What's in a name? Job Titles

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Lets talk about job titles. Almost everybody has one. Some companies use traditional titles, while others hand out titles which sound like they belong in a museum.

It is a common question when you are around family which you don't see very often "So... what do you do?". Answering with your job title pretty much always ends with a blank stare. Even among peers you often have to explain what activities are involved in your jobs.

So what are the most noteworthy or remarkable titles you've had? What did you like or hate about them?

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My most interesting job title was Research Associate. I had that when I worked at a university. My primary role was to be a supporting software engineer for PhD students. Working out the tools to support their research. So the title was quite fitting.

Currently my job title is Systems Architect, and I kind of hate it because it has the word architect. Architects in the software industry, especially larger companies, usually think in boxes and arrows. Creating "solutions" at such a high abstraction layer than no sensible implementation is visible. For this I always explain that I also work out to solution actual implementation levels, and that I'm also part of the team to actually implement it.

I have also had the title Software Engineer. I think this is abused severely. I use the scale of: programmer, software developer, software engineer (, software architect). The engineer term should be reserved for the people who apply the engineering principles. But it is thrown around like free candy, and thereby reduced it to become meaningless.

 

I had Software Developer, Senior Software Developer and Software Architect as Job titles. In my current job I just have "IT employee". And it is much more relaxing and nearly no headhunters anymore.

 

Yeah... Not a fan of the whole "boxes and arrows" thing that most holders of the "architect" label seem to be about. Really, those people should be more-honestly titled, "PowerPoint Engineers".

Usually, when someone wants to slap the "architect" label on me, I tend to ask, "can we at least make that 'technical architect'?" I mean, not only do I do detailed designs of things that actually work (and typically write up the implementation plans and other technical artifacts), I have the ability to carry out most of what I do.

 

Actually in Canada engineer is a reserved title for people that pursued a bachelor degree in an accredited engineering curriculum.

5 years ago Microsoft opened an office in Montreal and started to use "engineer" in their employees job titles. The office regulating the engineering practice received complaints and told them to remove that or be fined for wrongfully using that title.

Even me as an engineering student I must be careful not to use the title, let myself be announced as an engineer, let someone use that title wrongfull or perform any reserved act.

 

Ah. Yeah. It was freaking Canada that cause us to have to have our titles changed. Hadn't been a problem when our regions were actually constrained t specific sections of the US. However, when they realized "we don't have enough specialized expertise in each region, we need to break them out of their regions", it meant we had to have titles compatible (meaningless enough) to practice in other jurisdictions.

 

My titles have all been pretty basic but I can totally relate to telling people what you do and getting the blank stare!!! 😂Officially I am a Sr. Site Reliability Engineer but when telling people outside of the engineering world this is usually how its goes...

Them: What exactly do you do?
Me: I am a Software Engineer
Them: blank stare
Me: I write code
Them: still blank stare
Me: I build websites
Them: "Oooooooh"

 

I've given up and just tell people I sit at a desk and bang on a keyboard all day. "oh, ok"

 

This was 23 years ago, back when Perl was rocking the web... I managed to get Just Another Perl Hacker on my business cards without HR realizing. Someone saw it later and they printed me new ones that said Webmaster but by then I had my 500. Still got one :)

Just Another Perl Hacker

Reference for those a bit younger than myself :) - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just_another...

 

I once literally had ninja in my title unironically. People at that company were really nice folks, but probably could have had a bit more self-awareness.

My linkedIn currently specifies Co-founder and webmaster of DEV (dev.to)

 

Especially when you're a generalist, titles are basically meaningless: if they indicate what you do for a living, it's more by happenstance than intention.

In the first half of the 90s, my title was iterations on "systems administrator". One telco I worked at went so far as to call me "systems administrator III" (highest they awarded in the discipline). Funny thing was, at the time, they based compensation on even more meaningless titles: my payroll title was "senior business analyst" (wut?).

