It’s become a bit of cliché to say half of today’s job titles didn’t even exist a generation ago. But there is some truth in the statement. About one quarter of currently advertised job titles only appeared in the last decade or so.
We’re not just talking about those dumb name changes where say, a cleaner becomes ‘hygiene facilitation operative’. Nor are we talking about BS job titles, (while we’re on the subject can you believe this bloke is serious?)
Thanks to the rise of the knowledge economy, the nature of work is morphing at warp speed to embrace new skills, services and functions as well as new combinations of more established skills. To illustrate this phenomenon I’ve selected ten job titles that came into fashion in the last twenty years but already seem to be disappearing.
Web Master: In the early days of the Internet, the web master was a jack (or jill) of all trades, keeping the system running, maintaining data communications channels, designing pages, writing text, taking pictures and answering email feedback. Today the nearest equivalent role tends to have a broad range of definitions, but they all involve some degree of responsibility for running and developing web operations. Sometimes the job involves managing content, but more frequently a new breed of specialist handles this.
Content Producer: It didn’t take web career paths long to bifurcate. While the web master did everything, the content producer concentrated on words and pictures. This mainly involved writing and commissioning editorial, but it also included responsibility for finding pictures and other artwork as well as overseeing page designs. For a while the content producer was to web media what an editor is to a newspaper.
Evangelist: Apple Computer started employing evangelists in the mid-1980s as a way of rallying the faithful and keeping waiverers on board during the competitive onslaught from Microsoft and Intel-based products. Their job was to ‘spread the good news’ by communicating with specialist communities such as designers, developers and other interest groups. Today a wide number of companies still employ people with this job title but it seems to be on its way out. In some respects evangelism is similar to public relations, but it tends to work more on a one-to-one basis and there’s often an educative element involved. Some companies employ Advocates to do similar work.
Web Cam Performer: Ok, this one is a rather small niche, but for a short time before and after the dotcom boom there were people who earn a crust by living their lives in front of a web cam. In many cases it’s just a thinly veiled form of pornography, but some were genuine artists. You don’t see them around any more though.
Outsourcing Consultant: The rise of virtual corporations brought in its wake a new class of management consultancy which specialised in brokering outsourcing arrangements and getting such deals to work. The job required a mixture of business, legal, financial and technical skills. You needed to be good with people and patient. Today outsourcing is mature (some would argue it is in decline) and there’s less need for specialists to broker deals.
Business Coach: Think of these as being like personal trainers, only instead of making individuals fit, they knock companies into shape. In many cases they are used to bring in skills that a business operator lacks, particularly in a lean, mean new era virtual business where there aren’t too many bodies. Business coaches were extremely visible in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but they’re not so common today. My guess is this career has morphed into something else – but I don’t know what. Leave a comment if you know where they all went.
Professional Surfers: Keeping search engines and portal sites up-to-date required a huge investment in time and money. Some of that investment was spent hiring people who working lives involved checking and rechecking information on web sites. It didn’t tend to be a high-paying job, but given that many people spend their whole working day browsing web pages anyway, it was popular for a while.
Chief Knowledge Officer: sitting at the top of the knowledge worker tree was a special breed of key executives who planned and implemented knowledge winning strategies for large corporations. Salaries tended to be upwards of $250k. In some cases the term was synonymous with Chief Information Office (CIO) but more generally there was a difference, while CIOs are often technical and have to worry about technology issues, CKOs tended to have a more philosophical bent and are more worried about ‘why’ and ‘what’ than about ‘how’. I haven’t seen this job title in ages. Does that mean companies no longer need knowledge?
Piracy Specialists: Working on the principal of ‘silver lining in every cloud’ a whole range of jobs briefly emerged to deal with various on-line nasties. Among them were Disaster recovery specialists who cleared up the mess after virus and hacking attacks. Elsewhere piracy specialists are being hired by companies like Microsoft to hunt down and deal with people who illegally sell software. More recently piracy specialists have found work for record companies and film studios worried about illegal on-line distribution. In recent years these roles have all been wrapped into more general security positions.