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Brilliant Jerks in Engineering (brendangregg.com)
267 points by dmit 30 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 231 comments



The situation I've encountered is a jerk who was actually fairly mediocre in his abilities but whose bully characteristics and brash confidence had led many of the non-technical people in the company to believe he was extremely skilled.

I think one reason people become bullies is because they know they can't back up their decisions with skill. Linus is brash, but is quite able to work well with people and has the results to prove it.

Most people who adopt bully tactics are simply doing it for tactical reasons to hide their own weaknesses.

The myth of "brilliant jerks" is harmful because it lets any jerk pretend he's doing it because he's brilliant, when chances are he's just afraid of being unmasked as mediocre.

As a corollary, engineering culture should be very open to every member of the team learning and being very open to lessons learned (read: mistakes made) in the process. Bullies often intimidate by criticizing others' decisions, which creates an atmosphere of fear that prevents rational thought and stifles group learning.


This is certainly a problem I’ve seen. One employee was hated by almost all the technical people because he was a jackass and couldn’t work with others. He wanted everything done his way and wasn’t interested in the opinions of others (except as they may bolster how great his ideas were).

The truth is he wasn’t very good, at least not to the degree he tried to present.

Some of management loved him because he worked so hard. He was always there, always the one holding things together.

The truth was he was doing that because his methods were shoddy enough that things were always falling apart. He didn’t want others working on stuff because that would either lose his control/power or people would see how bad things really were.

In the end it became too much. As the company grew and things were done without him it became clear just how little he actually accomplished. New employee worked as well and were easy to get along with, not hostile to help.

But we had to suffer with him sabotaging things and dealing with his outbursts for YEARS.


There are Jerks and Non-Jerks. Also Brilliant Folks and Averae Joes(?). I dont know why we tend to club two different qualities and consider them as a single entity. The question should be, "This employee is a jerk, what to do about it" rather than, "This employee is a brilliant jerk, should we tolerate it". There are enough brilliant people who are excellent human beings with no failings and plenty of mediocre bullies. The employee should conform to common sense behaviour which is compliant to their corporate culture like most tech workers do.


The problem is non-brilliant jerks are usually a lot easier to get rid of. They can be replaced.

When the jerk is brilliant and necessary (or at least perceived so) management can be much more hesitant. ‘Yes he’s horrible but we can’t operate without him’ or ‘we don’t have the slack to pick up that work’ or ‘it will take too long to train someone new right now’.

They get extra excuses that a medium or low performer wouldn’t.


Sadly, that extends to behavior far worse than being a jerk.


WAY too true.


I have been lucky enough to have encountered very few jerks.

We are in a field where cooperation is encouraged and leads to benefits for everybody as long as the team culture allows it.

I did have to work with one jerk in a team of 19 people. He was meh as an engineer. Not awful but not nearly as great as he thought he was, he only had experience for him.

He was the only person extremely protective of his turf (for exemple, he was the only admin on the jenkins server).

It mostly seem to come from poor character and insecurity.

In the end many people (including me) did just not really work with him most of the time and in such a large team it was not really an issue.

The bar for being a jerk brilliant enough for people to bear your insanity is extremely high IMO. There are many great engineers who are also great people, so little reason to settle for a jerk.


95% of the time I've seen this toxic behavior it's been from a manager, and their behavior was tacitly encouraged by their superiors.


Oh the manager was definitely a huge part. The manager thought he was a great worker and maybe just needed closer watching (he could do good work if watched like a hawk, was a mess left on his own) but that never lasted long.

Lots of excuses, ‘one more time’s, ‘not right now’, ‘on his final chance’, ‘we are looking for a replacement’, etc.


Well what happened at the end?


Eventually I threaten to quit because of him. The guy who was hired as his replacement had apparently made a similar threat after it was clear he wasn’t going to get the job he signed on for. And an incident meant others in management got a small view into just how little he actually accomplished.

It helped the company wasn’t doing great and cutting his salary was probably useful.

Years too late though. We’d lost good people because of him. I was only there because I could minimize my interactions with him (through role and power) so I didn’t have to deal with him much.

OH. The other thing was he got shuffled to a different manager who very quickly learned what he was dealing with and didn’t want to waste his time with it.


Interesting. Do you know where he works now, or is he at the same role.

Its interesting how these days things got tad better. When I worked for a few big tech corps, you always got these people who were there because there always been there, and they never cared to moved on with technology/people/you name it, but because of who they knew/what they knew/how long they been there, noone wanted to touch it. Nowadays it seems so fast paced that there is not enough room for those type of guys even at the top corps.


It was a small company, sort of a family feel, so things all ran differently. He wasn’t actually related to anyone though.

No I don’t know what happened to him, and neither do the other people who worked there that I’m still in touch with. We are all curious to know if he’s doing a similar job somewhere else or is doing something else entirely.


There a lot of things that lead to this, including...

1) The whole 10x thing. The implication being that if you're brilliant, you're worth an entire team or more; if you're average, you're... worthless. Thus, you have to be better than everyone else to be worth anything

2) Classic bro culture - somebody who gets rewarded for being obnoxious, bullying, and "alpha" is a very "bro" thing.

3) Tech people tend to be people who put a lot of their self esteem in their intellectual - and work - abilities. This means they get more defensive when that ability is threatened.

It's a culture that rewards being brash and confident. Can you imagine someone saying that they are an average programmer but work well with a team to get done a lot?

There are definitely people who quietly get a lot of work done, and there are people who are "force multipliers" who make the rest of the team more productive (something I regularly try to do, incidentally). Depending on the culture these things can get ignored pretty easily - the 10x developer is an individual with limitless skill in the classic view.

There's not really a space for an "average" developer - everybody has to be a "Rock star" or "10x" developer. We only hire the top 1%, etc. So if you aren't, what else can you do but fake it?


I'd say another thing that leads to this is lack of work-life balance / overinvestment of waking hours in one's job.

If your job is basically your life, then the stakes are a lot higher in terms of what you do about your brilliant jerk of a co-worker. Let's say for example there's a jerk in the office who is abusive to lots of people, not just you, but you're tired of it and plan to do something about it -- confront them directly, talk to the manager, whatever. If you have shitty work-life balance, this is a much scarier thing to do. The downside isn't just losing a job that you at least to some extent dislike because of a bad colleague -- it's the end of your social life as you know it. And to make matters worse, for a lot of young people in tech, the job is not just a paycheck and source of friends, it's a source of existential prestige; something your mom brags about.


IMO the best way to spot a jerk is how they react to their own screwups.

Everyone has been there at some point in their career, whether it's rm -rf / on a production server, or forgetting a WHERE clause in a DELETE query - you WILL fuck something up, and it'll be something important.

Now, a normal person will own up to their mistake, use it as a learning experience, laugh about it, and maybe ask someone for help. Take the mickey a bit, but don't give them too hard a time. They know what they did and they respect you, which is why they asked you.

This leads to the second way to spot them: do they take other people's advice or suggestions on board? Even if they don't think it's the right solution, do they engage politely in a constructive discussion? Nobody is an expert on everything.

If they don't do either of those, you've got a narcissist on your hands.

Another thing to bear in mind is that occasionally a particularly egregious asshole needs taking down a few pegs. That's how you handle bullies - you take their perceived power away.


Yeah it doesn't help that a lot of programmers are traditionally "nerds" who have grown up being bullied by others (I did).

It is possible to understand how to handle this kind of behaviors though. I would wager that most software engineers could certainly learn a bit more about behavioral psychology. In particular, although it is still a little taboo, I would recommend talking to a therapist even if one doesn't seem to exhibit any explicit pathologies. Its rather shocking just how much our formative experiences influence the subconscious throughout our lives; and in my opinion it is helpful to at least understand that better, if not to change them.


> In particular, although it is still a little taboo, I would recommend talking to a therapist even if one doesn't seem to exhibit any explicit pathologies.

it is? wow that's sad. there's all kinds of therapists and lots are pretty crappy but I don't see the benefit to society by creating a "taboo" around the entire concept of talking about your personal problems to a paid advisor.


Admitting that you have a weakness has always been taboo, if for not other reason than than it gives people a way to attack you.

If people were all nice, then it wouldn't be a problem. But there are far too many opportunistic jerks out there to not worry about exposing your vulnerabilities.


Especially as tech has picked up more and more of a "jock" approach to things as the salaries kept going up up up.


Linus Torvalds have gotten an undeserved reputation because it is oh so easy for the online tech media to take emails out of context.

Whenever he brings out the harsh words, it is because someone has been stalling and deflecting about breaking some core rule for kernel development.

Torvalds never pounce on someone out on tail end of the patch chain. He comes down hard on those that have been in charge of maintaining major sections of the kernel for years, and should know what is expected of them.


Torvalds never pounce on someone out on tail end of the patch chain. He comes down hard on those that have been in charge of maintaining major sections of the kernel for years, and should know what is expected of them.

I don't think that's necessarily good enough. Even if he is personally restrained in whom he acts like a jerk towards, his behaviour establishes norms within the project and contributes to how other people behave.

Project leaders need to set good examples.


> I don't think that's necessarily good enough. Even if he is personally restrained in whom he acts like a jerk towards, his behaviour establishes norms within the project and contributes to how other people behave.

I'd really like to see some examples of these "norms". His outbursts really are few and far between - hence why they always make the "news" when they happen. He posts several emails a day to the LKML and virtually all of them are perfectly nice and helpful.

I might not defend how exactly he goes about telling people they're doing something wrong, but it's not like he sits there chewing people out everyday, and it's not at all clear to me how you make the claim that his outbursts contribute to how other people behave on the LKML when people behave perfectly fine on the LKML.


