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Are Quirky Developers Brilliant Or Dangerous?

CmdrTaco posted more than 5 years ago | from the hey-wait-a-minute dept.

Programming 1134

jammag writes "Most developers have worked with a dude like Josh, who's so brilliant the management fawns over him even as he takes a dump in the lobby flowerpot. Eric Spiegel tells of one such Josh, who wears T-shirts with offensive slogans, insults female co-workers and, when asked about documentation, smirks, "What documentation?' Sure, he was whipsmart and could churn out code that saved the company millions, but can we please stop enabling these people?"

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brilliant or dangerous? (5, Insightful)

p3on (1245484) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209629)

why are the mutually exclusive?

Re:brilliant or dangerous? (5, Insightful)

tgatliff (311583) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209837)

Exactly... To the average layman, the thought of a "Dr House" type principle always applies. For the people who actually do high end development or research work, however, they realize that intelligence is only useful if the person can work with other people or can effectively communicate his work. Also, documentation of that work is essential...

In short... it is only mutually exclusive if you are in a room full of a bunch of business MBAs who apparently as a whole still think that solutions come out of some magic hat somewhere...

Re:brilliant or dangerous? (5, Insightful)

neapolitan (1100101) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209965)

Agreed totally. I wish more people realized this and thought like you.

I, too, can write obfuscated code and appear "genius-like." It is a whole lot harder to bring *everybody* along than to rocket yourself ahead, make yourself appear to be esoteric and "invaluable," and, in a sense, bully everybody else into compliance. Now, we don't have enough details on the particular story to know if his colleagues actually were bad.

However, I spend a good deal of every day helping people that may be not as quick or sharp as me in many ways, but that is my job.

Finally a point regarding documentation -- I'm sure that every programmer here has come back to code that he/she wrote, and thought, "Man, this guy (me) is a genius. However, it just took me 30 minutes to understand how I did this!"

Early on in my programming life, I thought this was indicative of my awesomeness as a programmer. Now, I just think it is poor documentation, and largely a waste of time. If I can't figure out how I did something a year ago, it would take other people twice as long... They may appreciate the clever implementation, but in the large scheme of things that is not efficient, nor awesome.

Re:brilliant or dangerous? (4, Insightful)

Trifthen (40989) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209919)

I was going to moderate this "funny," but thought the same thing myself. My answer to the OP's question was "Yes." Because anyone, really, can be these things, and we need to stop with the fallacy that only IT people can be self-absorbed assholes.

Anyone can be brilliant. Anyone can be a jerk. Sometimes these two things overlap. I'm not convinced that there's a higher penetration of this in IT than any other profession.

Re:brilliant or dangerous? (3, Insightful)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210117)

why are the mutually exclusive?

Or related?

Reiser? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209677)

Reiser?
Couldn't resist.

Re:Reiser? (4, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209921)

Reiser? Couldn't resist.

Neither could he

Dangerous (4, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209687)

But only if you're married to them.

Re:Dangerous (0, Offtopic)

s1lverl0rd (1382241) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209711)

You must be new here.

Lack of Documentation == dangerous (4, Informative)

yincrash (854885) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209735)

Lack of documentation only chains you more to a developer. It makes it that much harder for someone else to maintain the code base.

Re:Lack of Documentation == dangerous (5, Insightful)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209915)

Maybe there would be more documentation if you established reasonable deadlines.

Just sayin' sometimes there's another story.

Re:Lack of Documentation == dangerous (4, Insightful)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210069)

Now THAT is absolute truth right there...if I had mod points, I'd mod you up.

I'm a SQL developer (yeah, the pansy-asses of the developer world - I admit it) - and often times my documentation is sorely behind. Of course, if I didn't have 50 projects all due within 10 minutes of the conception by the end user, I'd have time to document everything too.

That being said, I *still* do my damndest to document my code. Its not perfect, but its better than the renegade who does nothing ever.

Re:Lack of Documentation == dangerous (5, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210181)

Exactly. There's always two sides to a story like this. One reason documentation often gets missed is because "make it work and make it work NOW!" and "we forgot to tell you, it also needs to Z in addition to X and Y!" gets nice'd above documentation.

