10 Job Titles and Why You Might Like Them (Or Won't)- 6 mins
A note: This post was created on a previous domain and migrated in 2018
Your Next Job Title
Job titles are tricky. You only need to listen to one or two of The Geek Whisperers to recognize that. The bit of mentoring I do tends to walk people through their options.
Here is a working list (read as “stream of consciousness”) of titles and the type of people that I see excited about them. I’ll highlight the most important consideration for that job in bold and italics (like I just did here).
To get the full effect of these descriptions, read each title in the sentence “I want to be a __________.”
Developer - that’s fantastic, because the world needs more Developers (I can’t say the same for some of the other titles in here). If you’re happy with 80% of your work being team-based coding, you will love your job. If you’re the lone wolf style of developer, make sure to find a niche project that gives you the independence to develop your work or you may end up miserable in the middle of a scrum. I find the trickiest part of this job search to be this: specialization is key. The “full-stack developer” idea doesn’t make as much sense in a world with as many front- and backends as we have. If you’re into design and aesthetic, dig into front-end. You should look into react.js in particular and learn to have an opinion on a framework like ruby on rails. If managing data and determining how data flows is more interesting, backend is your game. Learn to store data in a database using your favorite language (like Riak KV) and you’ll be off to a good start. There are many recruiters getting paid very well to hunt you down. The better you know your own specialization, the greater likelihood they’ll be helpful instead of a nuisance.
Marketer - despite some common belief, these roles are essential to the success of a business. If you love storytelling, however technical or non-technical it might get, then you’ll be happy in Marketing. The one secret of this organization that I’ve learned to remember is that Marketing exists to empower Sales. Depending on your arm of the organization, you either need to find ways of qualifying an opportunity with someone, generally called Demand Generation (Demand Gen), or you need to create content to attract those opportunities, a pivotal part of Content or Inbound Marketing. You will spend nearly equal time communicating internally as you will externally.
Product Marketer - the more exposure I get to this role, the more I realize its crucial to enabling technical sales. Product Marketers are most often the system’s gut check on product naming conventions, key slides in technical slide decks, demo designers and much more. These roles tend to be more senior, influential and cross-disciplinary. To do it well, you truly have to think like a storyteller and an engineer.
Technical Marketing Engineer - this role is a great place to make compelling technical content for a technical audience. You balance internal and external evangelism with the expectation that you’ll dig into the engineering grit and make it make sense to everyone else. These roles often own regular content: white papers, blog posts, demos, maintaining labs. It’s a role for those who can both read a room and write a mean script. Learn more about it on this episode of the Geek Whisperers.
Product Manager - you’re the gatekeeper, responsible for balancing the ever-evolving pile of open issues. You influence what constitutes a “release” of the product. You have the expectation to deliver code that addresses customer needs without coding it yourself, which means Sales will always be asking you for prioritization. If you love to see the big picture and have a seat at the table, dig in here.
(Dev)Ops Engineer - operations is the new sysadmin role: build infrastructure from server rack to OS to application. The big shift, misappropriated with DevOps in the title when DevOps is a culture, is that you’re expected to go beyond your own scripting language of choice and build a system of self-service. Automation is centric to this job, but so are principles of the trade like idempotent operations, value streams and what we mean by “deployment to production.” What you want to remember here is your job is to speed up the time to production, not make the most pretty server room anyone has ever seen. Speaking of servers, being hands on in AWS has become a normal expectation.
Sales Engineer / Solution Architect - you are the technical smarts that sales teams bring to the table to make the deal. You will spend your time, 50%+, on the road OR 100% of your time on the phone. I can tell you from experience that the latter is not enjoyable. But when the travel and the technology and the customers align, you’ll barely feel like you work as you have whiteboard sessions and presentations to incredible people who are excited to listen to you. The best resource to learn more is Dom Delfinio’s episode of Geek Whisperers.
Developer Advocate - another new, exciting hybrid role. Your job is heavily dependent on what organization you fall under. If you roll up to marketing, expect your performance to be measured in community size, audience acquisition and content creation like blogs, podcasts and the such. If you fall into engineering, you’re likely in the Google model, which pairs DAs with strategic partners to build proof of concepts. No matter the organization, its key to want to be part of the technical community. You’ll constantly balance hands-on, on the road and the big picture reports, but it’s a hell of a role - I can tell you from experience. Also, learn more from Ashley McNamara’s episode of Geek Whisperers.
Technical Evangelist - so you have a flair public speaking, know your technical talking points and love the open road: you want to be an Evangelist. These jobs are also effected by the org chart, sometimes rolling up into sales as specialized SEs and other times in marketing. I find the key differentiator for Evangelism, at least when compared to Advocacy, is that its partly about you: you’re getting paid for being part of the ecosystem you wish to influence. To some people, that’s the dream. To others, that’s a nightmare. Be sure to understand why the company values you to make sure you enjoy this role. Listen to these episodes of Geek Whisperers to know what you’re signing up for.
Site Reliability Engineer - you love infrastructure, enjoy sysadmin-type work, but want to see the really tough challenges. An SRE position may just be perfect for you. You scale what’s in production, recover from failures, and build like a boss. Matt Simmons, also a Geek Whisperers guest, wrote about how it differs from sysadmin work. I see more opportunity for infrastructure enthusiasts to build onto their skills by pursuing these practices if you want an alternative to Operations Engineering.
Here are 10 different ways to take your career, with hundreds of options branching off of them. Note one major disclaimer: your mileage may vary on these descriptions. Be sure to ask the right questions and get a complete view of your role - who you report to, what org pays them, what your VP’s key performance indicators look like.
May you find the perfect fit.