Occasionally I get asked what I do for a living, and it’s getting harder and harder to explain. I don’t write all that much code, any more. I spend a lot of time drawing boxes on whiteboards, and asking people to explain what they really want a system or service to do. And then there’s the time spent just talking, either one-to-one or in a bigger group.

What I do seems to be useful, because things eventually happen - but it’s really hard to pin down exactly what my contribution is in all of this.

I’ve been struggling to find a way of describing all of that, or at least being able to explain succinctly what being a CTO stroke head of engineering stroke manager actually means.

The closest I’ve come to is the conductor of an orchestra. I know how the symphony sounds - that’s what the product or service actually needs to do. And I know how the individual instruments combine to produce the overall sound - that’s the architectural components that we’re building. And I can modulate the volume or the tempo of the music - which is the subtler aspects of user experience or site performance under load.

But even though I could explain all of these to an individual musician, I can’t pick up a trumpet and produce the sounds myself. So I need an expert to write the service that connects to the datastore, or provision the instances that will load balance the traffic, or arrange the menu items in a way that makes sense to an end-user interacting with the app while waiting for a bus.

In some ways, it can be frustrating - if only I could , wouldn’t that be faster than the messy, imprecise process of trying to explain what’s needed across the barrier of differing views of the problem?

But in other ways, the potential frustrations of that indirect influence is outweighed by what can be achieved as a team of contrasting and complementary skills. Just an orchestra at full blast is more impressive than an individual plunking away at a single instrument. And my team would probably say I wave my hands around as much as a conductor on the rostrum, too.