HR Classification and Discretionary/Business Job Titles for Makers, Managers and Leaders in Technology

This article presents an organization system and policy for job titles of makermanager and leader roles in technology staffs.

Separate job titles for HR classification and discretionary/business use are used at many technology organizations, ranging from medium-sized, innovative and fast-moving companies to large, established and enterprise technology companies.1 This is a well-established practice that balances HR requirements with the rapid pace of innovation and change in job functions. They each serve a different purpose: HR classification titles are designed for use by information systems and discretionary/business titles are designed for use by humans.

HR Classification Job Titles are meant to be comparable in the entire organization (across different departments) and sometimes even comparable with other organizations. The purpose of these is to maintain standardization across the organization for HR purposes such as payroll, benefits and eligibility for things. The number of HR classification titles at each role level should be finite and small. They do not change unless there is a major change in the person’s job like a promotion or new functional role. They map to the employee’s internal level, status and eligibility for things in the company. They follow a standardized naming convention for logical classification.

Discretionary/Business Job Titles, on the other hand, are used to describe the job (or a key part of the job) in easy to understand language. A person’s discretionary/business title can change, if desired, with smaller changes in the role compared to what warrants a HR classification title change. These titles are named in human-friendly language (and do not need to be worded for logical classification like HR classification titles). Discretionary/business titles are usually the ones employees put on their email signatures, business cards, online forums and social media sites. The number of discretionary job titles at a job level is limited only by the requesters’ imagination.

Below are some examples of HR classification titles along with examples of some corresponding discretionary/business titles. Employees may propose their discretionary/business titles to their supervisors. Most of the titles below are for technology staff, but some non-technology titles are included for comparison.

HR Classification Job Titles Examples of Corresponding Discretionary/BUSINESS Job Titles
  • Engineer
  • Senior Engineer
(Software)
  • iOS Software Developer
  • Software Engineer, Mobile Applications, Android
  • User Experience Engineer
  • Release Engineer
  • Product Engineer
  • Software Development Engineer in Test
  • Test Automation Engineer
  • Web Developer
  • Mobile Apps Developer
  • JavaScript Programmer
  • Code Ninja2
  • Software Artisan
  • Developer Advocate3
  • Video Software Developer

These are software engineers, also known as computer programmers and software developers. The key job requirement is that they write software code.

When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.

  • Engineer
  • Senior Engineer
(Systems)
  • Systems Engineer
  • Systems Administrator
  • Unix Systems Engineer
  • Infrastructure Engineer
  • Network Engineer
  • Security Engineer
  • Windows Systems Administrator
  • Unix Guru4
  • Video Systems Engineer
  • Robotics Engineer
  • Hardware Engineer
  • Web & App Servers Administrator
  • Database Engineer
  • Database Administrator
  • Sysadmin
  • Email Administrator
These are systems, networks and other engineers. They implement, maintain and upgrade systems. While they are not required to write as much code as software engineers, they are likely to do some scripting to assist in their jobs.
When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.
  • Analyst
  • Senior Analyst
  • Technical Analyst
  • Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Quality Assurance Tester5
  • Business Analyst
  • Product Analyst
  • Functional Analyst
  • Financial Analyst
  • Business Intelligence Analyst
  • Technology Support Analyst

Analysts are generally not required to write code, but some may.

When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.

  • Designer
  • Senior Designer
  • Graphics Designer
  • Photo Designer
  • Art Illustrator
  • Graphics Artist
  • Visual Designer

When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.