This is such a passive attitude. I don't think the passive, judging members of tech organizations will ever take responsibility for how they are dragging their orgs down. Because, by definition, they are passive and take responsibility for nothing.

But the truth is that organizations fail more often because of their passive, "why won't anyone lead me properly" attitudes. And this smacks of it.


> Project leaders need to set good examples

Why? Are we Puritans now?


It has nothing to do with puritanism. If project leaders don't set good examples, people "lower down" in the hierarchy will also act like jerks, and the project will lose potential contributors as a result.


> people "lower down" in the hierarchy will also act like jerk

It's not clear to me he is a jerk. If LT only shouts when things are important, people without important tasks have no reason to shout.


Important to whom?


Anyone who depends on, or is invested in, the security/stability of the Linux kernel, or cares about such a reputation. Which should include core devs.


Not really. In what context is saying that someone should be 'retroactively aborted' a perfectly fine thing to say?


I've known Linus for a long time and don't believe him to be malicious. Do you have context for that statement?

Linus has a sly sense of humor, I bet it was either directed at some code or it was in jest.


Here's the email. Jest may be hard to discern via text, but I if I had made that contribution (directly or indirectly) and was met by this response by the maintainer, I think it would be my last.

https://lkml.org/lkml/2012/7/6/495

Actually, after reading it a few more times, I can't find any jest in it tbh


"Of course, I'd also suggest that whoever was the genius who thought it was a good idea to read things ONE FCKING BYTE AT A TIME with system calls for each byte should be retroactively aborted. Who the fck does idiotic things like that? How did they noty die as babies, considering that they were likely too stupid to find a tit to suck on?"

Saying stuff like is just poor leadership and being as ass. This is like saying racist comments and brushing it off as a joke.


He’s essentially saying “this userland code is beyond stupid, but we don’t break userland so here’s how we can keep it working.”

The comment is neither aimed at the contributor (who works on kernel code) nor the reporter (who did not write the code). In fact if you read the rest of the thread you can see them concur and joke about it.


What ramchip said. If Linus had said that to a specific person it's unreasonable. Kernel people can be pretty salty, this is a little more salty that normal but not that much.

He's legitimately saying "yeah, we have to support this but you'd have to be bat shit crazy to think this is a good idea". And he's correct, going into the kernel for one byte at a time I/O is stupid.


Are the people joking about it equals or can Linus decide who gets fired?


Both. The reporter is an equal, and the contributor is a subordinate (in a sense).



No, it was neither of those things. It was him being a jerk to someone who had the audacity to do something in a different way.


In a humorous context, of course. I mean think about it.


I can't help but think that a lot of those people see the way Linus acts, and get this idea in their heads that they too can act that way. He's just as much a part of this problem as anyone else.


I've been a smart jerk, dunno about brilliant but positive about the jerk part. More in the selfless camp, I cared about the company (Sun) a lot and ran rough shod over anyone who got in the way of my quest to make the company better.

I definitely hurt some people and, as a young guy, felt that making the company better trumped all of that. And I was a little clueless, I had ADD and no treatment and had no idea that communication happened non-verbally, just wasn't a thin g for me.

What made it better was when I added compassion and empathy to my thought process. Instead of barging into someone's office and yelling at them that their code was broken, I'd start with the people stuff. Ask if I could talk to them, ask how they were doing, ask if they knew about this problem in their code. More ask, less yelling. And in my head, i would ask myself is there anything going on in this dude's life that is negative? Sick kid? Divorce? Parent dieing?

I was still willing to come to the conclusion that the person sucked at whatever chunk of code it was that was in the spotlight but it took me a lot longer to get there because I was trying to see if there was something else going on that caused the crappy code.

Dunno if that helps, I'm sure people told me to think like that but it took me a while to get there. Maybe this shortens the path for someone else.


I am an Alice and I need some feedback as why is it a bad thing! I work in an environment when very small percentage of people know what are they doing. and people that know what is going on do not speak up because they are frustrated and know probably nothing will change. in this environment I do speak up whenever I get a chance and I've been in arguments with managers 3 4 level above me. everybody else wants to be politicians and please everybody! but I believe because no one wants to hurt other people's feelings we are in a shit situation we are in.

why am I wrong ? should I care less like everybody else?

PS: where I currently work is wasting public money and I feel obligated to do something as a Libertarian!


You are wrong because the vast majority of people take criticism personally. It turns out that when you tell people they are wrong and present them with reasons they are wrong, a surprising number of people double down. I'm sure you have heard this before, but you have to make them think it was their idea.

Edit Source: I make this mistake all the god damn time, and never realize it until the person breaks and finally snaps at me. The whole time I thought we were just having a reasoned argument. I think that I am constructively invalidating the other persons arguments, meanwhile they are feeling belittled and defensive.

Edit edit: This is even worse if, like me, you think arguments are pretty much the greatest most entertaining game it is possible to play.


I have made this mistake all the time in life as well. Even with some things that seem to have no political, religious, etc. angle to them, and are just very easy to Google and verify in a heartbeat.

This is going to sound ridiculous, but I thought I'd open up for example. In university I adamently refuted the moon landing conspiracy of a group partner. I didn't realize this would offend, but it did. She did a lot of extremely vindictive things after that, and even tried to (with some success, I might add) incite anger towards me from other group members.

Some people become extremely defensive and then aggressive, perhaps it is especially so if you are the nerdy-humble-well-intentioned-Alice-low-gravitas type...

Knowing when to correct someone and when to keep quiet is something I have become a lot better at with age. It took a lot of learning the hard way though.

I would hope others are understanding that not everyone who is perceived as a jerk, actually intends it.


Agree totally.

In an idealized "intellectual-only" world, humans would be Spock-like and be pure rational actors.

But we aren't, not even close. (And I would argue that that's a good thing, but that discussion is waaaaay out of scope).

As soon as you accept that humans, including yourself, primarily make _emotional_ decisions and not rational ones, it becomes easier to steer decisions in a healthy manner.


> In an idealized "intellectual-only" world, humans would be Spock-like and be pure rational actors.

I used to think more along these lines. I heard someone recently talk about Spock and Captain Kirk and their approaches to different situations, and he said that most people think Spock must always be right due to his logical side. He then said that many times Kirk’s more human emotional approach actually worked out better in the end. Obviously you need a balance. Things should be logically thought out but sometimes you need to act out of empathy and sympathy towards others even when it might not make that much sense.


Right. In my opinion it's even worse. The thing that piss me off about Spock is that ignoring the emotional component is a very illogic thing to do. :)


Don't generalize from fictional evidence. On average rational decisions are usually better than irrational ones.

Also being rational =/= being cold and unemotional.


> but you have to make them think it was their idea.

The best way I've found to do this is to them you don't understand something and have them explain the solution to you.

Plus it's humility practice -- you might even turn out to be wrong!


This is good advice. Whenever I'm sure I'm right, I try to get people to walk me through whatever they are proposing because I know they will eventually step through the problems that I see, but they don't yet.

But, you know, sometimes it turns out that I was actually the one not seeing some things clearly and by not coming out of the gate as a jerk about things we can both walk away having come to a collaborative solution and everyone feels good.


It also really depends on your delivery. You can shoot down ideas and make counter-arguments in friendly & supportive ways, or smug & arrogant ways.

I can see why you'd think that, I made the same mistake earlier, but see there's this problem here...

vs

No, that's obviously wrong, why would you even think that? Let me show you the right way...


You can only take that tone for co-workers. Doesn't work for your superiors as op describes.


I see your point and I agree with you, but it is so hard to put ideas in peoples head! and it is taking so much effort! you can't do that in a meeting when 10 other people are sitting! I guess there is no way to get around it and I should just give up !


Yeah, this works better in one on ones, but usually I don't think it is that hard, particularly if the other person respects your opinion. The trick is rather than shooting down ideas, present alternatives, and guide the other person through finding the flaws on their own.(Note: Doing this without sounding patronizing can be difficult)


One of the tricks that helps people who have difficulty with this is by using the Socratic method. Posing your objection as a question (and not a rhetorical question) imparts a respect for the intellect of the person you're trying to convince.

Instead of saying "bubble sort is too slow for us to use" (oppositional, "you are wrong for thinking otherwise"), try "wouldn't bubble sort be too slow for us to use?" (collaborative, "maybe you have something to add").


You're cynically describing being right as wrong.

It's ok to be cynical and defeatist, but those two qualities don't make for useful answers to questions


You are wrong because you are ineffective. You want a good thing: you want your environment to change for the better. But if you find yourself getting into arguments with managers, then you are probably not effectively changing minds, and you will get frustrated. You already sound frustrated.

Speaking the truth straight out can feel good, but it is rarely a good rhetorical strategy. Instead, back up, and start with this: what do the people across the table want? What do they believe is good, and what do they believe is important?

Now, how do you recast your arguments to appeal to those goals? How do you frame your position in such a way that they will want to agree with you?

This is the foundation of convincing people: empathize, understand them, learn their communication patterns. Once you see how they communicate and think, you work down those routes but send the message you believe is important.


> what do the people across the table want? What do they believe is good, and what do they believe is important?

See, this is why the public sector is usually so ineffective and why it's so frustrating. The people across the table tend to jump from posting to posting, and make safe moves that are far from being the correct ones to fulfill the organization's larger goals, while cultivating political capital. Ultimately, they are motivated by the prospect of future postings and promotions, which are determined not by their performance in achieving the organization's goals but by how much political capital they have succeeded in accumulating.

