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Reconsidering 'Rockstar' and 'Ninja': Employer-Coder Communication

Terms like ‘code ninja,’ ‘rockstar developer,’ or ‘ninja programmer’ have caused a fair amount of controversy within the world of software. These titles have been adopted by employers and inserted into job listings, used in resumes and job applications, and ridiculed by the internet, employers and other developers.

The problem is ambiguity, as nobody knows exactly what these words mean when referring to somebody who programs or writes code. Some think they’re good traits and others think they’re terrible labels.

Is it possible for them to be both good traits and bad labels? Let's have a look. 

The reality

In many dictionaries, words like ‘ninja’ and ‘rockstar’ have been used to recognize somebody who “excels in a particular skill or activity.” I hate to break it to you, but these words have arrived to the tech industry as descriptors, and they’re here to stay. Here’s what I mean:

  • There will always be developers who refer to themselves as such
  • There will always be employers who want to hire them
  • There will always be people who describe others as such

With these things in mind, here is how I think these words would be better used.


Don't call yourself one

If you’re a full stack developer who can work within various technology stacks, write genius code, and can do the work of 4 average developers in half the time… congratulations! You have spent years continually educating yourself to achieve something few others have.

Just don’t call yourself a ninja, rockstar, or anything else that can raise assumptions. Resumes and job applications are not places to quantify your skill level with nonsense descriptors, and employers might fear that you’re arrogant, or not entirely understand your skillset.

A way of being, not a job title

Being a true ninja or rockstar developer is a way of being, not a job title─ actions speak louder than words. If you seek to continuously learn, keep up on new technology, teach others, take pride in your code and be proud of the accomplishments of your team members, you are embodying rockstar qualities rather than professing them.


Don't hire one

Don’t use the terms verbatim on job boards. You might end up with real rockstars and ninjas submitting job applications. Either that, or you’ll only attract developers with illusions of self-grandeur.

A way of hiring, not a qualification for employment

Rather than an unsophisticated and ambiguous job listing that says ‘Rockstar Developers wanted,’ focus on helping your team get there. Say precisely what you’re looking for in the job listing. Spice up your interview process to challenge the interviewees and identify the best candidates. Create an environment that promotes teamwork, learning and growth. Honor great work, but don’t favor talent and experience over a dynamic team.

What it should mean to be a ‘Ninja’ or ‘Rockstar’

Ninjas, rockstars, astronauts, superstars, or any other similar term recently floating around the tech industry should not be said out loud. Doing so pits workers against each other, promotes entitlement, and agitates team dynamic rather than soothing it.

People should, however, use these words as inspiration! Let’s aspire to be the most ninja, rockstar, guru, wizard, astronaut, teamwork-driven, supportive workers we can be.

Made it this far?

Check out the Softtek Blog post about things developers pursue to become ninjas.

Discover Business Insider’s list of other funky job titles.

Explore Indeed’s 2017 survey results about the popularity of weird job titles.

view all