Tag Archives: Work

What’s in a Job Title?

The companies I’ve worked for so far have always had some kind of hierarchical organisation. For instance, you start off as a Software Developer, then you are promoted to Senior Software Developer, and so on. However, I’m aware that there are other companies which prefer to have a flat hierarchy, and keep job titles to a minimum.

Well, what’s in a job title, anyway? Does it really matter what your job title is?

Motivation

There’s this scene from the film “Kingdom of Heaven“, where the main character (Balian) selects a peasant and knights him on the spot. The bishop is horrified.

Bishop: “Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?

Balian: “Yes.”

You see, making a man a knight doesn’t give him any special power. But he knows that he is now a knight. This means that he is responsible to uphold his duties as such.

On the job, it’s pretty much the same. Becoming a Senior Software Developer does not make you any more able in your work than turning 18 years old makes you suitable to drive. But it does put you into a bag of a handful of accomplished and trusted developers, and as such you will work a lot harder to show that you deserve that title. It also means that you will most likely take more initiative in your work, and go outside the scope of your individual duties by guiding others in performing theirs.

A little recognition goes a long way in motivating individuals.

Categorisation

Some companies offer the excuse that their employees have the same job titles or salaries in the interest of fairness, so that they are all treated equally.

Such companies should wake up and realise that people aren’t all equal. Some work harder than others. Those people do not deserve to be lumped in the same boat as those who do a miserable job.

The CV Factor

When an employee applies for a job, having “Senior Software Developer” looks a lot better than “Software Developer”.

It is true that job titles mean different things from one company to another. In some companies, a Software Developer is merely responsible for coding; while in others, he might actually be managing a whole project. Hiring companies should ideally look beyond the job title and ask about the roles that the candidate played in his employment.

However it is also true that companies and recruitment agencies receiving a lot of job applications often resort to simple filtering at face value in order to reduce the number of applications.

Consider this: individual A has been a loyal and hard-working Software Developer for 20 years, and his company never gave him a promotion. His friend, individual B, has been promoted to Senior Software Developer and then Lead Developer, even though his skills and responsibilities are less than those of individual A. When recruiters look at their CVs at face value, who will they prefer? What will they think about individual A when they see that he’s had the same role for 20 years?

How Learning to Play an Instrument Makes You a Better Professional

I briefly mentioned the importance of experience in my recent article, “On Military Intelligence“. There are many skills which you can only learn in one specific way: by doing it a lot. Such skills include reading, writing, driving, art, programming, and music. That’s why “practice makes perfect”.

Music is a daily commitment, requiring lots of practice in order to learn and master the theory, practice, techniques and styles. One could even go as far as to say that it quickens the mind, as the arrangement of notes into various scales and patterns is almost mathematical in nature, and one learns to reason about them.

However, beyond the music itself, learning to play an instrument can help you develop certain characteristics that are particularly important at work. Let’s see what these are.

Patience

Music is like software: if you’re going to work on it, then it’s worth taking the time to do it properly, as I’ve written in my earlier article, “On Goal-Orientedness and Mediocrity“. Attempting to rush something will only result in poor quality. While such deficiency may go unnoticed for several months in software, it is much easier to realise when a tune you’re playing doesn’t sound right.

Music gives you the patience to take the time to do things the right way.

Confidence

Playing in front of other people, even if it’s just the teacher, can be intimidating. Aside from any possible confidence issues that one might have, there is the fear that doing something wrong in front of others will make you look stupid.

And that’s a good thing, because this pressure causes you to prepare well for when you need to do something in front of people. The next time you give a presentation at work, or you lead a meeting, you know you’d better know what you’re talking about.

And at the same time, playing regularly in front of people and getting used to the fact that you’re doing it right has the effect of boosting your self-confidence and helps you overcome any fear of audiences.

Humility

When you’re a 27-year-old who’s been playing for six months, and you’re in the same room with 12-year-olds who have been playing for six years, that’s a pretty humbling experience. They’re kids, so you should know more than them, right?

