In his groundbreaking book Working (later made into a musical), author and broadcaster Studs Terkel captured the first-person perspectives of dozens of working Americans. The subtitle of the book conveys its promise perfectly, though perhaps not all that concisely: “People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.”
Standing for “Ask Me Anything,” the Reddit AMA subreddit gets much of its mainstream and online-community attention thanks to QAs with celebrities. (And, once, POTUS.) Most striking, however, is the enthusiasm for hearing from people who either have interesting jobs… or at least have found ways to make them so.
This maps well to a consistent finding that we see in the Edelman Trust Barometer year-over-year: high levels of trust in accessible, non-executive experts as well as “the person most like yourself.”
This Friday5 looks at Reddit through the lens of “Terkel 2.0”—AMAs that appear to have a spirit similar to Terkel’s book. (Warning: The language used by the hosts and participants in these AMA sessions can sometimes be vulgar and/or offensive to some, much like Terkel’s book. Quotes are presented below with very minimal spelling/grammar fixes.)
1. Vacuum Cleaner Technician
Most recently, I was struck by the attention given to a vacuum cleaner technician, where the discussion ranged from the arcane, to the nerdy, to the positively inspiring:
I am a 17 year old that sat here for an hour reading this whole AMA, then went and told my mom all about my new vacuum knowledge. I’m not sure whether to take that as good or bad.
It sounds like you have an open mind, that you’re willing to expand. Don’t stop.
That was the most motivating thing I have heard all day. thank you.
You’re welcome. I am happy to know I helped at all.
2. Software-Engineer-Turned-Cook at Double-Michelin-Starred French Restaurant
Reading these perspectives, you often get to see the unexpected ways that two very different jobs end up having similar characteristics in the ways that count. Take this perspective from a software developer who decamped to France to become a cook.
Have you found any unexpected parallels between being a software developer in the US and a kitchen worker in France?
Absolutely. I did a bunch of fire-fighting so to speak [at Salesforce.Com], as in a customer-facing bug that needs to be fixed now. There’s the same adrenaline rush as sending an order out, and perfection is an absolute necessity. You can’t cause a regression or different bug when pushing out a fix, and you sure as hell can’t send out sub par food.
I also think the cleanliness of the kitchen can be tied to good design pattern use and clean comments in code. If a kitchen is not clean, its hard for multiple people to work there and [put] out amazing food. If code is sloppy, it might work for the author, but for others to maintain it is impossible. Both are necessary and should be evaluated before accepting a job in either fields: maintainable code and a spotless kitchen.
3. Shark Diver, Seal Island, South Africa
Everyone loves Shark Week, right? This AMA got readers up-close-and-personal with someone just crazy enough to spend an awful lot of time with these dangerous sea creatures. Should you want to go into a similar line of work, user “jemfrim949” has some advice.
How did you end up working with sharks and what school/training did you need?
it was a pretty cool little journey. I went to school for Marine Zoology and in my final year I saw an advert for a great white shark internship in Mossel Bay, South Africa and signed up for it about 4 seconds later.
While I was down there Chris Fallows and team came to mossel bay to film a segment for Ultimate Air Jaws. I was fortunate enough to spend the entire time working on the shoot with them and got to know chris and monique well. At the end of the shoot they offered me a job to come work for them in False Bay (Cape Town) and the rest is history.
4. Spanish Cardiac Surgeon, Specializing In Removing Hearts for Transplant
Many times, these AMAs evince a true passion for one’s craft, even when that craft may be an uncomfortable subject like cardiothoracic surgery. This one AMA from a heart transplant surgeon in Spain ranges from the macabre and gut-wrenching to strangely light moments like this one:
Would you say your job requires a lot of heart?
depends from where you are looking, some people have told me it requires having no heart
5. Hydroponic Gardener, McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Some jobs have every potential to leave you lonelier than the Maytag repairman. Others keep you surprisingly busy and occupied, such as a gardener—yes, gardener—stationed in Antarctica just a five-hour flight from New Zealand.
How do you pass the time? I can’t imagine Antarctica is very… action-packed.
a common misconception, i am so busy i keep wondering when my life will slow down here. we work 6 days a week 9 hours a day. there is a recreation coordinator that has a ton of stuff planned out during the week nights and our one day off (sunday) for us to do if we so choose.
i go to the gym regularly, go to yoga 3 times a week after work, hang out with my friends, knit, play wii, take photos. just last week we had a big fashion show to show some of the new styles of clothes that would be coming out in the station store, so that took up a lot of time preparing for that.
on top of all of that, there is a coffee house that shows movies and has great coffee and hot chocolate drinks, and a bar.
Do you have any favorite AMAs in the Studs Terkel vein? Sound off in the comments.