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Businesses Idle

When Smart People Make Bad Employees 491

theodp writes "Writing for Forbes, CS-grad-turned-big-time-VC Ben Horowitz gives three examples of how the smartest people in a company can also be the worst employees: 1. The Heretic, who convincingly builds a case that the company is hopeless and run by a bunch of morons; 2. The Flake, who is brilliant but totally unreliable; 3. The Jerk, who is so belligerent in his communication style that people just stop talking when he is in the room. So, can an employee who fits one of these poisonous descriptions, but nonetheless can make a massive positive contribution to a company, ever be tolerated? Quoting John Madden's take on Terrell Owens, Horowitz gives a cautious yes: 'If you hold the bus for everyone on the team, then you'll be so late that you'll miss the game, so you can't do that. The bus must leave on time. However, sometimes you'll have a player that's so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.' Ever work with a person who's so good that he/she gets his/her own set of rules? Ever been that person yourself?"
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When Smart People Make Bad Employees

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  • by gblackwo ( 1087063 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:07PM (#34767888) Homepage
    Here is a link [tvtropes.org] for those of you unfamiliar.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:10PM (#34767922)

    The best people I've worked for were never the smartest. They combined high enough intelligence with wisdom. They were humbled by time. They had learned people skills. And if they had any kind of self-awareness, they were shamed by how much they had acted like assholes when they were younger.

    • by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#34768124)

      So I am guessing that didn't include time at Oracle?

    • There are plenty of stupid people who lack wisdom, humility, and social skills; and smart people can learn these things at least as well as stupid people can.

      • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @06:40PM (#34770776) Homepage Journal

        There are plenty of stupid people who lack wisdom, humility, and social skills; and smart people can learn these things at least as well as stupid people can.

        They can, but my experience is that they often don't, because they're not compelled to. If someone is genuinely brilliant, other people are often willing to tolerate their less-admirable qualities because high intelligence is so uncommon. To some extent, I think it makes sense - it's very difficult to excel at multiple things (like some technical field *and* social skills) - but there should definitely be personal guidelines about how much of an allowance is given.

    • by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @07:51PM (#34771590)

      The worst people that I have worked with had AMAZING people skills.

      They could convince, seemingly rational people, of almost anything... regardless of glaring logical holes or inconsistencies.

      They seemed to have some sort of narcissistic disorder and usually would trend projects towards whatever outcome would earn them the most dough or gratification with little regard to the success of the outcome.

      I would take a few non-communicative geeks over a boatload of these asshats any day of the week, but then I do not work in Marketing so what the hell

  • by drmacinyasha ( 1717962 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:10PM (#34767928) Homepage
    Gregory House. Need anyone say more?
  • the person actually adds strong value to the company then you isolate them within a special department and handle them appropriately.

    Most of the time these people don't add nearly as much as they think they do/ In that case, get rid of them.

    • by Greyfox ( 87712 )
      Better yet, don't hire them in the first place. If more companies actually knew how to interview, a lot more of these people would be weeded out in the interview process.

      Of course if your company is a morale-sucking hellhole, problems may develop post-hiring process. If more interviewees used the interview process as a two-way street, most of these companies would be weeded out during the interview process. That sword cuts both ways.

      A fairly small percentage of crazy individuals will make it through an

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        Well, sometimes that;s not practical, and sometime they are needed.

        I've been at startups where a really smart person was the one t get everything running andf now the company is moving along and that level of innovation is no longer the fore front of making the company successful.

        Also, there are uniquely intelligent people that truly do things it would take a large team to do.
        However, I have never met anyone like that who was also an actual flake.

      • Amen.

        One of my interview-filters is to ask about favorite operating system, Linux distro, etc. If I find an Apple hater, or a Windows hater, or a Ubuntu-hater, or a RedHat-hater... they ain't gonna work in my company. Haters, in my experience, are universally team-breakers and disruptive, and nobody's so good that we need them that badly.

        Ditto for software licensing models. I always ask about GPL awareness (if for no other reason than to ensure we get someone who understands why mixing GPL code copy-pas

  • Brilliant Jerks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CrankyFool ( 680025 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:11PM (#34767944)

    I'm thankfully not smart enough to qualify, but I've worked with both Heretics and Jerks. One of the really nice things I love about my current workplace is their clear and very explicit "no brilliant jerks" policy. "For us, the cost to effective teamwork is too high."