It’s also possible that there are people with less experience, but who are much better than you are. The same can happen at work – someone younger might have a lot more talent than you.

You can be arrogant, and perceive such people as a threat. Or you can accept the reality that they have a lot to offer, and try to learn from them, and in doing so benefit from their experience and become better at what you do.

On Military Intelligence

In a war situation, military intelligence is of vital importance. There are two aspects to this: knowing yourself and the enemy, and knowing the terrain around you.

When you know yourself and the enemy, you are better prepared to face any situation that may arise. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” says (emphasis added):

17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

While knowing your forces and the enemy’s forces is important, knowing the terrain is often even more important. If you’ve played chess before, you’ll know that although each side has full information of the forces at play, it is often a positional advantage that makes the difference. One who often prevailed in battle through terrain tactics rather than strength in numbers was Castruccio Castracani, whose story is narrated in an appendix to Niccolo’ Macchiavelli’s “The Prince” – among other things he used rivers and narrow passes to secure victory against larger forces.

A good chunk of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” deals with the various types of terrain and how to use them to your advantage. For one does not obtain the advantage in battle by knowing what terrain is around him, but by knowing how best to use it.

Both aspects of military intelligence (knowing yourself and the enemy, and knowing the terrain) are beautifully illustrated in Chapter 14 of Niccolo’ Macchiavelli’s “The Prince“:

As regards action, he ought above all things to keep his men well organized and drilled, to follow incessantly the chase, by which he accustoms his body to hardships, and learns something of the nature of localities, and gets to find out how the mountains rise, how the valleys open out, how the plains lie, and to understand the nature of rivers and marshes, and in all this to take the greatest care. Which knowledge is useful in two ways. Firstly, he learns to know his country, and is better able to undertake its defence; afterwards, by means of the knowledge and observation of that locality, he understands with ease any other which it may be necessary for him to study hereafter; because the hills, valleys, and plains, and rivers and marshes that are, for instance, in Tuscany, have a certain resemblance to those of other countries, so that with a knowledge of the aspect of one country one can easily arrive at a knowledge of others. And the prince that lacks this skill lacks the essential which it is desirable that a captain should possess, for it teaches him to surprise his enemy, to select quarters, to lead armies, to array the battle, to besiege towns to advantage.

Philopoemen, Prince of the Achaeans, among other praises which writers have bestowed on him, is commended because in time of peace he never had anything in his mind but the rules of war; and when he was in the country with friends, he often stopped and reasoned with them: “If the enemy should be upon that hill, and we should find ourselves here with our army, with whom would be the advantage? How should one best advance to meet him, keeping the ranks? If we should wish to retreat, how ought we to pursue?” And he would set forth to them, as he went, all the chances that could befall an army; he would listen to their opinion and state his, confirming it with reasons, so that by these continual discussions there could never arise, in time of war, any unexpected circumstances that he could not deal with.

Why should we care about military intelligence?

Because just like being well-prepared for war increases the likelihood of victory, being well-prepared for life’s situations increases the likelihood of success.

As a software developer, for instance, one must be familiar with the technologies, the tools, the concepts, the challenges, and even the soft skills.

  • Knowing the tools, technologies and concepts allows you to use the most effective techniques for the situations you will be facing.
  • Knowing the challenges allows you to find the most effective way to address them when you encounter them again in future.
  • Having well-developed soft skills allows you to maintain strong client and internal relationships, allowing you to leverage human resources.

This kind of preparation comes with experience, and so it is important to gain as much experience as we can – not in terms of years, but in terms of scenarios.

Another example is the job market. Just like it is important to keep training for war during times of peace, it is good and healthy to know the job market even if you are stable in your job, because this makes you well-prepared for any time of need, and at the same time keeps you aware of opportunities. Learning the skills commonly requested in job descriptions makes you both more effective in your current job, and competitive when looking to move.

In all aspects of life, be well-prepared by:

  • Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Developing your strengths and addressing your weaknesses, through personal development.
  • Knowing your competition (“the enemy”).
  • Knowing the various factors in the scenario (“the terrain”).