Enter The Ninja: The Anatomy Of An Uncommon Job Title


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There are ninjas besieging the hallways and conference rooms of Big Commerce. But no one is unsettled by the situation. In fact, the company, a SaaS e-commerce provider, has welcomed them in.

That’s because these “Support Ninjas” are there to help customers sort out their technical issues, not sneak into fortresses in the dead of night. Big Commerce is one of many tech companies that have adopted the ninja description as a job title. The reason for that is simple, says Steven Donnelly, HR and Recruiting Manager.

“From the point of view of recruiting there seems to be a certain type of individual who is drawn to a company that uses terms like that,” he says. “People who come into that role prefer to be looked at as a ninja rather than a support rep.”

As Donnelly puts it: “‘Rep’ is so generic.”

A Trendy Title

Clearly, other businesses feel the same way. According to a LinkedIn blog post, the term ninja has grown expotentially.

This meteoric rise might seem puzzling to many. After all, ninjas emerge from some dark origins. Ninjas were often the hired guns of medieval Japan, and excellent inflitrators. According to the book “Warriors of Medieval Japan” co-authored by scholar Stephen R. Turnbull, “Ninja were the secret agents, the hired assassins and to some extent the ‘special forces’ of medieval Japan…In marked contrast to the samurai ideal of honorable single combat between worthy opponents…the use of ninja was both underhand and dishonorable.”

Folklore and cinema has obviously shifted that original perception of the ninja. These days, the word ninja more likely evokes a vast skill set, sneaking around in the cover of night, and, oh, maybe a Quentin Tarantino film.

Origins In The Gaming Community

Ninjas’ infilitration into the workplace probably sprouted from the gaming community, says Bala Iyer, a professor of IT Management at Babson College. “If you look at the gaming generation, there are games where ninjas are meant to be people with multiple skills. My generation used to call them hackers. When I said hackers when I was going to school, it was meant to be a good thing.”

So the modern office use of ninja is meant to convey a worker with a mastery of various skills to solve complex problems. In fact, Iyer says, you could just as well call them “MacGyvers.”

There is an element jumping-on-the-bandwagon going on here. And whether ninja experiences the leveling off of the guru remains to be seen. There’s already signs that it’s waning.

Two years ago, VIA Agency, an advertising firm, brought in a new employee under the title “Social Media Ninja.” Today, that employee is no longer with the company and no one has taken the mantle, says Rob Gould, a spokesman for the agency. “It would be accurate to say that we were, along with many in the industry, swept up in the excitement of social media and all of its attendant hype,” he wrote me in an email.

Social Media And A Need For Definitions

The ninja might sneak out of office parlance as quietly as it snuck in. But, Iyer says, the underlying trend causing its emergence is here to stay. “The trend has increased but I think the reason behind that is because we don’t have clear ideas on emerging fields like social media. When you don’t have the ability to signal then what you come up with is these titles,” Iyer told me.

Young professionals entering the workforce are coming in with a wide variety of skills that traditional means of defining, measuring and evaluating don’t properly address. In response, young workers are taking to Q&A sites like Quora and LinkedIn as well as amassing accreditations from places like Amazon and Salesforce.com to establish a range of expertise. Until businesses catch up with these huge shifts, snappy, eccentric titles will appear on cubicle walls.

At least the ninjas at Big Commerce won’t be isolated. Donnelly says the company is looking to hire some Sales Samurais.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jesse Noyes
Jesse came to Eloqua from the newsroom trenches. As Managing Editor, it's his job to find the hot topics and compelling stories throughout the marketing world. He started his career at the Boston Herald and the Boston Business Journal before moving west of his native New England. When he's not sifting through data or conducting interviews, you can find him cycling around sunny Austin, TX.


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