What’s Your Name?

Recently, I’ve been engaging in several debates that focus on finding and defining names and titles for things or concepts. For some reason, people seem to feel they need to name something to understand it, whether it is a bird flying over their heads, the title they can use for their work, or well-understood concepts of development, like Marc Anderson’s Middle-Tier development.

In SharePoint, it often boils down to debates like whether someone can use a title as a Developer if they only work in JavaScript and CSS, or whether one should call themselves Business Analysts or Architects or something along those lines. Then, the debate goes into semantics about origins of words and the legacy of Donald (the Knuth, not the Duck) while nobody seems to focus on what developers, business analysts or architects do.

I think they should all be titled Frank, and then have to say what you do rather than your title. I find the whole idea of names and titles idiotic, and I’ll tell you why.

What’s In a Name?

If I walk up to you and slap your face, you’ll get annoyed, possibly angry. If I call it a hug and argue well enough that you agree to call it a hug, meaning I just gave you a hug, then everyone to which you tell the story won’t understand why you’re so upset. “B gave me a hug so I dropkicked his ass to the other side of the room”. Doesn’t really explain your anger, does it? In fact, in all likelihood, you’ll be seen as the crazy person, not me.

Silly example, right? Well, it’s silly because everyone knows that forcefully planting my hand on your cheek is usually an offensive action, regardless of whether it is called a hug or a slap. The name we put on things doesn’t change the thing itself. Names assume we have a common understanding of what the underlying thing is, and if we don’t, then the name won’t mean anything.

Let’s take another example, a saying like “She was like a mother to me”. Even if you’ve never heard that said before, you can probably deduce what it means, right?

Wrong.

What’s your relationship with your mother? Does the person who hear those words from you have the same idea about their mother as you do? The answers is likely no. Someone else may hate their mothers from being abused or some other tragedy and your possible intent of transmitting a message about your mother, who might have been strict but kind and gentle, will be completely misunderstood.

Language is a difficult thing. We mostly use it as naturally as we take breaths, but it is still the cause of all the conflict and love in the world.

Language should come with a warning sign: Please use with care. Misuse may lead to violence or sex.

So… What’s Your Title?

Some titles have very specific meanings and are even protected by law. In Norway, for example, you cannot call yourself a lawyer just because you want to. The title is protected because it should convey some sort of authority to it.

In some areas, titles are well understood. A car mechanic fixes your car and a neurosurgeon pokes in your brain, right? A woodchopper chops wood, and a baker bakes. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

However, in many areas, titles mean little unless you have a deep understanding of the profession. If you say you want to hire a lawyer in the US, you probably won’t get many useful applications, because there are so many types of lawyers that you need to know in which area you need their help. Even then, you may have to go through several candidates who may be practicing similar but not accurate enough areas of law or don’t have the background that you want. And who can, off the top of their heads, tell me the difference between an attorney, a lawyer, a solicitor, and a barrister?

Still, for the legal professions, these terms are actually defined and have accurate meanings. You can look it up if you need to do so.

Now explain to me what a SharePoint business analyst does. Well, they would analyze something, wouldn’t they? What exactly? Their title won’t tell. Would they come in an say “Well, your quarterly profit earnings amortizes well over the financial surplus year” or whatever the terms are? Or do they say that “you know, I’ve analyzed the mood of your employees and those colors you have in the office really brings out anger”?

How about a SharePoint developer. Develops something, right? Well, is a person who builds site collection templates a developer? How about someone who builds workflow solutions, but only uses the built-in workflows in SharePoint? Are they developing anything?

The truth is, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a baker, neurosurgeon, lawyer, or developer. If we renamed the neurosurgeon to “fairy”, then if you hit your head in an accident, your head would be fixed by fairies, but you’d still get well. If we renamed SharePoint developer to “clown”, then your next site would be built by clowns, but you’d still get your solution done.

I know, many organizations already think their solutions are built by clowns…

What matters is what you do, not what you or anyone else call you. Call me what you want, as long as you call me time and again, to quote the immortal lyrics of Culture Beat.

