What's in a job title? A code monkey by any other name would smell as sweet

October 30, 2013

My employer recently rationalised job titles, so I went from being a Project Leader to a Software Engineer Lead. I wouldn’t mind, but I’d only just got round to changing my email signature. Previously I’d been a Developer.

The new title sounds very grand, although in our company it is more junior than senior software engineer.

Another colleague who does more or less the same thing, and is at the same grade, is a Front End Consultant.

Previously I had been in a team of 3, all doing the same role on a project. Our job titles were engineer, developer, and senior programmer. Oddly the senior programmer was more junior than the developer. All of us do the same thing, which is build websites.

When I tell people what I do, that’s what I say, because I don’t want to invite the follow up question of what does that mean.

If they’re in the industry I’ll say I’m a web developer, but I’m not keen on being specific. I don’t think of myself as a front end developer or a Drupal developer, because that doesn’t encompass everything I do in my job. In the Drupal world the term “themer” gets used - this one annoys me for some reason, as if someone who writes HTML, CSS and Javascript doesn’t count as being a proper developer.

If I could get away with it, I’d call myself a “stuff doer”. It’s no more meaningless than manager, which is the title held by a lot of my Indian colleagues. One of our more senior colleagues started calling himself “Hacker” for a while, until someone in upper management saw it on his email signature and kicked up a fuss.

Job titles only matter in so far as they influence how other people behave towards you. They inform the world of your position in the hierarchy, and for some people that informs how they should behave towards you. The other place where they matter is on your CV when you’re looking for a new job, and on insurance forms.

I used to work with someone who revelled in the title of Head of Europe. Sounds very grand, but the reality was that she worked on her own from home in Paris, trying to get new clients in France.

The suggestion that London wasn’t part of Europe mildly amused me, as did the idea that she was in charge of a continent.

There’s a lot of discussion on the difference between developers and programmers - I prefer to say I’m a developer, because to me a programmer is someone who just writes code, and writing code isn’t the most interesting part of the job.

It’s good to keep job descriptions general. I’ve never wanted to say that a particular task is not part of my job, even if it’s a menial task

When you’re open to doing tasks that aren’t part of your core job, things get interesting. That’s how I became a developer in the first place - expanding the job description of my old admin role to become the IT department, and from there to building a web based information system.

And when you’re defining your own job description, you are in control.

You empower yourself to get away from a clock-watching jobsworth mentality, and you become more valuable to your employer, because you care. You’ve taken ownership of the tasks, and they matter to you.

You’re also likely to be happier in your job and more likely to stay.