    The only time I've ever interviewed someone, walked out of the interview absolutely sure we had to hire them, and been wrong was when we hired one of the three smartest guys I've ever worked with -- who proved to be entirely ineffective in getting anything done because "we have to change everything because you're all a bunch of idiots!"

    • Re:Brilliant Jerks (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:54PM (#34768602)

      If your solution really is superior, but implementing it and maintaining it is beyond the abilities of your team, then it is not workable. As the smarter person, it is your responsibility to figure out what that limit is, and stay under it.

      If you can't do this, then you aren't quite as gifted as you think you are.

      • No.

        If your solution really is superior, but implementing it and maintaining it is beyond the abilities of your team, then... you need a better team.

        Anyone caught accepting or excusing mediocrity deserves all the sub-standard 'solutions' they inevitably get. Your team should have the skills required to implement and maintain the superior solution.

        • Re:Brilliant Jerks (Score:4, Insightful)

          by southpolesammy ( 150094 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @05:24PM (#34769836) Journal

          The above assumes that you have (a) a high amount of funds to spend on compensation, (b) access to better trained people, and (c) opportunities sufficient to attract such talent.

          There are only a handful of entities in the entire world that can satisfy all three criteria. The Yankees, Manchester United, and Google come to mind.

        • by dmatos ( 232892 )

          A company's purpose is not to make the best possible solution ever regardless of the roadblocks in the way. A company's purpose is to create profits for its shareholders. If the cost of implementing the superior solution is higher than the rewards of doing it, a responsible company will _not_ pursue it.

          Business is not academics. There are deadlines, customer dependencies, and budgets that must be met.

          • A company's purpose is to create profits for its shareholders.

            There are many companies that do not have shareholders.

    • Re:Brilliant Jerks (Score:4, Insightful)

      by halivar ( 535827 ) <bfelger.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:57PM (#34768650)

      Also, today's brilliant jerk is tomorrow's has-been grognard. Five years ago they were hot shit in C and they let everyone know. Today we're a C# shop and they're useless because they were too good to keep up.

    • by xero314 ( 722674 )

      The only time I've ever interviewed someone, walked out of the interview absolutely sure we had to hire them, and been wrong was when we hired one of the three smartest guys I've ever worked with -- who proved to be entirely ineffective in getting anything done because "we have to change everything because you're all a bunch of idiots!"

      Hey, Have I worked with you in the past, because I swear you just described me in my youth. Mind you I still think "we have to change everything and you're all a bunch of idiots," I just don't tell you that. Usually.

      Actually that's not totally true. I have never let the incompetence of others stand in the way of getting things done. I'm a good multitasker, I can bitch and work at the same time.

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG ( 946591 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:11PM (#34767946)

    That's because I'm surrounded by Morons who don't even know the capital of Elbonia!

  • I have (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:11PM (#34767952)

    A slight variation on the first one is the “embittered moral drain”. These are people who are brilliant, but for whatever reason have basically committed career suicide. They become bitter and angry, and although they still do their job, they make a huge deal out of every minor mistake made by the company. This kind of thing spreads to those around them and it can really take the fun out of work, which kills productivity.

    A forth type I might add is the “unfocused hacker”. These are the guys who treat their job like their hobby. They focus on the stuff that interests them, and ignore the stuff that’s “boring”. They never ask for clarification and just make assumptions when the requirements aren’t clear because they’d rather code than type up an email. If tasked to build a car in 4 months.. they’d spend 3 months designing the coolest, most elegant windshield wiper you’d ever seen.. and then spend the remaining 1 month bodging an old tricycle to meet the requirements. These guys are usually skilled, but unless you keep a really tight leash on them, they make a huge mess.

    I’ve also run into the inverse of this list on quite a few occasions “The Dedicated Idiot.”. These are the guys who are really nice people, willing to put in extra time and energy, good team players, but have the slight problem of not being able to actually do their job. No one wants to get rid of this guy he’s really trying but damn is his code terrible and full of bugs and never on time and never quite meets the spec.

    Also, what was up with the mixing of “he” and “she”. I don’t know why, but I found this very distracting.