There is no way to sell reform to these people, because reform involves upsetting the status quo, and upsetting the status quo costs large amounts of political capital.

Successfully leading change from the bottom in the public sector is for that rare cadre of people who are not just visionaries and cheerleaders for change, but are patient enough to spend years and decades building upon small changes that build up while not losing their patience and escaping to the private sector.

Source: been there, done that, screw that, couldn't pay me enough to go back and do that again


I've given advice to young professionals in the past in this same vein. I ask, "What magic is it that people love good ideas, yet, you have a good idea and no one listens to you?"

The answer boils down to this: if you have a good idea but people are rejecting it, find a new way to talk about it.


The real answer is that ideas are a dime a dozen and execution is everything.

When you proclaim a good idea, you aren't offering an execution plan to go with it, so people (rightfully) ignore it.


Actually it is not even execution, but who promotes the idea and whether they have clout.

People in management also tend to buy impossible lies especially considering deadlines.


You can't be a superior engineering contributor unless you are honest with everyone, from superiors to peers, to reports. The key is how you present information. I just proactively scheduled a 1-1 with a Sr VP three levels above me for later this month to cover an important topic.

This is what I want to tell them:

Our core customer facing application is shit. The contractors who wrote it cut tons of corners and the marketing people who designed did a horrible job, the UI emphasizes features customers don't care about, and makes it extremely difficult for customers to actually reach and use the revenue generating sections of the app. Not only is the marketing leadership is disfunctional, and worse, you (the Sr VP) have created a disfunctional development organization, that makes me wonder if you understand how to develop commercial applications.

This is what I will say:

The weaknesses in our core application are costing the company millions of dollars a month. We are struggling with making quick, effective decisions and shipping new versions to address the major problems because we have "too many cooks in the kitchen" in our team meetings and planning. I will give specific examples and relate them to specific examples from my long history shipping quality commercial apps on time. I will finish by saying the team is demotivated and underperforming, which makes you, the Sr VP, look bad, and plead that we need to solve this, for them and the company both.


I can't see this meeting ending well. Better in parallel look for a job opportunity with less than three layers of management above you.


If you think a Sr VP is going to take a meeting from a Sr Dev just to fire them because they tell them things they don't know or don't want to hear, I'd say you are being paranoid. Nothing I do in that meeting will be a fire-able offense. The reality is most Sr Managers crave hear honest feedback, as long as it's given in a respectful way. They may not agree, but they aren't going to take offense.

But if I'm wrong, and this Sr VP is one of the thin skinned exceptions (doubtful since they are taking the meeting from a Sr. Dev in the first place), then I can get a better job somewhere where it's less dysfunctional.


It depends on the exec. Most that I know like rough, raw feedback.


> why am I wrong ?

I'll bite.

Does it work? Is your approach effective?

In your engagement with the senior folk, do you just complain? Or do you suggest changes that you know are affordable and achievable? Are you arguing so you feel better about trying or are you genuinely attempting to affect change?

Also, has it occurred to you that the higher ups might not be the fools and cowards they appear? Is it possible that they are operating with constraints that they just haven't chosen, or are prevented from, sharing with you?

Obviously I don't know your organisation and it is, of course, possible that its staffed with incompetents. And that by sheer good fortune just you and a small group of your immediate colleagues are the only rational actors. Or it may be something else.


"Does it work? Is your approach effective?"

not all the times, but I had some success here and there! but not as much as I hoped for.

"has it occurred to you that the higher ups might not be the fools and cowards they appear?"

I am not that arragont to think I am the smartest person in a big organization or I am right all the times and others are always wrong! but those constrains are coming from somewhere and I believe most of it comes from people are lazy and don't like to argue with others because they want to be liked! There are lots of people that wants to please everybody and never push back on stupid ideas! the culture is top down and I have 7 level of management above me! I only can blame the top one or two :D


ok. Your view isn’t unusual for folk in large organisations who have never held responsible positions so I’ll leave it there.

But, for what it’s worth, you’re almost definitely wrong in your analysis. Senior people at large organisations do routinely make poor decisions but it’s usually for either external factors, empire building or blame shifting. It’s hardly ever for genuine stupidity or laziness.


The article points out the damage that being an Alice can cause - some people (most people, really) are affected by the way others treat them, so when you are right, and someone else is wrong (and you are certain of that ;) ) you can add a bonus to your technical contributions by mentoring that person. Winning an argument is hard and doesn't fix underlying problems with competency, but mentoring someone will build up good will. Instead of feeling like they have lost or been proven inferior, the "opponent" in this case will correctly believe they have grown technically.

The way to do that is all in phrasing, tone of voice, and general respectful treatment. If, like me, this is not something that comes naturally to you, it might be worth searching google for a few little tricks that will help you to resolve disagreements. The Socratic method - using questions instead of statements - can be effective. It has also helped in my experience to describe similar situations in which the course of action you support has proven itself.

When speaking with managers who make a bad suggestion, it is helpful to explain that the course of action they are proposing was considered, and why it was rejected. That will reassure them that you are on top of the situation, and (in the case of a good manager) show that you are able to do your work without your assistance.

Of course if your manager's ego is tied to his/her suggestions, which is common, you're probably SOL. The most effective way I have seen a team deal with that is to implement the bad suggestions as quickly and flexibly as possible in order to minimise the damage to the schedule, the project, and so on.


Acting without tact and diplomacy is probably hurting your end goal. You want to build allies in a common cause rather than alienate people that can help.


This is ridiculously good advice for so many situations. And in almost all of them, the person won't listen and will have claim some other reason that their behavior is warranted, no matter how ineffectual it ends up being in the end.

It's so depressing.


> I am an Alice and I need some feedback as why is it a bad thing!

Are you interested in the best outcomes, or addicted to behaving in the way you find easiest? If you are actually interested in outcomes, if you actually care you will learn that meeting people on their terms will produce better outcomes than communicating however you find easiest.

Technology is easy, people are hard.


"Technology is easy, people are hard"

this is so true, one of the reasons I chose technology was I thought I can just spend my time in a cube isolated and not have to deal with people, but more and more my job is becoming dealing with people rather than technology!


You are not wrong. There are lots of people who feel and act like you, and when they get together on the same team they can be very productive.

I feel that a lot of places have a culture of agreeability. They are focused on fixing disagreement rather than fixing the underlying problem. A truth-telling person isn't suited to those environments.

I also feel that a "no brilliant jerks" policy is an anti-neuro-diversity policy. It weeds out high-functioning autistic and psychopathic people. I think any homogenous environment created from such a policy would be a dangerous thing.


"They are focused on fixing disagreement rather than fixing the underlying problem"

this is gold, this is exactly what my organisation is doing!

Thanks it helps a lot.


I appreciate it when people tell me that I'm wrong in a respectful manner and with solid reasoning to back it up. It's impossible to be right 100% of the time, and the only way to improve is when someone or something points out when you've erred. If Alice was respectful and knew when to let things go in the example, I would want her as a teammate any day of the week.

It seems the gut reaction in tech is that conflict is bad, but conflict is inevitable. It is better to respectfully resolve conflicts than try to avoid them at all costs IMO


You know how people talk about "soft skills"? Bringing people around to your viewpoint without straight up arguing with them is indeed a soft skill. If you're a PERL hammer you're going to go after most every problem with a PERL script, right? What if the manager 4 levels above you is a Python guy? Is he right? Is he wrong? Or does he just feel differently? What if he's a functional programmer instead? What if he's a LISP guy?

At some point you have to learn to appreciate other viewpoints and approaches to problem solving. You might want to argue things on strictly technical merits when someone 3 or 4 levels above you has completely different criteria to judge a solution. Maybe he sees less risk or less cost, maybe he just doesn't want to change the status quo. Maybe he simply sees a challenge to his authority.

There's a wide spectrum between being a politician and pleasing everyone and being a politician and working through a discussion and couching your position in a way the other person appreciates and accepts. But it's on you to figure out how to make that work, not them.


It might be helpful to change your style a little to accomplish the same goal with less conflict.

Always always give people a way to save face, this applies doubly in meetings. If people feel like the choices are being right or being responsible for an error they will fight to be right. If you give them a third option (past inexperience, blame someone that left, poor testing, changed requirements) that doesn't hurt their reputation, they no longer have to fight to be right.

Try to teach people the principal behind why something is wrong/broken/bad. This applies to things like code health that there are more subjective. Instead of saying "That method should not be 300 lines." Teach that you want small understandable functions that do only one thing. This gives them a metric to use in the future and makes your comment seem more well thought out.

Be helpful when you can be. If you are always causing problem people will remember that. People also will remember when you go out of your way to help them. A little bit of oil could help the other interactions run smoothly.

I hope these little bits help some.


I would change “save face” to more like empathize with the other person. Discover why some choices were taken.

Nearly most decisions that seem wrong were taken due to time constraints. Something had to get out the door. Software can be patched later.

So instead of saying “Bob’s team isn’t producing a good product” look into why. Maybe “Bobs team was in crunch time due to 3 people leaving the group and decided to use their own queuing service instead of working with IT to use the company one and that’s causing some problems that I think we can address by spending time on X”


> PS: where I currently work is wasting public money and I feel obligated to do something as a Libertarian!

do non-libertarians feel that there's nothing wrong with companies wasting taxpayer money?


I don't know, everybody else looks fine with it and try to milk the cow as much as possible !


I often wonder that myself.


Google has an interesting philosophy on this:

""" Cosgrove asked them to elaborate on the idea: "exile the knaves, but fight for the divas."

