Monday, June 20, 2011

Trendy Job Titles

You learn a lot about trends in popular perceptions of the economy (the corporte zeitgeist, if you will) by looking at what job titles people choose to give themselves.

In the late 90's and early 2000's the buzzword was 'consulting'. Everyone was a consultant of some form. Usually, it was left unspecified (until the impolite pushed the point) as to
A) what was the subject matter being consulted on
B) what the person's relevant qualifications or experience were, if any, and
C) whether they actually had any clients, or had received any meaningful remuneration in their chosen profession.

In fact, it is precisely these vague aspects that make the term so appealing - the unemployed programmers get to lump themselves in with McKinsey, and hope nobody spots the difference. They're just waiting for a company to hire them to tell them and hear all about the mistakes the company is making.

Somewhere along the line, consulting became passé. The new hot job title, it seems, is 'working at a startup'. This has the same benefits as before. What is conjured up is 'founding the next facebook' or 'CFO of groupon'. The reality might be anywhere from working at a company making napkins, to being unemployed and toying with the idea of writing an iPhone app to track navel lint (or whatever), even though you have no programming experience.

You observed something similar for a while going on with the phrase 'I work at a non-profit'. For better or worse, I don't meet enough people who would be in a position to be claiming this, so can't tell you if it still has the same cachet (at least relative to "I work for a Catholic charity" or "I volunteer for the Sea Shepherds").

My guess is that the time that people stop saying that they work at startups will roughly coincide with the time that technology startups start trading at reasonable price-to-earnings ratios, and I might think about buying shares in them.

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