    • I might add "the aesthete". I'm somewhat guilty of this one myself. This guy is tasked with maintaining legitimately poor code and has to constantly resist the temptation to refactor pieces that are outside the scope of his actual tasks. He hates it when other people make changes to code he's written because they often "mess it up" or produce a result that's no longer "clean" and "elegant". If he can manage to exercise some self-control, though, and not go nuts fixing stuff that hasn't yet been identifi
  • by seyfarth ( 323827 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:16PM (#34768016) Homepage

    I have always been the most important person on any team, but no one seems to notice...

  • by Delusion_ ( 56114 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:16PM (#34768024) Homepage

    > However, sometimes you'll have a player that's so good that you hold the bus for him, but only him.' Ever work with a person who's so good that he/she gets his/her own set of rules?

    ...the people who THINK they are these people but aren't are the annoying ones, and are often un-fire-able not because they are so good that they're pivotal to the company, but because firing them would cause more problems than it would solve: relative of an important employee, friend of an important employee, someone with damaging info on someone who can't be fired, or a potential whistleblower or someone with an EEO complaint (justified or not) who will be a bigger problem outside the company than within it.

    • I think some of those people tend to be isolated fairly easily, and their negative impact can be mitigated. It's easy enough to make up a high profile but meaningless job to place the CEO's cousin. It is unfortunate when the behavior comes from someone who you can't isolate, either because you need their technical expertise or because they're threatening you with an EEO complaint.

      There are ways of fitting terrible employees into an organization. Specifically by really placing them outside but attached to

  • by fadir ( 522518 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:16PM (#34768030)

    He openly declared one of his superiors to be an idiot - and got away with it. Everyone (well, mostly) treated him special and he pretty much enjoyed his special status. I still don't understand why that was tolerated. While he definitely was very good, he wasn't so exceptional that it would justify him getting away with pretty much anything.

    And I think that there are very few situations where you really have a player that is so strong to allow him to play a one man show in a team.

  • by PraiseBob ( 1923958 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:18PM (#34768058)
    Why is a person a bad employee if they are willing to point out poor leadership in their company? Isn't that a positive contribution to the company, if the bosses can be replaced with better leadership? The article seems to think that pointing out flaws in the company that can be corrected are ok, but pointing out flaws in leadership shouldn't normally be allowed. I guess this article is directed at PHB's...
    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      There are generally better channels for this.

      I've worked with the kind of people the article is describing. Usually they are pissed of at management for whatever reason, and are taking out their frustration by bitterly and publically complaining about every minor mistake or indecision to anyone who will listen. They are experts at creating mountains out of mole hills. This can do a lot of damage. Having a guy around who is perpetually bitching about management takes all the fun out of work.. which kills pro

      • by grcumb ( 781340 )

        Managers make mistakes. If they are big and frequent, there are much better (and more discreet) ways of bringing this up.

        My initial response to this is: "No. Fuck that. Wrong is never right."

        While I will be the first to admit that there's no need to ride rough-shod over someone's feelings, I detest situations where people can't distinguish between their intrinsic value as human beings and being wrong about something. Honestly, I have very little respect for someone for whom criticism is always an attack. And in (English-speaking) North American culture, that phenomenon is way, way too common. In fact, it's one of the reasons

    • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:50PM (#34768520)
      Many places don't want individual thinkers in all positions, they want 'team players,' where team player means someone who shuts up and does what they're told. The larger the company is, the fewer outspoken people they want.
    • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:50PM (#34768528)
      Pointing out flaws in leadership by and to people who in are in no position to correct those flaws is destructive. If you recognize flaws in leadership at the company you work for and you do not have either the power to fix them or the ear of someone who does, you have two constructive options: get out of there, keep your mouth shut and hope your wrong (or someone who does have the power to change things sees the same problem).
    • by Americano ( 920576 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:17PM (#34768952)

      If you're that smart, then you find a way to approach the problem constructively. At risk of sounding like a PHB myself, learn to "manage upwards".

      I've worked for a (newly promoted) manager who was *absolutely clueless* about what my team did for him, and what our role was supposed to do. He was absolutely incompetent to manage us, and provided no "leadership" that was recognizable as such to my group. He was a business analyst trying to get experience in the technical side of the division for a run at a higher management position.