Rosenberg said maintaining Google's collaborative culture requires weeding out and getting rid of the knaves: Employees who lack integrity, who are jealous of their peers, take credit for others' work, and think only of themselves. "Nice humble engineers have a way of becoming insufferable when they think they are the sole inventors of the world's next big thing," they write in their book. "This is quite dangerous, as ego creates blind spots... Nip crazy in the bud."

Divas, on the other hand, display "high exceptionalism," Rosenberg said. If the divas are brilliant and doing a good job, they should be valued and allowed to do their jobs. "As long as ... the divas' achievements outweigh the collateral damage caused by their diva ways, you should fight for them."

"They will pay off your investment by doing interesting things," they write. "...Remember that Steve Jobs was one of the greatest business divas the world has ever known!" """ [1]

[1] http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2014/10/googles_...


By all accounts I've heard from friends working at Google X, Sergey Brin is the textbook definition of a "brilliant jerk". This probably has something to do with it.


Facebook has open floor plans not because they are effective at collaboration or productive work environments, but because Mark Zuckerberg prefers being able to see everyone at work.

Companies tend to be modeled around the strengths and weaknesses of their founders.


Not disagreeing with you at all; simply pointing out there may be a good reason why Google is more tolerant of brilliant jerks than other places. I do have to say that most "brilliant jerks" don't end up being worth the time you put into them because they're usually the first to jump ship when something better comes along...


I've been in a non-tech work environment (specifically, publishing) where management followed this philosophy. In that case it yielded a disgruntled workforce with terrible leadership who were variously ignored and exploited by the divas. Ultimately the place would have done better with a boatload of knaves and no more than 2 divas.


Sounds like a jerk is just a diva we don't like. Which, you know, that's fine, but starting off with the pejorative "jerk" inherently indicates they are not a person worth valuing.


This is a great article. It's a terrific opportunity for introspection.

I do however want to point out that some of these may be less about being an insufferably relentless jerk than other pieces.

> He is late to meetings, ... then looks at his phone or laptop while ignoring everyone around him

This is also a pretty common indicator for ADHD. Not to say that excuses being a "jerk", but there are people out there that have a fundamentally difficult time tracking and arriving at meetings properly, and it's not always easy to account for. It also goes hand in hand with a few other related issues here. It's also somewhat common in the world of software.

I have some semblance of issue arriving at meetings properly, and it takes sincere effort to correct for it. When I started my career (admittedly, not so long ago) I definitely displayed more pieces of what is described as brilliant jerk than I would like to have (though certainly nothing like gaslighting and exploitation of others around me - more those things in line with adhd).

On the other hand, I spent 3 years working especially hard on self improvement here, and I certainly appreciate the patience of those around me in helping me realize my failures. It took me a year of effort to really avoid interrupting others while talking - not as a matter of being a jerk, but simply because my mind gets lost in conversation and feels the need to begin talking with less cognizance than I wish I had that others were speaking. These days, I am quick to apologize upon realizing I've interrupted, and ask the speaker to continue. That's strictly worse than never interrupting, but it both publicly acknowledges that I know this is a problem for me in conversation, and helps move forward.

The best thing for some people who have some of these issues is to give them honest, direct, and proactive feedback regarding it. They may well have no idea the ways in which they're impacting those around them, and they may well be surprisingly proactive in self-improvement upon being spoken to.

It's non-proactivity in self-improvement that you should be far less accepting of, ADHD or not.


Good point about the meetings. With Bob, he's doing this on purpose to assert dominance. If you ask Bob a direct question in this meeting, he'll ignore it on purpose the first time and continue working on his phone/laptop, and make you ask again, and plead for his attention. Making you beg is a way to humiliate you in front of others, and to show that he's more important than the others in the room. And the kicker: everyone in the room knows he's doing this on purpose, but no one speaks up, because he's the rock star engineer that we must tolerate. (Wrong.)


You will know it is not due to ADHD if the first thing they say when you mention them being late in a meeting is 'I have ADHD'. Being late at meetings is one thing that happens to everybody. Being doing other stuff during meetings, stand-ups or what not, in a group setting, while having your legs up on the desk playing with your phone is being a jerk.


Ditto, I need my life to come with a disclaimer that I might be late, or not attend at all, and that it is not on purpose, and probably stems from my computer not beeping loud enough to warn me that a meeting is coming up.


I was so Alice for much of my career. I know this is going to sound totally cliche because this book get's recommended everywhere, but How to Win Friends and Influence People really did help me.


I'm still part Alice, I think. The Carnegie book really helped me, for sure.

The difficulty though is that at some point if you believe something is important you may ultimately have to go through some kind of dialectic to make your case.

How to Win Friends and Influence People says never have an argument. If you follow this advice you will reap the benefits of the book. However what you're building in your team will trend toward a Least Common Denominator. Or else I don't know how to not let that happen in a world where you can't debate. (Any response that tries to say debate/argument/dialectic aren't all the same thing in this context I think is cheating. Or someone enlighten me.)


I don't particularly like HTWFAIP so please don't take this is a canonical reply, but I never read it as an outright prohibition on debate. Rather, it seems to argue that you can disagree but that an effective leader should keep a disagreement from becoming an outright argument.

It sounds like a silly distinction, but what if you and I disagree about something. I have two choices. I could:

A.) Get incredibly defensive when you disagree, interrupt you constantly, lose my temper and flat out refuse to listen to your ideas.

B.) Thank you for disagreeing because we're all on the same team and want to avoid mistakes. Then I'd listen to everything you have to say and work hard to find areas where we agree. And, after I understand your argument, I point out all the areas where you are correct (and especially areas where I am wrong).

I'd argue that it's more about learning to disagree respectfully and tamper all the impulses to get defensive and turn it into a series of personal attacks.


I agree. I kinda of have a love-hate thing with HTWFAIP. I find it incredibly irritating but also useful? I'm a 3rd gen software engineer and my grandpa and dad were always known for being extremely mean. So I learned a lot bad behaviors from them and other engineers. I think the workplace now is getting less tolerant of that kind of thing though.


When you have multiple completely reasonable options picking either one is not a big deal. Sure, if A is vastly better than B, you can probably convince a team of that. However, when A and B are about as good then arguing about them is a waste of time.

Learning how to separate those situations is important, but not usually a major issue when approached in that context. If all else fails just have a coin flip and say winner takes all. If someone still can't let it go, they are toxic and it's time to remove them from the team.

PS: I call it the bike shedding rule. You need a system to pick a color for a bike shed with reasonable costs. The actual color is less important than the time wasted on the choice.


This comment is predicated on the idea that each problem can be solved/handled in isolation. Each isolated solution can be weighed against another and deemed better, vastly better, etc.

I think in many cases an optimal product can only be produced when there is a holistic vision that is kept in view. And in this paradigm, is is much more difficult to say A is vastly better than B.

Here's just one example--> many software systems that I come to have trended into maintenance nightmares. When you trace back all of the steps from inception to the present moment, you realize that it is due to a series of these kind of A/B decisions that boiled the frog. In each case A wasn't vastly better than B. But the sum of all the A decisions... And this is where it gets harder to make a case... where you may have to take a long walk to make the case...


It'd be great if there was a social protocol for having constructive debates, so they weren't always assumed to be bad things.


Something like what was discussed in this thread? https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14119024


Non Violent Communication (by Marshall Rosenberg) provides some good scaffolding to ensure people can communicate in such a way that their criticism isn't taken as hurtful. Useful in many situations in life, not just company meetings.


I prefer working with "Alices". It's refreshing to see people actually called on their bullshit.

IMHO there's also a limit to how much you can spare everybody's feelings and still be effective at that ^^. I think the OP believed that there isn't a limit. I think he's wrong.

In a corporate environment, there's almost no value in actually being one though. Linus Torvalds would almost never be promoted and would frequently be unceremoniously terminated - as advocated for by Brendan Gregg.


Do you like the act, or the result?

That is, do you like "seeing people actually called on their BS"? Or, do you like people stop doing BS things as a result?

IMO, the latter is much more interesting than the former. Being a 100% Alice guarantees the former, but does not guarantee the latter.


Nothing guarantees the latter ever.


Many of us who work in large corporations have worked on stupid projects that waste hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in company funds. Oftentimes, these failures happen because no one is willing to call his manager a moron.


Most of the "Alice" types I know come from a background in academia, which strongly selects for these types of people who can leave their emotions at the door and iterate on ideas quickly and rationally. None of the complaints raised in this article apply to teams composed entirely of "Alice" types (and the most productive labs I've worked in demonstrate this; and towards this goal I actively practice to become more "Alice"-like)


I once had a 100% Alice team (all women too!) and it was awesome until we were forced to work with contractors who were 0% Alice. We offended them, turned out their boss was friends with some higher up at our company, and we got pretty much screwed.


How did you offend them?


Yeah I'll always be an Alice at heart. And around people I trust. But as you said, it's no longer an Alice world. I was involved in Drupal and they kicked out their own Alice, chx, who was a major contributor.


One can "call someone on their bullshit" without being mean.

And, quite frankly, if someone in my organization said that someone should be 'retroactively aborted' for a tech choice they made, I'd argue for their termination too.


>One can "call someone on their bullshit" without being mean.

I don't think you can, actually. You can do it without being gratuitously mean, but one way or the other somebody's feelings are going to get hurt.

>And, quite frankly, if someone in my organization said that someone should be 'retroactively aborted' for a tech choice they made, I'd argue for their termination too.

Is what you make as technically impressive as linux?


Do you feel like you've made lasting changes as a result of the book, or is it just another choice you can choose to do in a social interaction?

