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Are Tech Job Titles Elitist? Most Industry Titles Have Failed a Plausibility Study


New research has revealed that 60% of adults don’t believe common tech job titles – including ‘full stack developer’ and ‘scrum master’ – are genuine professions.

More than three quarters (7 out of 9) of common tech job titles presented to a nationally representative sample of 1,000 UK adults failed the plausibility test, suggesting that people hoping to enter the tech industry could face unnecessary barriers to entry.

The study, conducted by digital marketing agency Digital Media Stream, which presented a selection of real and fake job titles and asked participants to select whether a job was real or fake, identified a significant comprehension gap between the tech industry and the average UK adult.

Key study findings:

  • Professor Sir Cary Cooper CBE, an expert in organisational and workplace psychology, believes tech jobs are now being used to define an organisation’s culture, rather than the job itself
  • Only ‘Data architect’ and ‘SEO manager’ were descriptive enough to pass the plausibility test
  • Just 22% of the UK population believe ‘growth hacker’ is a real job
  • Just 25% of participants think ‘scrum master’ is a real job
  • ‘Cloud master’ – a 1980s computer game – was a more plausible sounding occupation than the majority of the real tech jobs
  • 4 in 10 who work in tech believe their job title would mean nothing to the ‘average British adult’, 72% admit ‘dumbing down’ their title

On average, 60% of British adults either answered incorrectly or said they didn’t know, when asked to determine whether a job title was real or made up.

The least plausible sounding job title, according to the poll of 1,000 adults, was ‘growth hacker’ – fewer than one quarter (22%) of respondents thought this was an actual job.

In a related poll of tech industry professionals conducted as part of the same study, 4 in 10 (39%) said they believed people outside of the tech industry would struggle to understand what they did based on their job title alone and 72% admit ‘dumbing down’ their actual title when speaking to people outside their industry.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper, an expert in occupational psychology, believes we’ve passed the point of no return when it comes to wacky job titles.

“The sheer variety and pace of change in our technical capability means the days of self-explanatory job titles like marketing manager or graphic designer are long gone.

“We’re now well and truly into the era of esoteric job titles designed to reflect as much about the company, its ‘culture’ and values as they are about the post holder. In fact, I’d venture that some modern job titles exist only to satisfy the ego of a potential hire or to make an otherwise unremarkable job sound exciting.

“There’s also a trend for jazzing up technical jobs by adding meaningless suffixes like ‘ninja’ ‘rockstar’ or ‘guru’ – and while ostensibly harmless to those ‘in the know’ – unless the job title communicates at least something about the specifics of the role, industries risk alienating otherwise ideal candidates. The research suggests that to anyone outside of the software or tech industries, these job titles are obscure to the point of being useless.

“Of course recruiters should embrace industry change and be creative, but wantonly causing confusion is not a healthy approach to defining the professional requirements of the modern age.”

Simon Leeming, commercial director and co-founder of Digital Media Stream thinks we need to balance our need to accommodate the evolving nature of work in the tech sphere with the need for plain English.

“Our business specialises in helping tech and I.T businesses grow, so we’re on top of trends in recruitment and resourcing. Our clients are always excited to share developments and are enthusiastic about the new kinds of talent they’ll need to bring their visions to life.

“But I think in general, as an industry we do run the risk of being too insular in our thinking. While my colleagues may understand exactly what a growth hacker or a scrum master does, it’s quite clear that someone outside of the industry would have no frame of reference to even take a decent guess.

“In terms of internal and investor relations, this could pose a problem. Imagine a large corporate entity with a modern tech capability alongside more traditional functions like manufacturing, HR and finance. How is someone with basic tech industry understanding going to relate to a colleague if they don’t understand their role?

“The growth hacker has an advantage when speaking to the catering manager, the order picker or the public relations manager. She can understand the valuable contribution they make to the organisation based on their job title alone, but they may be left scratching their heads.

“There is a risk that technical professions may isolate themselves linguistically from their colleagues. We should look at stopping that from happening.”

Here are poll the results in full:

Job Title Real or Fake % who believe it is a real job
Data architect Real – a data architect is responsible for merging and managing unrelated sets of data 65.00%
Search engine optimisation manager (SEO manager) Real – an SEO manager is responsible for improving a website’s rank in search engines, such as Google 62.80%
Customer success manager Real – A hybrid role specific to the software industry involving elements of marketing, sales and account management 48.40%
Cloud master Fake 39.30%
SAAS Consultant Real – someone who liaises between I.T and sales and helps implement software solutions 37.20%
Full-stack developer Real – A developer who can work on all stages of a product lifecycle 34.90%
Chief evangelist Real – A marketing specialism to establish new technology as the industry standard 33.10%
SQL DBA Real – A database administrator who understands ‘structured query language’ 28.70%
Full-rack developer Fake 27.00%
Urban Champion Fake – it’s an obscure computer game 26.80%
Scrum master Real – The facilitator of an ‘agile’ development team 24.70%
Growth hacker Real – a marketing specialist who uses rapid experimentation across marketing channels 22.20%
SQL perfectionist Fake – 20.60%
R.C Pro-A.M Fake – An obscure computer game 18.30%
Senior Spy Hunter Fake – 16.90%
Slam master Fake – An obscure computer game 13.20%
Computer Othello Fake – An obscure computer game 11.70%
Paper click manager Fake – A homonym of ‘pay-per-click manager’, which is an online advertising buyer 11.50%