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> Your first point is why I’m quite skeptical of the narrative around “brilliant assholes”. Are they really an asshole, or do they just not communicate in the manner you’d prefer?

As someone who generally enjoys working with the "brilliant asshole," there are two types to look for.

The first is a brilliant engineer who is an asshole in matters unrelated to the task at-hand. I've seen coworkers physically assaulted by this type.

The second is a brilliant engineer who takes no shit when it comes to the task at-hand, which I think is a bit more of the Torvaldian asshole. If you have someone trying to slip in a below-threshold quality solution into place, this person will not let it slide. One of my favorite engineers had a little comic strip tacked to his cube, the punchline was something along the lines of "You're right, let's do it the stupidest fucking way possible because it is easier for you personally."

Regarding the second, I tend to see their frustrations come out when interacting with the "politician," the kind of person who puts on a polite veneer but uses it as a shield. This is the kind of person who will tell you they aren't doing something because they don't feel like it, but when management gets involved starts acting surprised at the accusation while playing into the "brilliant asshole's" known-quantity.

If you see someone at work getting frustrated with another, don't just buy into the "he's an asshole" narrative. Do a little investigative legwork.




Often times I get frustrated with the second type you describe because they seem to assume that I have deliberately (or otherwise) chosen to do something suboptimal out of laziness or neglect when often it is simply from not being a subject matter expert myself.

There is a lot to be said for not taking any shit when it comes to getting things right in a project. However, I think that the most brilliant engineer is the one who helps people who make mistakes or are not as smart/experienced as they. Implying the only reason someone would not do "The Right Thing" is because they're bad is a sort of self fulfilling prophecy.


That’s definitely problematic behavior you’re describing, there is a big difference between starting from a place of reason and moving to stern due to repeated behavior and starting with stern. The latter is the “good asshole.”




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