Quirky Job Titles

Image of a hand holding a blank business card

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?

Preparing for Dry Spells

When I started this blog, I had a plan. I was going to plan to post three times a week.  I would start by building up a backlog of posts, and schedule them to post Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and once I was two or three weeks ahead, I would slow down, and work to keep my backlog full of new posts.  This would give me a buffer, so that when I inevitably got too busy at work to write, or got sick, or went on vacation, I would only eat into my buffer instead of having dead air time.

Of course, if you look at my post history, it’s pretty clear that my plan fell apart almost instantly.  I posted twice on June 4th, and then June 6, 7, 8, and 10.  And then radio silence.  What happened?  Well, I hit a busy spell at work.  And then I got sick.  But the real breakdown wasn’t the radio silence.  The real breakdown was the second post on June 4.

All through my career, I’ve heard a piece of advice: never work at flat-out speed.  Don’t report work as finished until a while after you’ve completed it.  Keep a buffer of progress you can turn in to management when you inevitably hit a lull.  And, just like with my blogging, I have never been able to follow this advice.  Here I am, with a document written, or a tricky piece of code cleanly executed, or a piece of functionality I can pass on to QA for testing.  The idea of gamesmanship at that point, of hiding the real nature of my achievement in order to bank it against some future stretch of inability or incompetence, seems utterly foreign to me.

Part of this is that I, at my core, yearn for recognition.  Maybe it’s the Millenial in me: I like the validation of knowing I am someone who can deliver.  I like the thank you for a job well and quickly executed.  That definitely plays a part in my desire to turn my work over right away.

But I think there is something deeper at work here.  By holding back some of my work, I am saying, “The speed and quality with which I executed this is a fluke.  I am not really this good.”  I’m setting a lower standard of excellence for myself, and I am assuming I am going to decline.  I don’t want to make that assumption.  I want to say, “I did a good job on this, and I am going to do a better job on the next task.”  If the reward for a job well done is a bigger job, then bring it on.  I want the bigger job.  I want the harder job.  I want the challenge of working on tight deadlines, and I want to keep setting the bar for my own accomplishments higher and higher.

I like to believe that by doing this, I’m banking something more than work I am holding in reserve.  I like to believe I’m banking trust, and value, and goodwill.  And I think that will carry me through more difficult times than a few pieces of code I’m withholding.

(As for the blog, I’m going to keep trying.  The queue starts growing today.)

Faking Motivation

Some mornings, I just don’t want to get out of bed.  The idea of going into work at all is totally unappealing, but the idea of continuing to collect a paycheck is not, so I haul myself up and make my way into the office.  But what then?  On unmotivated days, it’s easy to find myself staring off into space, searching for new LinkedIn connections, or doing endless cycles by the water cooler.  How do you keep yourself moving?  Here are a few things I do to kick-start my motivation.

Dress Up

My company is business casual, with an emphasis on the casual.  My typical workday wear is jeans or a skirt, a nice button-down shirt, and tennis shoes.  On low-motivation days, I take it up a few notches, picking out a suit or a dress-and-jacket combo and wearing heels to the office.  The clothes say, “I’m here to work,” and it has a psychological effect on me as well as the people around me.

Eat a Good Breakfast

I know I should eat a good breakfast every day, but in reality, I often settle for a handful of cheez-its, a lollypop, and a diet coke in the car.  On low-motivation mornings, though, I make myself eat something more substantial.  I’ll have some granola with milk, or pick up a breakfast sandwich on my way into the office.  Protein is particularly good at giving you an energy boost that will carry you through the morning.

Clean my Cubicle

I don’t exactly let my cubicle degrade to squalor, but on my desk at the moment, I have a stack of unused napkins leftover from shared cake last week, a few printed proofs from tests I was doing on Monday, and several pens, post-its, and notepads, none of them put where they belong.  When I am having a low-motivation day, I straighten up my cubicle as soon as I get in.  Clean space, clean mind?  Maybe, but I think it’s more likely that doing something a little bit physical with a concrete, visible effect helps rev me up for the day.

Start Small

I don’t try to tackle big tasks right away.  Instead, I build out my day’s list of tasks with some small, easy jobs leading into and scattered around the harder jobs.  As I finish the smaller tasks, momentum carries me from one assignment to the next, and once I’ve started the big tasks, they don’t seem so daunting.

How do you handle the days when you just don’t feel like showing up?