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Let me give you a little background information before I start my question. I was working at a local web development / marketing company that went out of business. I worked there for about 10 years, the last 3 years as the manager of the programming department. I have since started a new job. The title at my new job is Web Developer II, when I was interviewing I was promised a senior/lead position within about 1 - 2 years.

I'm now approaching my yearly review. I have had a great year, previous performance reviews (quarterly) have been steller and there has been some limited discussion on a possible promotion and what that might look like during these quarterly reviews. I'm anticipating talks of of a possible promotion soon, likely during my yearly review. Previously discussion from my manager indicate they are unsure what this title would be and have asked for my option

And now to my question, I'm debating what to recommend my job title would be for the promotion. I liked being in charge of a programming department in my previous job, however I hated the "paper work", HR related activities (firing people, hiring people, etc), performance reviews, etc, but I did enjoy the code related parts of my manager job. These include things like

  • Code Reviews
  • Creating Code Standard Documents for the other devs to follow
  • Planning Product Development and Timelines (planning meeting etc)
  • Mentoring other developers
  • Interviewing new developers
  • Other senior programming roles

I have a feeling the manager job wouldn't be available anyways as there is only one development team as my current boss the manager is highly unlikely to move positions anytime soon.

So basically I'm thinking what I am describing would be something along the lines of "Lead Developer", I've also hear the term "Principle Developer". What would be the best term to recommend to my boss? "Lead Developer", "Principal Developer", or something else. Basically what I am looking for would be the number 2, the highest position of the development team aside from my manager.

The other side to my question does this position fit into my current development team makeup.

The current team is as follows:

  • 1 Web Development Manager
  • 1 Designer
  • 1 User Interface Developer
  • 2 Web Developer I
  • 2 Web Developer II (this includes me)
  • 1 Requirements Analyist / Quality Assurance
  • 1 Web Developer Intern (To be hired within the next month)

Basically part of the reason I am asking this question is because one suggestion they gave was to split the team into a "Maintenance Work team" and a New Projects team. I would get the lead on one of the teams while the manager would continue to be over the two teams. I'm kind of hoping to persuade them against that as it doesn't seem be the best idea. For one, the maintenance team would be much smaller than the new projects team as our maintenance work is fairly limited. Second the designer, QA person, and ui person would have to be shared by both teams making a split fairly difficult. I personally would think simply having one of the developers dedicated to maintenance work would make more sense. Any suggestions on how I can persuade them against this type of split or how they could better split the teams aside from a maintenance and new projects teams.

  • Makes sense. What about my other ancillary questions? Does the current makeup of the team justify a lead developer role? Is the team lathe enough for that? – TroySteven Jan 11 at 15:22
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I'm thinking what I am describing would be something along the lines of "Lead Developer", I've also hear the term "Principle Developer".

Either of these is fine, don't overthink it.

Your job title in a position like this means very little in the long (or even short) term. Your responsibilities and professional reputation are what's important.

  • Makes sense. What about my other ancillary questions? Does the current makeup of the team justify a lead developer role? Is the team large enough for that? – TroySteven Jan 11 at 18:50
  • You can have a lead dev for a team of three or even two. There is no magic composition – Victor S Jan 13 at 16:10
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I would agree for the most part with Player One but with one slight change: the Leadership roles do stand out.

My company uses "Lead Developer" and "Lead Engineer", where developer is typically programming specific and engineer includes programming as well as infrastructure work.

But like Player One says, don't over-think this. Either title will be fine. What will matter more is how to sell the position when you interview.

EDIT based on your follow-up question:

An 8-person team is large enough to have a senior/lead role but keep in mind that "leads" aren't just junior managers. Being a "Lead" means that you are experienced enough to answer other people's questions and that you can make good decisions. If you don't have an answer, you know how to get it and what needs to happen so you can get there. Leads should be able to do things with little supervision.

Your hardest task will to be convince your team members to see you as a lead. If you aren't doing the things that you listed in your question, then start doing them now and look toward getting the title later.

Titles can be very fluid. I've been a lead and now am a manager. I've hired people and fired people. I've set budgets and timelines. And I code, push projects, mentor, code reviews...So long as you have it in your resume, the title only becomes something you put on LinkedIn.

  • Makes sense. What about of other ancillary questions? Does the current makeup of the team justify a lead developer role? Is the team large enough for that? Also are the things I listed sometime that would encompass that role? – TroySteven Jan 11 at 14:02
  • I've updated my answer to reflect your follow-up question. :-) – scuba_mike Jan 11 at 14:24
  • Nice, how big is your team? Now that you are the manager have you appointed a lead? – TroySteven Jan 11 at 14:50
  • Also what are your thoughts on my company splitting the time to a maintenance team and a new projects team? – TroySteven Jan 11 at 14:51
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    Personally, I'm not a fan of splitting development from operations but if you work in a highly regulated industry, it may be required. Division of responsibilities is a good way to keep things secure and above-board. Both methods have their pros and cons and if your company has moved in the direction of splitting the responsibilities, it would be good to understand why. – scuba_mike Jan 11 at 17:20
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Title shouldn't mean as much internal to your team, but they typically do convey something to other internal teams and external companies.

You mentioned enjoying:

  • Code Reviews
  • Creating Code Standard Documents for the other devs to follow
  • Planning Product Development and Timelines (planning meeting etc)
  • Mentoring other developers
  • Interviewing new developers
  • Other senior programming roles

This describes either a more senior developer or a technical lead. I would suggest you start with asking to become Technical Lead and need be to negotiate to Staff or Principal Web Developer.

Regarding the make up of your teams for maintenance work, one team for maintenance work and one team for new feature work is not a long term sustainable model. It can breed resentment as the maintenance team is "cleaning up" after the new features team. New features team may build features that are not long term maintainable as they won't be the ones maintaining it. Maintenance is often incorrectly regarded as lesser than new feature work so you need to build a good culture around it such as rebranding it as internal feature work and rotating the people working on maintenance.

I recommend that you split into 2 new features/projects teams. Make sure each team always scope some maintenance work within the smaller teams and the maintenance work is rotated around.

  • I agree with how you are dividing up the work. Dedicating one team (or even one developer) to always doing maintenance is a great way to have them quit on you. Splitting them up to handle different features is far better not only to keep the work interesting but if you rotate around the areas of feature development between the teams then having a couple people leave is not a big deal because everyone has worked on everything at some point. It also helps with team / personal accountability because if one or more people start churning out absolutely crap code then it's going to get noticed. – NotMe Jan 11 at 23:46
  • First, titles are just noise....but if I was to give weight to titles I would view Principal Dev as the equivalent of a one man band. – jmoreno Jan 12 at 15:36
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In places I have worked, Lead Developer was an assignment ("Will you please serve as lead developer on the Framister project?") and Principal Developer was a rank with responsibilities: design, review, standards, interviewing, mentoring, all that.

In my opinion, you should ask for the Principal title if you want a new title.

But, you know, Dennis Ritchie and the other members of the UNIX team at Bell Telephone Laboratories all had the title "Member of the Technical Staff." When a Bell Labs person won a Nobel Prize, they often were promoted to "Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff."

Titles don't matter much unless you're dealing with customers or vendors a lot. That's why banks have so many vice presidents and Bell Labs didn't.

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