      So, we educated him. And not by undermining him, making him look foolish, and getting him replaced: by presenting our case at every opportunity, by highlighting the risks and benefits of various projects we wanted to work on, by basically pushing him and making it look like he was leading us. He grew as a manager as a result, and we ended up being the guys with a good reputation for working well with customers & other teams, and coming up with excellent solutions, and all of us got promotions for our efforts, because this manager realized that we were helping him and making his department look good.

      We could have gone the other way, and bitched about him non-stop, and been the heretics. But it would have simply burned career bridges for us, and turned the clueless boss into a jerk, and we would've ended up drawing the same pay we started with. If your entire management chain is absolutely, profoundly clueless, then your workplace is doomed, and you should seek employment elsewhere. If it's one or two clueless managers, learn how to deal with them and you'll make a couple friends for life.

  • by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:24PM (#34768132) Journal

    You think they pay me to post to /.?

    No, they pay me to save their asses every couple of weeks.

    • The problems that you save them from are the result of decisions made where your advice was not followed, right?

      The problem I have with TFA is that if the employees really ARE that smart ... how can the average person know that? As opposed to someone who happens to know a bit of trivia?

  • I guess all (smart) people fit in any of the three categories. As long as they do the work without being too much of a nuisance it's not big of a problem. The 2nd category can actually be worked around if the person does the work (or more of it) that you expect from an average employee. If they get tolerated to the extent of other people leaving or having a hard time working around them then you should seriously considering having a little talk with the person.

    However, how indispensable those people are is what really makes the difference. The problem of firing them arises when you can't get them being hit by a bus without the company tanking at which point you need to bite the bullet and hire somebody (or a team) to take over their work and kick him out.

    Sometimes all those people need is somebody to lightly boss around. A single employee or a team that can do the menial work because that's why they are reacting like that, they have to do the menial stuff day-in-day-out and little pet projects the higher ups want done quickly without being able to concentrate on the real problems. They also need to get heard by the upper management. It's not for nothing they think the higher ups are morons, usually it is because they're actually morons and don't want to listen to good advice. If you have seriously problematic people that are indispensable, you have serious managerial problems and it won't get fixed by other people taking their place.

    • by hypergreatthing ( 254983 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:36PM (#34768292)

      I know, i was thinking, all smart people fall under these 3 categories because the person who came up with it is a complete retard. Can't treat people as individuals so i have to generalize the "smart ones" into stupid bins that don't really fit them or what they do. I guess i've never heard of a smart person who has enough social skills to keep his mouth shut when it's important to and get his work done on time and be aware of his surroundings enough to know when disaster is going to strike and even comes up with plans so he can look like a hero every time? Right, cuz you hire smart retards because that's what you're comfortable with.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:27PM (#34768174)

    If they don't want smart people then stop forcing people to have 4-6+ year degrees to get jobs and have more on the job training.

    • by bberens ( 965711 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:54PM (#34768606)
      My grandfather was a draftsman for Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) back in the day before computers. How did he get his job? After applying he was given an IQ test. He was considered smart enough for the job and they taught him how to draw airplane parts. These days you'd get sued six ways from Sunday if you gave someone an IQ test as a pre-requisite for employment.
      • by winwar ( 114053 )

        "These days you'd get sued six ways from Sunday if you gave someone an IQ test as a pre-requisite for employment."

        Hardly. As long as it tied to the job requirements you can give intelligence tests. And personality tests.

        Hell, tests that routinely discriminate are routinely given by employers with no legal downside. While technically illegal, it's very hard to prove.

  • I have found that smart people are really bad at simple, repetitive, boring tasks.

    They get bored, start daydreaming, and make mistakes.

  • by Junta ( 36770 )

    For the jerk and flake, there is simply more than 'intelligence' that matters, and sometimes that can offset any benefit.

    The same can apply for the Heretic, but frequently the so-called heretic is right, which is a bigger problem than his apparent lack of morale.

  • by __roo ( 86767 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:28PM (#34768188) Homepage

    I've been that jerk in the past -- the guy that everyone listened to because I was right and came up with really good software, but people hated dealing with me and basically shut up when I was in the room. I slowly discovered that if I stopped acting like a jerk, people still respected me, but they stopped putting up a fight. People even went out of their way to help me. It was a lot easier to do my job, and I'm convinced that I was actually able to produce better code because of the reduced number of bureaucratic headaches.

    I wish I'd figured it out earlier.

