The Sad State of Job Titles

I love the job title Growth Hacker. It’s an indictment of the entire field of marketing.

How many marketers had to forget to do their job before we had to create a new title to remind them about the growth part?

“Now remember, we want these ads to be funny AND ALSO, this is the part we skipped last month, get people to try our product.”

A growth hacker is a marketer who also has responsibility for the results of their work.

The theme that’s driving new job titles is this: responsibility.

People are starting to use the phrase Full Stack Engineer. Usually they think of the stack as being multiple technical layers, i.e. the engineer knows how to write code and install it on the server!

What I hope is that Full Stack Engineer comes to imply some non-technical layers. What if you built code and then verified that people used it?

We actually do have a word for that type of engineer: hacker. A hacker writes just enough code to get the impact they are looking for.

Hacker is the only job title that consistently implies having responsibility for impact.

I haven’t yet heard of a new job title for designers, although I think they need one. If you design products that are meant to be used are you then a Design Hacker?

That’s crazy. But what do you call designing for Dribbble and designing for products sold by the Fortune 500? Those are two very different modes of design.

You always put something polished and pretty on Dribbble, but for the real products you’re in rapid iteration mode because each exposure to reality is teaching you that you don’t know shit. That’s Design Hacking.

Probably my least favorite characteristic to hear within a job description is Craftsmanship. Almost definitely the person is saying that the quality of the work is defined by the aesthetic values of peers, rather than by the happiness of the end user.

Hacking and craftsmanship are presented as being at odds. It’s Google culture vs. Facebook culture.

But sometimes, craftsmanship and hacking comes together into something that is both well made and well liked. Unfortunately, we don’t have a word that means that unambiguously.

I would want to say professional. A professional programmer needs to take responsibility for code that is well crafted and matters. But if I said that I was looking to hire for professionalism, I’d hear from a bunch of programmers who were really rigorous about writing unit tests.

Another word for this combination of skills is Unicorn, as if this is an impossibly rare and difficult standard.

One of my coworkers, an engineer, designer, founder, seamstress, public speaker, i.e. supposed Unicorn, calls engineers with product design sense, “The secret weapon of startups.”

But I hate the word Unicorn because it implies that being able to take a project from idea through execution through launch is some sort of magical feat.

Yo, we’ve been talking for years about how making startups got a lot easier and cheaper. What are the career development implications of that?

If you can turn yourself into a software developer from one summer of cut-and-paste from Stack Overflow, then you can turn yourself into a Unicorn in two summers.

In other words, Unicorn could be a normal career path.

Now, I have a friend who is working on self-driving cars. I think that there is some hard computer science involved. This friend could be a Software Engineer Specialist. That seems fine to me.

But everyone else? Especially in startup land, why don’t you just demand that every single person in your company become triple-threat Unicorns? Design->Construct->Market.

You’ll get weird pushback from people who built their identities around being a specialist.

“Yo, I’m a 24-year old expert on this technology that was just released 4 months ago.” — Junior Developer

But actually, working all three areas: design, construction and marketing, makes the core competency stronger.

“Yes, maybe a map would be a good way for people to browse our products. I’ll put a simple version on the site this afternoon.” — Senior Developer

I’m thinking about a different coworker, a first time marketer. This person is responsible for about half of our revenue — so very strong job performance. They also edit source code directly in Github (mostly copy), pull performance reports directly from the database (via Rails console connected to a Replica database), and design-hack marketing iterations based on A/B data.

That’s what a newly-minted Unicorn looks like. All of that was learned on the job. In other words, you can train triple-threat employees. More importantly the rarity implied by the word Unicorn results from our expectations of what’s possible, not any natural limit of human potential.

For the record, I am a rusty mid-level programer with an oddball specialty in Regular Expressions, low-empathy, medium-utility, poorly aligned, strangely colored product designer, one-trick social media growth hacker, strong sales-closer with weak dollar sense, PR-hack, small-team engineering manager, and occasional CFO. In other words, I’m a startup CEO. I’m working on the ultimate human performance tool, check it out at

Human potential busy body. Founded @coachdotme, @bttrHumans, @bttrMarketing. Helped @medium @calm. Current work focus: Habit Coach Certification.

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