Rethinking Engineering Job Titles

Urban Airship has seen incredible growth in its short existence and like any rapidly expanding company, we have to pause occasionally and take stock of what policies, tools and improvements we need to get to the next stage.

We want our company to continue to be a place where great engineers can make a career out of building great software for our customers. To do that as we get bigger, we need several things: a shared idea of what makes an engineer "great," flexibility and benefits that help people grow and develop for the long term and a way of recognizing and rewarding continued excellence. We also shouldn't have to move people who are really good at their job out of those positions and into management roles just so they can get promotions and all the good stuff that comes along with that.

Defining formal titles for both individual contributors and managers draws a sort of crude map of how people can grow within the organization—a job ladder. Most job ladders are developed by senior management or HR in a fairly opaque way, and changing them is very hard. As engineers, we expect for well-intentioned and well-made changes to be continuously included in our projects, and we believe there's no reason that job descriptions can't work the same way. So, rather than putting our engineer job ladder in a spreadsheet or a presentation, like a normal manager-type person, we’ve posted it to GitHub, where others (employees or not) can leverage it, build on it and offer us suggestions.

We have to be sensitive to the risks and potential pitfalls that accompany a formal job ladder. Titles can reinforce social dynamics that allow more senior team members to shout down or suppress good ideas from their junior colleagues. Also, if people perceive unfairness or favoritism in the assignment of titles, they may make decisions about which teams or projects to join that might not be as productive as they could be for the organization without these biases.

Overall, titles should be used as one of many tools in a manager's kit to motivate, recognize and develop the members of their team. Combined with regular performance reviews and promotional opportunities, we can provide public recognition for sustained job performance along with private rewards like compensation or equity. We can also use the job ladder to help prompt productive discussions around goals and professional development.

So, fork away! If you have suggestions, submit a pull request and send a note to the folks listed in the OWNERS file.