One of the first questions people ask at a party is, “What do you do?” I dread this question. Not because I don’t want to talk about work, not because I hate my job, but because the answer, “I’m a taxonomist.” usually results in a lot of blank looks. Sometimes I just tell people I am a librarian (which I am) but explaining why Sears.com needs a librarian is even more difficult.
About 6 years ago I was at a SXSW party, and was faced with just this question. I told them the boring truth–I worked on metadata quality & harvesting, but that my research area was taxonomy & classification of online data. After waking from her nap, she replied, “You know, no one knows what that is now, but in 5 years, everyone will want someone who knows how to do that well.”
At the time, newly out of grad school and not relevantly employed, this statement made me angry. I think I told her, “That’s great–what do I do until then?!” But in retrospect, it’s the most prophetic statement I’ve ever experienced.
Often in information architecture, we complain about how no one takes us seriously; no one understands what we do. We fantasize about all the great work we’ll be able to do only when everyone recognizes us for the geniuses we are. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Keep kicking ass at a solution to the problem instead of shouting about how everyone should pay attention to the problem. Eventually people will realize there’s a problem themselves and need you. And no one else has spent the last five years solving their problem.
People will never like the person who keeps pointing out the problem, but they won’t complain about the person who just fixed the problem no one saw.