What's in a Job Title?
February 9th, 2021 on ols.wtf
Depending on which system at $dayjob you check, I have one of a few different job titles. I might be a “DevOps [sic]1 Engineer”, a “Platform Engineer”, or a “Senior Ops Engineer”, or something else I am yet to discover.
I used to care a lot about what my job title was. Progressing within a company was great, because I could collect up a variety of different jobs to show how quickly I can improve myself. I am a low-key competitive person, and I enjoyed the gamification of it. This was until I requested all my information from a previous employer (under GDPR) and discovered that the references they had sent out to others only included my job title as it was at the time I left. Well, maybe job titles aren’t actually that important then?
LinkedIn has told me otherwise. As soon as I made the move from operations engineer without devops in my job title, to a job that had that particular buzzword in, recruiters were on me like flies on the proverbial. I am sure, and since drafting this post am also now anecdotally aware, that the same is true if you are SRE, Chaos Engineer, or any other of the multitude of trendy job titles that are on the market.
It got me thinking, is there some sort of job title envy at play here. Like, I get some great job offers because of having “devops” in my title, but the people that have “SRE” on their LinkedIn get the crème de la crème. In a similar vein, once I added “Senior” to my job title, a new tier of jobs became available to me. Leads, Principals, Ops Managers even. But what do the people who already have those roles get headhunted for. I suppose it’s Heads of Technology and CTOs, because you’re not supposed to go sideways or backwards when you write all your past job descriptions down, right?
That is in fact one of my regrets, purely because of how it looks on paper. I had a nice, relatively-cushy job at an ISP as a “Network Operations Lead Engineer”. It sounds fancier than it is, and I’m sure that was intentional to suck people in, because the job was in fact part of a 24x7x365 rota. I was a “lead” of a team of three who knew no less than I did but I had a MacBook and they had to get by on a corporate Ubuntu build. Our sole purpose in the company was to restart JBoss every few days, run reports on vulnerable routers still connected to the network, and make sure the devs didn’t fuck up their monthly release too much. I left this job to become just a Network Engineer. But holy Moses the work was on a whole other level. I was challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone so much, I got my first proper taste of imposter syndrome2. But still, when I went for my next job I was asked “why did you take a step down from being a lead?”
Now I’m back to where I was before in terms of line-management and I have experience now with mentoring, leading projects, and being a noisy person general. But let’s be real here. My job title on LinkedIn is “Senior Platform Engineer”, and I still get recruiters messaging me about working at a fucking IT help desk. No thanks, I did my time.