cyberspacial musings
bits about the real and virtual worlds

08 Feb

What’s In A Title?

I’ve had a difficult time with job titles throughout my career because it seems that few of the people who are not in my industry understand what it is that I do for a living. That may seem trite and unimportant, but I’ve found that it’s quite the contrary.

Today I had a brief discussion with an individual who read the title I had written down — “software engineer” — and said, “Cool. Do you build websites?” That followed with a more lengthy description of my specialties in the software field, which only drew a puzzled look. I finally said that I don’t generally build web sites — rather I build the servers that those web sites run on.

Although that’s not entirely true of late, it’s a much closer description to the sort of thing I build that a web site would be. As more of a hard core software engineer, I work on system, server and application level software, but I don’t do web sites for a living. My languages are C and C++, not HTML and JavaScript.

Perhaps there is no good job title that separates what I do from the web site builders, but I’d like to think that there must be a good way to draw the distinction. I no more have the graphic design and layout skills that the best web designers have than they do the multi-process, multi-threaded development skills that I have.

It would seem that this is a minor problem, but I’ve struggled with it throughout my career, carefully explaining the differences. Computer Scientist never really cut it for me as a title — I view software as an engineering exercise not as a science experiment. Similarly, Software Designer or Software Architect are too abstract and generally indicate that the holder of one of those titles doesn’t actually code anymore — I still do. I use the title Chief Technology Officer now and in my previous job, but that title says even less about what I do. (Personally I think CTO is a cool title, but the longer I’ve had it, the less it means to me.)

Once I claimed the title Cryptolope Architect, when I was developing IBM’s Cryptolope DRM technology. Again a cool title, but functionally useless. I’ve seen cute titles like Software Gardener, but in these post dot.com crash days that title sounds really silly.

It would be nice to have a distinction drawn between the software developers who write complex applications and system software and those who build web sites. It would be a huge plus if the title were actually functionally descriptive. The world seems to understand “Attorney At Law”, “President and CEO”, “VP of Business Development”, “Sales Executive”, and “Bank Teller”. It would be nice if there was a corresponding title that everyone would understand for those of us in the software profession.

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