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Habits of Highly Overrated People (2013) (daedtech.com)
227 points by Tomte on Nov 26, 2022 | hide | past | favorite | 145 comments



This article makes an interesting point but IMO it highlights 2 phenomema, not 1.

The first phenomenon is that some people seem to be more talented and useful than they are while they are present within the organization.

The second phenomenon is that when people leave an organization, their talents may be immediately discarded; they often end up being used as a scapegoats for any problem which remaining employees may notice after the person has left (possibly completely unrelated to the person).

People tend to over-rate people who are present and over-demonize people who are absent. The demonization probably falls harder on people who were overrated (since it's backed by truth) but it can also fall on people who were genuinely talented and valuable - It depends on what kind of people remain in the company and what narrative serves the interest of those who remain.


Perhaps a side note - but I know a case where someone whose code had a lot of bugs and design problems but when they were with the company they worked very hard and would address problems - often with band-aid solutions but at least they took care of their own messes so it didn't fall onto others. All of this hard work and long hours and diligence made them seem to management as if they were amazing. However after they have left, they are obviously no longer supporting their terrible code and the ones who had to take it over will certainly demonize the departed - it's a bit unfair but someone who isn't helping fix their own mess (even if they have a good reason - they moved on) is still a huge negative. You are right though, this is somewhat a biased perception and scapegoating is real.


Great observation. I think this is often the case with overrated developers. The fact that they churn out a lot of lines of code can make them seem highly productive.


These articles come out with some regularity, and yet no one ever says, "Yep! That's totally me! I'm a non contributing zero but I've made a living at making others think I add to the team!" Everyone knows people like this, but no one is one.


Yo.

Ask me anything.

Edit : I'm actually serious. I don't do most of the things in the article, or at least definitely not with the intent and detail - but I've been moved over time from being a pretty good and certainly respected hands on techie, to a middle to upper manager with massive imposter syndrome, and certainly feel I contribute less for more credit. Client loves me. My boss loves me. My team loves me. But I myself definitely struggle to always understand my value and I definitely spend many hours each week fine tuning PowerPoint slides, reporting, over communicating, team building, teaching people to communicate differently, etc - which again, seems to make everybody happy and impressed. Maybe my hidden talent is communicating between techies and business? Possibly there's real value in my role - but DEFINITELY not according to any hacker news colleagues - nearly everything I do is venomously dismissed by th HN zeitgeist (I'm neither surprised nor resentful - I spent 20 years saying same things, until I have become them:) . So - AMA :)


Maybe attaching all the value to technical contributions was incorrect behaviour in first place?

I used to do that a lot until I got my first real not fully technical job and realised that all the technical stuff is actually much more learnable by many, much less impactful on the work than the dark art of working with humans. Maybe its the zeal of the convert but I think the technical contributions are not that important unless there is no margin for errors or its groundbreaking work and most of the time its not.


That's because people working with humans tend to be TERRIBLE at keeping proper documentation about their job. If "people person" kept full psychological profile of each client and manager they work with it would be way easier to replace them so in a way it is a job-security-guaranteeing move to be obtuse.

Joking aside the way I see it is that you have to have some vision on the product, enough organization skill (which can be another person specialized in translating "visioner" ramblings into actionable stuff) to organize making it, enough marketing skill to actually sell it, and then enough tech/engineering oriented people to not fuck the product up.

Bad engineering - product that kinda works shit but depending on niche it can still be good enough to be profitable

Bad marketing/client acquisition - most cases bankruptcy, very small amount of things "sell itself", unless you get luck.

Bad vision - well, if rest is fine you either pivot to something else and deliver or bankrupt

Bad communication/managing - inefficiencies at every way that can and will hamper everyone else.


spend many hours each week fine tuning PowerPoint slides, reporting, over communicating, team building, teaching people to communicate differently

I’m in a process of leaving a company where I work at for way too many years (cause I liked the job and its tech samurai format, not even the money), because there is no person like you and the “management” actively refuses to hire one, while steadily degrading into communicating through incomplete, false and illiterate streams of consciousness and providing organizational help through lowest common denominator roles who basically return to you in a couple of days asking you to do their heavily miscommunicated job for them. Sometimes I helped people doing my own request not even realizing it, so perverted it became. Any issue harder than “we’re out of paper” isn’t worth reporting. Any new module or a process is a brainstorm between me and other roles on what “they” meant and how their words most likely correlate. The tragedy is that the team is actually good, just has no clue what we do and what the plan is.


Holy crap that resonates 100%. And soon I'm supposed to step into a more management style role there. Have not signed the new contract yet, though.


I’m an aspiring overrated person, I started as a developer, then was promoted into a product owner role because of attrition. I have ended up spending most of my day in meetings and being interrupted over IM, and there is not much time for coding. Realistically, I should either do less meetings, or commit to less coding. The latter is better because I’m not as good at coding as my peers.

My barriers are that I’m not great at the people skills, and to compensate I’ve focused on the technicals of this pseudo leadership role such as making graphics for power point slides, and agile administration, like using the tools and scheduling those rituals.

How can I make the leap to doing no coding and just doing the meetings and delegation?


> I definitely spend many hours each week fine tuning PowerPoint slides, reporting, over communicating, team building, teaching people to communicate differently, etc - which again, seems to make everybody happy and impressed

This is why people love you. You're massively underestimating the amount of spoon-feeding people desire. The alternative to people like you is for individuals to do the work of understanding and empathizing outside their areas of interest or domains of expertise and/or comfort.


In my first Agile company, it felt like we developers were inventing features! In fact, a PM was spoon feeding the backlog to us, organized by theme, letting us invent the interesting parts. I only realized it 10 years later.


