What’s in a name

On being confuzzled by job titles

Yesterday, somebody mentioned that my LinkedIn profile said “Full Stack Developer”, but that I’m currently hired to do some work that most people would qualify as architectural work.

It’s a good question, and if she is confused, know that I’m equally puzzled about the whole job title business myself as well. Or actually, the better term might be ‘confuzzled’, a combination of confused and puzzled, coined by Max in “Max and Marry”.

Multiple job titles

To be honest, I don’t think there is a single job title that fits all the things I can do and have done in the past. In fact, the work that I have done the last couple of years in a single gig, covers a whole range of job titles.

I could use all those job titles and separate them by slashes, which in a way would be pretty close to the idea of a “slash career”, as popularized by Marci Alboher in “One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide to the Slash Careers”.

The one difference though is that I don’t need to have multiple jobs at the same time to allow me to have all of these different careers. I just prefer to work on gigs allowing me to combine all of these roles, and if there is a word for that combination of roles, then I’m unaware of it, and “architect” surely isn’t it.

Architect

There’s that, and then there’s the issue with the title “architect” itself. Being an architect could actually involve a wide range of things; your responsibilities might include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • Documenting how a system is composed out of its subsystems;
  • Validating design decisions of your implementers based on documented or undocumented rules, after the fact;
  • Setting guidelines for interfaces between subsystems;
  • Hunting down weak spots in a system;
  • Modeling things in UML;
  • Preventing your implementers from exercising needless creativity (the Catalysis definition);
  • Gathering system qualities;
  • Partitioning systems in smaller units with clear responsibilities.

There are things in this list that I have considered to be part of my responsibilities during the 20 years I have been in the industry. Yet, I increasingly feel uncomfortable with the term “architect”.

One reason is that the list also contains things that I think you should avoid at all cost. So the term also represents a range of activities that I’d rather not be associated with at all.

Another reason is that — even though architect seems to be term that could capture almost anything — it’s still not wide enough to capture all the things I do; things that I consider to be crucial to getting software done. No matter how ill defined it is, it’s still reductionistic, and I don’t like to be reduced.

A third reason is a bunch of negative connotations associated with the term. Architects write reports, they don’t make software happen. They block certain paths, rather than enabling options. They hardly ever seem to experience the thrill of breathing life into a creative idea.

I know, these are all prejudices, and in my time when I still had architect as my job title on my resume, I never stopped coding. So it’s not all black and white. But it just feels so… dull!

It’s like the term “agile”. I used to have my blog on agilejava.com. But when everybody started embracing agile ideas — or at least their interpretation of it — it quickly turned the concept into something incredibly dull. So I dropped the domain, since I got bored of “agile” as a term and “Java” as a language.

Creator

What I really like to do is to create things. Preferably things that never existed before. And the beauty of my profession is that — with the rise of the Cloud — a single person is technically capable of doing all of that on his/her own.

I am not saying that doing everything on your own is a good idea. On the contrary: I think you should never create something entirely on your own. You still need people who disagree with your approach, who try to convince you that you’re wrong to either correct wrong decisions or solidify your conviction that you’re taking the right path.

What I am saying is: the term creator is much more comfortable to me than the term architect, despite the fact that it’s actually quite a vague term.

It does however have a quality that the term “architect” doesn’t have. It embodies a dream of bringing something to life. And a title that suggests a dream is just a much better job title than one that does not. (Even “developer” is a better job title, since it embodies the dream of “development”, as the opposite of “stagnation”.)

It also doesn’t have the other negative connotations of “architect”. That is, I don’t associate it with office spaces, or limiting creativity and autonomy. And it’s not confined to a certain scope: it could involve anything.

If you look at my last two projects I have listed on LinkedIn, you will notice I have used the term “co-creator”. It’s easily misread as “co-founder”, which is something totally different, but I do feel it is the best way to capture my contribution: I have contributed to bringing these products to life, creating it almost ex nihilo. I did it with a small group of other great people. And we basically did everything required to make it happen. It is what I love to do.