Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Photo album - Bill Gates Gets an Xbox

Bill, I had a 15% off coupon you could have used.

Now I see why they're white. Other than copying the iPod, you can have the autograph of your favourite CEO signed on it.

Who else signed that thing...

Update: And whatever Bill Gates title is too. (he's no longer the CEO)

Since the following page seems to have disappeared, I thought I would grab it from Google's cache & repost. (not my post)

What's in a Name?
And why does gazillionaire Bill Gates want a silly title? ... by Joe Mullich

When I read the news report that Bill Gates was stepping down as chief executive officer of Microsoft, I thought, "This guy is an idiot."

It didn't bother me that Gates was quitting his nine-to-five job. I wouldn't punch a time clock either, if I were one of the world's richest men. Gates probably loses more money under his couch cushions than I make in a year. That is, if people like Bill Gates carry cash. It didn't bother me that Gates was giving up responsibilities for day-to-day operations so he can return, as he said, "to what I love most -- focusing on technology for the future."

What I thought was stupid was that Gates created a silly new job title for himself. He is now Microsoft's "Chief Software Architect."

I hate the title. I guess that is why I'm an idiot. But still. . .

"Chief software architect" sounds like someone who dreams up new video games. Why on earth does a person as rich and famous as Gates even need a job title? Everyone agrees that Gates won't be giving up any power and can pretty much do whatever he wants. If he really does want a title, shouldn't it be a title that means something?

So why did he feel the need to change titles? It has to do with fashion. Style. And ultimately, feeling that you are really cool.

Let me explain. These days, offbeat job titles are in vogue, especially in the high technology world. I think Gates just wanted to prove he was "with it." Want to know the state of things? A business magazine called Fast Company ran a column called "Job Titles of the Future," profiling oddly titled executives at technology companies. There were "ministers of progress" at Aspen Tree Software. Pixar Animation Studio has "animation skeptics." Gateway 2000 uses "imagination officers."

Nobody, it seems, has "managers" or "vice presidents" anymore. I think Gates felt "chief executive officer" was way too blah for someone of his imagination.

Personally, I'd be scared to death if I were summoned to see an "imagination officer." It sounds too Big Brother-ish to me.

A New "Prestige" Perk
Weird titles, some people believe, actually have a purpose. This wasn't always the case. Several years ago, I called the PR guy at Accountemps, which recruits executives and scours countless resumes. I asked what PR guy recruiters would think of resumes with such (real) titles as "vice president, people" or "deputy director of anything."

His answer: Recruiters would think those job-seekers should pray that unemployment benefits are extended for a long, long time.

Now, however, recruitment specialists say "creative titling" has become a way to lure hard-to-find techno-geeks.

A good geek is hard to find these days. Companies are going to all sorts of lengths to lure them. For instance, some Silicon Valley companies have a massage therapist for the troops. Evolving Systems Inc., a Denver software firm, gives all its workers free rabies shots. Don't ask! Arcnet, a wireless communications firm, is giving every employee who's been with the company at least a year a free leased BMW, plus fully paid insurance. "It is going to be better than a raise because very time employees turn the ignition key, they will think of me," said the company's president.

I just heard a story about a programmer in Minneapolis who didn't want to leave his town. So a software firm in Los Angeles started up a branch office for him. Meanwhile, a Minneapolis firm was having so much trouble finding nerds that it hired seven engineers who had been laid off in Los Angeles and let them set up a remote officer there. Being a lowly writer, every place I've ever worked has made me buy my own coffee. So you'll understand if I feel a small throb of homicidal envy. Techno-geeks are in such demand, though, that weird titles are the latest incentive. Motley Fool, an online financial publication, found it's easier to recruit workers by giving them business cards with titles such as -- and these are all real -- "chief techie geek," "LAN/Database God," and "FoolWare techie programmer."

As I said, in days past, recruitment people said having an unusual title was a hindrance when you went to look for a new job. After all, would you even read the resume of someone who spent the last year as a "senior completion specialist" if you needed a project manager?