I'm interested to hear more about what you mean when saying that it felt like you were inventing the features. And how did the PM do it exactly? Thanks!


You listed communication and communication-training things. These are very valuable and easy to under-value. The API to an organization is people. Speaking this language you are serving your team.


First: there is of course an incentive not to admit this.

Second: I do believe that many people on HN really deeply care about technology/hacking topics and have detest for office politics. On the other hand, the people that the article discuss are good at office politics/marketing themselves and often don't have such a deep knowledge about programming. Thus, I would indeed assume that the typical HN reader/writer less likely fits into the "highly overrated people" pattern of the article.


> Second: I do believe that many people on HN really deeply care about technology/hacking topics and have detest for office politics.

I think it's more accurate to say that they have a detest for dealing with people in ways that require persuasion, or more generally situations without an "objective" right answer.

You want to do A, someone else wants to do B, you can't do both, you both think you're right, boom, "politics."


A lot of the time, the person who takes this stance tend to forget that execution matters more than the idea being objectively correct. Good "politics" is about persuading the actual people who have to own and execute that idea. There are bad situations where you find yourself opposite people who add little value that is obvious and yet demand they be persuaded or else they will stand the way of your idea. When the emotional burden of fighting such battles crosses a certain threshold you feel burn-out and give up. This threshold is high for people who can do office politics well and it is low for most self-described techies. This does not mean that latter kind of people don't create the same emotional stress for others through their own political schemings (yes, even without knowing consciously, we are all political animals in our own ways – we wield what powers we have to attain our agenda, in however good or bad ways we do it).


The average HN reader is highly overrated for other reasons.

> have detest for office politics

The problem is that many people on HN believe any interaction with someone with an MBA, marketing background, manager, etc. is “office politics.”


Any interaction with another human at work is politics


Oh, dear, I hope that was ironic?

There are so many interactions at work outside of politics, which I would define as the advancement of your personal agenda before that of the organization and of anybody else.

I have such rich interactions with my colleagues. Sometimes we work together on a project. Sometimes it's purely social, like the first few minutes of a meeting with someone I haven't talked to in a long time. Sometimes they need my support or I need theirs. And sometimes (rarely) it's about having an uncomfortable conversation because something didn't go well. But none of these is about politics. I love where I work, in big parts because of the lack of politics.

(Edit: Typo)


Yes, but derisively referring any interaction with another human at work as “office politics” is the problem.


It can turn into office politics fast. Maybe you say the wrong thing and now you and your coworker have an awkward tension.

IMO it's almost never worth trying to make friends with your coworkers. Be nice, be helpful, and do a good job but keep your friends and work life separate.


Some of my best friends started as work colleagues. Very bonding working really hard with people you respect on problems you’re passionate about.


Not all of us are lucky enough to be paid to do things we are passionate about.


In my experience most close friends vent about their jobs to each other. Something that I very rarely feel comfortable doing with coworkers. I think I've met about 2 coworkers in my whole career who I felt that level of comfort with.


The other interactions like talking about your weekend aren't exacty something to comment on.

Also why it is a problem ?


Where is the line for you? Is a meeting with a sales team “office politics”? What about a meeting with software developers?

The problem is that there’s no reasonable definition of “office politics” that frames it as a positive thing. You’re approaching every interaction negatively as something you can win/lose.


Any interaction with another human is politics.


> The average HN reader is highly overrated for other reasons.

Possibly ... ;-)


Shhhh. . .



Yes because if you look at it objectively those people tend to be lying, manipulative people with big fake smiles on their faces.

People are so accustomed to our messed up society that they don't even realize how amoral "normal" behavior is.


> Yes because if you look at it objectively those people tend to be lying, manipulative people with big fake smiles on their faces.

This is exactly what I’m talking about. There’s nothing objective about what you’re saying here. You just paint a huge group of people with a very broad (and very negative) brush.

If that’s what helps you feel superior to other people, I guess there’s not much I can do about it. But I’d encourage you to reexamine how you see the real people around you.


You misunderstood what I was saying. What I meant was that lying and manipulating are generally considered objectively bad by most people. However, that behavior is considered normal in corporate cultures. It's even part of the job if you're in marketing or sales!

And no, I won't stop judging large groups of people who's jobs are built on deception. And I won't stop judging people who are naturally drawn to those jobs. I've had enough of this whole system and I'm done apologizing for saying negative things just because these behaviors and jobs are normal.


> It's even part of the job if you're in marketing or sales!

I know I’m not going to change your mind here, but I stress:

It really really isn’t.

Marketing and sales are about communicating some value to people who might need that value. You can find this distasteful if you like.


Sexualizing products. Creating cute jokes during the super bowl. Implying that if you buy this product, you'll improve your social status.

Am I expected to believe that these things are about communicating value? I'm sorry but that's a steaming pile of BS.

Using power tactics with your customers during sales calls. Creating a sense of urgency. Bending the truth to make your product appear more favorable in general and vs competitors products.

Am I expected to believe that these things are about communicating value? I'm sorry but that's a steaming pile of BS.


Reminds me of how I find computer programming to be an amoral profession because missiles have guidance systems and Al Qaeda has a website.


Whether or not this is true has zero bearing on whether or not it is the job of marketing folks to engage in deception.


This is a false equivalency. Most software engineers aren't working on weapons, but most sales and marketing people engage in deception and other amoral practices.

Not to mention that software engineers literally build the products. Sales and marketing's job is to shove it down people's throats.


To the contrary, I think paulcole made a great point. It doesn’t need to be weapons. A programmer who makes a social media feed more addictive isn’t necessarily moral. But a salesperson/marketer can promote something generally seen as good, or at least far more good than the example programmer.

