A friendly young woman in an HR department many miles away told me the other day on the phone that I “didn’t have enough experience” managing software projects. I swallowed hard to not laugh and keep the conversation light. But this, of all the reasons one could disqualify me from a job, was borderline insane.
The problem was not the 20 or so years I’ve been in the tech business. It’s not the 50 or 100 or however many software projects I’ve led over the years. The problem, as I’m sure has been faced by many others, is job titles. My work simply doesn’t translate into the vile forms that circulate the web as job opportunities.
It turns out, a funny thing happens to your career after 40 - everything you ever did for a living is now called something else. This is further amplified by working for yourself, as I did for the better part of 10 years. Add to that a couple of years in healthcare consulting, where job titles are designed to match direct client contacts, and you end up with a resume full of titles that reads identically to someone that opened a bakery and then organized the company dodgeball event.
So I had to rewrite my resume - and my LinkedIn, so recruiters could try to sell me franchise opportunities in my area - in the new lingo of our times, and that starts with the flavor of the month word throughout technology - Product.
While I’m sure larger, well-funded software firms with multiple digital offerings needed to differentiate products - software delivered to clients or sold by license or subscription - from services work or internal efforts, the word has spread far and wide, with thousands of open jobs now having some form of Product <something> title. Product Manager, Product Engineer, Product Designer, Product Owner (of course, from Agile... another topic for another day).
Wikipedia says this about Product jobs:
So apparently, I was a Product Manager many times over many years before this terminology was so common. And I certainly was a Product Owner, as I couldn’t afford to hire one when we built our own, ahem, products. For a number of years, it turns out I wasn’t just making interfaces, I was a Product Designer.
Product Designer wanders into even more vague area - design titles within technology. For those of us of a certain age, we were designers by necessity - no one was going to learn Photoshop or Illustrator or Flash for us, and the marketing and “creative” types didn’t often talk to “IT” or software people. So if we wanted a graphic, a webpage, and later a mobile app to exist and communicate in any clear way, we needed to learn design principles or ship awful looking work. Over time, I got pretty good at it. Was I ever a UX Designer? Probably not without having a favorite Sketch plug-in, per today’s job listings.
Within the often confusing UX terminology are also a lot of things we, the “technical people” of years past, often did anyway. Another gem from a recent interview was being asked if I ever did user research. Well, I don’t have a degree in heuristics, and never worked in a UX lab with the eye tracking nerds, but sure - talking to users wasn’t always a speciality. Have you released multiple apps in the AppStore? Users, from first sketches to beta to final release, are not shy about telling you when you suck, when you are on track, and when something saves or costs them time. So I guess I was some basic form of UX Researcher at some point in my career too.
Lastly, the one that is the most haunting but I’ve long since given up and disclaimed all knowledge as if I never worked in the field, is code. I was never a Programmer IV. Or an Application Developer. Or a Software Engineer. Sure, many years ago, I stayed awake many countless hours until dawn programming obscure cutting edge experiments, reading through white papers (that’s all we had, at times... try Java in 1995, kids) and teaching programming basics for years to thousands of students. But I’m not a developer, apparently even a junior developer. Nor am I a senior business analyst, or a senior developer or any related position, despite my seniorness. I wrote code in the same way I learned design - things to be shipped, so I figured it out. That generalist mentality has been killed off throughout tech in place of many narrowly scoped, easily replaceable specialist roles that, at least looking from the outside, can’t be as fun as we once had just making stuff for a living.
As such, the following job titles are on my resume, but were never my defined job at the time:
Product Marketing Manager
Mobile Game Designer
... and a bonus 11th job:
Project Manager, which has apparently now formed its own mafia that requires PMP (pronounced “pimp” I guess?) certifications in the same way “guy that knows how to configure the servers” became a maze of Microsoft certifications in the late 90s and early 00s. But you don’t survive leading dev projects with clients for 15 years without knowing how to manage a project.
So what job title(s) does that leave? Vague things like Innovation that probably sound appealing as an online degree if you currently drive for Uber.
Or the one that seems the most appealing, and if I’m honest, my favorite job I ever held.
But the starting salary is pretty low and the only listing is the one you post for yourself. Maybe that should tell me something.