Just the job

A recent spam email in my inbox says:

I can set up a 15 minutes intro call with our Head of Customer Success if this email interests you.

Do people really have job titles as idiotic as “Head of Customer Success”? How would you live with yourself? Wouldn’t you cringe when anybody asked you your role? And what are you head of? A team of other little Customer Success people all the way down to Customer Success Trainees, perhaps? Would you hang your head in shame if one of your customers didn’t succeed at something?

Perhaps you could get away with never mentioning it, now that people don’t hand out business cards any more… until your company insisted on email signatures. Anyway, if you have that job title, I pity you… unless you asked for it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I rather like fun job titles. I remember a friend who had ‘Software Artisan’ on his business card, for example, and it raised a smile, while still actually saying something. The problem with the one in my email was the nagging worry that they were actually serious about it.

At one of my previous startups, I described myself as the CIO – the Chief Interim Officer. I wrote the software until I hired somebody better; did a bit of hardware until we got a proper hardware guy, sold things until we hired a sales team, and ran the company until I found a better CEO… at which point I’d hired myself out of a job and it was time to go and start a new company. That’s the peril, or joy, of being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

And I remember long discussions at one lab over whether we should be described as ‘Research Scientists’ or ‘Research Engineers’. Those of us working mostly with the U.S. tended to prefer the former, because the ‘Research Scientist’ term was well-used there, and an engineer was the guy who came and fixed your washing machine. Those working more with other parts of Europe, where the term Engineer is often given the respect it deserves, preferred the latter, which was arguably a better description of what we actually did.

Have you ever had any really good, bad, controversial, or cringeworthy job titles? Let us know in the comments!

Our eventual solution at the lab, by the way, was simply to leave the job titles off our business cards completely, and let others work it out for themselves. Perhaps, if they made a good job of it, we could have applied for a transfer to the Customer Success department.

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When I first graduated I worked in the procurement team of a far eastern car manufacturer, but they were not to great on “titles” and my role was “Cost Control”. Unfortunately the company that made the business cards made an error and I received 4 boxes of cards that had the C transposed with an S, such that it read “Cost Sontrol”. I was blissfully unaware of the irony for several years, and couldn’t understand why I was so well respected by the Japanese. I was sometimes asked to join meetings with suppliers of which I had no responsibility and that I had no idea of why I was there. Only later did I learn that a) being 6ft tall was a psychological weapon in Japan and my height was being used as a negotiation lever and b) “Sontrol” could be interpreted as being some sort of “Ninja”.
And so, despite my junior position and lack of real experience, I had inadvertently become a master negotiator to be used in the toughest of business discussions.

One of my pals in the startup world, back in 2006, had “HR Nightmare” on his business card. A notorious 1990s black-hat hacker turned good, he deserved the title, I suppose. Where I work (currently in video games) our customer service group is internally known as the “Player Success Organization” which isn’t too far off from an entire “Customer Success Team” but ultimately, we do want our players to win, for various definitions of winning and enjoyment.

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