Ad campaigns can remind people to vote, encourage people to quit smoking, or convince people to avoid drunken driving. A marketer is behind for the design and distribution of these public advocacy campaigns.


No it's not a great point. It's a point made to distract from the real issue. It's a debate tactic.

If you read the conversation carefully I'm trying to discuss the fundamental nature of the professions, not the specific products they are building or selling. That was something paulcole brought up.

The fundamental nature of sales and marketing is manipulating people for personal gain. You could be selling hugs or whatever warm and fuzzy product you can imagine, but at the end of the day the sales person's job is to be the best people manipulator they can be.

And I've seen it countless times through my career. I've met many sales people, I've sat in on sales calls, and I've heard them discussing their trade. It's honestly disgusting.

On the other hand, the fundamental nature of engineering is building things. It's bringing something new into the world. It couldn't be more different from sales and marketing.


It sounds like this is a difference in personal values. You can certainly assess the morality of one’s work based on its methods, but it’s also valid to assess the morality based on outcomes.

On outcomes: You framed building things and creating new things as inherently good, but entire fields of the philosophy of science question whether technological progress is inherently good. Is AI-generated art necessarily good if it causes artists to lose jobs? Are ad trackers necessarily good if it increases engagement at the loss of privacy? Are hackers/crackers seen as more noble than salespeople, as they create new exploits that make hospitals pay ransom, and expose people’s information? If a new chemical weapon or bioweapon is created, are its developers inherently noble for creating something new? Even Einstein expressed deep regret for his role in developing the atomic bomb (and Feynman went into a depression) after its usage.

On methods: most methods start as morally neutral. A person training to be a soldier may or may not end up doing immoral things, depending on what they do in their career. Research scientists may or may not do moral things (though nowadays most abide by research ethics, in the past and likely the present, many studies have caused far more suffering than their benefits). Lawyers can go on to defend fundamental rights, or end up filing frivolous lawsuits or chasing ambulances. Developers can create something genuinely useful, or cause people to lose jobs or get killed due to bugs.

To be charitable to your point: yes, I intuitively have a deep sense of respect for the discipline required to become a good software developer and create something new. But it’s completely separate from a moral respect and moral judgement: I have to know what that developer is actually creating, and how that will impact real people.


You can use the utilitarian argument to justify anything. According to your logic hugging people isn't good or bad because technically you can hug someone to death. Engineering is a form of human expression and human expression is generally good, even if it can be used for evil.

A sick society corrupts good things and incentivizes bad things. Yeah sure, a sales person can sell hugs and use their money to donate to charity but that doesn't change the fact that their job exists because our society creates perverse incentives and I definitely judge people who are naturally drawn to these positions.

Most people would be happy if sales people were no longer needed in society. They are a necessary evil.

I think the soldier comparison is interesting. At least with soldiers there is plausible deniability because being a soldier doesn't automatically mean murder. It's not like soldiers have a daily murder quota. However, the same isn't true for sales. Sales people have sales quotas. Their entire job is shoving products down peoples throats.


They are also the reason why you have a job. Without sales you have nothing. Without marketing you don't know what to build. Building stuff that no one wants is useless.


You’re free to justify it however you want.


And people get so funny when you point that out to them...


That seems like kind of a strawman, doesn’t it? I’m not convinced anyone really thinks what you are claiming.


I think the problem is that people think that all office politics is necessarily bad.


I can't think of examples of positive activities in a workplace being best labelled office politics. Help me out?

I understand politics, outside of government, to suggest deception or manipulation with hidden motives.


Understanding politics that way is common and understandable. It's also an unfortunate cultural construction of the term, because this understanding is deeply incorrect.

Politics is what happens when people disagree about what should be done, or how it should be done. That's it. That's what politics is.

There are principled and corrupt reasons for disagreement. There are forthright and deceptive/manipulative means of engaging disagreement. All of that is politics.

When someone is advocating for a better PTO policy either because they personally would like something more advantageous for themselves or because they think it'll boost morale and productivity, that's politics.

When someone manages their office relationships to increase their chances or being hired into a higher management position either because they personally would like to advance their career or because they think they can help the business run more effectively, that's politics.

When someone attempts to spoil management on tech stack X and talk up tech stack Y, that's politics whether it's because they know both well and are sure which will suit the business & problem domain better, or because their personal expertise is more with Y than X and it'll increase their value to the organization without further investment.

The problem with assuming "politics" refers to inherently underhanded activity is that it shirks the work of engaging disagreement productively and instead pathologizes disagreement in one way or another -- usually by either pathologizing an opposing position or class of people.


Good faith disagreements are not politics, they're negotiation.

Politics is when one person/group tries to sabotage/undermine another person/group out of self-interest, even though it harms the project and reduces value.

Their self-interest becomes their top goal.

My personal take is that there are two extremes of culture. One is dedicated to engineering and management excellence. Everyone contributes. Even if there's vigorous disagreement the engine runs smoothly and Things Get Done.

The other is a snake pit of back stabbing, drama, competitive ambition, and narcissism which spreads from the c-suite down. Things still get done, sometimes, but they're poor quality - or at least much poorer than they could be. If they make it to market they'll be overhyped and oversold. (Contempt for customers and employees alike is a good tell-tale.)

No org is 100% one or the other, but those are the competing tendencies, and - of course - they're very different to work in.


Negotiation is a form of politics, not a separate thing from politics. Good faith negotiation is a principled and often relatively productive form of politics, but it remains politics nonetheless.

