A few months ago, I built a spoof job listing site, Titlify. But why would I waste so much time on creating a spoof job listing, and a fake company website? That’s an excellent question. I probably can’t answer why I wasted so much time, but I might be able to explain why I had the idea in the first place.
Job Title Escalation
A few months ago, LinkedIn dropped a job suggestion in my mailbox. LinkedIn felt I might be interested in a ‘Mini-CTO’ role at a company in Berlin.
Digging into the details of this role, it was a CTO role in everything by autonomy and compensation. The job listing triggered rage in me that I couldn’t contain. It spoke to something that has been a bugbear of mine for some time.
Job titles in the tech industry have become ridiculous.
Ultra Engineer Alpha Edition.
For a long time, I’ve been uncomfortable with the junior and senior job title prefixes; they suggest a direct correlation of age to skill. This correlation is something I have rarely found to be a useful metric for identifying great team members. But I’ve never been able to find a suitable alternative.
However, in the last few years, job titles have escalated to ridiculous levels. Google now has seven levels of Engineer job titles ending with ‘Distinguished Engineer.’ Staff and Principal engineer titles are no longer enough.
When looking a tech leadership, this is equally ridiculous. The terms’ Director of’ and ‘VP of’ are thrown around like candy. To the point where I’ve seen a lot of ‘Director of (something peculiar) Engineering.’
It feels like we’re getting close to using the Street Fighter games method of naming things, an ever-escalating, prefixing and postfixing of more and more ridiculous adverbs to the titles.
My new job title goal is Ultra Engineering Manager of People Awesomeness Hyper Edition.
So why is this an issue?
Like it or not, Job titles are a personal currency. Your job title, to some degree, correlates with your overall compensation, especially when you are moving roles.
I can’t entirely agree with this, but you’re going to have an easier time finding a new position and negotiating a better salary with five-year experience at ‘Distinguished Engineer’ than you are with five years experience as a lowly ‘Senior Developer.’
There is also a company level multiplier to this. This ranking has more impact if it comes from a larger, more reputable company than from smaller companies. The value weighting is why you see so many twitter profiles with ex-Googler and ex-Facebook in them.
The perception is that these companies are harder to get into, so your Google job title holds more value than your ‘Small Local Development Agency’ role with the same job title.
Your job title contains value; it’s a currency.
So if your job title is a currency, and the job titles are escalating out of control. That means we’re in a period of hyperinflation.
I’ve been lucky enough not to have lived through any periods of real hyperinflation in the countries I’ve lived in, but I’ve heard first-hand stories.
The problem with hyperinflation and the direct correlation I see with tech industry job titles is that is the currency becomes devalued quickly.
With every promotion round, people jump up a level. But the tech industry, in comparison to almost every other industry in existence, is young. Young, in a sense it’s only existed for decades, and young in the fact the employees tend to the more adolescent scale of the age spectrum.
People aren’t retiring yet from tech companies in large enough numbers. This lack of retirement means there’s less space at the top as people gain experience. So we elevate the job title to placate these individuals’ need for validation.
And now everyone is a senior engineer. Ultimately devaluing and job titles bellow that. In a few years, everyone is a Staff Engineer, and Google has added ‘Grand Sultan Engineer’ to their ranking.
So that’s why I built Titlify. A spoof-job-titles-listings website for a company that’s main selling point is you can pick your starting job title, and it gets upgraded every six months.
It’s a play on the Shopify, Spotify naming style mashed up with the word ‘title.’ I’m aware, in retrospect, that it can misread.
The concept was to try and highlight this situation with some amusing job titles and job specs.
How do we fix this?
To me, there only seems to be one solution. A group of companies to lead by example and perform a job title devaluation and create a standardisation between multiple companies.
However, I understand this is a massive undertaking, but if we could come up with some industry standard for job titles and the expectations associated with them, maybe we can stabilise the job title economy.