Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Job Titles


In a techie startup (or perhaps even an established tech company), the promotion alpha geeks seem to dread is the one to a manager: less coding, more “people stuff” = yuck. The promotion, I observed, that they did care about is that of a “root”, a system administrator with root powers.

Root is the name given to a superuser account of the operating system running on the servers, with password access to make system-wide changes. In our company, all the senior system administrators had root powers. The junior system administrators hoped that one day, and one day soon, they would be endowed with that access. The junior system administrators could execute the scripts that senior system administrators wrote to perform operations, like creating user accounts for new customers. The junior system administrators were affectionately referred to as “rootlings” for their aspirations to “have root” in the near future.

In a work environment with educated people who valued logic and processing information, we rarely had irrational arguments. But when it came to who was up to have root, the values we thought we all shared, like meritocracy would be challenged by the concept of seniority: “How come X is up to be root, when I was here first?”

One of the Litmus tests we had to qualify a rootling for root powers is to see how eager they were. If they wanted it too much, they couldn’t have it. Yes, it was part Zen and Yoda-sounding to the rootlings. Do they want to have root for the power? Because alongside power comes responsibility.

After all, titles are not really assigned for your benefit. They should be for other people to help identify what roles you play in the company.

Photo: Street art in Stavanger, Norway

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This entry was posted on October 15, 2015 by in Management and tagged , , , .
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