> out of self-interest

It's important to note that politics is as frequently driven by values as interests. This is true both in the office and in nation-states. And given that differing values often produce differing visions of excellence, a commitment to excellence doesn't spare people from the efforts/rigors of politics.


A lot of decent management books indicate politics are natural and your job as manager is to manage them. Pretending they don't exist or can be done away with is unrealistic and counter productive.

Politics in this sense is kinda negative but not really - acknowledgment that different people and groups may reasonably or unreasonably have different priorities, goals, perspectives, preferences, methodologies. I've spent most of my life under the Delusion of "reasonable people will agree if we just sit down and talk", but I no longer think that's the case (not the least because otherwise eventually you have to label everybody but yourself "unreasonable" :). As techies often we want full, comprehensive, correct unmutable requirements, full understanding for all issues encountered, and flexibility of schedule to reach out architectural and technical goals and standards, and everything else is "office politics".

Difference exists. Politics is trying to reconcile different perspectives priorities methods and goals. Hidden motives and deception are not necessary part of it.


If it is good it is rarely long and rarely called "politics"

"ok we need this and that"

"we can deliver it by X, is that okay?"

"nope, we need that by Y"

"ok, we can cut this feature and it will be by then"

"that works, thanks"

is not "office politics", yet it is pretty common.


Lack of interaction is a strong participation in office politics as well.


I think the reality is that anyone might engage in these behaviors from time to time. I've seen myself doing some of these things in my weaker moments and I've seen others doing them. And I've seen those same people turn around and contribute positively on other days. Of course no one is going to categorize themselves as highly overrated. Maybe that's because people often don't reliably fit into specific categories.


Well, some of them are not exactly something you'd do on purpose, can be just from the work flow, or just how some people are

> Distract with Arguments about Minutiae

is easy for tech people as we could discuss every detail for tens of minutes ignoring the fact remaining 4 people in the meeting don't give a shit about the minutia of solution, just that it is done

> Time It So You Look Good (Or Everyone Else Looks Bad)

is easy if you (or your manager!) mismanages priorities of tasks and you don't have habit of starting with stuff that might block other people first..

Like, simeple example, ticket looks "long" from title so you don't even read it before you have longer time period. You read it, then it turns out before start you need some information first from the submitter.

You now delayed tasks by hours, maybe days, compared to if you read it first, sent the "give me stuff I need" message, then went back to doing other things before the response came


There is a fine line between being highly overrated or just being successful at selling your achievements. I suspect a lot of people start out successfully selling their genuine achievements, but over time realise they can just do the selling.


Well said!

They get caught up in the image they have created of themselves. I think there is a need for "Social Adaptation" but taken too far becomes counter-productive i.e. you lose authenticity.


You could probably say this about my last year or so at my previous job, but I didn't really use these strategies. I just had a plan to leave without leaving a gap, so I intentionally allowed my ongoijg work to be taken over, stopped picking up new things, and made sure to finish up the loose ends. I also had some time for leadership and mentoring, but I think that was more real than the type of leadership in the article; I did build a working prototype and provided real code review help and meeting support (which isn't very technical, but can be really helpful for a junior employee to keep a project moving). At the end, people expressed to me that they thought it would be hard for them after I left, but it really wasn't.

Also, I'd have to say, if you're at a small company, being the person who sets up corporate/production accounts gets you in as an important person for new employees and really helps with being overrated, because everyone has interacted with you.


I actually don't like that kind of articles at all precisely because I tend to find things from myself and the authors often do very bad job in analysing these behaviours because the articles are one sided "hit pieces" that essentially promote a narrative or a worldview.

All the same behaviours can be written in a self improvement post on LinkedIn or something or a successful person might try to attribute the success to these behaviours. In its core its all the same, at best people trying to explain things they don't understand using broken mental models and at worst people trying to explain their failure through their virtues(I could have been great but I'm too good of a person to act in that way).

IMHO all these behaviours have different roots and dynamics and plays little role in the actual results(being successful or overrated).


Good nuanced view point!


The acceptance of others in our team called "society", who assume as a matter of human dignity that we each "add" something, is how we all get by and live. We're all nice people, terrified of growing old and alone, being left out out in the cold and hungry. We're all part of the same team, under the same shit system that makes us feel safer by devaluing others.


Damn; Don't rip apart the facade like that!


I have known many folks like this. I have found they don't really last long, in the evironments in which I worked.

I've definitely not been one, but I have been in ultra-high-performing environments, in a Japanese company (where they watch everything), so it became habit.

Even so, I often feel like I was the dumbest kid in the room, because I was around some damn smart people.

But I do find that making a negative posting, is a great way to get "engagement," and it's fairly common. There's lots of "Y'all are doing it wrong" posts, out there, compared to "This is why I think what I do, works well" posts.

Basically, we reward negativity.


Well, that's actually me. I do a lot of stuff on this list. No shame, I'm in upper management.


What is the likelihood that one of these people is on such a site as this? They are avoiding work after all. Not trying to get better at it.


Hacker News is BRILLIANT for avoiding work :-)


Fair point. Although in my experience the most useless people at work usually spend working hours jacking around with their plex server, daytrading crypto, etc.


I think a lot of these people are on the 'spectrum' of sociopathy.

At very least they're superficially charming bullshitters.

Either way, they're not the sort of people to call themselves out - even when they're fully aware of what they're doing.


They make up a really small percentage of the population and that group generally isn’t reading articles and introspecting.


...how many people in general you know that tell other their flaws and "crimes" out of blue ?

It's just not the thing people do, and I don't think many do that with premeditation too, by mix of impostor complex and trying to look busy for the boss


You’ve pretty much described the narcissist who headed a company I worked for a while ago.