*By lasting changes I mean, do you feel like you've changed and valued being more sociable?


yes, I can now hold down small talk conversations, ask people about their lives, be interested in them and remember to ask follow up questions next time I see them.

I will ask questions about the outcomes of an approach rather than making statements about it so that I make sure we both are working with the same information.

basically it's made my life a lot less stressful, and my discussions with colleagues much more productive


I also started teaching coding around the time I read it, mostly to kids, so that has made me more motivated to be nicer. I don't want to be the jerk responsible for some little kid hating to code...


I think so, I have set up some reminders on my computer to remind me to review certain parts of the book I have trouble with. Like not getting into pointless arguments :)


If someone does something wrong, Alice tells them plainly, and they get offended, whose fault is it? Some people say it's Alice' fault for offending; some say it's the person's fault for doing it wrong in the first place, and for subsequently getting offended.

I think we're conflating is and ought here. It's probably a fact of reality that most people aren't happy to be told they're wrong. But arguably people ought to accept the consequences of being wrong, e.g. feeling bad when they're told.

I've talked to lots of startups in San Francisco. Most are failing, just due to the nature of startups, but can survive if they reach a finite set of straightforward goals. They've found product/market fit, they know what they have to do, they just have to do it, and the correct 10,000 characters of code input into a computer would solve all their business problems. There's often a lot of handwringing about why they're failing: the process is wrong; communication is wrong; something or other. But the largest reason they're failing is that they're insufficiently good at technology. You know who'd be really good at fixing that? A team of Alices.

I think Alices get too much flak. Bob is genuinely a toxic character. But if your only fault is telling the truth, which offends people, and you're otherwise excellent at your job--- there's a huge opportunity for twenty Alices to get together, bypass the inefficiencies of being offended, and win big. Tech has an obvious historical example.

Edit: I reread the description of Alice. All right, maybe don't browbeat your point into others.


Alice is so vaguely portrayed here that I think it's impossible to draw conclusions, let alone call her a brilliant jerk.

As you mention, pointing out when things are wrong isn't being a jerk, it's doing your damn job. "Having little empathy for others" isn't describing behavior, so it's meaningless here. OK, "browbeating" might be bad, but what does that mean anyway? Is she repeating the issue a month later after the problem got ignored, or is she micromanaging it, or what? There's no indication here. Whatever it means, Equifax could have used some browbeating on security issues.

There's no indication about why people try to avoid working with her. Does that refer to other developers, or does HR try to avoid her they go around asking for donations for girl scouts or something? I don't see a real problem with the latter. If somebody had reputation for pointing out problems in code, I wouldn't be avoiding her, I'd be seeking her out.


>They've found product/market fit, they know what they have to do, they just have to do it, and the correct 10,000 characters of code input into a computer would solve all their business problems.

Or they can get a huge team of pleasant and great-looking people that will leave a very good impression and raise tons of capital to keep burning through cash for years without fixing any of those problems. As long as the investors are OK with this, people will keep on using it.


Definitions of "plainly" vary wildly from person to person.


Early on in my career (DevOps/Virtualization/SDN/etc) I landed a role as a junior admin, a backfill for a more senior engineer who was moving up in the organization, but staying on the same team. It could be said he landed somewhere between "Alice" and "Bob", probably due to some mild autism. Without getting into excessive detail, working with him was hard, but by far the most rewarding, educational, and instructive years of my career. I learned more in that short time from that one difficult engineer than the next 3 years combined.

I'm not excusing his behavior, but if you're able to handle that style and develop a functional relationship "brilliant but difficult" folks can be an amazing resource. He's the Sr Infrastructure Architect for that organization now, and they've never been doing better. His ability to be difficult but brilliant keeps the overbearing management folks in check, and has allowed the technology platform to move forward dramatically.

The one downside (other than the constant testing of my self esteem and resolve) was that I let him teach me D&D and he was a pedantic dick of a GM.


I could work with such people when I was younger, relatively low confidence and inexperienced. It is when i learned nore and had enough experience to have own opinions and gained confidense when being expected to do constant "yes sir" no matter how much I disagreed bothered me way more.

Most of those people are much less briliant when you are not a junior. It is mostly that they are rewarded for being jerk.


roll less than 10: you lose your job... :|


Lol, fortunately he wasn't my manager. The only time I rolled well was when it didn't matter :(


I'd add that from an engineering perspective, 'brilliant' jerks aren't even that brilliant.

An actually intelligent person is happy to prove his thinking via truthful argumentation (and unit tests, documentation, and so on), and also happy to get his points refuted by similarly reasonable peers.

Anything other than that approach is noise.


An actually intelligent person is happy to prove his thinking via truthful argumentation (and unit tests, documentation, and so on), and also happy to get his points refuted by similarly reasonable peers.

That has nothing to do with intelligence. It's a particular culture that is taught and learned.


Intelligence is (among other things) about reasoning - proving and disproving things. Also about communicating facts.

How else could we exchange ideas? And in case of disagreement who would win?


Obviously the richer or more powerful, or more credentialed one, right? (Status quo)

/s


While I agree that it's better not to be rude to people, I think it's common for intelligent people to become impatient when forced to share their understanding in what is to them excruciating detail. It is correct to overcome this frustration, but it's also important to acknowledge its existence and accept it as understandable, if only in order to overcome it.


> Anything other than that approach is noise.

Agree with everything except: 'Anything other than that approach is noise.' It is signal that the individual is not capable, and dangerous to work with.


A noisy signal :) I meant noise from as in 'low information, high annoyance'


Imagine that every time you implemented a new feature in your existing Java codebase, everyone asked you to explain Java. Would you be happy to prove the value of Java to your colleagues constantly? Would you start thinking that your peers maybe weren't similarly reasonable to you? At what point does explaining things become frustrating to you?


The key is to provide clear and actionable feedback. If people fail to act on that feedback and continue to hold the team back, you should escalate the problem. "Don't be a jerk" does not mean "be a doormat". It means that when your provide and receive feedback you do it in a careful and effective manner.


I think you should reword your question as it's not a realistic scenario.

Engineers freely choose to learn Java and apply to Java job postings, and if that's not the case I doubt they'd be vocal against the "value" of Java.


You seem like you're imagining a very ideal world. I personally know many engineers who joined a company for one reason, then the team/company began a new project and migrated to Java. I have seen people argue about the choice of underlying technology in code reviews. And if you think my specific scenario was unrealistic, then perhaps attempt to understand it as a general example of "something that is obvious to you and which you think you have explained adequately in the past and should not need to explain again and again". If you still can't understand it, then I think you may simply have never worked with anyone who was at a significantly lower level of knowledge/comprehension than yourself, and perhaps you just aren't capable of understanding the situation without having been in it.


I see your point.

Still that's quite an extreme case. Devs regularly questioning a programming language is not a code-review problem, or a should-I-be-a-jerk problem.

It's more like the problem that you escalate to the CTO (with argumentation!). Or you can pick your battles and move to a saner company.


If you are that high above, then it is part of your responsibility to educate and help bring those people up with you.


At the cost of not doing your job and not getting promoted, right?

If you're paid to do another job, yet you are working as a mentor or teacher and expected to do it still...


>At what point does explaining things become frustrating to you?

After the third time I get asked the same exact question


I've never actually come across an actually brilliant engineering person who was also a jerk. Maybe they sometimes superficially seemed like a jerk at first (particularly if you had a very thin skin), but not after you actually made an effort to get to know them.

Most of the time though, the jerks just aren't even close to being brilliant. I feel this jerk attitude is quite often something that is used to mask ineptitude.

This is after 20 years, 7+ companies and quite close work with hundreds of individuals (often in a managing position, so maybe they think I was the jerk ;P).

(In fact I feel like most of the "brilliant" people I have worked with have actually been nicer than the average person.)


I've met the brilliant jerk (and depending on who you ask, I've been the brilliant jerk). It's a real thing.

One surprising thing is that it is possible for people to change, at least in how they treat people. Once I was told I would have to interact with the "brilliant jerk" and I complained and my manager said, "no, really, he has CHANGED" and, miracle of miracles, he had.

I wish I knew exactly how and why he changed, my best guess is treatment for clinical depression, which often surfaces as extreme irritability.


Amen and kudos for mentioning clinical depression as a thing that causes extreme irritability.

I know a few Bobs. They are hard to deal with. They get promoted. And eventually you might want to trade them out for a different Bob - which can mean just flat out leaving an organization. They aren't likely to go, so that means it's you.


Same here, usually the ones being called "brillant jerks" hold 3-letter positions and take engineering success as their own because they had an idea (kinda like Steve Jobs used to do).


I experienced two nearly-brilliant thorough-going jerks at once in one role, who induced me and most of my peers to leave also.

There have been a couple of others in another role, in banking, and they know exactly what I think of them! B^>

These people do exist, and can be successful, and the description given in TFA pretty closely matches many aspects of psychopathy, such as the charming-when-necessary and no empathy.

Psychopaths are 5x more common in the C-suite than the general population. I don't know about the engineering ratio.


You mention banking. To me that's like a culturally totally separate universe, with totally separate profiles of people.

I don't think my experience applies to that universe.


There are a lot of well-paid engineers/STEM in banking.


I can imagine. :)


Same. Roughly the same XP and I have never seen these jerks everybody talks about. Similarly to the 10x engineer, or the awful engineer who could destroy your product if your interview doesn't weed them out, I haven't met the brilliant jerk so far.


Same here, but I'm afraid that might just put me in to the jerk category myself.


Meanwhile management and executive positions are teeming with not-Brilliant only-Jerks. It's the norm rather than the exception.

Totally makes sense.


