Tuesday, 19th July 2011
Take note of how job titles, especially those in the Information Technology (IT) industry, have changed over the decade.
When I started out as a software developer, there were three, at most four, titles. Harmony imbued. There were mornings of delight. Life, for what it was, seemed to follow some order. Or may be I just happened to have worked in the ghettos and there were finer, places of more affluence that bore the trademark of the character that I wish, gently, to bring to light as the matter of this article.
Or, if not even that, it could also just be me feeling passably self-indulgent and romanticizing about a past, which, then, might have appeared just as chaotic. But let us amuse ourselves for there are less nobler pursuits of self-indulgence. Let us indulge anyway.
My world-view was simple, thank goodness for the ghettos. There were three job titles. First -- Software Engineer was the person who wrote the code. This was the first position upwards the janitor.
A typical Software Engineer was a chubby bloke with a breath as foul as can be, and an irrepairable, utterly-gutterly low self-esteem. Picture squint-eyed, fat adult-child with an unsure, mild, self-defeating smile, please. Tongue portending slightly outward during the length of the smile.
There were two off-shoots of the kind. The extroverted, coarsely cultured, loud, potty-mouth type and the savoury, reticent type who would rather slide down into a crack in the ground than be juxtaposed in a social situation.
I was the latter type.
Second upward, you had the Senior Software Engineer who was a little more experienced, and who also wrote code; then, the Project Leader.
Uncommonly even though, between the Project Leader and the two levels of software engineers, you sometimes had a demi-spieces with the Latin name Team Leader. This was not an official designation. It was only an internally used title that described additional responsibilities that one of the Senior Software Engineers on the team had to undertake. They didn't put those words Team Leader on your job offer letter unless you held a gun to their head or you had an uncle who was a member of the mafia. Like Don Sathyaish Corleone.
Just as a class monitor in school made sure that the class arranged itself in a single file and that he was the last one to leave and that all the light & fans were switched off, the Team Leader's additional responsibility was to make certain that everyone of the members in his team had checked in their code before they left for home, or wherever else, and that whatever technical issues the Project Leader wanted got implemented; issues such as using a particular third-party software as raw material as against another.
The Project Leader was the harbinger, the messenger, the bearer of news from the client. He spent his mornings and noon writing email to the client, and evenings talking to the client on the phone or IM; evenings because the client was usually someone on the other side of the globe. The Project Leader could write computer code. But he would not. On ocassion, you would find him standing behind your desk silently but intently staring into your screen reading some of your code until his stare was broken by the ring of a telephone, or it morphed into a look of appreciation for you, which he expressed with a gentle pat on your shoulder as he walked away. It meant, "Good job, lad! Carry on!"
Besides this, he took care of the source code control system and the servers were under his charge. He took data backups and got the coders the network permissions they needed to do their job. I remember there being no such thing as a timesheet.
If he stopped you in the hallway at times, it was to politely inquire about a bug-fix you were working on.
And finally, the top most of all on the ladder of authority was the Project Manager who always smiled, smelt nice, wore nice clothes and smoked cigarettes with the Project Leader. He was in-charge of operations. Everytime he came to talk to the rest of us, he brought us good news and made us feel like we were very special. He mostly said nice things like how awesome we were and what a great job we were doing and how the company was doing all so well just because of us. Even when the roof leaked.
The marvellous thing is that the bureaucracy was utilitarian. Everybody knew where their arses were and did real work.
There were no group outings or team building exercises. Words such as off-site and onsite could only have been found in the dictionary.
Communication was not a science, nor art, nor anything else. Everybody talked to everybody directly without making a fuss about it. I had never heard of the term skip level. I did hear, "Oi! Don't write an ActiveX DLL for calculating depreciation; just use a simple routine," from the other end of the room, though. The message was more important than the messenger.
Today is a spectacle of wonder, though. Enumerating job titles is as enjoyable as visiting a circus.
Job titles don't represent responsibilities of the bearer any more. They don't represent anything anymore. They are not even English, most of them.
Books, white papers and songs are written about how to communicate, best practices, best practice managers and best practices for hiring best practice managers for every little thing. There are Communication Mangers, Change Managers and Change Steering Committees.
Today, we have Product Managers, Assistant Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, Presidents, Directors, Directors of Technology, Directors of Strategy, Directors of Business Development, and of Change Management as well.
We are lucky to have so many people managers manage. We have HR Business Partners, HR Line Managers for each project, Organizational Development Directors, Directors of Business Organization, Business Practice Directors, Directors of Organizational Behavior, and Chief People Officers, too.
And, if our loving Lord our God forbid, should be there any disaster, as if the situation isn't getting disastrously removed from anything remotely to do with writing software, we present to you our new fleet of shiny Business Continuity Managers and Disaster Recovery Vice Presidents who report into their directorial and presidential incumbents.
I have also had the pleasure of once watching a Channels & Transitions Manager albeit from afar. He quietly sat at his desk eating a banana. It was a lonely sight. Have you ever seen one?
I am siezed by wonder at such variety, and try to find answers to mysteries of such lore in wise words.
But of all the titles, the one that is dearest to me is the title Architect. This title has suddenly surfaced from non-existence to being in vogue. You can find architects in technology verticals such as SQL Server Architect, Java Architect, .NET Architect, Ruby Architect, Data Architect, Database Architect, XML Architect, PHP architect and also horizontally across the entire organization. And then you have the horizontally-vertical or the veritcally-horizontal titles like Application Architect, Infrastructure Architect, Information Architect, Technical Architect, Solutions Architect and Enterprise Architect. On top of all the architects sits the Chief Architect. Of course, he sits metaphorically only.
And within each level we have the regular flavor and the senior ones. That makes it twice the number of architects than the ones I've listed.
The title has come to dignify positions as being elitist. I have heard of it being applied to other functions as well. For example, I have heard of the emergence of the title Sales Architect. Equally amusing is the title Sales Engineer.
On a slightly serious note, software architecture is a perfectly valid term. Software does have an anatomy that is worth attention and study. But the term archtiect applied as a job descriptor doesn't seem to make any sense to me at all.
There are just programmers. You have to be a programmer to write software or anything related to software development. You can't not have written code for 6 years and qualify yourself as an elitist by virtue of the very fact.
Other titles that are cause for amusement are Techno Functional Architect - Product Management & Systems, Solution Designer and Solution Integrator. And the most recently, one that gave me a chuckle was Solution Director.
Here the world is perplexed looking for a solution and this person, as his title suggests, does know where the solution is but instead of finding it, he is directing it elsewhere.
Poor solution! Let us hope that he leads it some place safe.
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