Example real life interaction:

Me: please can we defer this non critical meeting until after product launches in a few weeks as my team is super busy and we are about to sign a customer.

Them: Non critical meeting is important for team building, which is more important than product, and must therefore go ahead.

Me: ??????

It was nice to read this article and finally have a place to put all my WTFs.


Found myself simultaneously laughing and being horrified by identifying techniques used by people I've worked with.

The advice at the end is spot on.

It also turned out that the best way to appear generous was actually to be generous since false displays of generosity were usually discovered and resulted in ostracism

I'll help anyone out at work. I'll teach anyone anything I know. I will never throw someone else under the bus. I'll take credit with "we" and blame with "I".

I've been rewarded for this behavior at the places I've worked at.


The best mix is a lot of genuine collaboration with a tiny bit of backstabbing occasionally thrown in.

Be genuinely useful, cooperative and valuable, that's a given. It speaks for itself, it's rewarding to you personally, and it's the only way to do not burn out.

But don't be afraid to play hardball. Don't cover for incompetence. Don't be taken advantage of. Don't be a sucker.

The simple wisdom of tit-for-tat is what I recommend.


FWIW, have had the same experience.


Same. Long term vs short term.


Some of the symptoms the article gave are painful to read, because that can also be what it looks like when a person is blocked outside of their control (e.g., another team not delivering, or up the chain has a problem), and trying to fix it.

Before trying to assign individual blame to a part, try to debug the actual system problems in team and organization.


> that can also be what it looks like when a person is blocked outside of their control (e.g., another team not delivering, or up the chain has a problem), and trying to fix it

Near the end of the article there is a good antidote to this:

"These things are a whole lot more transparent than the people who do them think they are"

Yes, if you just look at one incident in isolation, it might be difficult to distinguish "productive but blocked outside of their control" from "unproductive but trying to obfuscate that". But over time, the difference will be clear to everyone in the organization who actually matters.


That’s not a good antidote. Some systemic problems don’t get fixed and consistently cause problems. They aren’t always explicable to a wide audience either.

A good antidote is giving frank feedback and working together to come up with a solution.


> Some systemic problems don’t get fixed and consistently cause problems.

That's true, but if you're in an organization like that, the fact that some people are unproductive but use the methods described in the article to obfuscate that fact is the least of your problems. Your real problem is that your valid warnings about systemic problems aren't being listened to. Often the only way to fix that problem for yourself is to change jobs.

> A good antidote is giving frank feedback and working together to come up with a solution.

If you're in an organization where this can work, you're in an organization where the people who matter can tell who is actually being productive and who is not, and aren't fooled by the tricks described in this article. Which means that those tricks actually aren't a problem that is worth worrying about, which is why I gave the observation I just described as an antidote.


Most of the items here are good things that are taken too far. You can almost automate writing an article like this: take any set good things (writing code, releasing products, innovating, being kind to others, helping old ladies cross the street, etc.), take them to an unhelpful extreme, and say “don’t be like that.”

Don’t obsessively add code, or release useless products for the sake of releasing, or reinvent things that are perfectly good and not worth improving, or be creepy like Dr. Jekyll, or stalk old ladies.

I like people who keep track of status and make documentation, thank you! They are useful people!

All you need to not overrate someone is to be a critical thinker who pays attention over time to how things are done.


Having managed several teams in big corporate environments, I have to agree that the squeaky wheels are the ones to watch out for.

I learnt this because early on, during performance reviews, I had a sixth sense that I was shafting the quiet ones so I put together a performance metric system based on impact of work. What I found was that the quiet ones were more productive and caused the least negative impact compared to the self-aggrandizing ones. I shared this system with everyone on the team with their own data and slowly the squeaky ones started to transfer out while the team continued to improve productivity and quality because the quiet ones were happier.


Bless you, good sir.


When I spot ppl like that driving the company towards bottom I know its time to jump the ship.

Over 10 years of work, jumped few times like that.

Each and every time the company went to bin.

Following those kind of ppl does not work, having too many of the also.

But its very hard to push them out once they made “connections” and “politics” going.


Man the slackware clock thing is so common. “Is that in confluence?” burns me up regularly. Things like how to delete a file in git. Or revert a file. As the number of tools required to build software continues to grow there are more and more opportunities for people to play dumb and act dopey.


There’s a very fine line.

What is the standard way to set up the editor? How do people connect to databases? How do people generally reproduce an issue? What’s the attitude towards prod DBs? In fact, what is the expectations around asking questions?

Each of these questions has many different answers. Even a very experienced developer may never have seen other options and have intense expectations but not write them down because they’re “obvious”.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some company had some standard way to do certain Git operations due to some possibly misguided internal tooling effort… etc

If you really don’t want people to ask questions like that, you need to have company specific documentation which is required reading.


Sometimes it must be a personality trait. I have one dev I know that is extremely productive when he is working within his cocoon. But the minute you ask him to use a new tool or deploy to a new system - he needs major hand holding even though he's senior. I don't really understand it, but it is what it is.


I don't see how that can work. If someone does that even once you're going to lose respect for them. Twice and you're going to fire them for just not being smart enough.


This was an extreme example, there are many more subtle variants of this usually complaining about devenv or some other tooling. Here’s one making front page recently: https://daniel.do/article/laying-myself-off-from-amazon/

And hey sometimes they have a valid point but yeah usually they will feel out management about it and if it works you’re going to hear about it non-stop


In a sufficiently large organization with legal, hr, compliance, etc. it can be brutal to get someone fired for incompetence. Often they will start looking at the manager rather than the employee. Especially if you inherit a whole team of these folks and want to purge. Sadly it is often easier to just spoon feed these types of people than get them fired.


