how we manage projects and in how quickly we can turn new concepts into reality. It’s a great place to be, and I have the luxury of being able to define my own title.
I choose to call myself a “Tekton.” This is an ancient Greek term that was used to describe an artisan, craftsman, or builder. It’s also the noun that was used to describe the profession of Jesus Christ (and is traditionally translated “carpenter” in the English Bible).
It’s a perfect way to describe me for many reasons.
I do write code. My friends aren’t making a mistake when they introduce me as a developer. Unfortunately, there are many categories of software developers – some focus just on putting out lines of code, others collect languages and frameworks like trophies and never move beyond an intermediate level in any particular direction. I think of myself in a different category – when it comes to code, I focus on craftsmanship.
First and foremost, I ensure I get the job done. Beyond that, I hold myself to a very high standard in terms of documentation, code quality, and deliverables. Even when I’m working on a personal project, I ask a few other developers in a private Slack team to review my code before checking it off as “complete.”
I also focus a great deal on understanding all of the tools available to me. I don’t need to be an expert in every language or framework, nor do I need to have a working understanding of them. I just need to know what’s available and the situations in which each tool excels so I can make the best decision possible for which tool to use – even if that means referring a client to another developer.
I also do a fair amount of artisan work on the side. I enjoy cooking a great deal and experiment with my own recipes as time (and my family’s appetite) allows. It’s exciting to make easy dishes like scrambled eggs or French toast on weekends. It’s even more rewarding to slow cook bourbon-glazed pork or invest the time required to make tiramisu from scratch.
I also spend time working on everything from electronics to private code projects to custom furniture. These projects give me a break from my day job but still allow me to spend myself in the creation of something new.
In a world where outsiders rush to apply labels to everyone and everything, regardless of how well they fit, it’s important to understand who you are and why that identity is important to you. I personally find my identity based on certain priorities in my life.
First, I am a follower of Christ.
Second, I am a husband.
Third, I am (soon going to be) a father.
These three lenses are the most important to everything I do, how I relate to those around me, and how I do my job – whatever that job may be.
The next lens, however, is my chosen descriptor of who I am, what I am, and why I was put on this planet. I am a creator. I am a maker. I am a craftsman, artisan, and builder. I am a Tekton.
This title describes what I do: I make things, both for a living and for private self actualization.
This title describes how I do what I do: I always put my best foot forward and aim to improve daily at my craft.
This title describes why I do what I do: Both Jesus and his adoptive father were tektons. It was the family trade. As a follower of Christ, I see myself as being adopted into his family as well and want to be a part of that trade. Beyond that, God himself is a creator, a builder, and an artisan. There is no better way for me to draw nearer to him than to follow in his footsteps and create as well.
The biggest advantage of this title, and the fact that so few are familiar with the term, is that my business card gives me the opportunity to explain me at a deeper level when I introduce myself to people.
What do you do?
I still hate the question … but having an answer that truly fits me is more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.
I call myself a ‘Tekton.’ It’s an ancient Greek term that was used to describe the profession of Christ. It means ‘craftsman, artisan, or builder’ and is how I define myself. I write code for a paycheck, but I create things for a living.
How do you define yourself?