Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Titles, and why you SHOULD care.

Until recently, I didn't care too much about my own job title. Why? If you're like me, you probably come in, do your work, and go home. For some, this means a nine-to-fiver, but for others like myself, this really means your day-to-day doesn't differ all that much. Titles don't play a big role in a life like this. There wasn't a whole lot of difference in my day-to-day between when I was a "Software Engineer" and a "Senior Software Engineer". Chances are there wouldn't be a big difference between being a "Senior Software Engineer" and a "Principal Engineer" either. Sure, you will be expected to have more responsibilities, but you were probably already performing them months before anyone noticed and cared enough to promote you. So getting the title change doesn't really change your day-to-day.

So why should you care about your job title?

Three reasons:
  1. Respect
  2. Money
  3. You manage people

As I said above, until recently I didn't really care about my own job title. "What happened?", you ask?

Well, during a couple of interviews at my previous job I had two guys react very strangely to me asking them the questions I did. They seemed genuinely surprised at... well, me. I'd like to think it was because I was asking them hard questions, but the surprise came after they asked the usual, "So what do you do here?". During this time I was very happily working on a team with very senior people. The team consisted of three Principal Engineers, two Sr. Software Engineers, and was managed by the Sr. Software Architect (six total, including myself - two of the guys had Doctorates). So very intelligent people put together to do some very cool and smart work (toot toot). After explaining the team to them, and the work we were doing, both interviewees seemed very perplexed and commented on and questioned me why the interview schedule had me listed as a "Software Engineer". If this wasn't a weird enough reaction, one of the guys actually went back and started to elaborate on some of the answers he'd given me previously. It's as if, suddenly I wasn't just some young looking dude they'd put on the schedule to fill in time. Now I was someone who actually mattered. Obviously, they should have been taking the interview seriously from the start, but the reaction really surprised me - The difference three little characters could make, "Sr.".

I think it's obvious where I'm going with this. You should care about your own job title, not necessarily for yourself, but because others do. At least, you should care enough to make sure it's right on an interview schedule.


In the past, there's only ever been one situation when I have really cared about my title - when I was thinking about looking for a new job, or interviewing for one.

With the expected title comes a certain level of compensation. If you're interviewing for a Sr. Software Engineer position, you expect to make more than a Software Engineer position. The same goes for all positions. If you're a Sr. Software Engineer, and you're interviewing for a Manager position, you expect more money - after all, you're expected to have more responsibility, right?

Managing People

Lastly, you should care about titles when you're managing people. In this aspect it should be their title you're concerned with.

Titles for your people are goals for them. They're stepping stones, trails, paths or roads in their careers.

To some degree, I think that if you're managing people, and you don't care about their titles, then you don't care enough for them.

I've been very fortunate to have great mentors and managers. They've all said that their jobs are making sure I'm happy, and that I'm feeling good about my future - not just ME, but EVERYONE who works for them.

By providing your people with titles and helping them to get to the next one, you're furthering their careers, helping some of them with that all important first impression, and showing them you care about their future.

I know it's lame, and none of this would really matter if people actually didn't care about titles, but unfortunately, that's not how the world works. Until someone actually meets or works with you first-hand and sees what you're capable of, your title is part of what limited information they know about you through your emails, resumes, blogs, and business cards. It helps them set up their expectations for you.

In the end, I still don't worry a lot about my own title. I'm definitely not going to obsess over it (after writing this blog). I feel like I have the respect of my colleagues and peers and I respect them, and that's what's really important to me. I'm just going to be more conscious about what my job title is, instead of not caring at all.

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