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.
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?
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.
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.
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