What’s in a Name? Job Titles for Software Engineers

Marie Berdini / Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What’s in a title?  I guess it depends on whose title you are talking about.  When it comes to job titles, and one’s own, the subject can be quite contentious.  Many employees jealously guard titles, as often they are the only thing available to indicate seniority. Others just want a title that describes what they do.  Some of course don’t really care.

The bigger issue comes when applying for a new job.  There is a such a mix of titles out there that, at first glance, it can be difficult to understand what a job actually is.

When it comes to software engineering (or software development - but we will come to all that in a moment) it seems there is a fairly wide selection of titles out there. Some mean the same thing, some indicate specific skills, and some are just plain silly.

Let's try to make a bit of sense of it all:

  • Software Engineer - In Europe the term Engineer tends to mean people with some kind of engineering qualification or degree.  Used more in the U.S., but it is definitely one of the more well used job titles out there.
  • Developer - Often prefixed with ‘Senior,’ ‘Junior,’ or some form of specialism like ‘.NET.’ This is another stalwart job title to go with Software Engineer.
  • Programmer - Less of a job title, more of a description. This doesn’t tend to be used too much in job description or advertisements. People might describe themselves as one informally.
  • Technical Lead - The term Lead in this one tends to indicate some kind of extra responsibility. But this role could really mean anything, so don’t jump to conclusions.
  • Architect - Job roles with Architect in them tend to be more senior, and tend to look at more overarching implementation and integration issues.  A Developer might write the code for a particular module, but an Architect will design how the various modules fit together.

At the end of the day, does any of this matter?  Hmm… probably not.  As long as individuals are clear on the job role and what it means, that is the main thing.  It would, however, be good to see a little more consistency.  Consistency across the industry is probably a bit much to wish for, but consistency across a single organization would be a good start.

Let us know any strange or over complicated job titles you have come across in the comments below.

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