The World Couldn't Give A Toss About Your 'Senior' Job Title

By Commenter Minignong on at

Every time someone introduces themselves as a senior developer, senior designer, senior whatever, I cringe. Perhaps in some jobs it's a title that is used correctly, but my experience in developing software is that it's almost always applied for the wrong reasons.

Some people wear their senior title as a badge of honour, trying to impress on people how talented they are, how respected they are. They may have worked their way up through the ranks after having joined as a junior. Invariably in these environments they would have worked alongside a senior – well, not really alongside; the junior would work under the senior. After all, that's what those titles are designed to achieve: a clear definition of hierarchy.

Senior > Junior.

So like the small fish in a big pond, the junior joins a company and looks on enviously as others call each other "senior". Look at the respect! That person's a senior, don't you know? The small fish should say little and listen lots because seniors know more than juniors.

Except there is a bit of a problem with this system. It turns out that some junior employees are actually very good. Not "good for their age" or "good for a junior" but just out and out good. Well, if some juniors are good, then all seniors must be excellent, then – remember, seniors are better than juniors.

It turns out that there is a bit of a problem here, too. Putting senior before your job title doesn't necessarily mean you are good at your job. It indicates more that you've worked in the same area for a while now and you and your company want people to know that. That's an important difference. But if junior employees can be good and senior employees can be bad, what value is offered by the prefix?

Some people become so attached to the prefix once awarded that they want to tell everyone. It's announced during introductory handshakes. It's on their email signature. It's on their eggshell-white business cards. No doubt in Romalian type.

If you want to have some fun with this, find someone who matches the description above. The next time they're meeting someone new, introduce them as a junior – you can almost predict to the millisecond when they'll shriek, "Senior, actually." Watch their silent rage simmer. You've just made an enemy for life.

If the system makes people join as juniors and work their way up to become a senior, it is an undeniable rite of passage. If it is something done to you, you're all the more likely to do it to others. After all, you were assuming that one day all of this would belong to you, Simba. You'd be the the Mufasa and have little junior cubs of your own to impress with your senior mane. If you are paying attention you should be singing "Circle of Life" right now.

Yet a very real danger of such a system is that collaboration is lost. To work in a truly collaborative environment you need to have mutual respect. In a collaborative environment, respect does not flow in a single direction only. Seniors must trust juniors and respect their ability to do the job. When two people have conflicting opinions in a collaborative environment, the best idea should win. This is not the same as the senior overruling the junior.

Introducing your peer as a junior is highlighting that you don't consider them a peer. They are your underling, your minion. It is announcing to the room that you should take their opinions and ideas with a pinch of salt. You have introduced prejudice and given people a reason for discrediting any idea borne by this person. An idea should live or die on its own merit, with its fate not dependent on who created it.

If you work in an environment where you have a product or service that you are building, the product is king. The product is bigger than your individual egos. The product needs to be right and this often means people in your team will be wrong. That's part of the creative process. And it is impossible to accept that failure is a necessary part of this process when you're busy trying to convince people you are senior – trying to convince yourself that you are senior.

My job title doesn't tell you if I'm good at my job; it tells you what my job is. If you want to know how good someone is at their job, you'll learn more by talking to them for two minutes than you will by judging them on their title.


Craig "Minignong" Russell is a Scotland-based software engineer working for a global technology company. He can be followed on Google+ and Twitter, and has an occasionally-updated blog.

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Image Credit: Senior and junior at Shutterstock