Unless you use MS products, then "it didn't worked yesterday!" is perfectly valid excuse...

After trying for hours to make their autogenerated libray to work (I had to patch their own wrappers to return actual error code coz they fucked up error handling) I just gave up for a day and threw some excuse

... the code worked next day. By which I mean it displayed another nonsensical error but it was progress!


How is overcommunicating a bad thing in a remote work environment? That post was written in 2013, when most IT companies required to work on site. If you're several time zones away, you do need to overcommunicate.

How is promoting your own achievements a bad thing in the context of overcoming obstacles? Why should teams endorse a culture where achievements are not celebrated nor announced?

This comments nails it in that taking good stuff to the extreme can be bad. And that's about it. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=33759950


You're reading a lot into the headline and not the explanation. For overcommunicating, the real nugget IMO is:

> A lot of people mistake activity for productivity

I've worked with a few of these people, and they generally tend to be very active on slack/email, make their way into meetings and ensure they're involved in "the process", while derailing every single one of those conversations into tangents, and then slide off into the next cycle of meetings and talking.

> How is promoting your own achievements a bad thing in the context of overcoming obstacles?

I think you're taking the article to the extreme here a little bit. Again, these problematic people tend to be the ones who talk about how involved they were on system X at $PREV_JOB, and if we need to do something like it again we should talk to them about it. It's not about saying "hey I crushed it this year, here's N things i did really well", it's people who deflect their current lack of progress and work by pointing at their previous achievements.

I wish I didn't know this from past experience, but I do....


I hear you; I also had similar experiences. At the same time, I've had bad experiences with people who never, ever, communicate, to the point that one starts wondering if they're alive. That doesn't help teamwork either.

I believe the whole post is more of a projective test than anything else: people read it how they want to read it, because it's vague and full of generalizations.


This kind of behavior will likely make any normal person more stressed out and miserable than most actual work. You'll hate yourself. I agree with the author's advice at the end.

I did it to a small extent while working for a large org where I was not under much pressure to produce or build up my skills, and it was a very unhappy time. Part of it was due to unresolved mental issues, part because I noticed others doing the same things, but regardless I have no desire to repeat the experience.


I know devs who practice bits of this to pad their credibility.

They are good developers. So it is supplemental, not their main bread and butter. For sure it is intentional.


I did some of these things and I slowly getting over them, thanks to some very generous colleagues who can overlook my downsides.

To be honest, some of these problems are less the problem of an individual but the environment - where we constantly have to or we want to point out the value that we provide.

Some things are even more painful, and I'm glad I'm recovering from them, like over-communicating. Some people have so little to provide in terms of value that talking becomes the main output - and that usually slows down projects.

I'm also recovering from being bossy after having worked with managers who were basically never bossy at all - it's such an important trait, yet relatively rare.


> If you’re currently doing them, stop.

Hmm, I'm definitely not this kind of people .. but sadly the market rewards these people GREATLY. Most of rich dudes I know are exactly this kind of people.


Personally I don't have much experience with people behaving like this, motivated by straight-up laziness or covering up incompetence so blatantly. These seem like they would be very obvious problem behaviours, and not as damaging as other more common but perhaps less overtly dishonest habits of overrated people.

I have encountered many people who behave in harmful ways according to personal or organisational incentives that they or others could argue were legitimate. Technical people promoted above their managerial competence level for example, can end up being rated highly by upper management as they are seen to be experts, but can then go on to make terrible strategic decisions.

Also non-technical project management professionals, using techniques that could be interpreted as legitimate, can be rated highly despite contributing next to nothing. Asking tech contributors for deadline estimates, recording the answers, and then chasing the overruns can seem like constructive action.

Then you realise that there are no high level plans coming back that integrate the timelines in a constructive way, it's just a way to apply psychological pressure by getting investment in a target that can be held over people's heads.


The piece starts off with

>I remember having a discussion with a more tenured coworker, with the subject being the impending departure of another coworker. I said, “man, it’s going to be rough when he leaves, considering how much he’s done for us over the last several years.”

After list of what these supposedly overrated people do, the piece ends with

> If you’re thinking of doing these things, don’t. If you’re currently doing them, stop. I’m not saying this because you’ll be insufferable (though you will be) and I want to defend humanity from this sort of thing. I’m offering this as advice. Seriously. These things are a whole lot more transparent than the people who do them think they are, and acting like this is a guaranteed way to have a moment in life where you wonder why you’ve bounced around so much, having so much trouble with the people you work with.

Which isn't a very convincing plea, given that the author himself initially held the exact opposite opinion of a coworker engaging in these behaviors.


A lot of people mistake activity for productivity, and you can capitalize on that. If you send one or two emails a day, summarizing what’s going on with a project in excruciating detail, people will start to think of you as that vaguely annoying person who has his fingers on the pulse all of the time. This is an even better strategy if you make the rounds, calling and talking to people to get status updates as to what they’re doing before sending an email.

That word "people" is doing a lot of lifting. Some people will actually value behaviors like over-communication and other won't. It all comes down to culture.

Organizations whose management ranks have a lot of over communicating, bossy, self-promoting, nit-picking, blame-pushing, excuse-spinning, credit-grabbers will promote the same kinds of people to top positions. But people who actually do the work will see right through these behaviors for the obvious plays for promotion that they are.


What a great read. And so true. I have worked with people who exhibited some or all of those behaviours. Mostly clueless middle managers who only survived because of their ability to BS upper management and because of the ability of the team to effectively manage them and counter their incompetency.


