Another title for someone managing developers in a startup?
September 20, 2022 4:29 AM   Subscribe

I want to negotiate with a potential employer for a title that will look good on my CV. The job posting was for "Technical Project Manager", but I'd be basically the only person between the CTO and multiple teams of developers. I want something that shows some kind of progression? upwards mobility? from my current title of "Project Manager" and my previous title, also "Project Manager". I feel I could do something flashier than "X Project Manager".
posted by gakiko to Work & Money (18 answers total)
If you've got multiple delivery teams, program manager would not seem unreasonable
posted by crocomancer at 4:35 AM on September 20

Senior Project Manager, Senior Program Manager, Senior Tech Lead...?
posted by nkknkk at 5:29 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

System or Platform Architect.
posted by JoeZydeco at 5:38 AM on September 20

VP of....Projects? Engineering?
posted by atlantica at 5:57 AM on September 20

The fanciest non-VP individual-contributor-friendly title I can think of along those lines is Senior Director of Portfolio Management. (Director > Manager, Senior > regular, Portfolio > multiple programs > multiple projects). There might be rules about who can be a senior, a director, or a portfolio manager, but those are the axes I'd think about trying to move along.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:03 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

If you report to the CTO, "VP of engineering" is not unreasonable.

"Architect" seems to be on its way out as a title, at least in tech.
posted by mhoye at 6:12 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

"Director" is a nice step up from manager.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:31 AM on September 20

A company I used to work for had a "Technical Services Delivery Manager", which seems like it would work for someone managing multiple teams.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:40 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

In the companies I've worked for, we'd call you a director.
posted by jordemort at 6:45 AM on September 20

Are you technical or non-technical?

"The only person between the CTO and multiple teams of developers" to me, assuming you have budgetary and management level control over the teams, to be anywhere from Senior VP of Development/VP of Development/Executive Director of Development/Director of Development depending on your seniority. You can replace Development with Engineering interchangeably.

A Technical Product Manager to me is a non-technical person who manages requirements and the day to day product owner role on one or more teams. I would not consider that person "between development and the CTO" so much as at the same level of the team in a complementary role.

If you're non-technical but want a higher position than Project Manager, Program Manager makes sense, but I would in no way consider a Program Manager "between development and the CTO" in any org chart I've ever seen.
posted by cmm at 6:46 AM on September 20 [2 favorites]

I would reverse engineer this. I'd check out job listings for jobs I might wish to pursue in 18-24 months (hypothetically, if you were to make a change) and then see what titles those jobs have. If you can make a case to get one of those titles now, you're greasing the wheels for a move later.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:04 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Not clear if you are managing people. If you are, director or VP of engineering is what you want, as others have said.

If you’re not, then it really depends on what it is you are doing. Who is managing the engineers? Are they contractors/outsourced? Is there a product manager in the org who isn’t you or the CTO?

Just for example, if you had a contract team of remote developers in Estonia building an iPhone app and another one in Poland building the backend, and it was your job to get them to ship something vaguely resembling the mock-ups and what’s in the CTO’s head, and where the pieces actually integrate correctly, I’d say you’re a product manager, or even VP of product if the org was large enough.

Ultimately though, the question is not just about seniority but what kind of job you want next. I like DirtyOldTown’s suggestion of looking for the other jobs you might want and taking their titles.
posted by goingonit at 7:26 AM on September 20

If you're managing multiple teams, each of which has (or is planned to have) a line-level manager, then that sounds like a director level position to me. Some organizations vary in whether a senior manager is a manager-of-managers (like a director would be) or something more like a line-level manager who manages multiple teams directly. In my experience "senior" manager or director level titles are often reflective of promotions in place and not necessarily well defined in the org chart.

Different data point: at one employer years ago one obvious impact of the manager → senior manager → director → senior director sequence was the amount of money you could spend on a project (hardware, software, contractors, service agreements, etc) without requiring approval from somebody above you. Perhaps that can also guide you in identifying the seniority of the role.

As for what you're a [senior] manager or director of: in my experience project managers are responsible for timelines and deadlines and constantly asking the engineering org "is it done yet?" Project managers may also have oversight over testing and QA, which is a high stress role that often gets short shrift when time and money are budgeted. The places I've worked have almost universally treated their project managers badly and paid them poorly, resulting in high turnover in that part of the org chart.

I don't love "program management" as a general term, simply because I'm not sure I've ever worked for or with two companies that mean the same thing when they say it. Some companies use the "program manager" title as the engineering counterpart of a client-facing product manager, possibly dealing with multiple programs/products depending on seniority. Other companies use "program manager" on the sales side, dealing more with client expectations and feedback and probably spending a lot of time working on contracts.

So if you're responsible for software development, why not just put engineering or software development in the title? If nothing else, those two titles tend to put you in a higher pay bracket than project management does. Try "Director of Software Engineering" or something like it.
posted by fedward at 7:34 AM on September 20

Are you managing developers (performance management, driving project architecture decisions) or are you managing developers work (running rituals, establishing timelines, etc?) I think your title is correct as-is based on the description you gave. Technical program manager may give you more range but this isn't director or above level.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 8:28 AM on September 20 [1 favorite]

Either Development Director or (Software) Engineering Director would be what my org would call you, depending if your responsibilities are more project based, or engineering-decision based.
posted by cgg at 8:29 AM on September 20

i have a friend who does this exact job and Technical Director is their title.
posted by missjenny at 12:12 PM on September 20

"Program Manager" is usually considered the step up from "Project Manager" in my industry/locality.

Generally speaking, Program Manager indicates that you are managing multiple projects in parallel and have Project Managers reporting to you, and you report to a Director or VP, or some other business unit head ("Portfolio Manager", whatever... those titles tend to vary a lot).

However: beware dropping the "Technical" from your title unless you are very certain you want to be and stay on the management track. Many companies (especially ones run by and for engineers) look askance at people who have been technical and then transitioned away from it into management; it has a sort of "selling out" quality to it, which may require you to play various dick-measuring games with technical people as part of future interview processes.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:21 PM on September 20

I like Program Manager but I also like Senior Engineering Manager if VP or Director is not possible.
posted by Dansaman at 8:05 PM on September 20

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