Titles – They’re Still Useless

In what seems like a lifetime ago (it’s been six years), I wrote about Titles for Testers (tl;dr – they don’t matter). My wordpress stats tell me that it’s one of my most popular posts with links from a crapload of sites.

The 2017 update is that titles still don’t matter. Well, they do in a way. Titles (especially for testers) are a distraction.

Last night on twitter, I saw this job advertisement tweet.

Totally cool (and worth it) to publish job postings on twitter, and Blizzard makes fantastic (your opinion may vary) games. I’ve played 1000’s of hours of Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft and even some Hearthstone. I should have played Overwatch too, but couldn’t carve off the time.

Then, there’s the job title.

WTF is a Test Lead Eleven? Oh wait, those are Roman numerals – it’s a Test Lead 2.

Cool.

No.

WTF is a Test Lead II?

Wait, it’s worse. The job description describes the job as “Associate Test Lead”.

Again, WTF?

I’m sure A Test Lead II falls right between a Test Lead I and a Test Lead III – or maybe the former is called a Test Lead and the latter a Senior Test lead, but putting that title in that post isn’t going to help Blizzard (or anyone) find  the right candidate. In fact if I were looking for a mid-level test lead job, and I saw a posting with that title, my heeby-jeeby HR bureaucracy spidey sense may tell me to steer clear.

Short story is that it’s an exciting job for the right person. I’m not picking on Blizzard – they’re awesome. I’m picking (yet again) on job titles.

Now, it’s one thing if you’re recruiting internally. At the Big M, role moves were lateral, and job titles reflected the level of the role. If you’re advertising the job to people who know what the lingo means, you can use corporate dictated titles. That makes sense.

But when recruiting externally, you have to turn that shit off. If you want to exude an air of fun and excitement, why throw a bureaucratic title into the description? Sure, you’re going to have to give whoever you hire a title that matches the corporate structure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t troll for a Test Lead or Test Leader or Test Manager, or Quality Rockstar, or Badass Guild Master in your external job postings and social media.

Now I’m off to review job titles at my own company before the discoveries of hypocrisy roll in.

12 Comments

  1. Posted October 3, 2017 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I’m a Software Test Pilot which is extra fun. I talk to myself about launch readiness. It works. They could call me Primary Squirrel and I would be ok with it. I’ve never understood people who got impressed by titles.

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      This is exactly the types of titles we ALL should have. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Posted October 3, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure about “useless”. For some reason, titles are extremely powerful (In another context, I just recalled this talk: https://dojo.ministryoftesting.com/lessons/what-s-in-a-name-experimenting-with-testing-job-titles-martin-hynie ).
    Also, A good title can be quite useful – I will probably not apply for positions such as “senior pastry chef” or “Financial analyst”, as none of those is my profession. Similarly, I will avoid “junior tester” since I hope my employer can expect more out of me than is usually expected out of most “junior tester” positions.
    What pains me in “test lead 2” is that it fails to convey the expected responsibilities. As would, by the way, “Primary Squirrel”.
    Internally, Job titles are 80% distraction \ obstacle (and ~20% focus aid), but externally I think it’s a useful tool to help candidates filter the job ads.

    • Posted October 3, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Semantically, you are correct. But in the world of software – especially test and quality, there is 0 correlation between titles at different companies, hence my claim of uselessness – or worse.

      No job title can convey expected responsibilities. So instead of an exact (but useless) title, use a title that conveys the spirit of what you’re looking for, and convey the expected responsibilities in the accompanying description.

      • Posted October 3, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Yes, I completely agree – bad job titles are useless, and waaay too common.
        However, as long as you are not tempted to become creative, it can still provide just enough information for the reader to decide whether it is worth the time of digging further into the job advert and look for further hints as to the actual details.

  3. Posted October 3, 2017 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post – we don’t have job titles at Automattic: everyone can choose their own (more on that here).
    When recruiting for software testing positions we use Excellence Wrangler.

  4. Søren Harder
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    I agree with you that you can put too much in titles. But the job is a job in a company, which may have a ‘corporate structure’ (which you do not seem to have a problem with – I may be more critical), and what the job depends on how things are organized. The job title will give you a hint, but it is your job together with your prospective to teach you what this implies. Job titles as ‘Excellence Wrangler’ and ‘Primary Squirrel’ does not tell much about the job and it gives me a suspicion that there is no real content to the job besides ‘most definitely not being boring’. The whole title discussion should not be taken to seriously, some detest the title ‘Tester’, some the title ‘QA’ for the same job. I myself find it a bit annoying to work somewhere people have ‘Chief’ or ‘Officer’ in the titles, as I am neither an indian nor a soldier, but it is hard to avoid.

    • Posted October 4, 2017 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      I’m saying that the stigma of testing is so severe that people would be more likely to include me as “Primary Squirrel” than as “QA” or “Software Test Lead II”. To think descriotive titles matter, I have to think others care about testing and don’t have bias about the value of testers, both which I know to be untrue. Thus any title that labels me as testing harms my value to the team. Primary Squirrel is an advantage.

      • Posted October 4, 2017 at 5:55 am | Permalink

        Ugh that typo. On a small keyboard. Feature request: ability to edit past comment? ;p

  5. Posted October 4, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    My official job title (something silly like senior object-oriented software developer) says something about part of my skill set, but it doesn’t really say what I do all day. A few times a co-worker has asked me what my job is, and I’ll hedge and say “whatever most needs to be done”. Then a dev lead will quickly chime in that I’m a developer, perhaps to make sure they know that I’m not just a lowly tester.

    I like to say that I’m a “software alchemist,” which amuses me and spawns discussions about how teams produce software “lead” and then ask me to turn it into gold. But it doesn’t really tell people what I do without having that discussion.

  6. brucewaltar
    Posted October 4, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    But what about the superb SR ASS MGR short title? That’s meaningful.

Leave some words for the weasel

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