Thinking about job titles

I have been thinking about job titles lately.  It started when someone asked me if I knew anyone who would be a good fit for a job posting for a SharePoint Architect.  I proceeded to go on a rant about how no good architect would ever want to take a job that pigeon holed them into a single technology.  I don’t think I ever answered the question and probably frustrated the person who asked me.

About a week later, someone asked me what my ideal job title would be.  I admitted that I had not put a lot of thought into the question, however a job title that I always thought was cool was “Director of Disruptive Technologies”.  The title was held by Max Mancini at eBay.  I had read about him and his job in the book Web 2.0 Heroes by Brad Jones (Disclaimer: Brad is a friend of mine, but I am not writing this to “pimp” his book).  What I liked about it was that it described very well what he was doing: working with disruptive technologies.  However it did not specify what the disruptive technologies were.  If you have worked in technology long enough, you know there will always be disruptive technologies.

“Good” Job Title

So what goes into a “good” job title?  I think there are a few attributes that make a job title “good”: Descriptive, Universal and Flexible.   Descriptive means that people can read the title and have a (general) idea about what you do.  We know that developer in a job title means that person writes code, as an example.  Universal means that you are using terms that apply to most organizations.  I like to use the “rank” as an example: A manager is someone who has people reporting to them, a President is higher than a Vice President.  Flexible means that your job title can adapt over time.  The flexibility is the part that I really like to focus on when I evaluate a job title.  A job title of Cisco Pix Engineer, while descriptive and somewhat universal is not really that flexible.  A more flexible title might be Firewall Engineer or even better Network Security Engineer.

Kill all the job titles?

Another way to address the “problem” of having a good job title is to do away with them all together.  I always loved how the early research oriented technology firms like Xerox Parc and Bell Labs gave most of their employees the same title: Member of the Technical Staff.  Another way to address it and that is to let your employees pick their job titles.  At Microsoft we are not allowed to change are job titles in the official directory, which is driven by Human Resources, but we can pick what we want to put on our cards:

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I am getting ready to order new business cards with the new logo.  I will update you on whether or not I have the guys to order it with this title, or if I do the predictable thing and use my official title.

Parting thought

One of my early mentors advised me to never get hung up on job titles or rank.  He said that in the military, when it “hits the fan” nobody turns to the highest ranking officer, they always turn to the guy that can get them out of the situation (usually a grizzled old Sargent).  He also said the most important thing on your business card is not your job title, it is how the person should get a hold of you (e-mail, phone number, twitter handle, etc.).

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