What’s in a name? The job title paradox

Test consultant

As a test consultant I get hired in lots of different environments and companies, which results in all kinds of interesting job titles I receive. This led me to start thinking about what the title of a job actually means and what the difference is between them. Why should I be a QA Engineer, Test engineer, technical tester, test automation developer, load tester, developing qa engineer or whatever else people can come up with. And why should I care what they call me, as long as I get to do my job and I do it well?

What is the difference between them, why would you call yourself a technical tester or a test automation developer or a test automation engineer for that matter?

Test professional

Within our company we are currently expanding the group of “professionals who are very capable in test automation or load and performance testing”, this raises the question so now and again of what to put on a business card, or an email signature.

Then today I read this (long) article on Harvard Business Review which sounds completely logical, I too in the past have often looked at what the title was on a resume before even reading what the job itself entailed.  At one of my past customers a group of people had the title “test managers” and instead of doing the traditional job of a test manager they were fully dedicated to executing product risk analysis and based on that give advice to other groups within the organisation. At some point during my assignment there, they started a search for a new “test manager” and found they had incredible issues finding someone who matched the job, since all applicants applied to the title rather than the job description. Those who did apply to the job description seemed to lack the “test manager” type role in their resume and thus were not interviewed. It took the company a while to realize this gap and change the name of the role to something more clearly descriptive of what the people in this group did “test risk managers”.

What the above story illustrates to me is that a job title should be descriptive of what you do, not what you want people to think you do.


A former colleague of mine recently received a promotion to something like Senior Vice President of something or other. I am very happy for him that he has a new title, however the job he does is still exactly the same as the one he did 2 years ago: he manages a group of developers and testers. So why not just call yourself that?

Performance tester

In my current assignment I have had several different roles, one being Test Coordinator, which effectively meant I was indeed coordinating the different parties involved with the tests to be executed. However when I switched to a different project within this organisation I started working fully on load and performance testing. The test manager raised the question on what my title should be and I proposed to adjust it to exactly state what I am doing for them at the moment: performance tester.

Getting back to the opening of this post, it is never really clear to me what the difference effectively is between a tester, a test engineer or a QA engineer. In the end, in my experience at least, they all do the same thing: they test software. So why not just call yourself a Software Tester? This makes it abundantly clear to potential colleagues and employers what you do for a living, it is a clear description for recruiters to find a person on and not send some highly inappropriate job offer (which they no doubt will still be doing cause they generally don’t read resume’s of people they contact). And most importantly, it clearly states what you are doing and thus helps you with a direct reality check whether the job you should be doing according to your title is indeed the job you are doing.

My point

So my view on job titles seems clear: just make it state what you do, what your charter within the organisation is and try to keep it clear, short and simple. This makes your life easier as well as that of your colleagues!

One thought on “What’s in a name? The job title paradox

  1. Couldn’t you reasonably say the same thing about a blog title? Lol

    Good point about job titles. I’ve been at organizations that inflate titles all together like managers that don’t manage and everyone else is a VP. Development organizations are subject to misleading titles just as bad as marketing organizations – sad but true.

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