In the tech world, it’s not uncommon to meet a princess. Mine is named Parisa Tabriz. I know, because it says so on her business card.
“So, ‘security princess’ is my self-appointed title,” Tabriz says. “My actual job title is I am the engineering manager for the Chrome security team.”
But she figures the title “security princess” is “more fun.”
It’s also much more Silicon Valley. It’s sort of like a tradition here, at least when companies are starting up, to let employees choose their titles — not their real titles — but the ones they put on their business card.
“This is my last business card when I worked at Apple,” says Guy Kawasaki.
It reads “chief evangelist.”
I ask, “Who gave you the title?”
“I took that title,” Kawasaki answers. “I assumed that title.”
Kawasaki says choosing your title — even if it’s just the one on your business card — encourages you to think big about your job. Take Kawasaki’s title: evangelist.
He says when Apple was introducing the Macintosh in the mid-1980s, the masses barely knew about personal computers. And they sure didn’t get why you’d buy one.
So Apple needed more than just sales people; it needed somebody to sell the idea that personal computing would change their lives. They needed an evangelist.
“Evangelism is seeing your product or service as a way to change the world, and you want to bring this good news to people,” says Kawasaki.
He says it might sound delusional, but it is different than sales. You’re not worrying about quotas and selling units. So a new job needs a new name.
Kawasaki left Apple in the late ’90s, and since then, techies have introduced all sort of titles, says Scott Brosnan, a tech recruiter at Workbridge Associates.
“Ruby on rails rockstar,” he says. “Software ninja, data wrangler, I see a lot of now.”
Brosnan isn’t impressed by the titles. But, he says, like wearing jeans and T-shirts to work, when tech companies allow employees to choose their title, they’re saying: We’re not corporate types, we’re creatives! Come work for us!
Keith Rollag, a management professor at Babson College, says there’s a study that shows this practice can make employees happier. The study was conducted by two researchers from Wharton and one from the London Business School.
They went into a health care company and let some of the employees define their titles.
“And what they found was it actually reduced people’s feelings of job exhaustion and it reduced the stress they felt while they’re on the job,” says Rollag.
Rollag says those employees felt empowered to redefine their jobs in ways that felt more meaningful.
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