    Hmm, on the other hand, I was asked to do more stuff because people were less afraid of me. So I guess... be careful what you wish for?

    • Re: confession (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:01PM (#34768712)

      And thereby do we traverse the tortuous path from intelligence to wisdom...

      • And thereby do we traverse the tortuous path from intelligence to wisdom...

        And at the end of the road we realize that we should act just as we did in the beginning, not because it's a more productive way to work, but so we can get a little damned peace and quiet!

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:28PM (#34768196) Journal

    If a smart employee can make a convincing case that the company is run by morons, it's not the employee that's the problem. It's the morons that are running the place.

    • by D Ninja ( 825055 )

      False. Very false. It's human nature to think, "Everybody else is a moron and I could do better." The fact of the matter is that EVERYBODY thinks that and you are everybody else to everybody else.

      The "Heretics" who complain about a company being run by morons are rarely (read: never) coming from the standpoint of actually understanding what is involved with runny a company. Any company of any reasonable size (read: bigger than 10 people) is going to have imperfect aspects to it. It's the nature of working w

    • I had a hard time understanding the article on this one. I'm thinking they mean the Heretic THINKS the company is run by morons and THINKS they have a convincing case that it is, when they actually are just blowing everything out of proportion because the Heretic has skewed sense of reality/self importance.

      If the morons are indeed running the place, a different category of worker, "The Diplomat" (which I consider myself) is the one to carefully and tactfully draw attention to the fact that morons are runnin

  • by Anon-Admin ( 443764 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:29PM (#34768202) Journal

    1. The Heretic, who convincingly builds a case that the company is hopeless and run by a bunch of morons;

    Thats me, Does it count that the company was running 10+ year old systems with no maintenance contracts, no spare parts, no documentation, and only 4 people to manage 3 full data centers totalling over 500 systems. Where disaster recovery was considered successful if they could get it back up in a week. Oh, did I mention that it was a financial company handling Billions of $? Did you know that financial company employees are supposed to take two weeks off with no access to the systems, that is to detect fraud. They waved the off time because we were only 4 people and could not manage it on 3. And I am the Heretic for pointing this crap out. I question the Heretic label because I have worked for many companies that where run by a bunch of morons who did not understand IT and did not follow any kind of best practices. I am sure we all have horror stories to tell. There are a lot of companies that cut IT to the bone with out understanding what exactly was going on or how it would effect the company down the road.

    • by Tridus ( 79566 )

      Thats the biggest problem here. The "heretic" is most dangerous when he's right and the place IS run by morons.

      Nothing hurts more then the truth when you're a MBA with no idea what you're doing. If people catch on, you're in real trouble.

    • by Asic Eng ( 193332 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:32PM (#34769152)
      It's kind of telling that his only strategy for dealing with disgruntled employees is "holding the bus". Essentially that means you put up with disruptive behavior, but don't do anything to fix the underlying causes.

      So you have a brilliant employee who is unhappy because he sees how things go wrong and is disempowered. If you really want to keep him, then maybe it would be better to cut down on micromanagement and enable employees to make decisions. Or you have someone whose abilities you are not using fully - well that could be seen as an opportunity rather than a problem.

      He's right, that once the employee has shared his unhappiness with 50 friends he's not likely to change his mind anymore. You shouldn't let that happen in the first place - listen to complaints and fix problems. Having the mindset that any employee issue can only be dealt with as a personnel matter - that's a good way to create problem employees.

  • by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:30PM (#34768212)

    That job was sucking the life out of me.

    It's not that I'm particularly good at what I do.

    It's that the place was dis-functional.

    The only things that got done were through back channels.

    With the inevitable outcome.

    Spaghetti code sucks, spaghetti management is worse.

  • I've been that person whom they hold the bus. That's because I carried the workload of four people. It took four people to replace me when I left. Partly because I'm fairly skilled and partly because I worked long hours and sometimes weekends and sometimes even in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.

    I've also been that person that understood the company was run by complete idiots. When I made a passing comment about the stupidity of the CEO, everyone thought I was an idiot. Within the year, all of

  • I was complaining to my boss once about a jerk in our department; he pointed out that most organizations can deal with any amount of ego as long as there are results equal to or greater than the cost of dealing with the ego.

    Once the results go away, the ego has to leave too.

