Guru, Ninja, Rockstar – job titles mean nothing

Alastair Aitken 16 July 2013 0

I once had a job as a guru.

In reality I was only programming some code on a computer that would display news headlines according to the user’s search criteria. But a “guru” is what the job advertisement demanded so when asked at the interview if I really believed that I was a guru, I lied. I said yes.

Rockstar versus Ninja

Since my guru days, things have moved on a bit and the term now sounds rather quaint and decidedly lightweight. “Rockstar” and “Ninja” seem much more hardcore – if this were Mortal Kombat then I’d take definitely play as Ninja instead of Guru. But it’s not Mortal Kombat; it’s invariably sitting in a generic office, at a generic computer, churning out generic code, for a generic organisation.


During my first contract role in the City I was intrigued to be assigned a new team member who would be reporting to me, for he was twenty three years of age and held the title ‘Director’. Five years of service was all it took to become a director, irrespective of age and roles performed.

Vice-Presidents! Thousands of ’em!

A friend who was working for a very well-known US investment house invited me to a soirée where we were to celebrate him becoming vice-president. At the completion of five years employment he too had been automatically elevated in title. His parents had been very excited when he told them about his new title – he had sent them his business card and his mother had been proudly telling their neighbours about their son’s new status.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone who has worked for US investment houses – apparently Goldman Sachs has around 13,000 vice presidents.

Junior Senior

I was caught out by inappropriate job titles during another role. Sifting through some résumés for several non-entry level positions all the candidates appeared to be over-qualified for the openings as every one of them claimed that their author was a Senior Software Developer. Closer inspection of the curricula vitae showed that no candidate actually had more than two years of experience. Senior yes; but only to the Juniors.

Dottore Chi

Whilst working for an Italian company in the UK I found that I appeared to be the most poorly qualified person in the office – apart from me everyone bore the title ‘Doctor’. However, this was just the result of a mix of poor translation and debasement of the Italian honorific ‘dottore’.

Roll out the red carpet

Working at a small company where the owner was titled simply “Managing Director”, I happened across our boss making ostentatious arrangements to welcome a potential customer from a large US corporation. Examination of the business card of our prospective client showed the phrase “Vice President”. Further research of our new contact’s actual position within the corporation uncovered the fact that this VP wielded no executive authority whatsoever.

Journeyman and proud

Admitting to being a journeyman on the road to software craftsmanship means keeping good company and can help prevent anosognosia, something for which the only known cure is education.

Alastair Aitken (124 Posts)

As a contract developer and manager I’ve worked in a wide range of enterprises in a variety of countries where I’ve encountered everything from great work, awful work, bizarre work, all the way down to quasi-legal work. If you think that you recognise your own organisation within my articles then you’re undoubtedly wrong, where you work isn’t that unique.

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