Neal Ford  |
  • Author, Thoughtworker, & Meme Wrangler

Meme Wrangler Origins

For better or worse, ThoughtWorks allows people to choose their own titles for business cards, the only caveat being that you only get one set, meaning you have to live with your choice until you run out of that set, then you can get more.

My first set of business cards at ThoughtWorks had my title as “Application Architect”, which was what I was hired as. But I came to dislike that title for two reasons: first, at the time, “architect” was a dirty word amongst many developers at ThoughtWorks, because of the second reason I’ll posit in a bit. When I met someone in the hallway, he congenially asked my name and what I was hired for, to which I replied “Architect”, which caused him to snort “We don’t have Architects at ThoughtWorks” and walk away. The second reason I came to dislike that title was because, over time, I came to realize that, in many organizations, “Application Architect” actually means “Post Useful” - spends more time in Visio than an IDE.

I wanted to more closely reflect what my job was becoming in my second set of business cards, so I chose the very abstract “Meme Wrangler”. From Wikipedia:

A meme is a unit of social information. It is a relatively newly coined term and identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

So, as genes are to DNA, memes are to thoughts.

I love the meme meme, so I originally chose “Meme Herder”, and offered that to a mailing list I’m on as a potential new title. Prag Dave Thomas, who’s also on the same mailing list, suggested the much better “Wrangler”, which is more visceral and has more layered meanings. “Wrangler” has two meanings:

  1. a person in charge of horses or other livestock on a ranch.
  2. a person engaging in a lengthy and complicated quarrel or dispute.

Both of which sound about right.

A Meme Wrangler: someone who herds ideas into thoughts, generally through lengthy and complicated discussions (not so much quarrels as “impassioned conversations”). I once had a project manager complain to me, the Tech Lead, which is the true title at ThoughtWorks for someone who has architectural responsibilities, that the frequent arguments amongst the developers were annoying/frightening the other people on the project. I asked “What arguments? All I hear are impassioned conversations, which are like arguments, but with passion instead of anger”).

However cool the Meme Wrangler title is, it elicits one of two responses when I give people business cards: either “Oh, cool” or “What does this mean?”

So, as a Grand Compromise, in my most recent set of business cards, it lists my title as Software Architect / Meme Wrangler, which is probably as close to describing what I do as any short title can.

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Neal Ford  |
  • Author, Thoughtworker, & Meme Wrangler