Sounds like you are referring to The Gervais Principle ?

https://www.ribbonfarm.com/2009/10/07/the-gervais-principle-...


I found the line of questioning and discussion by the manager of the employee he "told off" to be profound, yet succinct:

> 1. Was it my intent to make his staff unproductive?

> 2. Do you think you could have told my engineer what you needed to, in a way that left them feeling positive and motivated to fix it?

> Always do that in the future, please.


In my case, for most my teenage and short adult life I was always left "feeling positive and motivated" except I would always fall back into the same habits. I started to expect the gentleness and kindness. What I needed was a good ass whooping. If I look back at my life in hindsight, I learned the most when I was under the gun -- had to succeed, failure not an option -- not "motivated" and "positively influenced"

Maybe there is a "non-asshole" way to do that, but there needs to be a place for this in society as well. Some people respond to gentleness and nudges, some don't.

The person I think back early in my career when I was an associate and my first tech lead -- yes! he was the biggest asshole I met at that time -- but it would be remiss of me to not admit that I learned and stretched more on his team than I did the rest of my time at that company by a mile.


How are you defining 'motivated'? To me it seems like an oxymoron to be motivated and not do anything.


I would hire a brilliant jerk. Our company has 3. 2 of them I actually like, they fit the likable jerk archetype (common in sitcoms, I think Bill Maher is a good example), and they’re good. The other one is basically not interested in human interaction. This offends people somehow, but I’d rather work w someone who doesn’t want to talk to me than someone who I don’t want to talk to.


This doesn't pass the Torvald test. i.e. Would your startup hire Linus if he hadn't yet created linux and git?


- Actual Linuses start up their own projects

- A successful startup does not depend on miracles, geniuses and such.


Linus is brilliant for sure, but bottom line is that you're very unlikely to run into a Linus when you're allowing a brilliant jerk into your organization. It's like yeah, a basketball team can deal with an abrasive, competitive maniac when it's Michael Jordan, but how many Michael Jordans are out there? You're more likely to be dealing with a skilled but replaceable jerk than you are to be dealing with a one-of-a-kind superstar.

Even then, having a jerk superstar in a software dev shop might still be a net negative. If that person causes a lot of turnover, missed deadlines, or drags down everyone else's productivity, their brilliance may not make up for it.

And who's to say that the brilliant but somewhat difficult developer can't be reformed into someone who treats people better? Why should any company have to accept someone behaving like that in return for their skills? Maybe someone like Linus would totally be more diplomatic if he had to fit in at a company with a 'no brilliant jerks' policy.


The opposing viewpoint is that you can't dissect a person like that. It could be Linus' abrasiveness that makes him an amazing engineer.


Hiring a bully is a bad idea unless they have a history to back up their abrasiveness. And even then, it's tricky.


> Would your startup hire Linus if he hadn't yet created linux and git?

No.


"We need you to set up recurring billing for our new feature X"

"Hmmm... that would be easier if we had a custom OS... I'm going to start on that first. Also, custom version control software would really boost our productivity..."


> How long does it take you to write the VCS?

"Hm, I can do it in 2 weeks."

> Too long. Work on the feature X.


The real problem with jerks is that "you get what you role model". If you have senior technical people acting like jerks and getting away with it, you have junior people concluding that being a jerk is the way to get a leadership position. That creates a toxic workplace over the long haul. Jerk-like behavior is a performance management issue and managers that don't confront it dig their own grave.


I've worked with so many brilliant jerks. They're incredibly toxic. The Bob example is bordering on sociopathic, or is a sociopath.

I've worked with someone who ticks almost all of the Bob traits. He would actively try to get people fired who he didn't like, spending time gaslighting everyone around them until enough people disliked his victim where it was possible to fire them. He turned entire teams against each other, causing organizational issues that lasted years after he was eventually fired.

The problem is that he was legitimately brilliant, and he was incredibly productive. This made his gaslighting all the more effective. When we spoke about things and people, people listened. He was charismatic, funny, and had a long-standing reputation.

After firing this person, we found out he has a history of being abusive and getting fired. It's hard to know this because he's in leadership positions in a few important open source communities.

Thankfully this org is numerous years in my past and I've eventually moved past the stress associated with it, but it's an experience that stuck with me for a long time.


I feel that the Kotlin community definitely needs a "No Jerk approach". I've recently been to a meet-up which was on the advantages of using Kotlin for Android development, the speaker exhibited many characteristics from this article.

1. Bob interrupts others, and ignores their opinions (When people asked questions, he downplayed them and in some cases declined to answer them)

2. Bob bullies, humiliates, and oppresses individuals. With non-technical people, he wins arguments by bamboozling them with irrelevant technical detail, making them feel dumb (When asked about Coroutines he started explaining irrelevant stuff like locks and guards and compiler level instructions without actually answering the questions)

3. Bob engages in displays of dominance in front of groups (He was quite assertive that his language is better than Java, no one could convince him otherwise)

4. Bob is negative. He trash-talks other technologies, companies, and people behind their backs (He trash talked Java)

5. Bob manipulates and misleads. Sometimes he misleads subtly, by presenting facts that are literally true in a way that is intentionally misleading. (He mislead people into thinking that null checks were just wrong and should be avoided altogether by writing code in Kotlin, he also indicated that writing data objects was not possible in Java)

6. Bob uses physical intimidation. Bob glares at those he doesn't like, and may invade people's personal space. (He said that if his team member was unwilling to learn Kotlin he was probably not worth his salt)

7. Bob gives great talks – about himself.

8. Bob refuses to change. (This was quite evident about him)

To sum up, he was arrogant and loved humiliating the audience, I and a few others left the talk after 30 mins.


I have no problem working with jerks, as long as they're brilliant. Culture fit also means not hiring people who are going to scream bloody murder at a disagreement, if your team is full of disagreeables.


Being a jerk and disagreeing are orthogonal. You can be a jerk while agreeing with someone, and be a not-jerk while disagreeing.

I'm curious, in reference to the post, how you would have no problem working with a "Bob"? Is there really no behaviour there that would bother you in a coworker?


Well, if there truly is a Bob then sure, I probably wouldn't want him on a team, but I don't even know why they are being addressed simultaneously. Bob is clearly a sociopath.

I might not be personally all that bothered, since people tend not to get the better of me, but it probably wouldn't be productive to have such a person in a team, and there's a good chance they don't care enough to be productive, and most people wouldn't work with them (as this thread shows).

There's probably only one way you could employ Bob, and that's as an external solo contractor.


> Being a jerk and disagreeing are orthogonal

In theory. In practice, it's much more difficult.


Not really. It's quite possible to do. The problem is that many in tech haven't really tried to develop the skill. Part of that whole, "Soft skills are useless in STEM; raw engineering prowess is all that matters!" mindset.


I don't want to work with brilliant people. I want to work with productive people. I've worked with people who are great at solving hard problems that don't need to be solved (and I've been that person myself).

In my experience, people are productive when they're on a team that encourages everyone to be productive and keeps them all aligned in the right direction. That's hard to do with jerks on the team, brilliant or otherwise.

(To be clear, I think it's totally fine for different teams to have different priorities; I don't think there's a one-size-fits-all. I just have strong preferences for what teams I myself am on.)


I'd be completely fine working with Alice. Bob would be a net negative to the team, though.


Yeah, Bob is definitely no team player, and unless kept on a tight leash, probably a serious liability. Alice is a liability on some teams.


I previously worked in a place with a Bob (who ticks 80% of the boxes there) and it really is super-toxic. He got plenty of "gaslight" because he had special treatment. He didn't need to follow the processes like everyone else. He got cool work. Hence my 'previously worked'.


Jerk is often just a paraphrase for "mildly autistic."

I've had really good results hiring "jerks" and actually taking the time to understand them as people, and then put them into positions to succeed.

Calling out others as jerks is very often a power play to gain social leverage over people who aren't good at that game.


It really depends on your business model. Are you selling results, or expectations/head count? Is the engineering work actually vital to company success or is it mostly about maintaining a stable product that doesn't need much change? So what may work for some businesses, would raise terrible issues with others.


I've never come across this problem, at least not in software 'engineering'. I have met the odd jerk from other departments, but 99% of people who try that stuff will back down when you push back. Dealing with jerks is a good skill to cultivate (one that I've only recently got the hang of).


Either people are normal or they are not.

If you have a chip on your shoulder, always have something to prove or want 'revenge' on an unnamed whole because you were bullied in school you are unlikely to work well with others and are going to be a liability in every single context.

Either you are brilliant or you are a jerk. Being able to respect and work well with others is a basic life skill.

Linus for instance respects and works well with thousands of people. Let's have the same transparency that someone like Linus works under for other CEOs before feeding into tabloid level sensationalist journalism that singles out one in tens of thousands of interactions.

Just being able to write a software program or doing what you were trained to do does not make anyone a genius and the vast majority of software is mundane.


At one of my previous employers, we had one such jerk who was so bad that even his manager quit in frustration. None of the other managers wanted to take him in their team. This guy was technically bright but very hard to get along with. He would intimidate everything into getting his way. At one point, none of the engineers wanted to work with him. Management did warn him but it didn't make a difference. So the company found a new manager and put this guy under that poor soul. Eventually things were suddenly resolved when this jerk verbally harassed a key technical lead who was ready to quit if that guy was still around. If you look at this resume, he has a patchy work history of short stints. But his is good technically so companies are lured by him.


>2. Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?

YMMV but there is a problem in that leaders and brilliant-but-non-expendable (for w/e reason) engineers can often be jerks themselves. So much so that they use their power to write the narrative that the less-powerful was the jerk.