In reality, both titles are for the same job. But "project manager" sounds so old-fashioned, you wouldn't have a chance to get a job at an Internet startup and cash in when it went public.

Too Sexy for My Title
Today, technology workers bristle at standard titles, believing them demeaning. The world changes so fast that if a job title is understandable, many think it must mean the person holding it is behind the times.

Chief executive officer? You're right, Bill -- sounds like your dad's job title.

Some firms go so far as to do away with titles altogether, to keep the natives from getting restless. One computer training firm instead placed a recruitment ad seeking "talented 'you-betchya's' with a positive, whole-hearted attitude who would love teaching computers." Imagine going to a party and telling people that you make your living as a "you-betchya." When I first entered the corporate world, everyone knew exactly whose boot they were expected to lick. The organizational chart came straight from a management textbook. From chairman to supervisor to runt, roles and status were clearly defined.

Now, I have no idea what most people do anymore. You certainly can't judge by job titles.

Bad 70s Fashion Trend
The first seeds of title turmoil began in the sensitive '70s. During the Alan Alda Era, you didn't want to make anyone feel bad about his or her job. So kids who slung hamburgers became "customer service representatives." Janitors changed into "custodians." Trash men turned into "sanitation engineers." Then janitors demanded to be known as "custodial engineers."

For a while, you knew that anyone who called himself an engineer but didn't use a slide rule had a job that required him to clean up after someone else. Editor's note -- I mean, note from the Chief Arbiter of Taste and Goddess of All She Surveys: A slide rule was a quaint computational device, a relative of the abacus and precursor to the pocket calculator. Geeks carried them in the olden days when it was not cool to be a geek.

Title turmoil began moving up the corporate ladder. At first, an employee who dealt with the media was called "a press relations officer." Of course, speaking to reporters is a distasteful job. So titles changed to disguise what PR people did. They became Public Relations Officers. But even that wasn't enough.

So they turned into "Information Officers."

And then "Media Outreach Coordinators."

And finally, "Deputy Directors for External Affairs."

I have a theory about title turmoil. If a person can't say his title before an answering machine beeps and stops recording the message, he has a job no one else wants. Cutbacks during the '90s spurred more title turmoil. As companies got smaller, titles became bigger. Perhaps this gave workers a sense of security. A corporation has countless vice presidents. One is as good as another. But what company can afford to be without its "director of creativity and motivation"?

That is an actual job title. It was discovered in a poll of executives by Accountemps, a California recruiting firm. The title may seem silly. But I bet the person who holds it feels darn secure. What company would fire her? That's like admitting you don't value creativity and motivation.

Putting a Spin on Things
Most weird titles are euphemisms. One title in the survey was "senior special executive assistant to CEO." (I'm guessing this is a secretary.) Many titles are just baffling. The survey discovered a "semi-senior auditor." Well, is or isn't he? This isn't a Memorex commercial. Another person was an "associate assistant to senior VP." (Is that above or below an "assistant associate to senior VP" in the corporate pecking order?)

One person was called -- and remember this is real -- the "deputy director of anything." There was no "deputy director of nothing." Maybe that's the job you hold right before you see "the vice president of retirement" -- another real job title.

A Magnificent Obsession
People become obsessed with titles. A few years ago, IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner stripped the word "IBM" from the titles of 25 executives. Before those people were called "IBM senior vice presidents." After Gernster's move, these people were mere "senior vice presidents."

Pay and duties didn't change. The executives didn't even lose their parking spots. Still, the executives became incensed. So if Bill Gates wants to call himself "chief software architect," I now say go ahead. He can afford to print up the business cards.

However, I wish he'd consulted his chief imagination and creativity officer and come up with something a little more exotic. His old rival, former Apple CEO John Scully, for instance, used to call himself "chief listener."

I wish Gates had declared he was Microsoft's "sultan of software." Now there's a job title for the 2000s!

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