    Shortly thereafter the individual left and eventually wound up working at Intel.

  • My communication skills have been... insufficient, shall we say, for a good part of my life, though I kept bringing consistent technical know-how that made my social misgivings marginally tolerable, to a point. Just make sure you never become more trouble than you're worth, however, and work on your social skills. The minute they improve, you'll become far more valuable to your company!!!
  • Manage them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Teun ( 17872 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:35PM (#34768284) Homepage
    I've worked in a company that each year harvests the 2-3 brightest from the worlds top universities.

    And boy are there some odd people among them!
    But the majority just did what was expected, come up with novel ideas and ways to do things different and better.

    It takes a special type of management/manager to point these brains in the right direction and when this happens it's great to see.
    When the management isn't able to control these wizkids you will eventually have a problem but as they were between peers they usually were made to get back to producing what they were hired for.

    The best you can do is to give them a real challenge and reward them with a bigger challenge.

  • by anza ( 900224 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:37PM (#34768318)
    Of course, he doesn't mention the smart person that shows up on time, does their work dutifully, and saves the company money by doing over and above what their job entails.

    You know what's worse than a smart person who is lazy and doesn't show up on time? A dumb person that is lazy and doesn't show up on time. All of those traits he listed aren't qualities that solely belong to "smart people."
    • by Instine ( 963303 )
      The fact is though, that if you're smart and play by the rules, you don't get to bring the benefits of your wisdom/insight to the company. Rules are dumb. They are there to keep the predictable mechanics of comerse predictable and measurable. Genius should never be measured (in either sense). It should be let loose. It should be allowed to fail. It should be childish and annoying and rebellious. And it should not be the norm. I know really smart people who just turn up and work, and do as they're told.
  • Are useful, but only up to the point when you sell the company and reap massive profits.
  • by Lando ( 9348 ) <lando2+slash@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:44PM (#34768428) Homepage Journal

    If you can't work with others, then you will be fired. On occasion you make exceptions for an employee, but not to the point of having someone around that will not work with others. If your business is dependent on any one thing, whether customer, supplier or employee to make it work then you're in the wrong business.

  • ..isn't this how executives expect to be treated, even though they're not the necessarily smartest ones in the company?

    So what's their excuse? Special treatment occurs in the workplace all the time.

  • by Stregano ( 1285764 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:54PM (#34768590)
    I call this the Programmer's Ego. We all know this person. They are the person where no matter what, their code is like God himself typed it up, and any questioning that code results in them flipping out about how their code is amazing and that stuff. Those guys suck to deal with because they refuse to accept if there is a flaw in their code. It gets old and annoying
  • by epyT-R ( 613989 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @03:55PM (#34768622)

    I seem to remember a time when tech culture was better tolerated, if misunderstood. Post dot-com era, the old conformist culture has reasserted itself with it's fucked up, ultimately self-defeating expectations, where feelings matter more than fact, process matters more than results, and blind loyalty matters more than earned respect. This is the primary reason technical people run into trouble at work.

    Sure, there are assholes in every field, but the best technical people are rarely if ever socially well-adapted. Their minds are world-focused, not people-focused. This is what allows them to do their jobs well in the first place. Their caustic (to non techs) attitudes manifest because they are often focal points within their organizations that end up interfacing expectation (often hollywood trained) with technical realities. PHBs don't give a shit about the details, they "hired you to make it work, so make it work" even while they refuse to grant you required resources/time/training because they lack proper understanding in the first place (and often lack the desire to learn the basics so they can manage properly). Being less people-oriented already, that pressure often blows off in lots of dark, satirical sarcasm, one-liners, and other nuggets of wisdom that, more often than not, hit too close to home for insecure management and coworkers. Instead of encouraging hyper-sensitivity, culture in general needs to toughen up if it wants to be effective in solving problems. In short, many techs would have better attitudes if they were listened to a bit more (no I do not mean despotic deference). They will never be warm, people-pleasers, but, trust me, you don't want them that way.

    I suggest all the would-be well-this-is-how-real-'professionals'-like-me-work posters stop and think about how stressful their situations are and/or how good they really are before they preach to those they'd dismiss as anti-social malcontents who need to get with it. Neuro-typicals make mediocre techs at best, that's why they hire us in the first place.

    • Management hasn't changed -- the circumstances have.