If we all had all the time we needed to do everything, the documentation would get done. But this is the real world and in the real world, IT management is definitely going to put functionality well above documentation on the importance scale.

Re:Lack of Documentation == dangerous (1)

techprophet (1281752) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209987)

Which is probably why he does it. Think: if it is much harder for them to switch developers without documentation, the chances of them keeping him on after a couple hundred thousand lines of code is greatly increased.

Re:Dangerous (0, Redundant)

phagstrom (451510) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209763)

only if your name is Reiser

Re:Dangerous (1)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209789)

Killer filesystem you-say?

Can we stop enabling these people? (5, Interesting)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209689)

Translation: Control is more important than productivity.

I think it would be a lot harder for this guy to have made his point without such an extreme example.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209813)

As an antisocial mindshare person, I resent this topic. Because perpetuation of my antisocial liberties is the precise reason I developed subject matter expertise in the first place.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (0)

cshark (673578) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209823)

Why do people feel the need to control quirky geniuses who are doing nothing wrong? Seriously, there's nothing in this example that's out of the ordinary, except for the women's t-shirts. That's what you get for having a casual work place. My thought would be that if the author has such a problem with this guy, maybe he needs to be skilled enough to replace him.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (5, Insightful)

DrLang21 (900992) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209875)

if the author has such a problem with this guy, maybe he needs to be skilled enough to replace him

That's part of the problem. Having irreplaceable people on your staff is bad for business long term. If someone is laughing at you for asking for non-existent documentation that they should have written, they should be fired immediately. The cost to business if this guy were to leave will only get worse with time and probably already outweighs the savings of keeping him on.

Lesson, you are replaceable. If you are not replaceable, then you are too dangerous to have.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (5, Insightful)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209911)

If your competitor hires this guy they might be able to outproduce you just long enough to put you out of business. Doing things right is important, but staying in business is the *most* important thing. (It's a gamble, like all of life, you roll the dice and take your chances.)

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209939)

Whats wrong in the example is that no one else in the business appears to have any clue what this guy was actually doing or how he was doing it. His work should definitely have been documented.

On the flip side his manager should have been reviewing his work to make sure he was explaining it properly to anyone else who may have to work with it and it wasn't overy convulted or uneccessarily complicated.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (4, Insightful)

Don853 (978535) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209947)

That's not true. The guy is refusing to document code and skips work on a whim. He's not dependable but he tries to tie his coworkers to his capricious tendencies. He's arrogant and socially inept. Most of the most brilliant people I've worked with are very confident, but they're not all assholes. This "Josh" doesn't sound like someone I'd want on my team. The code doesn't need documenting? Seriously? Brooks thought that was outdated in 1970.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (4, Insightful)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210111)

For the sake of argument, let's take for granted that nobody else can do what this guy does. Otherwise they'd have replaced him by now. Also keep in mind that he's using an extreme example to make a broad point. We'll take Mr. Speigel's words at face value, since we're to assume that he's not being hyperbolic about the behavior of said employee...

"Sure, he was whipsmart and could churn out code that saved the company millions"

His argument is that it's worth millions of dollars to not have to deal with this guy. Who has the bigger ego in this situation?

If I'm running a business, and a middle manager tells me that the company should spend millions so the team doesn't have to deal with an asshole, I fire the manager, not the asshole.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (0, Flamebait)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209973)

Because it's not enough to stand on the shoulders of giants. They won't be satisfied until they've managed to put a bridle on.

Thing is, the wise genius developer will realize, when the whole world is standing on your shoulders, you're already the ruler, forever and ever amen. They're nothing but little ants, and the situation will never change. Not because you hold them captive, but because without you, the quirky genius, they will be back in the muck where they belong, and their greed and self-importance will never allow that to happen. They are not the ones with intrinsic power, they are nursemaids for genius, or they are nothing at all. And they know it, that's why they're there.

As a quirky genius, I have to say, if you don't like the way we do it... go fucking do it yourself. Should be good for a laugh...