  • Manager
  • Senior Manager
  • Technology Manager
  • Engineering Manager
  • Software Development Manager
  • Manager of Quality Assurance for Mobile Apps
  • Manager of Engineering for Product X
  • Staff Software Engineer6
  • Lead Software Engineer7
  • Software Architect
  • Applications Architect
  • Systems Architect
  • Program Manager
When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.
  • Director
  • Senior Director
  • Technology Director
  • Video Technology Director
  • Director of Engineering for Food & Dining Products
  • Director of Content Management Systems
  • Director of Quality for Products XY & Z
  • Distinguished Software Engineer8
  • Program Director
  • Director of Project Management
  • Director of Products XY & Z
When appropriate, the prefix “Senior” may be applied to these titles except where noted.
  • Vice President
  • Senior Vice President
  • Executive Vice President
  • President
  • CEO
  • Chairperson
  • Board Member
  • Chief Technology Officer
  • Chief Information Officer
  • Chief Scientist
  • Fellow
  • Chief Operating Officer
  • Chief Financial Officer
(any title)
  • Founder
  • Co-Founder
  • Emeritus

Often used in combination with other words, these can be used in a discretionary/business title, but obviously, only if they are true.

Discretionary Titles are official, significant and used inside and outside the organization. Therefore, like HR Classification Titles, they also need to be approved in advance.

Policy and Guidelines for Discretionary/Business Titles

  1. Assignment of discretionary/business titles (and changes to them) must be approved in advance by the same people who approve assignment of HR classification titles. Once assigned, it must be documented in the HR information system.
    • Typically this requires two people: 1. the immediate supervisor of the employee, and 2. an HR representative to comply with these guidelines. In case of doubt, dispute or disagreement it should go to a department head, staffing committee or similar body for confirmation.
    • The benefit of this process is the employee will feel good in knowing that the discretionary title is official, recognized and endorsed by the company.
  2. Please refer to the examples above see what types of discretionary/business titles are likely to be acceptable.
  3. Inappropriate, offensive or harmful language is disallowed. (E.g. “Code Nazi” and “Architect of Terror” are not ok.)
  4. It must not reflect poorly on the organization. (E.g. “Underutilized Engineer” and “Dissatisfied Manager” are not ok.)
  5. It must not make unauthorized use of trademarks, copyrighted material or anything else that is likely to run afoul of the law, policies or best practices. (E.g. “Facebook API Engineer” is not ok unless you work at Facebook.)
  6. It must reasonably relate to or represent the job, at least partly. It can’t be completely meaningless to the job. (“E.g. “Ninja” is likely not ok, but “Code Ninja” is likely to be ok, provided it is not someone else’s trademark.)
  7. The title must not exaggerate the scope, authority (decision making or staff), or level of influence of the role. (E.g. you must not call yourself just “Head of Software Development” unless you are the one and only head of all software development.)
  8. When the employee and their supervisor do not see the need for separate HR classification and discretionary/business titles, they can be the same. (E.g. Software Engineer).
  9. When required, sensible and appropriate, the discretionary and HR classification titles may be written together in combined form. (For example, on a resume or biography, the employee can write “Director & Distinguished Software Engineer”, “Staff Software Engineer (Manager-level position)”, “Vice President & Fellow”, etc.)
  10. When in doubt, consult with your department head or HR representative.
  1. For example, discretionary/business titles are used at Oracle. []
  2. Fun titles may be acceptable as long as they match the role []
  3. Assuming that the developer advocate needs to also be a software engineer []
  4. Another example of a fun title that matches the role []
  5. For testers who are not software development engineers. Those who are would have an HR classification title of software engineer []
  6. Staff Software Engineer is a people-manager level maker role. It is equivalent to an architect level, but unlike an architect who often reviews others’ code, a staff software engineer is generally an individual contributor. []
  7. Equivalent to Staff Software Engineer []
  8. The word distinguished is reserved for software engineers who are contributing value at the people-director level. At the VP level, the distinguished engineer becomes a Fellow. The bar for earning this title is exceptionally high and requires extraordinary achievements. E.g. inventing a programming language or software framework used by hundreds of people in multiple companies. Distinguished Engineers are typically well respected outside the organization. Prefixes such as Senior cannot be applied to the title Distinguished Engineer. []

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