The social implications of working in advertising
The question of what you do for a living is a common one, and answering it is an evolving practise that should make you reflect a little on what it is that you do. When you have to explain your profession to someone else, especially a lay-person, you may realise what's actually important about the topic you're explaining.
I undergo this process very regularly - so often that I felt the need to write an article about the fact that I work in advertising. Both my current and previous jobs were with advertising companies (or at least a company that derives the majority of their profits from advertising), and I've always found myself stepping quickly around the subject in conversation with outsiders. It wasn't that I was uncomfortable with the thought, but more that I wasn't proud of it.
I try to keep as up to date as I can in the development scene, learning through reading and playing when new posts or tools come to my attention. I follow a great group of people on Twitter, and they've really helped me shape my opinion and thought process surrounding my field of employment. I feel that just in the most recent months, how I actually feel about the work that I do from day to day has changed immensely.
Advertising by itself isn't the most interesting field of work, nor is it doing any particular good for the people (this does not include actions made by the companies themselves, which are often very awesome and generous). You're developing in a field where you need to build the leanest and meanest software by whatever means necessary, or else your competitor(s) will snatch those client dollars away from you (figuratively speaking). There's not a huge amount of room for doing any great good in terms of programming, but I've realised recently that there are a few things I can be extremely proud of.
Our code is compliant and compatible
When your code hits client browsers faster than you can punch out Morse code, you don't want preventable bugs taking out millions of impressions (and ultimately revenue). I aim to write clean code that does its job quickly and efficiently, while retaining compatibility across all of our supported browsers. Of course I can't ensure that it happens this way every day that I'm at work, so I have colleagues review my code and suggest better alternatives - That's how you and your code improve.
This is something I can brag about - Something that I feel identifies me as a developer, and not just a developer in advertising. It really doesn't matter what profession I'm in when it comes to the quality of your work, but I feel that the field that I'm in really holds me to a higher standard. I don't need to get preachy when I discuss the pride I have in my work, but it's actually quite captivating listening to someone tell of their love for their craft, rather than of their distaste.
I judge our performance against our competitors
I've seen some pretty terrible implementations during my short stint in ad systems development, and I remain confused as to why they're so bad. The internet is a terrible place in terms of well-conforming specifications and feature compatibility, but this is exaggerated by poor attempts at building production advertising systems of quality.
The moments when we curse and drop our foreheads to the desk are the times where we really appreciate our QA process and build/testing suite. The disgust and abhorrence we feel for the shortcuts and hacks that make our jobs more difficult give us the motivation to not follow the same path. The spite alone could drive us to follow more strict standards of quality, and this is something I enjoy discussing with friends and colleagues.
It's not like we're trying to make the web a better place.. That's not the idea - But we can set a new standard in our field. The more efficient we are, the smaller our footprint is, the less intrusive we are.. the further we distance ourselves from our rivals and what we dislike about their shortcomings.
Being proud of how you do it
What I take away from analysing the social aspect of discussing my career is that the work I do is damn cool, even if not everyone can get behind the idea of what I do. I spend my development efforts experimenting with the DOM in every current browser, testing animation responsiveness on mobiles of all kinds, finding new ways of optimising performance on resource-heavy sites etc. - My work involves having a passion for web development that goes beyond using the latest framework or shoehorning a design into a popular grid system. Not every web developer has the luxury I do when it comes to freedom, control and exposure, and it's rewarding to reflect on that when discussing the essence of your motivation to go to work each day.
If you can't be proud of what you do, change how you do it until you are.