re: What's in a name? Job Titles VIEW POST


Especially when you're a generalist, titles are basically meaningless: if they indicate what you do for a living, it's more by happenstance than intention.

In the first half of the 90s, my title was iterations on "systems administrator". One telco I worked at went so far as to call me "systems administrator III" (highest they awarded in the discipline). Funny thing was, at the time, they based compensation on even more meaningless titles: my payroll title was "senior business analyst" (wut?).

After that I worked for two vendors. With the one, I started out as "Regional Service Engineer" (RSE) but that got changed to "Field Technical Analyst" (FTA). Apparently, some state was threatening to require that anyone that had "engineer" in their title had to have a specific educational background and licensing. They changed us all to FTAs to avoid dealing with the paperwork in that state. In either case, the title wasn't really meaningful (and, the "R" in the "RSE" was downright misleading: while I was part of the "Eastern" region for HR purposes, my travel region was pretty much "the globe"). The other vendor, my title was simply "Professional Services Engineer".

When I left vendor-land, it was to work for a global ISP. My title there was "Senior Operations Engineer". This was another pay-center title - specifically the "Operations" part. While the majority of my duties were operations-related, because I could write and speak well, I was sent to conferences and other customer-facing meetings (not to mention the litany of conference calls). Basically, because management wasn't technical and neither our Operations nor Engineering folks were terribly comfortable speaking to or writing for others, I got tasked outside of my pay-role.

I've been working as a consultant since mid-2004 and, my basic title across that span (and the various companies I've worked for) has been some variant of "Senior Principal Consultant". I mean, it's notionally accurate — in that I'm a consultant and that I'm senior (both by skill and, now, time-in-rank) — but it's devoid of self-explanatory meaning or zaziness (you might need to have been a Metalocalypse fan to be familiar with that term). The other fun thing with being a consultant is that the titles that customers know you by are often different than what's in your company's HR portal. For example, on the project I've been putting the most hours on for the last 18+ months, my program-title is, for this contract-year, listed as "Lead Architect, Cloud/DevOps Engineer" and was "Senior Automation Engineer" for the previous contract-year (same job and duties, though).

Since I'm not super fond of "meaningless" — or at least not meaningless and bland:

  • In my Slack profile, I list myself as "Chaos Custodian"
  • In my GitHub profile, I list myself as "Chaos Janitor" (Slack came later - it might have better flow from refinement-over-time)
  • On my LinkedIn profile, I list myself as "System Wrangler"
  • On various other profiles, I've given myself similarly personality-oriented "titles"

While those self-appellations are notionally not "professional", they do seem to act as conversation-starters. And, ultimately, the people that ask "what even does that mean" usually end up saying something along the lines of "I see what you mean by not fitting easily in standard titles".

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