I’ve personally witnessed some the problems you’ve outlined in a “title-less” organization. I enjoyed the apparent uniformity of everyone’s role and contribution to the team as a whole. And, it became easy, as time went by, to identify individuals who excelled in different areas of expertise, so they could be consulted as various needs arose. However, as I felt like I was helping to build our team and our product, I felt a lack of direction to know what more my employer expected of me to consider me as “advancing” in my career.
Recently, however, a sort of structure you outlined as “old school” has been introduced. This structure has 5 or 6 “levels” and each has been defined by what I’ll call varying degrees of contribution within your team and the organization/company as a whole. Each developer within the same level is supposed to have the same salary which is compared to local and national averages.
But, each of the levels’ definitions appear to have brought us full circle with first set of problems all over again. It feels to me that we now have a set of criteria that you may or may not satisfy, but it is ultimately up to a subjective review by the dev manager. I am happy to be given more clarity about the “rungs of the ladder” as you call it, but, in attempt to find some happy union of the two methodologies, I feel like we’ve just adopted a title based pay scale. And, that makes me a little sad.
Though, it just started to be implemented, so we’ll see how well it works out, or if we stumble into the same pitfalls.