The Use and Abuse of Job Titles

Every few months I go through some kind of seasonal cycle of trying to reinvent myself. From the outside, I’m fairly sure nothing much changes, but I think it’s good to avoid trapping your own identity inside too much routine, so I don’t feel like it’s wasted time. The modern world thrives on progress and change, and it can be a very useful exercise to regularly review our own understanding of it – and how we see our place and role within it, both globally and locally.

This is especially so now that I’m freelance. A friend pointed me at Amy Hupe’s talk on the meaning of work recently, where she looks at the finding one’s purpose, and the challenge of moving away from more formal workplace feedback structures – clear titles, role progression, annual reviews, and so on. Understanding myself might be very different to how clients, partners and others see me, but it’s also the core which drives the reason for doing anything. Values, beliefs, principles – reflecting is just a way to make some kind of sense about why we make any single decision about our own life.

Over on Mastodon, I half-joked about trying out a different job title each day, to see how each one felt. The first was "Software Engineer and Digital Existentialist", and I kind of like that, in a semi-pretentious way. I don’t know which half is more vague though, but I do know which one is more acceptable, professionally. Use familiar words, and people will be more accepting, and carry on talking about something else. Maybe that’s not a good thing in a world which needs fresh, unexpected skills though? Maybe the use of disruptive job titles is a way to promote different paradigms and approaches to work in others?

Coincidentally, Pilita Clark also posted an article in the FT (paywalled) on The menace of the overblown job title, looking briefly at how words such as "Lead", "Manager" and "Global" are proliferating in many sectors (often instead of greater role clarity, or remuneration). And perhaps herein lies the difference between titles we give ourselves versus titles others hand to us. Is all of this just signalling, and if so, how best to achieve cohesive signalling that speaks to both our own inner self, and to others?

I’ll be thinking more about this over the coming week, as people keep asking me what I "actually do". Honestly, right now – as with the last few years of freelancing, and the 20 years of work before that – I’m still figuring it out myself. I know "technology" is fascinating and something I enjoy doing, to the point where I could happily call it "techne" instead. I know "making things better" is also in the mix, especially for the generations which come after us. Those are fundamental and immovable.

Anyway, I’ll post properly soon, but if you do know what I do and need some help with old code, frustrating websites, techical debt, carbon footprints, or changing the world of the future, then do get in touch. I have some availability coming up from next month, and would love to chat.