In an industry with a dizzying number of software testing job titles, Jon asks do they really matter in the broader picture?
In the eight years I’ve spent testing software, from Junior QA Analyst to Agile Test Engineer, there has been a total of nine different unique job titles under my email signature.
But all these different titles, and probably 90% of the responsibilities, have been exactly the same since my very first role.
What’s the Job of a Job Title?
Essentially, all a job title is supposed to do is summarise your role and seniority in as few words as possible. It’s a way for someone to know where you sit in the company, in relation to other departments and those within your department. You should be able to look at a colleague’s job title and determine what kinds of questions you can ask them, what help they can give and maybe, even what blame you can lay at their feet (I’m joking…ish).
What are job titles, really?
More importantly for most, the titles represent progress, either in the one company or within the industry as a whole. If you’re a Junior Test Analyst, you should be aspiring to be a Test Analyst, and if you’re a Team Leader you should be aiming to be a Test Manager.
Some people will even forgive the absence of a pay rise in exchange for an upgrade in job title. I have even known people to turn down a better offer, with a better salary, and at a better company, just because the job title wasn’t as impressive as the one they already had.
If you ask me…
I think people put far too much credence in their job titles. They act as if a job title defines them, dictates how much respect they should receive from their peers, or affects how people should treat them.
The reality is that a job title carries very little weight with your colleagues and that it’s how you treat other people and perform in your role that dictates the respect and treatment you receive.
It’s the work itself and the responsibilities you’re given that affect how much you enjoy your job, which is all that matters at the end of the day. Is it worth being less happy five days a week in exchange for having a marginally better sounding title? Of course not.
But when do they matter?
I’m not saying they make zero difference; it’s just that very rarely does the difference truly matter.
An example of when titles can have a practical use is when there is a wide range of experience in the team. It can be quite useful to have an easy indication of a co-worker’s experience, both for the benefit of the more junior members, so they know who to turn to for advice, but also for those in other departments to give them a rough idea of competence.
Being able to identify those in a lead or management role is obviously important if they have direct line management responsibilities, otherwise they may not be able to maintain the authority required to lead effectively. In cases where direct line management isn’t involved, it’s sometimes better to let leaders come to the fore, organically. I’ve seen too many team or project leaders officially interviewed then promoted, only for others in the team to assume leadership responsibilities, based on their natural strengths.
The end game
The final consideration, and one that is definitely the biggest for some, is the impact it has on your CV and LinkedIn profile. A series of job titles representing steady progress in a career always looks good to prospective employers, and will likely also get the attention of industry recruiters.
Having said that though, a varied list of skills, competencies, and achievements will always trump any job titles you have held, as will your ability to emphasize this in job interviews and conversations with recruiters.
Despite the immediate impact your titles may have on how people see you, it is never as much as you believe it is. How you present and carry yourself in your career and company are what really make a difference.
Getting too caught up on the aesthetics instead of the substance of your career is a dangerous game that will likely lead to poor decisions and flawed ambition. Instead, focus on finding the right role for you; one where you can learn and play and enjoy the work you do.