I know it is politically incorrect to say this kind of thing, but it certainly does happen. This happened at NASA when engineeres voiced concerns of the dangers of a foam strike. Management bullied them and the groupthink culture there made people side with authority. Then this caused the Challenger disaster.

And let's be honest: get out of STEM and into something like politics, and it's very sadly a significant part of the game.


This is not a new observation, but it is a worthwhile one.

I ran across it in https://www.amazon.com/Psychology-Computer-Programming-Silve... in the form, "If you see a programmer trying to become indispensable, fire him." Followed by a note written 25 years later saying, "I have received more thanks for this piece of advice than anything else that I have said." (Both quotes paraphrased from memory.)


This hits close to home for me. I've received feedback (never from management—from peers) that I've exhibited some of the "brilliant jerk" behavior (hopefully more Alice than Bob, but I'd rather not be a jerk at all...). A few reflections I've had:

1. Part of it is personality differences. I often default to taking a fairly aggressive approach to discussions, and appreciate a spirited debate on the merits of a particular issue. Depending on who I'm talking with, this can be a good experience, as long as neither side is taking it personally—and I have plenty of colleagues that seem to enjoy working with me. However, this rubs some people the wrong way, and I can come off as domineering if I'm not careful, especially to people that prefer to avoid confrontation. Of course, how I am perceived by others is my own responsibility—but my default personality seems to be more compatible with some people than others.

2. When paired with a strong personality, I tend to take an approach to balance them out. All of the times I've been called out for being too negative, it's been when I've been working closely with a person that is overwhelmingly positive. I feel that I tend to be more critical when I feel that others are not properly vetting new ideas. On the flip-side, I've also noticed that when I'm talking to someone more negative, I tend to take a more positive approach, especially if I feel that they're ignoring the positives in an idea or situation.

3. I tend to be more harsh on people that I perceive as at or above my level—I feel that honesty is something that everyone deserves from me, but I'm direct to a fault. However, with people that I perceive as junior, I find I'm naturally more diplomatic and constructive—I don't want to demoralize them, and I am thankful to be able to play some small part in building someone else's career. I need to remind myself that all people—even those that I perceive as senior to me—benefit from affirmation and constructive feedback; it's easy for me to underestimate the power of my words.

The hard part for me is to identify which parts of my personality are jerk-like, and which parts—when channeled appropriately—are useful (a team lacking critical voices is also going to be ineffective).

I fervently believe that the greatest challenge in our field is not technical—it's interpersonal. Rarely do projects fail because of technical reasons; instead, they fail because of communication breakdown, interpersonal conflict, and other "soft" attributes. I hope that I can be part of the solution, rather than the problem.


> The hard part for me is to identify which parts of my personality are jerk-like, and which parts—when channeled appropriately—are useful (a team lacking critical voices is also going to be ineffective).

I think this might be the wrong way to think about this stuff.

Different communication strategies appeal to different listeners. Rather than analyzing yourself, saying "some parts of me are effective, others fail," I think it's more useful to analyze your interactions. You've almost certainly had really productive, energizing debates with people in which everyone walked away feeling glad that all the cards were laid on the table.

You've probably also had really unproductive, demotivating debates in which people felt attacked, unable to express themselves, and frustrated.

Here's the skill to work on: before you start that debate, try to understand the person you're talking with. How do they want to talk about this topic? Do they do better with collaborative, friendly, "That's a good idea"-type discussion, or with hard-edged debate? Now, mold your communication to their style.

You said this yourself in your #2, but I want to triple-underline it. That's the whole job when you are communicating. It's all about finding ways to get your point across as effectively as possible, which means it's your job to communicate the way they will listen to.

This is hard! But it's worth it. You definitely don't want to just have one way of communicating - that just makes you frustrated when people aren't receptive to that style.


I think Brendan must have worked with quite a lot of brilliant jerks in the ZFS appliance days at Sun/Oracle. The Fishworks team was excellent but some of the top heads were quite toxic.


This really hit close to home.

I work with engineer whose is brilliant. We originally thought he was jerk, but the bosses loved him because he was a 5x engineer with the ability to handle huge cognitive loads, catch errors or conflicts in our large systems in the planning phase.

It turns out he was neuro atypical, and was actually nice guy, it turned out he was the one paying for friday pizzas not the boss. He was just too ahead of us, and honestly we let our inferiority complexes and frustration color our opinions of him.


You have to understand one thing: A Brilliant Jerk is not brilliant.

He/She excels in one specific topic and perhaps never thought about excel in all necessary skills. He/She is caught in her/his world and might not be able to learn proper social skills. It is quite hard to change long lasting behaviour.

I'm quite surprised how many adults stop evolving.


This is one of the great examples of survivorship bias. You start to think that all of the most brilliant people are jerks, but the reality is that all of the non-brilliant jerks were fired long ago for crossing the line. The only ones left are very very valuable -- and still should fired if they can't play nice.


... which is how you end up in a company with mediocre engineers, developing mediocre products, sliding into mediocre abyss.

But at least while making those mediocre salaries they can all hate those "brilliant jerks" that they fired.


Funny you say this while commenting on an engineer's opinion from Netflix. Believe it or not you can fire jerks and still be technologically innovative.


I have totally turned into an Alice recently. I am watching an important project turn into a failure for no good reason at all, and I feel like I can either just stop giving a shit about the outcome and go along with it, or I can keep saying that this isn't going to work, and to recover we need to do x.


> coworkers become accomplices, and gaslight his abuse

Personally I think this is the worst part. It's much harder to deal with a group of jerks and their like-minds. A group typically self-justifies their behaviors and more likely to defy company policies. That's why bullies typically come in packs.


The hilarity of this advice in a single chart:

http://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/ERIC/prices/ericsso...


I'm scratching my head as to the point you are trying to make. What's the chart got to do with the topic?


Look at the post that stared the thread. It has a picture.


I had a brilliant jerk at another job. One time, he just blabbered and interrupted a junior engineer in a meeting so much, another senior engineer stood up, took off his glasses and screamed loudly,

"Let the man talk, will ya?"

The room just went silent for a few moments after.


> Bob interrupts others, and ignores their opinions

You don't know what a brilliant jerk is. Brilliant jerks never interrupt anyone and listen to everyone. But they always find a way to do (and make other people do) what's best for themselves.


Alice will make a great founder.

Alice, if you're listening, quit your job and go start your own company!


So will Bob, if Apple is any indication.


Why should nothing ever feel bad?


Why should everything be terrible forever?

The article is talking about people who are systematically bad for organizations, not people who have a bad day sometimes.


Things can be terrible because some people don't know how to act.

Things can also be terrible because some people don't know how to do the job properly.

It is a lot easier to find a yes-man/woman than a brilliant anyone. Companies are ruined by mediocrity far more than they're ruined by 'brilliant jerks' bullying the company into non-existence.

Who'd you rather have as your surgeon - a brilliant jerk the nurses have to put up with, or a nice guy/lady who screws up sometimes but will feel really bad about it afterwards and will write you a hand-written apology.

I'll take the jerk every time.


> "a brilliant jerk the nurses have to put up with, or a nice guy/lady who screws up sometimes but will feel really bad about it afterwards and will write you a hand-written apology."

The brilliant jerk will have set a precedent in the operating room that leads to people not questioning their decisions, even when they are wrong, leading to uncaught mistakes.

The most brilliant jerk will sometimes slip up. [0]

See also Crew Resource Management: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crew_resource_management

0. https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/book/the-gloss...


Great, we agree to hire people who are good at their job, and then train them to be effective at communication with others.

I didn't see that in the article. All I saw was a witch hunt.

A witch hunt (aka don't hire them witches) because the witches are disturbing the health of the village.

It's stone-age thinking - I've heard of a story about a brilliant jerk, his name was Jesus Christ.

The irony of a Christian nation calling for excommunication of those most resembling their savior is really something.


False dichotomy.


Amen!

what’s wrong with confronting them directly without the careful parsing demanded by our self-limiting ideas of being well behaved.


It usually doesn't work. They usually don't get better. It's usually better to just not have hired them in the first place. You waste a lot of time.

That's my experience.


There's usually far better ways to do it, and in my experience, "confronting them directly" is usually code speak for "get to yell and browbeat someone".


Why should coming to work suck more than it has to?


I have to say, a similar thought crossed my mind. This is the result of political correctness: No one should ever feel wrong or bad.

But then again, it depends entirely on the author's definition of "selfish" and "bad team player".

Having worked at a small startup with 10 people, who would... not berate, but explain bluntly, you if you did something wrong, and a big corporation where you have to always read between the lines to get to the point of any conversation, I see vast differences in productivity.

But my sample size is so small, so I shall sit and ponder some more, and only talk about it on online forums...


Hiring brilliant jerks is fundamentally a decision that comes down to the specific situation and imo it should rest with the hiring manager.

Letting brilliant jerks ruin it for others is a management problem, not a brilliant jerk problem.

However, professionalism is a two way street. Bobs and Alices that make professional salaries can be expected to improve, though the professionals that work with them should make some concessions.

One major problem with corporations / labor / the modern world is that the demands on employees are extremely high. It makes sense - people want to work in good jobs and corporations are paying for the labor and the corporations have to make money so they have incentives to hire the best people for the jobs.

Professional standards are very high - I'd say that most professionals in America are in the top 20%-30% of multiple skill sets - communication, leadership, self-directedness, tolerance for b.s, along with any domain specific skills.

We don't have an environment that most people can succeed in. And solving it would be good for people who struggle with some things or people who don't want to focus their life around professional accountability/development.