      The reason techies were tolerated better during the dot-com boom was because the computer revolution was the key to massive profit explosions and/or cost reductions on a scale never seen before. Thus, mgmt tolerated the quirkiness of techies because we were making their bottom line MUCH MUCH greater than anyone had ever seen. And as such, they paid highly for techies because our salary was a mere fraction of the economic improvement we were providing. W

  • by Kagato ( 116051 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:00PM (#34768698)

    One thing to keep in mind is that Venture Capitalists are there to maximize the amount of money they can get for a company. That often means forcing the smart company founder(s) out the door for the least amount of money possible. While there are folks that do fit his his categories to a tee, there are plenty of other people who are smeared or manipulated by the VCs into those positions.

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:06PM (#34768800)
    I won't comment on whether I am or am not on that list. But the company did bend over backwards for the person I replaced. They thought they had to have them to keep the company operational. He thought he had a job for life, no matter how belligerent he was. I applied for his boss, but ended up not accepting the position. However, I expressed an interest in his position (without knowledge of who was in what position or any of the internal politics, but just a "that's not what I'm looking for, I'd rather have XXX"). So, the next time the prima donna had a hissy fit and threatened to leave, they accepted his resignation when he didn't really mean to give his resignation. And poof, the company cut off a very large anchor that they thought was necessary. And they've done better ever since.

    Everyone is replaceable.
  • The Quick-Fixer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:09PM (#34768826) Homepage

    He's actually very smart, but he's always taking the quickest, dirtiest route to the goal. If a hack will do it, he'll do it and make that part of any critical process without a second thought to architecture, interdependencies or anything like that. If a manual workaround is faster, that's what he'll do - or mostly instruct others to do. For that he's known as a problem solver and is in high regard with management, which means nobody gets to rein him in.

    What they don't see is that every system runs like crap and is impossible to understand because there's weird kludges upon kludges upon kludges. Many interdependencies are completely irrational, you're afraid to touch anything to break it. That all the manual workarounds are choking the efficiency of everyone else, which are of course blamed when the endless manual steps and "remember this, check that, copy this field to that then save, alter status, execute this job" gets too complicated, error prone and slow. And he's mostly oblivious to this himself, he praises how the quickfixes help us even when quickfixes are the reason it's such a huge and complicated process to begin with. What's saving him is that nobody can do better, because everything is such a clusterfuck they don't understand anything and so full of special cases and other mine fields that the answers are bound to be wrong.

  • by tgatliff ( 311583 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:10PM (#34768842)

    If the Heretic was so smart, then why would he reveal the idiots? Consultants make a living preying on dumb (and dieing) companies everyday. n fact, you can alway tell a dieing company because they lay off their employees and "outsource" high paid consultants to run their business.

    A smart Heretic I would think would quietly high them drive their company in the ground and make lots of money in the process...

  • by John Whorfin ( 19968 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @04:44PM (#34769284) Homepage

    This is why you need smart, capable managers to manage your smart, capable employees. Anything less and you're asking for trouble.

  • by sp3d2orbit ( 81173 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @05:32PM (#34769960)

    There is no reason to be a jerk, ever. But a lot of really smart people get put into positions that are downright miserable simply because they are the smartest person in the room, get frustrated, and then turn into jerks.

    A lot of smart people don't understand how the world works, how much humans are dictated by a herd mentality and it comes back to bite them in the ass. For example, an extremely bright recent graduate gets a job at a company staffed mainly engineers who are 5 to 10 years older than them. The young, smart fellow may think "if I work hard and showcase my talents I will soon get ahead". Sadly, the world does not work that way. People who have been working for 5 - 10 years in a job don't like to see people younger than them master it in 1 or 2. What they hate even more is having to work for a somebody younger than themselves. If you think we live in a meritocracy you've never worked in an organization with more than 2 levels of management.

    I've seen many young, brilliant engineers apply themselves, get chewed up by the political machine, and become abrasive assholes simply because they don't understand "its not what you know, its who you know". My advice to them is to quit the job and start their own company. Never work for someone dumber than yourself. If you think you know everything, prove it.

  • by Col Bat Guano ( 633857 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2011 @06:25PM (#34770586)

    He's apparently a pain to work with, is extremely demanding, but he's forced the company to make brilliant products.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.