Sort of a toxic article, possibly written by a person who thinks they know how people work. However, the writer ignores complexities of humans, and ends up being a rather poor judge of character. (See what I did there)

Anyway, snark aside, most people who are changing jobs do so after a long period of deliberation, and when they have made a choice, they will stop taking new responsibilities. Because taking new responsibilities when you know you're leaving would be unprofessional.

If someone is good at what they do, they will seem like dead weight on the day they leave. But if you look a year to the past, there should be a different view of accomplishments.

Of course, this is not the only explanation for this situation, but a common one.


Sounds like my previous employer.

Almost nobody did any real work. There were meetings all day where a few people with complex accents talked over each other just to hear the sound of their voice while many people pretended to participate. Nobody wrote anything down. I really think people put so much effort into posturing that they could not write at the necessary professional level.

I was completely upfront about how little work I did to everyone I talked to.

Now I work for a small company with excellent leadership where I actually do real work all day.



This is so frustratingly true… I’ve seen this play out over and over… often these people are mistakenly promoted and eventually they sink the ship.


Definitely had a boss who was #2, #3, #4 and #7 and was more of a "Thoughtleadering Principle Engineer" rather than actual Manager.


The larger the company is, the better this works. Who knows what everyone really does? It's only the direct peers that will give side glances. And even then, it's risky. You can be seen as having sour grapes, not being a team player, etc. And everyone's busy with their own work as is. Why bother trying to call someone out? Large companies run on apathy.


Reminds me of crypto. Overhyped and underdelivers.


In the environments I've been in, it feels like all of these things would set off everybody's BS detectors extremely quickly


> Seriously. These things are a whole lot more transparent than the people who do them think they are

Has anyone seen articles on how to effectively manage/coach people with these habits? Extrinsic motivation tactics tend not to work, and appeals to intrinsic motivators are often met hard with #6 and #7.


> Managing unmotivated people is hard, so don't.

A quote I've seen in an article on management.


There are plenty of articles out there, see for example; HBR's 10 must read series, On Communication, On Managing People and On Managing Yourself (2-vols each). You might also find Edward Deci's Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation useful.

But ultimately everything comes down to Responsibilities and Accountabilities with Definite Rewards/Consequences.


Daedtech is a highly underrated blogger. Strongly recommend sifting through his articles.


To be honest, I don't often encounter this behavior in developers. In more management or leadership position, you can see it though.

Developers have concrete tasks to work on, what I often see is simply some of them can't really figure out how to complete the task if it's not layed out to them in every detail, and they can be very inefficient at overcoming any problem along the way.

The example of the developer stuck because of the clock is a good one. From my experience, this person isn't faking work, they really are stuck due to this problem and can't make decisions as to how to get past it, and don't know how to proceed.

Knowing that the clock doesn't matter and they can safely ignore it for example, is not something they know, or in this case, why it's wrong and how to fix it, they might also not know. They're stuck because they have no clue how to figure it out and need help.

Ya, it also means they're not as good as another developer that has a much deeper understanding and knows all this, but I wouldn't call a less knowledgeable or less talentented developer someone that's pretending to work or overrated.

Now you do have the kind of developer that's all talk, no walk. They are the ones that similarly don't know how to do things, or do things well, but they're very confident none the less, criticize others, and always talk as if they know and they're awesome.

Again though, I feel these developers everyone knows that they're all talk no walk, because other devs can see the kind of code they wrote or don't, what their real output is, etc. That said, to management sometimes it might not be as obvious.

But where things get real tricky is in management or leadership roles. Because in those positions, your job is to simply make decisions and guide others. But since you don't actually produce work, if you actually don't make any decisions, and actually don't help guide others in any valuable way, but still appear to be, the people actually doing the work will still have to figure out what to do and decide how to do it. And it becomes very easy to take the credit from them, as you were the "leader" or "manager".

And even when you're good at making the right decisions for the project or team, or company, and are good at guiding others, it's very hard to measure how much you contributed truly, what would have happened if you hadn't for example, it's almost impossible to know.

In those positions, it becomes almost about how well you can market that you did in fact have influence and were critical to success. And this is true even if you are really good, because it will be very hard for others to assess your real impact, so if you can't market it to them and make them know it, being good won't be enough.

It's a tricky situation, but it means that leaders and managers, both good and bad, will all be doing some form of what this article talks about, since they have too.

Another challenge in those roles, is that the impact of a single decision can be huge, but then for months you might not have to make any other decisions, and so you need to appear "busy" none the less. For example, choosing what is the next project the team will pick up, or that a new service will be created to deliver on X. Thats just one decision, but it's a huge decision, the impact of that choice is dramatic. Yet maybe you spent 2 months thinking about it, then took the decision, in that 2 months, you showed no sign of work, you were just thinking about what's the best way to proceed. And after having made the decision, there might be months where that's it, you've got nothing else to do but wait on other people to design and implement the new service X, or to deliver on project Z. Again, what do you do in the meantime? How do you not appear like you're no longer useful?


This was painful to read.


Off-topic but this article describes pretty much all politicians.


Minutia is the definitely the bikeshedding holy grail of business theater.


That's because getting lost in minutiae happens to nearly everyone, even most people who are competent and hard-working. Avoiding it is a skill not many are very good at.


The problem is there are times when minutiae is important. The skill is knowing when it is important and when it isn't.


I get the strong impression that many (most?) of the people fired from Twitter are just like the overrated person described in the article.

People love to act like Elon is some sort of mouth-breathing man child who stumbled into the CEO position through nothing but luck and connections.

Meanwhile, if I was to take over a company that's made up of thousands of developers, the first thing I would ask for is examples of the code written by those developers.

