03 Apr 24

Let's talk about software engineering title myths.

Let's talk about software engineering title myths.

I've noticed a lot of talk lately about discrimination caused by applicant tracking systems, either intentional or not. One such topic - ageism - is getting even more attention now as the field of software engineering, which garnered its first big wave of employees in the late 90’s, is becoming even more mature. When looking at the interviewing process, years of experience and yes, titles, play a big role in evaluating qualifications. How much though should a title come into play? This industry doesn't have well-defined standards. In my career, I've experienced titles that are in no way accurate or articulate what the person does. Let's break down some myths of software engineering titles, keeping in mind how ATS systems can reject candidates based on a predefined set of rules. A theme will develop.

Myth #1

Once you are a manager or director, you no longer write code.

This is certainly true in some organizations but not all. I currently have a director title and just this week I wrote Rust, TypeScript, and Ruby, and deployed to Cloudflare and AWS. In some organizations, the CTO writes code. So, If you are a hiring manager or recruiter and you are skipping candidates with these titles because you don't believe they are hands-on, you are missing out on good candidates.

Myth #2

Senior engineers have a lot more experience than junior engineers.

Again, this is certainly true in some cases, but not others. Early in my career, I worked for agencies and consultancies. They bill clients by hour sometimes. Inevitably, an agency can bill more for an engineer at a higher hourly rate if they have "senior" in their title. Some people deserve the title, but some achieve the title because their employer wants to charge more for their time. It's unfortunate, but the truth. So, if you are a hiring manager or recruiter and you are skipping candidates with "senior" in their titles because you think they are overqualified for a role, you are missing out on good candidates.

Myth #3

Software engineers aren't data engineers.

Ok, sure, some software engineers may not have any familiarity with tools like dbt and Fivetran. But they are just tools, they can be learned, relatively easily. It's probably a fair bet that the software engineers have some experience modeling data. Maybe they started their career as a software engineer before the distinction was in place in the industry. Maybe they have gravitated towards data platform work. Either way,  if you are a hiring manager or recruiter and you are skipping candidates with "software engineer" titles because you think there is a huge distinction between data and software engineering, you are missing out on good candidates.

Myth #4

Juniors don't have enough years of experience.

I see a lot of job descriptions that say something like "5 years of SQL experience required". As a hiring manager, I'm sure I am guilty of adding something vague like this to a job description too. We can do better. 5 years doesn't articulate skill level and it disqualifies juniors right away. What would be better in my opinion is saying something more explicit like "Familiarity with writing windowing functions in SQL" because someone could technically have 5 years of experience writing basic select and insert statements but I'm guessing that is not what the hiring manager means when they take the time to add a statement like "5 years of experience".  What if someone has 3-4 years of experience writing fairly sophisticated SQL? Asking for a specific number of years discounts people early in their careers who may actually be a great fit for the role. So let's say it again, if you are a hiring manager or recruiter and you are skipping junior candidates because they don't have an arbitrary number of years of experience, you are missing out on good candidates.

Myth #5

All engineers aspire to have a Principal or Staff title.

Oh, this is so not true! I see posts about conversations engineers have with recruiters where the recruiter asks "I see you've been a tech lead for 5 years now, why haven't you been promoted to staff or manager?". I speak from first-hand experience as a manager, some people like being tech leads. They enjoy the role. The closeness to a team. Maybe the level of autonomy. They are happy where they are and probably really good at it. They don't want to be a Principal or Staff or whatever right now. So here we are again pointing out, if you are a hiring manager or recruiter and you are skipping candidates because they have held the same title for an arbitrary number of years, you are missing out on good candidates.

I could keep going. There are plenty of other myths and scenarios. And to be clear, I am in favor of recruiters. This is not recruiter-bashing. I've worked with some really good recruiters. I also understand an ATS is an answer to a volume problem. However, I think dispelling these myths can help recruiters and organizations tweak their ATS settings/filters so they are not doing themselves a disservice and missing out on very qualified and good candidates. A clear action item I think we as hiring managers must note is writing better job descriptions. It's a necessary evil in the exhaustive process of hiring, but if you are going to partake in the process, why not be more mindful in writing the job descriptions so automation like an ATS doesn't reject what could be a really good candidate?