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The Personalities that Make Software Development Suck

Spend any time building software in a professional setting, and there will be patterns that you can see develop, across teams and companies and domains that span reach of software and automation. There are, of course, the office-dwelling archetypes who have now come to signify modern corporate culture, but there is now enough standardization around the processes of creating software that it has spawned its own caricatures.

And you can find one such ontology here.

I mean, it’s a pretty fun read. There’s all the Product Managers who are either overtly political or endearingly incompetent; the Designers who are either too naive to understand how software really works or are too beaten down to care; the People Managers who as a group represent every shade of technical knowhow but all fail in some way; the actual Developers who also can’t help but make the entire situation worse. At least the diagram presents an equal opportunity ribbing to all parties.

On some level, I think we can all categorize our colleagues—if not ourselves, in moments of honesty and humility—into a bucket and ascribe that set of human neuroses to questionable decisions along the way towards flawed project outcomes. Squint hard enough, and any imperfections can easily be amplified to cartoonish proportions; get enough of them into a room and the entire project becomes a comedy of errors. And while I hope no one is willfully stuck in a situation where everyone around them are varying levels of incompetent, this kind of humor actually reminds me of an early lesson in my management career: good-natured cynicism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The main problem is that these biases can become viral, particularly if the characterizations come from respected leads of the group. A one-off mistake or miscommunication, interpreted and then repeated with personal interpretations attached along the telephone game, end up wholly becoming one of these “difficult people”, whose reputations precede their presences. Even managers can’t help but use these familiar archetypes in making group hiring and promotion decisions.

And so I learned that leadership requires a level of constant optimism. The cool-kid mantra of “everything sucks” actually becomes harmful; it’s too easy to fall into the trap of needless bashing and reduces any problematic areas, big or small, into a stream of perpetual negativity. Not only are these attitudes defeatist by default, they exact a tax on the actual work, necessitating additional communication to overcome any incoming bias and reestablish trust.

So if you are in a position of authority and influence, your perspective on other personnel already carries disproportionate weight. Exercise judgement responsibly.

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