23 February 2010

Architect or Circus Clown

With titles like Architect or Circus Clown, how does one figure out what others do? The easiest way is to
  1. Ignore the noun (title).
  2. Find out the verbs ASAP.
I read a post on a Microsoft blog from a guy -- a Microsoft Enterprise Architect -- who was venting on the misappropriation of the title Enterprise Architect. His ennui centered about the branding of the title Enterprise Architect and how he is more than a mere Enterprise Architect.


Titles are Silly
 
Organizational titles are silly (cf. Architects & Agile Like Zen Monks & Cell Phones), but they do have nominal value to an organization (e.g., titles are handy for assigning pay grades). Titles like Enterprise Architect are misleading if one pays attention to such things, and meaningless if one cares to dig deeper.

If titles are misleading, what about roles? I find roles have the same shortcomings as titles.

There is an applicable lesson found in Eastern and Western cultural differences that Richard E. Nisbett tells us in an excerpt from his book Intelligence and how to get it: why schools and cultures count

When we presented people with three words such as cow, chicken, and grass, and asked them which two go together, we got very different answers from Easterners and Westerners.

Americans were more likely to say cow and chicken go together because they are both animals; that is, they belong to the same taxonomic category.


Asians, however, focusing on relationships, were more likely to say that cow goes with grass because a cow eats grass.

It seems Westerners have a penchant for objectifying the world. Nisbett’s cultural finding reminds me to move past objectifying nouns. He reminds me to find the verbs, the story, the narrative. To understand a team member's narrative is to understand what they do.

I am programmer contracted for projects. I face the do question with each project. Once I find out what others do, I determine what I can do to help. I can wear different hats, and given time, I can juggle them if necessary - but, it's all in the cause of doing.

On a new project I'll ask What do you do?
Most people respond by saying a title or a role such as, I’m a Senior Software Engineer; I’m an Senior Enterprise Architect; or I’m a Senior Product Owner, etc.

I will then follow up with, So, what do you do?  Sometimes I repeat the question again, Yes, but...what do you do?

It is challenging for people - who might never have thought about it before - to create a narrative around what they do.
If I have to cook and wash bottles, will you at least put Chief in front of my title?

An Admission

After eschewing titles, I admit I would like to put Circus Clown on my resume like Derek Sivers, founder of CD Baby, does. But, unlike Sivers, I have never done circus work. Plus, I'm too honest to fib about such as esteemed title.