I like sharing and learning, especially to and from passionate people.
I like meeting new people but wondered about what to say first. At meetups and conferences, friends of friends, there’s a lot you don’t know.
“What do you do for a living?” is obvious and popular. It’s a bit sad to be defined by your job: some hate it, some have none. Some love their job but it’s a bit sad to have it be your whole personality.
“What’s new? What interesting things are you doing?” First, it can be alienating for people standing out in a crowd. Think significant others at a conference, or with university friends.
I tried going with “what do you do or love, except your job?” It’s pretty nice and is a great conversation opener because it’s uncommon.
It can set people off balance: if they are shy or introverts, they often have a premade speech that’s proven, works good, or keeps them in control.
Whenever I felt some awkwardness, I quickly add “well, it’s fine talking about your job, especially if you love it”. But don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
If they have a startup, it’s probably harder to make them shut up about it anyway ;) (full disclosure: I was and still can be like that – sorry)
So I’ve settled for a weird mix I try to formulate on the spot. The idea is “what are you currently finding interesting, what last startled you, what uncommon thing do you love”.