Stop sourcing tech candidates by title

No one wants to waste their time, or to be inefficient, in their business practices. But sometimes we have blind spots that keep us stuck and prevent us from innovating.

Such is the case in tech recruiting with the commonly accepted practice of searching for candidates based on their job title instead of by their experience level with the required job skill.

We expect a job title to mean something. But more and more in the tech sector, job titles are becoming superficial and nearly meaningless.

In this blog post, we’ll talk about some of the dynamics affecting the shallowing of job titles and finding the deeper wells of skills so that recruiters and sourcers can be more effective for the companies they serve.

First, we’ll explore some of the reasons we think tech job titles have ceased to mean as much as they used to.

  1. The Tech PAC-MAN Effect
  2. Convention over Configuration
  3. Independent Company Culture

Second, we’ll see what the data indicates.

The Tech PAC-MAN Effect

A decade ago, tech corporations were more siloed into departments that had shared responsibilities: database, website, server. But these days, their independence in overall organizational management is seen as an obstacle to productivity.

Furthermore, technology is advanced very rapidly and pushing into every department across entire corporations. The silos are disappearing and departments are increasing collaboration and transparency, which result in higher efficiencies.

Is your department next?

DevOps

Engineering effectively overtook development infrastructure with the advent of DevOps. DevOps started as network engineers, and system engineers began deploying new code every day. Eventually, engineering ate this department up as well.

Now, the foundation of business operations for many is woven from the collaborative efforts of software engineering in an agile environment. Some may see this as a merging or unification of software engineering and software operations, but others believe it to be an example of engineering dictating the need for more rapid releases.

Consider how Google responded to this conflict between engineering and system administrators: by creating a new philosophy that encourages software engineers to augment operations with automation, new efficiencies grew.

QA

When QA becomes part of an engineering team, then problems can be identified very quickly with a test-first approach. Free and open communication between engineers and QA that catches bugs as the the code is developed is inherently more efficient. This style of working eliminates duplicative effort.

Front-End Design

A front-end designer that can also writes code is more likely to make it easier on the the backend developers. And with the emergence of no-code and low-code platforms that provide a visual interface, there is a very low barrier to entry to engineers, at least in the case of design.

Convention over Configuration

The software design paradigm convention over configuration (CoC) — also known as “coding by convention” — decreases the number of decisions that a developer is required to make, without necessarily losing flexibility.

Now, engineering roles are eating up other IT departments. Tech workers are acquiring the skills that span several departments. The lines are blurring. And we’re seeing the rise of a multi-disciplinary engineer.

CoC has allowed for the proliferation of frameworks, which makes the process of software development more efficient, which also allows once ordinary developers to become multi-disciplinary engineers.

Popular frameworks include:

  • Angular
  • React
  • Ruby on Rails
  • Drupal
  • Django
  • CakePHP
  • Mojolicious

Now the silos are accessible to everyone. And just about anyone and everyone can acquire skills to operate in any silo, feed from any silo, and play the game of Tech PAC-MAN all career long.

That means that tech skills, not job titles, are the real and true currency of a career.

Independent Corporate Cultures

If the entire world had a single, efficient tech corporation, or, alternatively, if all tech corporations were run like the military, then tech corporations would have a uniform set of job titles, with a uniform set of correlated job functions, that everyone would know.

Tech recruiters could search by job titles and know exactly what job functions that person would perform.

But companies are not like the military… they are independent entities with their own independent cultures.

For example, the Bank of America has a very inconsistent naming scheme for vice presidents and directors, names which start to lose their meaning in terms of function. That “nominal meanlessnessness” trickles down throughout the entire organization.

To act like naming conventions are consistent across corporation is foolish. But that’s what currently accepted behavior in tech recruiting and sourcing.

The solution is to stop searching by job title, and to start searching by job skill.

What does the data indicate?

Does the data support our claim that job titles are no longer correlated with job skills, and that, perhaps, frameworks have created multi-disciplinary “PAC-MAN” engineers that eat silos?