After that I worked for two vendors. With the one, I started out as "Regional Service Engineer" (RSE) but that got changed to "Field Technical Analyst" (FTA). Apparently, some state was threatening to require that anyone that had "engineer" in their title had to have a specific educational background and licensing. They changed us all to FTAs to avoid dealing with the paperwork in that state. In either case, the title wasn't really meaningful (and, the "R" in the "RSE" was downright misleading: while I was part of the "Eastern" region for HR purposes, my travel region was pretty much "the globe"). The other vendor, my title was simply "Professional Services Engineer".

When I left vendor-land, it was to work for a global ISP. My title there was "Senior Operations Engineer". This was another pay-center title - specifically the "Operations" part. While the majority of my duties were operations-related, because I could write and speak well, I was sent to conferences and other customer-facing meetings (not to mention the litany of conference calls). Basically, because management wasn't technical and neither our Operations nor Engineering folks were terribly comfortable speaking to or writing for others, I got tasked outside of my pay-role.

I've been working as a consultant since mid-2004 and, my basic title across that span (and the various companies I've worked for) has been some variant of "Senior Principal Consultant". I mean, it's notionally accurate — in that I'm a consultant and that I'm senior (both by skill and, now, time-in-rank) — but it's devoid of self-explanatory meaning or zaziness (you might need to have been a Metalocalypse fan to be familiar with that term). The other fun thing with being a consultant is that the titles that customers know you by are often different than what's in your company's HR portal. For example, on the project I've been putting the most hours on for the last 18+ months, my program-title is, for this contract-year, listed as "Lead Architect, Cloud/DevOps Engineer" and was "Senior Automation Engineer" for the previous contract-year (same job and duties, though).

Since I'm not super fond of "meaningless" — or at least not meaningless and bland:

  • In my Slack profile, I list myself as "Chaos Custodian"
  • In my GitHub profile, I list myself as "Chaos Janitor" (Slack came later - it might have better flow from refinement-over-time)
  • On my LinkedIn profile, I list myself as "System Wrangler"
  • On various other profiles, I've given myself similarly personality-oriented "titles"

While those self-appellations are notionally not "professional", they do seem to act as conversation-starters. And, ultimately, the people that ask "what even does that mean" usually end up saying something along the lines of "I see what you mean by not fitting easily in standard titles".

 

I've usually worked at places where the job titles were all a bit vague. Certainly things like Senior tacked on the front haven't really meant anything (one place it meant you'd been there two years, regardless of anything else...)

I've been employed as a "Web Developer" and farmed out as a "Software Engineer/Analyst/Consultant" depending on who the client is.

But I've never had anything particularly unique. I do remember a friend working at a job where everyone was "Something Dude", like "Network Dude" or "Web Dude", back in the '90s. Wouldn't stand up these days, of course, and it was a bit naff at the time, but it made for a talking point when he got out his business cards.

 

as a basic level Developer , from family i get called a "Master Engin e e e e r"
so now i just say i'm a 'do'er of software'.

 

I currently see myself as a "backend developer" because that's what I used to work on the most. I'm thinking about changing it to "cloud solution architect and developer" since I also do a lot of research and planning for new projects, on top of developing them. And I do a bit of frontend stuff to (ugh)...
But titles should merely describe what you do, not really be something to brag about

 

My current title is: "Ǘb3rg33k". I was allowed to choose my own title. I did. I don't have a business card but it would be on it as my employer don't really case what is on it.

 

I had a job title Software Consultant. I found this very confusing, since it was not a consulting job -- I was working on software for my employer directly. It turns out that this was a capability-based title. It meant I was senior enough to consult with other groups and teams as part of my normal responsibilities. However, this was never explained to me. And I only realized it when I was scolded by multiple people in a meeting for not doing so despite holding that title. (I had consulted with other groups already in that job, but in that case I was pointed to documentation first, so I incorrectly assumed it wasn't feasible to meet with the group.) Anyway, if you get hired on with a title that you don't understand, make sure to keep asking about it until you understand what it means. :)

 

I moved last year to my current company which uses the " Member of Technical Staff" naming scheme from a company which had the traditional " Software Engineer" naming scheme.

Had a fun little time explaining to my family about how I'm not actually stepping away from software development and into a service industry!

 
 

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Michiel Hendriks profile image
I shouldn't have written all of those tank programs.