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210187)

ok, I will. You're fired. How you like that asshole? You can leave now and please take your self importance with you.

Re:Can we stop enabling these people? (3, Insightful)

Hozza (1073224) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209827)

Translation: Control is more important than productivity.

Err..No that doesn't really match what he's trying to say. By being so belligerent "Josh" was controlling the whole process.

So the choice is: control by a passive-aggressive mentant who refuses to talk to you, or control by management , who should (in theory) be much more approachable.

Of course, if you management team has fewer social skills than an unwashed anti-social 16 year old, then go with the mentant every time.

without clowns like this (1)

justicenfa (724341) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209705)

How else would we get attention from the office females?

Re:without clowns like this (5, Funny)

Red4man (1347635) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209815)

The office females already notice you.

Right before they say things like "Oh dear God that THING.. that mouthbreather is looking at me again. I wish he'd just go away. Ewww gross, look how sweaty his palms are. Think he's ever heard of a shower?"

Nice made up story... (5, Interesting)

sunking2 (521698) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209713)

It should ensure that lots of bored IT people with god complexes flock to his article and dream about how important they really are. Of course the reality is that just about everyone could get hit by a bus and within 2 months their names will be forgotten and the company will be just fine.

Perhaps (1)

mewshi_nya (1394329) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209717)

It's not necessarily "enabling". I've known a lot of people who are just eccentric but incredibly bright (and have been told I'm one, which surprises the hell out of me), and it's probably just part of the territory.

If he's taking a shit in the plants, though... yeah, get that stopped...

Re:Perhaps (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209767)

Yeah, get him a proper litter box. That should solve the problem.

Re:Perhaps (1)

electricalen (623623) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209853)

Reminds me of the movie Grandma's Boy. It was about a bunch of game programmers and testers. It had the stereotypical genius/crazy/anti-social programmer diva.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandmas_Boy [wikipedia.org]

Re:Perhaps (5, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210049)

It's not necessarily "enabling". I've known a lot of people who are just eccentric but incredibly bright (and have been told I'm one, which surprises the hell out of me), and it's probably just part of the territory.

A guy who mutters to himself while working is eccentric. A guy who insults his co-workers is an asshole. And a guy who smirks while informing others that documentation doesn't exist is just plain malicious.

Assholes should be kicked out of any team, because no matter how bright they are, they won't be able to compensate for the lowered productivity of everyone else who has to waste their time and energy to deal with their little power games. As an added bonus, it makes every other employee happy, thus making the world a bit better place. Profitable and morally right, firing assholes is a win-win situation. Even the asshole might benefit from the wake-up call.

Re:Perhaps (2, Interesting)

gmack (197796) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210193)

A few years ago I worked for a company that had one such person on the team. Everyone thought he was a genius and tolerated the fact that he couldn't even be bothered to bathe or wear clean clothing. He would come when he felt like it and he would leave when he felt like it

One day we had issues with his software and the boss went to find him only to find out he wasn't in the office. When the boss woke him up at 1:00 his only reply was "I didn't realize it's monday"

Needless to say he was replaced and, as the poor new guy quickly discovered, it turns out the reason no one could understand his code was that he was an alcoholic who couldn't organize his code any more than he could organize the rest of his life.

Being eccentric is not an excuse to be a selfish jerk.

Funny... (5, Insightful)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209737)

I've never met one of these coders in real life. For that matter, I've never been with a company who's internal politics would even allow such a person to exist.

What cyberpunk novel does this hypothetical "Josh" live in?

They do exist (5, Interesting)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209849)

I worked for a small company that severely underpaid it's employees. As a result, most were people who were just out of college (me), couldn't get a job elsewhere, or didn't want to move because of family connections in the area. Many employees quit right after a spouse graduated from the nearby University.

One of the programmers was brilliant, but actually insane. He could look over your shoulder and debug the page on your terminal in a few seconds. That is, when his meds were working. He would check himself into the local mental hospital for weeks at time, during which he was truly unavailable. They kept him around because they couldn't afford to hire real programmers.