Summary of findings:

  • Job titles like “Front-End Developer,” “Back-End Developer,” and “DevOps” appear to be losing positive correlation with currently valued skills.
  • Tech workers seem to prefer, or default to, a generic job title such as “Software Engineer
  • Tech workers are inconsistent in their use of job titles

To measure real-world skills, we looked at tech workers with commit access to popular repos on Github for several development languages, each associated with a broader particular skill set:

  • Java Backend
  • React Frontend
  • Chef/Docker DevOps
  • etc.

Having commit access to a “popular repo” on GitHub means that you have commit access to a repo associated with that language which has 4k or more stars. We took this approach to zero in on people with substantial experience with particular languages to avoid any dabblers or people who have light experience with a certain technology

POPULAR GITHUB REPO: JAVA

Java is often associated with “Back-end” programmers and engineers. However, the data from GitHub indicates that “Software Engineers” and “Developers” with popular repos into Java comprise the largest populations.

Top 20 Current Job Titles (out of 285)
with Commit Access to Popular
Java Repo
% of All
Job Titles
Software Engineer15%
Senior Software Engineer9%
Software Developer3%
CTO3%
Co-Founder2%
Staff Software Engineer2%
Founder2%
Senior Software Developer1%
Principal Software Engineer1%
Software Development Engineer1%
Senior Java Developer1%
Lead Software Engineer1%
Senior Engineer1%
Engineering Manager1%
Director of Engineering1%
Senior Developer1%
Product Manager1%
Lead Developer1%
Developer1%
Chief Architect1%

POPULAR GITHUB REPO: REACT

React is often associated with “Front-end” programmers and engineers. However, the data from GitHub indicates that “Software Engineers” and “Developers” with popular repos into React comprise the largest populations.

Top 20 Current Job Titles (out of 34)
with Commit Access to Popular
React Repo
% of All
Job Titles
Software Engineer14%
Senior Software Engineer8%
Developer6%
Technical Lead4%
Software Developer4%
Lead Engineer4%
Full Stack Developer4%
Frontend Engineer4%
Web Developer2%
VP Engineering2%
Software Engineering Manager2%
Software Engineer 22%
Software Development Engineer2%
Software Developer Engineer2%
Senior Software Engineer,
Platform (Consultant)
2%
Senior Software
Development Engineer
2%
Senior Software Developer2%
Product Engineering Manager2%
Mobile App Developer /
Backend Engineer
2%
Marketing Director2%

POPULAR GITHUB REPO: CHEF OR DOCKER

Chef and Docker are often associated with “DevOps” engineers. However, the data from GitHub indicates that “Software Engineers” with popular repos into Chef or Docker comprise the largest population.

Top 20 Current Job Titles (out of 39)
with Commit Access to Popular
Chef/Docker Repo
% of All
Job Titles
Software Engineer12%
Staff Engineer4%
Senior Software engineer4%
Senior Software Developer4%
Product Engineer4%
Principal Software Engineer4%
DevOps Engineer4%
Web Operations Engineer2%
Web Developer2%
User Experience Practice Lead2%
Technical Project Manager
/ Lead Engineer /
Senior Ruby Developer
2%
Support Engineer2%
Software Quality
Engineering Manager
2%
Software Engineering
Manager
2%
Software Development
Engineer
2%
Site Reliability Engineer2%
Senior Software
Development Engineer
2%
Senior Software
Craftsman Developer
2%
Senior Site
Reliability Engineer
2%
Senior DevOps
Engineer
2%

Developers! Developers! Developers!

Actually, Software Engineers, and then Developers, but … Steve Ballmer.

People who claim job title “Software Engineer” and “Software Developer” are the multi-disciplinary tech worker that you are looking for.

But you’ve got to search their skill set to know what you’re going to get from them while they’re on the job.

And I do NOT mean search their resume.

You’ve got to know what they’ve done, and if what they’ve done is any good according to their peers and to the world at large.

Some of the best places that the world evaluates the strength, beauty, and contribution of your software skill are GitHub and Stack Overflow.

Author: Steven Giron

I’m not a rocket scientist, but I do have a PhD in quantum and elementary-particle physics. So why am I at a recruiting-software company? Above all, I love to understand how things work: quarks, technology, and humans. (I’m also half-way through a masters degree in psychology). As a Data Scientist I get insights into patterns of human behavior and how people drop little hints that they’re ready for something new. I help improve bots’ predictions of when people are about to change jobs.

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