It is a corporate feel-good movement sweeping the nation: titlemania.
No longer content with being just Senior Vice President or Managing Director or even Embedded Software Applications Engineer, professionals across the United States have been drinking the Silicon Valley start-up Kool-Aid and they're getting downright giddy with their job titles.
Blame it on Google, where employees can pretty much give themselves any title they like, whether it's Jolly Good Fellow (head of Google's meditation and mindfulness program) or Chief Extraterrestrial Observer (a Google Earth Engine founder whose real name is Noel Gorelick).
But now the rest of the nation, and not just Silicon Valley, is going mad with monikers.
"I'm running into more and more people the past year or two with weird titles," said Jonathan Harrop, a marketing manager with mobile-technology company Yvolver in Dallas who handles recruiting and must navigate an increasingly loopy LinkedIn landscape. "Back in 2010 there were a few companies looking for things like Social Media Guru or Ninja, but those titles fell out of fashion. Now people are starting to get really esoteric."
"I interviewed a designer at a small company who said he was the Head of Touchy Feely Graphics and I said, 'Just say what you do, man.' He was a front-end graphics designer but he was trying to say user experience without saying user experience."
Much of this silliness is being spawned in Silicon Valley, the high-tech petri dish that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose and an environment in which the bacteria of workplace pet policies and on-site yoga sessions are multiplying out of control. It's all about hard work, long hours and creating at least the illusion of fun.
When San Jose hardware engineer Mike Savini went out on his own in 2006, he knew that solving computer glitches, or bugs, was his calling. But what to call his calling? "Bug Specialist" is the name he came up with. "It's all about personal marketing," said Savini, who now works for Juniper Networks, a networking products company. "I wasn't trying to be funny, but I thought Bug Specialist was very specific and kind of bold, because you want a bold person dealing with these bug problems."
Public relations expert Andrea Marilyn Garcia said that while an offbeat title could "be used to highlight how innovative and forward-thinking, or how fun, a company is," an over-the-top title can backfire. "The truly wacky titles," she said, "could garner media interest for the company, but you may lose credibility in other areas."
Still, the trend shows no sign of abating. Employees and employers alike come up with goofy or hyperspecific titles for all sorts of reasons: to stand out from crowd; to attract a certain type of job applicant; to get across exactly what you do; or, like Savini, to just be bold.
"The people in a company are the most important thing in a company, and a title can be very powerful," said Maya Imberman, director of Human Development and head of the Happiness Committee for Troika, a branding and marketing agency in Los Angeles.