Quirky Job Titles

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What Do You Do?

What’s your title at work?

I’m in my company’s books as a “Sr Java Developer.”  Other people on my team are “JAVA Developer,” “Senior Developer,” “Principal Java Developer,” “Java SOA Developer.”  We all do the same job, with the same level of autonomy and freedom.  At my last company, I was a “Senior Software Consultant.”  In other places, I might be a “Senior Software Engineer,” a “Java Rockstar,” or a “Senior Java Programmer.”  There are cases of companies completely eliminating titles, or removing meaning from titles and just titling everyone in meaningless categories, such as “blue,” “green,” or “red.”

What does a title really mean?

It used to be that a job title said two things about you: what you did, and how high up in the company hierachy you were.  A senior accountant was higher up in her chain of command than a junior sales associate was in his, and both of them are less important to their group than the principal engineer was to his department.  Today, there are two trends which work in slightly different ways: stripping meaning from titles by making them more fun, and inflating titles until they are nearly meaningless.

A lot of traditionalists are opposed to both of these trends, and a lot of people are firmly in favor, saying they bring fun and spontaneity to a company.  I’m a little more flexible in my thinking, because I think there are good and bad ways to play with titles.  I’m not a big fan of choose-your-own-title adventures that lead to your head of HR being called the “Posse Leader,” your junior engineer calling himself a “Code Lemur,” and the QA guy naming himself the “Broccoli Farmer.”  In order for titles to be useful, they have to be decipherable.  I also don’t like the trend toward calling everyone a “Director” or “VP”, because it makes understanding the organizational structure of the company difficult.  Titles have to serve the organization.

On the other hand, here are a few titles I’ve heard recently, tied to their more traditional names:
1. Customer Satisfaction Specialist (call center technicia)
2. Director of First Impressions (receptionist)
3. Ambassador of Buzz (social media PR specialist)

To me, a title is how you think of yourself as you fit in your company.  If I meet someone at a conference, and they ask, “What do you do?” my first answer will be, “I’m a Sr Java Developer.”  When I am sitting down to my work, I think about it from the perspective of a Sr Java Developer.  Even when I want to go above and beyond, my basis for exceeding expectations is that of a Sr Java Developer.

So how does a “Call Center Technician” fit into their company’s structure?  They answer customer calls.  Their main metric is going to be how many calls they answered.  By changing the title to “Customer Satisfaction Specialist,” you also shift their focus.  Now, their place in the company is meeting customer needs and turning dissatified customers into satisfied customers.  Their metrics are vaguer, tied in with keeping customers happy.  By changing the title, you have changed the way the employees think about themselves and their role in the company.

Psychology has shown that the way we think about ourselves has a profound impact on our emotions and our behavior.  The act of naming something transforms it.  When you hand out titles, consider three things: 1) Is this a decipherable title to outsiders? 2) Does the title accurately reflect our goals and priorities for the position? 3) Is this a job title that people would want to have?

What’s your job title?  What do you do?


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