Friday, 7 November 2014

Your Job Title Means Nothing To Me

Every time someone introduces themselves as a senior developer, senior designer, senior whatever, I cringe.

They are trying to impress people on how talented they are, how respected they are.

Badge of Honour
For some people, they wear their senior title as a badge of honour. They may have worked their way up through the ranks after having joined as a junior. Invariably in these environments they would have worked alongside a senior. Well, not really alongside; the junior would work under the senior. After all, that's what those titles are designed to achieve: a clear definition of the hierarchy.

Senior > Junior.

So like the small fish in a big pond the junior joins a company and looks on enviously as others call each other senior. Look at the respect! That person's a senior don't you know? The small fish should say little and listen lots because seniors know more than juniors.

Except there is a bit of a problem with this system. It turns out that some junior employees are actually very good. Not "good for their age" or "good for a junior" but just out and out good.

Well if some juniors are good, then all seniors must be excellent then. Remember, seniors are better than juniors.

Putting senior before your job title doesn't mean you are good at your job
It turns out that there is a bit of a problem here too. Putting senior before your job title doesn't mean you are good at your job. It indicates more that you want people to think you're good at your job, rather than actually indicating how good you are. That's an important difference.

So if junior employees can be good and senior employees can be bad, what value is offered by the prefix?

Some people become so attached to the prefix once "earned" that they want to tell everyone. It's announced during an introductory handshake. It is on their email signature. It is on their eggshell white business cards. No doubt in Romalian type.

If you want to have some fun with this, find someone who matches the description above. The next time they are meeting someone new introduce them as a junior. Predict how many milliseconds until they shriek "senior actually". Watch their silent rage simmer. You've just made an enemy for life.

If the system makes people join as juniors and work their way up to become a senior, it is a rite of passage. If it is something done to you, you're all the more likely to do it to others. After all, you were assuming that one day all of this would belong to you Simba.

Collaboration is lost
A very real danger of such a system is that collaboration is lost. To work in a truly collaborative environment you need to have mutual respect. In a collaborative environment respect does not flow only in a single direction. Your seniors must trust your juniors and respect their ability to do the job.

When two people have conflicting opinions in a collaborative environment the best idea wins. This is not the same as the senior overruling the junior. This is not the same as giving in to the HiPPO in the room.

Introducing your peer as a junior is highlighting that you don't consider them a peer. They are your underling. Your minion. It is announcing to the room that you should take their opinions and ideas with a pinch of salt. It is truly passive aggressive. You have introduced prejudice and given people a reason for discrediting any idea borne by this person.

An idea should live or die on its own merit; its fate not dependent on who created it.

If you work in an environment where you have a product or service that you are building, the product is king. The product is bigger than your individual egos. The product needs to be right and this often means people in your team will be wrong. 

It is impossible to accept that failure is a necessary part of the process when you're so busy covering your own ass and trying to convince people you are senior. Trying to convince yourself that you are senior.

My job title doesn't tell you if I'm good at my job; it tells you what my job is. If you want know how good someone is at their job you'll learn more by talking to them for 2 minutes than you will be judging them on their job title.