The right question to ask isn't "is bob valuable" but more like "how can build a company in that gets a single parent to manage Bob"?


Letting brilliant jerks ruin it for others is a management problem, not a brilliant jerk problem.

Great comment of an instance.

The class:

"Letting <anything> ruin it for others is a management problem, not an <anything> problem."

I have rarely run into the "brilliant jerk" problem.

I have almost always run into the "incompetent manager" problem.

"Incompetent Managers in Engineering". Now there's an article I'd really like to read.


There are people, including highly skilled, who are not jerks and are not destroying anything to others. There are even people who are not jerks despite management itself being evil.

Management has part of blame, but jerk is responsible for his own behavior. Jerk is responsible for what strategies he choose to look brilliant. (And people with autism don't count as jerks unless they are. Most of them are willing to stop behavior when explained what the issue is directly.)


You're right that productive people are productive despite being jerks, not because they're jerks. And sure, cast as much judgement on jerks as you feel is proper.

But most people are pretty set in their ways. Everyone who yells at cashiers when they're 40 has done so before, they've probably faced some consequences for their actions and the behavior persists so either you need to be more persuasive than the totality of their lived experience or you can adjust your sails.

If we can accept people who miss work for sick kids, we can accept jerks. But we don't have to accept either. Everything is subservient to money. You can simply pay for excellent people, but some corporations need to compete elsewhere.

I wouldn't pay a jerk as much as a team player (all other things equal), but for the right price I'd put up with the headaches. That's the right call for me, it's not the right call for others. What's important is that corporations and managers get creative about making things work for people.


Yes, old jerk have often been young jerks. But the reason why behaviour escalates is that it is rewarded or at least tolerated. In an environment where yelling at cashier is not socially accepted, yelling at cashier happen less often. If senior cuts junior and then manager/leader address behavior and let junior speak, then the team work entirely different then if leader makes fun of half heard junior proposal.

1.) Many jerks are considered brilliant because they act like jerks, not despite or in addition to. Acting like jerk makes people less likely to question you, it makes your collegues look less capable if managent believes your crap. It makes them more angry and less confident.

Association between jerk and brilliant does not help, I have seen (literally) people finish complaint about bad behavior with "but he is great coder" over dude they knew nothing about profesionally. Zero information. He acted arrogant, therefore they assumed higher competence.

2.) Parent comment put all the blame on management and none on jerk. That is not fair and amounts to blaming other tribe.


I completely put all the blame of the costs of jerks on management and you should too. Every jerk you work with was hired by management! Jerks don't wonder around the street, finding their ways into offices and meeting rooms and then start talking over people.

Management hires jerks and puts people into situations with the jerks they hired.


I find the comparison of being a jerk to your co-workers, and someone taking time off (to which they are entitled in companies that have sick leave) to care for their sick child to be false equivalence to the point of absurdity.

Further, why should I tolerate someone who is making my work life that much unpleasant? I can easily get a job somewhere else.


If the person has a kid that's sick as often as the jerk is a jerk (read - a majority of the time), you won't be so thrilled about picking up their slack. There are people who have chronicly sick kids and you have to believe that it affects their productivity / affects them every single day.

And the situations aren't perfectly analogous with respect to the intention behind leaving work for a sick kid, or being a jerk. But the effect is the same and they can use the same solution: accommodations.

Now, you shouldn't tolerate someone making your life worse and if you change jobs to improve your life, more power to you. But I humbly argue that management could solve your problem so you changing jobs is an issue of bad management, not a bad coworker.


People with kids have lower salaries and are passed for promotions. People (women mostly) expected to have kids or suspect of wanting to be with kids at least some of the time too.

Jerks affect productivity of those around, people who were bacstabbed, people who were not told information, people who were lied about, people who were smeared (including professional reputation aka calling good ideas stupid to get dominance), etc.

So yeah, if local jerk has lower salary and is refused promotion, then it is kinda fair.

Still, he himself is to be blamed for his behavior.


I live in a country with reasonable abortion access and adoption laws - every parent is a parent by choice. I'm not sure that every jerk is as accountable for their behavior.


Hiring brilliant jerks is fundamentally a decision that comes down to the specific situation and imo it should rest with the hiring manager.

I strongly disagree. The benefits of having a brilliant jerk mostly accrues to the team he is on. The costs are felt throughout the company. Therefore the hiring manager is motivated to hire and try to manage the jerk, and has an incentive to avoid truly accepting how damaging this productive employee is.

That said, there are times that it actually is worth hiring a brilliant jerk. But the decision should be made at least one level of management above the problem employee, and both the employee and the manager should be managed. Even so don't be shocked if, as happened in one case that I know of, the brilliant jerk stole source code and ran a copycat site out of the Ukraine.


You're right.

The person managing the jerk should have 'skin in the game' with everyone the jerk interacts with or else the manager can (and will) game the system.

I once managed someone with a terrible reputation (because I got a great rate on him) and made sure I was his only conduit to anyone else. After a few weeks of the arrangement, it became easier for me to work with him - he appreciated the arrangement and was very productive.

At the end of the day, he wasn't a bad/evil person. He just didn't get along with people, he didn't have much patience, and he was profoundly disagreeable and situations that work for most people didn't work for him.

Ultimately, I was able to find an accommodation for him and get him to contribute to the company. It's a shame that we think of 'accommodations' as outside the scope of regular businesses or as something for defective people but the reality in most functioning workplaces is that we're all accommodated and we should all accommodate others.

The single mom on my team isn't defective, but we need to change the arrangement a bit away from convention to make sure she can put in her best work.


Americans somehow not only manage to conflate use of bad words with mission-hostile management, on top of that they don't even recognize mission-hostile management when it doesn't use bad words. That saga with Torvalds and USB-3 was quite something.


Hand-wavey generalizations like this are not so good for Hacker News; please refrain.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Reed Hastings looks like a brilliant jerk in that photo...


I'm not entirely sure I subscribe to this "behavior based" vs "merit based" look at job performance.

Consider this criterion:

> 1. After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?

Bob and Mary are staunch members of <opposing political parties>. While they never discuss it at work, Mary deeply resents the views Bob posts on social media. During a code review, Bob is bluntly critical of Mary's code. Mary perceives this to be related to their political differences, and feels oppressed. Mary files a complaint with HR.

Bob claims he is being objective, and targeted for his political views. Others are hesitant to criticize Mary's code, lest they be lumped into a "tolerance witch hunt".

If you want to talk about performance, it should be objective, not subjective. Anything else opens the door to drama. Yes, "jerks" create issues. But making a rule that says "no jerks" will not solve those problems. It might even make things worse.


Performance is rarely objectively measurable for anything but highly quantifiable, usually low-skill work.


> Bob and Mary are staunch members of <political party>. While they never discuss it at work, Mary deeply resents the views Bob posts on social media.

I'm assuming Bob and Mary are members of opposing political parties?

Even if that is not the case, is it really mandatory to friend/follow co-workers' stream of consciousness on social media?

Wouldn't it be more productive (from Mary's perspective) to segment professional from personal views by not actively following someone who's personal views she has disagreed with in the past, to keep all future interactions focused on work-related topics?


Correct, I meant to say opposing political parties.

I suppose my point is: criticism and being a jerk are orthogonal in theory, but in practice it's much more difficult.

Making a rule that says, you can get someone fired if they hurt your feelings gives disproportionate power to anyone with thin skin.


I once left the most toxic organization I could ever imagine. I was initially very excited to work with people so experienced, but I slowly learned it was just people experienced with being jerks for decades with minimal brilliance to accompany. I turned into an Alice trying to deal with at-best-mediocre/at-worst-negligent Bobs. The article has nailed things pretty accurately, except that the ability of the Bobs was the poorest I’ve ever seen in about 10 years of working. Every success of mine was accompanied by huge failures on their part, and they felt extremely threatened, which really exacerbated things. The worst strategy, which was effective for them, was to constantly spread misinformation about their work, as well as mine, and to organize secret meetings. This created a false perspective that they have a bigger picture in mind, even though each lie fell apart weeks to months later.

If you find yourself in an environment where your Alice-jerkiness is forced to grow significantly to deal with Bobs, you should leave if you can.

My fondest engineering experiences are working with Alices. I’ve worked with kids fresh out of school that have made me a better engineer; debate is healthy, and no one knows everything. When you encounter a situation with people who refuse to accept that there are things they don’t innately know, and are offended at the prospect of debate, you have Bob.

Another strategy of some Bobs, which wasn’t mentioned specifically, is for Bobs to try and make Alices (really anyone who won’t submit to their egos, or who work off of objective evidence) out to be Bobs to avoid arguments and to make unilateral decisions that are not empiricallly driven. Not all Bobs are like this, though, which is part of why the Brilliant Jerk archetype tends to overfit, IMO.

Edit: these Bobs were “too experienced” for code review, pull requests, design planning, and testing of any sort.


Just so anyone reading can take something away that might be useful if they find themselves in a similar situation... In the first one, I became a hardcore Alice, specifically got promoted because of it, and the jerkiness on all fronts accelerated. There are cultures where jerks thrive.

Another culture I’ve previously worked in appreciated people that could “level” their brilliant jerks because management didn’t want to replace them (growth stage -> acquisition). I’ve found sometimes people turn into brilliant jerks, and it’s allowed/tolerated, in part due to compensation inequality. These people were hired at a lower salary for whatever reasons, and in exchange received freedom to be a brilliant jerk because they became hard to replace at a certain price. The jerks in question were working their butts off to move up, which never happened in any significant way. So there can definitely be multiple sides as to why someone is behaving like a jerk.




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