Don't tell me how fantastic and important you are. Show me the commits!


I might believe that to some extent except that not all development jobs lend themselves equally to cranking out commits. Sure, if you're working on a well defined feature with all dependencies already built, you can really crank stuff out. However, those also tend to be the easiest jobs filled by junior developers. Solving the less well understood/defined problems often generated fewer commits per day but often generates more value.


Do you really thing a company of that size has snippets of code that are reasonable to sift through and make that determination? You realize you'd have to parse through millions of lines of code.. Furthermore, Elon Musk cannot code himself. Having known quite a few people who have worked (and who know him well), he is the definition of overrated. Where is Elon's github? Why should he judge anything?


I get the strong impression that you‘ve never led a multi-billion dollar organization.

Don’t show me the random code you built that makes a users like history load 500 milliseconds faster, talk to me about how to make the product better/more engaging/monetized!


> Don’t show me the random code you built that makes a users like history load 500 milliseconds faster, talk to me about how to make the product better/more engaging/monetized!

Honestly, if I were the CEO, I would ask for the former if I were looking for the good programmers to keep since these are the things that make the technological base of the company run.

The answer is of course likely different if I were looking for the managers to keep ...


I mean, again, $44bn is on the line here and 'well functioning app' is not why things are worth that much (what share of YC's value is Hacker News for example?).

Companies release financial statements for a reason.


Elon Musk


He's the CEO and a huge voting share owner of his companies, why would he need to pretend to be working? Also, it's probably hard to make breakthroughs in space travel and electric vehicles doing fake work.

There's been a huge amount of leaks, rumors, and reports about Elon from within and from without his companies. He's been accused of a lot of things, but fake working has not been one of them.


The breakthroughs were done by his employees not Musk or do you praise Pope Julius II. for the Sistine chapel ceiling?

BTW were is the breakthrough in Teslas?


Elons breakthroughs are largely financial, and I don't like the guy but I admit this for sure.

Elon is the kind of guy who can gather $Billions from the market year over year, each time promising that this is the last time and the company will be a wild success afterwards.

Remember when Model 3 factory was all that Tesla needed in 2014? But then full self driving, Cybertruck, battery swap, AI robot that plugs in the cord for you, Model Y, Tesla Semi, Solar City buyout, Solar Shingles, Dojo Supercomputer, $35k Model 3, 4680 cells, etc etc.

It's the same thing year over year. He brings up a topic without necessarily promising that it's coming. He uses it to get another $Billion in loans and equity. He fails upwards, if a thing fails (see battery swap, solar Shingles, full self driving) it still raised equity / bonds and gets him more investors the next year.


He is a great salesman for sure but he promises revolution and delivers only evolution at best.

Lots of Simpson-Monorail vibes.

And financial breakthroughs are nothing, remember Madoff?

At least Musk's companies are real but his biggest promises aren't.

I wonder where Tesla would be now without the Diesel scandal.


> BTW were is the breakthrough in Teslas

You're either uninformed or being pointedly obtuse. Tesla has a massive patent portfolio -- starting with the roadster's gearless transmission.

It's a point of fact that building a massive car company within a crystallized industry was a breakthrough in its own right.


> starting with the roadster's gearless transmission.

This is a great example of "Habits of Highly Overrated People".

The Tesla company started in 2003, but Elon Musk started in 2004 after the three founders looked for money. Later, Elon Musk sued Eberhard (the actual founder) to have the right to call himself a co-founder.

IE: Elon Musk, in reality with respect to the Roadster, hits #3, #4, #5, and #7 from the listed blogpost.

------

Elon's primary contribution was money. The actual founders of Tesla were Eberhard and Tarpenning, and those two seemed to be the technical leaders/brains behind the operations.

Now that we're 10+ years after their departure, Tesla can't make a Cybertruck in a reasonable timeframe. Instead, they get beaten to market by Ford, Rivian, and more.


Patents != Breakthroughs


Gigapress? Seems pretty revolutionary for car making but what do I know.


If they would have invented aluminum die casting then yes, but they didn't.

They built a bigger maschine, impressive but not revolutionary.


You === pointedly obtuse


Ad hominem != arguments


I don’t think this post really applies to Musk because the techniques you use to take credit outside the company (Musk’s case) are different than the ones you’d use inside the company (this post).

Edit: I mean, he does seem to be bossy and critical, but that’s more micromanagement than what this article describes, which is about being bossy toward people in a similar role in the company’s hierarchy.


Fires most of the work force and the site is more pleasant than it was in 2020?

Sounds like the opposite of Elon Musk.


More fake check marks, totally pleasant.


Why that is the matter ?

The problem is in bad project management, technical leading and outcome management instead.

Solve those issues first, and there will be no overrated people.


This is precisely what's happened in our company. The project management head was not a servant leader and actively avoided doing real work while telling others what to do and promising to do things that never happened. Sadly, this person is still with our company at the time of this writing, but thankfully not anymore in a role where they can derail work.

What really struck a nerve in me was that I had to catch all the work this person wasn't doing, and I only realized it after I got burned out from all the extra work.

The bigger issue then is that you can't solve this because often, the person does a good job of hiding the bigger issue by deflecting to smaller, more pressing ones.


The worst case of that took 2 other managers with him.

He was kicked but project was so mismanaged that the next 2 PMs outright fucking left, with last one throwing comment like "well, they told me that they will be throwing me on deep water but they didn't tell me it will be with concrete boots on!".

To be entirely fair fuckup wasn't totally his (the person involved in selling it to customer sold Perl based piece of software that we only had to "lightly customize", that turned out to be a lie and we had no Perl devs on staff, so it turned into some monster...) but still.




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