What’s wrong with just being an Engineer?

05/12/2016   Industry insights   Recruitment advice  

These days, it's increasingly common to see developers and engineers described as 'rock stars' or 'ninjas', or in similarly lofty terms. It’s even started spreading. Check LinkedIn, you definitely won’t have to look hard to find a 'social media Jedi’, or a 'rockstar Biz Dev'.

On one hand, it’s great to see the humble techie elevated in such a way, and it’s a testament to changing attitudes to IT as it has transformed from a cost code into a real strategic advantage.

But is the idea of an engineer as a rock star really what we should be aiming for?

It’s most commonly seen in job adverts, and of course, is done so with the good intention of selling the role, and appealing to the ego of their target audience. But, much like selling in the existence of an office table tennis table as evidence of a great company culture, it’s probably not having quite the impact it was intended to.

Technology is an exacting discipline, and when you are hiring, whatever the specifics of the role, you’ll be looking for a person with a skillset and mindset that closely matches your requirements.

But terms like ‘rock star’ don’t actually mean anything. Well, they may have connotations, but certainly no concrete definition. Would the reader imagine a fun place to work where they can go off and strut their technical stuff? Or do they see a cut-throat, ‘bro-grammer’ environment? Or something else entirely? If the term you’re using isn’t clear in its meaning, perhaps it’s best left out.

One of the key issues that these terms open up is the implication of needing to be the very best to fulfil the title of a ‘rockstar’ or a ‘guru’. While of course, every tech team wants the best person they can find when recruiting, they do need to give some thought to what the best really looks like for them. Especially in a team environment, how many organisations really want a renegade 'Brilliant Jerk'? As Netflix CEO Reed Hastings says of his policy to remove ‘Brilliant Jerks’ - "the cost to effective teamwork is too high”.

To be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being confident. For the right environment, that can be the perfect mindset to benefit your team. However, by positioning a role in these terms, you may attract a certain kind of applicant, so you need to be sure that’s what you actually want.

This may seem to be a very negative opinion of anyone who wants to use such terms - there’s certainly nothing inherently wrong with anyone who refers to themselves an AWS rockstar. However, if you choose to label yourself as such, it’s fair to say there is somewhat of an arrogant subtext. Perhaps it’s better to let your work speak for itself.

Overall, if you’re hiring, unless you can honestly say you need a ‘rock star’ - and can articulate what that actually means, it seems an unnecessary risk to take to use terms that could put good people off. No one who is interested in cloud engineering opportunities will be put off by a job advert for a ‘Cloud Engineer’. They might be by one looking for a ‘Cloud Jedi’. And this also goes for anyone who wants to declare themselves a Cloud Jedi...if it works for you, go ahead, but it can create a persona that is not always viewed in a positive light, so you may want to consider this before you print out any business cards.