Did you know that the text for Mr. Vain was written in part by an English pole vaulter named Steven Lewis who at the time was only 7 years old? Either that, or Wikipedia is wrong.

Introducing Frank

If titles make no sense, why do we need them? Beyond giving certain professionals an ego boost, as long as customers do not understand the industry well enough to understand what each title means, titles have little meaning.

Recruiters have a task just as difficult. You’ll find plenty of job advertisements for “SharePoint developer” that then go on to demand skills in web design, SharePoint Designer, InfoPath, and Visual Studio, plus the ability to set up, operate, and maintain a SharePoint farm. A SharePoint infrastructure architect, according to one job ad I just read, needs to have hands-on experience with SQL Server (a DBA requirement), IIS (a web administrator), and Windows (a server administrator), as well as knowledge of SharePoint APIs (which is developer skills). Another ad for a SharePoint designer and developer lists PerformancePoint, Outlook, and helpdesk support systems (!) as important tools.

Even among SharePoint professionals, titles are confusing. You can’t say “SharePoint developer” these days without a fight over whether developers have to actually use .NET programming to be allowed the use of the title. Are you configuring SharePoint instead you say? Well, you’d probably confuse your clients even more if you called yourself SharePoint configurator, and it still wouldn’t say whether you configure SharePoint for operations or for building business solutions.

If I walk up to a client and say that I’m a SharePoint developer, I will likely also need to explain exactly what I do. Even if I say I’m a third tier developer, or use the term SharePoint programmer, I’m still not revealing enough for the client to evaluate whether I can solve their problems.

Instead, let’s drop titles completely. They mean very little outside the SharePoint community and the community cannot agree even among themselves what the titles mean. Until the community matures enough to end up with clearly defined titles with unambiguous meanings, we cannot possibly expect anyone else to understand what we mean.

Let’s call ourselves Frank. We’ll still have to tell clients what we do so it won’t matter much in terms of accuracy. This will also force the clients to focus on what their problems are rather than the title of the person they want to hire, a title they and the person they hire do not understand, or at least can’t agree on how to define.

Job recruiters can skip trying to come up with a title that matches their requirements, but instead explain what they need done from the person they hire.

And, who knows, perhaps the community can come together and decide that being SharePoint Frank is about as useful as all the other attempts we’ve made at agreeing on titles and then actually come up with a common understanding of what we do rather than what our names should be.

.b

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Bjørn Furuknap

I previously did SharePoint. These days, I try new things to see where I can find the passion. If you have great ideas, cool projects, or is in general an awesome person, get in touch and we might find out together.

10 thoughts on “What’s Your Name?”

  1. Wow, I agree wholeheartedly with this! My current contract is up in less than a month, and in the interim I was searching for new work and encountered this a lot. I often asked recuiters “what do you mean by SharePoint development?”

    1. Imagine, though, the difficulty for a recruiter who has limited time and experience in an industry, working for clients who really doesn’t understand that much more, to come up with an eye-catching title that attracts the attention of some of the most brilliant minds after a few seconds of exposure.

      Perhaps we need recruiters who specialize solely on SharePoint, who can get the proper requirements from clients and communicate proper needs to potential employees.

      1. Some insightful thoughts.. (inciteful too? It’s a Bjorn post afterall… 😎

        I have to agree with a lot of what you’ve said here Bjorn, As I said on FB, if Microsoft are going to do those little stick on things for the SharePoint Conference badge, We should just have one that says Frank. If anything it’ll prompt a discussion.

        On the subject of recruiters,we have some in the UK here who do specialise in Just SharePoint, I work closely with some of them and they do things like attend the user groups, not just to network but also to understand the technology better. I’d far rather use someone like this who makes that effort than general recruiters.

        Whats nice is that when I tell them I need a SharePoint Admin, they’ll ask what sort of Admin, i.e. SharePoint Central Admin functionality and actually udnerstand (to a point) what I’m talking about. As a result I get better quality CV’s from them than other recruiters.

        The platform itself is so vast now that 2 or 3 job descriptions are not enough to cover everything we do and I’m not really sure there’s a solution to that.

        Paul.

