Being an English major and learning to deflect assumptions

I am an English major. Before you laugh or crack the ever-original joke about my promising future as a barista, I’d like to cut in and let you know that I’ve been working in the software industry for more than a year now. One of my biggest frustrations in life come from slightly different variations of this conversation:

Loose acquaintance: So, you’re graduating soon. What are your plans?
Me: I’m not really sure yet. I’m still job hunting.
Loose acquaintance: Right. Well, it’s hard out there these days. What did you major in again?
Me: English with a minor in Business.
Loose acquaintance: (now with a skeptical expression) Oh, so you want to be a teacher.
Me: No, I’ve actually been working in the software industry for more than a year now. I’m a technical writer.
Loose acquaintance: (now with a slightly brightened expression) Oh, so you’re going to be a programmer.
Me: No…my job is writing user-facing documentation. You know those online help portals that tell you “Click this, click that”? I write those.
Loose acquaintance: …Oh. You like doing that stuff?
Me: …Yes.

There are several things that frustrate me about this conversation, which I’ve had with a staggering number of people in the fast few years. Mostly it’s the number of assumptions:

You have to have a job related to your major:
If you studied engineering, computer science, or a similar field, it’s likely that you’ll find a job in your field after graduation. For many college students these days, a major is something you choose out of dubious interest or rumors of high-paying jobs, and college is something you attend more out of social expectation than an actual desire to learn. I’ve had too many people ask me about my major rather than my interests or even my past work experience during conversations about my future job prospects. I love reading and analyzing literature, but I’m fully aware that no one will pay me to do it at this point in my life. That’s why I gained other skills outside of school so that I’d be more likely to find a job after graduation.

English majors all want to be teachers:
Or, that they have nothing else to do but become teachers (or baristas). I do know many English majors who are currently working or wanting to work in education. I also know English majors who are currently working in journalism, with non-profits, or in the tech industry. I’m not saying that being a teacher is not a good decision (in fact, it’s one of the most necessary jobs out there), but the assumption that being an English major = becoming a teacher just irks me.

You work in software? But you don’t know how to program!:
This is something I hear often. For people outside the industry, it seems like the only jobs that exist in software are for software developers, and that my lack of knowledge about programming is an anomaly. As with every other industry, software needs other types of workers: salespeople, project managers, support technicians, and…technical writers. In fact, one of my greatest strengths as a writer is being able to sympathize with the average, non-technical user: I translate developerspeak into regular language.

Documentation is boring:
I love my job. But as with anything, it’s not for everyone. But I wouldn’t call it boring. My job isn’t solely writing simple, one-sentence instructions. I also think about how to structure the information properly, create screenshots and diagrams to illustrate my points, and consider how to make the information accessible, helpful, and clear to each and every user. Sure, sometimes my job is not too exciting. But every job has its moments.

I hope that this post saves me some awkward, frustrating conversations in the future. What are some assumptions people hold about your major or job?

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