Back in August I wrote a post in which I shared my derision for what I considered goofy job titles at tech companies, with "ninja" a notable example.
It turns out I may not have much company. According to a Wall Street Journal article, "ninja" is an increasingly popular job description. The article cites numbers from LinkedIn, which has seen strong growth in professionals describing themselves as ninjas. Monica Rogati, a scientist at LinkedIn who studies patterns in jobs data, said she began seeing the ninja term in 2003 and noticed a steep increase last year. About 800 LinkedIn profiles now include the term.
Too bad nobody knows exactly what a ninja is. While computer programmers seem especially fond of the term, the article notes it's been used to describe expertise in a wide variety of fields, from customer service to moving furniture. The article quotes Alex Schliker, who has been advertising to hire a ninja for his San Francisco software start-up CureCRM, and calls ninja "an easy way to say you need to be good at learning anything new I throw at you."
Sorry, I'm still not sold. While I get that a creatively written job description is one way for employers to stand out, I think it makes a lot more sense to just say what you mean, whether it's a "programmer who likes a challenge" or "a furniture mover who can safely transport everything from a pet goldfish to a piano."
Amazon.com Inc. has helped drive the use of "ninja" in the tech industry by hosting ninja brain-teaser contests at job fairs and industry events. Winners get the title of Amazon Ninja Coder, a miniature foam statue of a sword-carrying ninja, and (maybe) a job.
Valerie Frederickson, CEO of a Silicon Valley human resources company, says the tech industry is especially fond of unusual job titles such as ninja, evangelist and guru. (I've also blasted the guru job description.) She thinks ninja is meant to attract employees who are willing to do a lot with a little, primarily "the young or the young at heart." She says:
It is designed to make them work harder but feel good about it.
Again, I think more than a cool title is required to promote performance. I suppose "ninja" may help inspire employees if it's part of a broader performance-driven culture, which is certainly the case at many tech companies. And I expect it leads to some fun cocktail party conversations.
Like me, Frederickson is a ninja skeptic. She says:
If you're going to give people funny titles, they should describe what the person does. What are you going to do after being a ninja -- senior samurai?