        1. Paul,

          I often find that it is easier to find a solution if you ignore reality for a bit. If there would be no limitations and we ignore what we currently know about difficulties and challenges, what would be the solution?

          How about something like a geek code for SharePoint job descriptions? Rather than focusing on a title, one could use a geek code to describe what one does or what one needs…

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geek_Code

          .b

      2. Hi Bjorn,

        I find the tier 1, 2, or 3 SharePoint (Solution) Developer more aptly describes what the job description a job title is but even then I only begin to come across the “tier” term in your blog! And what about a person who do the development in all the tiers? I would imagine the HR finding a hard time setting the title even, for instance, in my scenario, where I do development 70% of FTE and the rest on administration/helpdesk support. Even with SharePoint development, I have my hands full on OOTB SPD workflows, custom workflow actions, InfoPath design with VSTA code-behind, Ribbon Bar buttons functionality, VS2010 sequential workflows, OOTB customization – content types, site columns, XSL manipulation, etc. conditional formatting to SharePoint forms and views. I believe I am not alone out there. We dabble in almost all the technologies that are used in SharePoint.

        With helpdesk support, mostly I observe the issues centre around the file editing on the client-side Office applications where usually users can’t edit files for all kinds of reasons – use of wrong version of IE browser, pre-Office XP applications, issues with Temporary Internet Files folder, and once in a blue moon, I get users to request for pool IT equipment! Seems my kind of users think SharePoint is systems administration! Well, that might be true in a certain sense since we have to be familiar with certain tools in Windows Server that are normal to systems administrators – Services, Event Viewer, Application Pool Management, etc.

        Perhaps, SharePoint Jack-Of-All-Trades is a nice title?

        Louis

        1. Louis,

          I think you’re capturing my point nicely 🙂 It’s not as much about your title as it is about what you do. If you tell someone you work as a SharePoint jack-of-all-trades, they’ll not know enough to hire you or know enough about what you do to even continue the conversation if it is relateed to SharePoint.

          As such, regardless what title you choose, there is no underlying common understanding of those titles.

          If you met someone at a party who said they were electrical engineers (which is a fairly well-understood title) you may ask what an electrical engineer does, but you wouldn’t ask what _they_ do. If you met someone at a party who said they were a SharePoint developer, or administrator, or whatever, you’d still need to ask what _they_ do, even if you know perfectly well what both SharePoint and development or administration is.

          I should note, however, that the SharePoint development tiers is not my invention, but was coined by Marc Anderson:

          http://sympmarc.com/2010/04/14/the-middle-tier-manifesto-an-alternative-approach-to-development-with-microsoft-sharepoint/

          .b

  2. Ha! Brilliant article as.. well, as so often 🙂 I’m an engineer who also uses SharePoint (more along the lines of clown, but people say power user) and I’ve been pondering the use of the title “Software Engineer”, wondering what’s “engineeringy” about what softies do. Unlike you I didn’t think to suggest eliminating titles altogether. But maybe that’s because I’m an engineer.

    Titles are like putty, at different stages of hardening in different countries. The term “Engineer” is very fluid in the UK (they can design F1 cars or repair your washing machine), but is highly defined (and revered) in Austria, for example. You can skim my thoughts here if you like:

    http://cannyengineer.typepad.com/on-engineering/2012/08/is-software-engineering-engineering.html

    Big hugs 😉

    Seb

  3. Another classic post Bjorn, I’ve just started reading your blog and it’s always thought provoking. I’ve been puzzling about SharePoint titles for awhile as the closest I can get to is a Power User. Which is pretty awful as a title really. I might just use ‘Frank’!

    People do like their titles though and not just in the SharePoint community. It allows people to put you a label on you and file you away in a box marked with that label. It’s much easier that way for them to understand. For SharePoint it can get very complicated as you have pointed out and those titles are thrown around with abandon so labels can be pinned onto a person. It also suits the box tickers out there and there are plenty of them.

    1. Andrew,

      Thanks for your comment and thoughts…

      The problem as I see it is that they won’t understand even if they put a title on you. Even we, who are the target of those labels, don’t know what it means. Until the community can come together and define titles, Frank is just as good.

      .b

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