Re:They do exist (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209925)

That is, when his meds were working. He would check himself into the local mental hospital for weeks at time, during which he was truly unavailable. They kept him around because they couldn't afford to hire real programmers.

Dang, what company was that?

Are they hiring by any chance?

Sweet! Meds and weeks of bed rest. Were the nurses at the mental hospital hot?

Re:Funny... (1)

Matatouille09 (1488443) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210033)

Huge corporations around 10 years ago. These "Josh" developers were all over the place. The weirder you looked the better developer you were sought to be.

news? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209745)

company gets all productivity from one guy, guy leaves, costs company money to get productivity back

i thought this was a news site

Re:news? (1)

JerBear0 (456762) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209877)

"i thought this was a news site"

Really? That's so cute!

Well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209751)

... use scrum techniques and such to try to get "normal" programmers to produce more until they burn out and quit, instead :)
Manager should start realizing that developers are people, and they aren't just "codemonkey", if they want a codemonkey they'll have to put up with it. Who else is going to want to go to work to code all day with a manager cracking his whip to "code faster, better, more efficitient, faster!"

I'd say most are less extreme (5, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209761)

Most quirky developers don't defecate in the lobby or egregiously insult coworkers. They just have poor social skills, may have poor hygiene, may perform poorly on teams, and so on. In those (by far more common) cases, I've almost never seen a situation where the company would be better off without that person in some capacity. Usually it just requires moving them off some team project to a big one-person project that's been festering on the TODO list.

It's actually pretty hard to find really good coders, so I'd say unless they actually are so terrible in other ways that it's screwing everything else up, if it were my company, I'd try to find somewhere to put them that plays to what they're good at while minimizing any potential friction.

Re:I'd say most are less extreme (4, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209839)

Honestly....

I dont care how good you are. TAKE A FRICKING SHOWER AND WASH YOUR CLOTHES.

Really is it that hard to spend 10 minutes in the morning, EVERY MORNING to bathe yourself??

and honestly, "really good coders" are not worth it. Give me medicore coders that understand business and can do what they are asked to do over a stinky quirky great coder any day.

Re:I'd say most are less extreme (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210135)

Yea well all of us dirty coders that shower once a week sure don't use as much water as you clean folks. I'm an environmentalist bitches.

Re:I'd say most are less extreme (1)

Splab (574204) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210179)

It's not hard, but it's not healthy either. (I do shower every day though, wear clean(ish) clothes)

Why Are They Quirky? (1)

theBraindonor (577245) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209765)

Some developers are quirky because they do someone no one else understand and think they are better than everyone else they work. They go out of their way to be a pain in the ass to work with, and I really don't understand why any manager puts up with it.

Others, like myself, are quirky because...we just are. No amount of trying to fit in with office life is going to be considered a success. No one minds if I'm quirky so long as I work hard at being a member of the team.

Stop coddling your little genius (5, Informative)

Anita Coney (648748) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209769)

When kids are recognized as being highly intelligent and gifted, parents, extended family, and teachers go out of their to coddle them. To treat them as special. To give them far greater leniency and independence than kids with normal intelligence.

Is it any shock that these kids grow up to think the rules don't apply to them?

simple economics (3, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209771)

i remember a book from the dot com boom days claiming that a company in san francisco hired a network engineer who stipulated in his contract that he:

1. would only work in the middle of the night
2. got to work completely nude

he got away with it, because it was simple economics: his services were needed badly

any employee who has quirky behavior that is somehow provocative to fellow employees gets away with their oddball offenses to the extent that their services are needed that badly. beginning and ending of issue. you don't have any power or influence over the guy if he is that valuable. you just don't. so accept his behavior. you can moan all you want, but if you want the guy to disappear or act more uniformly, then just hope for a sudden influx of really good programmers from some magical place. thats the only way his behavior becomes a liability

Dr. House Syndrome (4, Insightful)

EastCoastSurfer (310758) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209775)

Sounds like Dr. House for developers. People think because they are smart and/or great at their craft they can basically do anything they want. This ties back to the /. article about the younger generation being more narcissistic than ever. Shows like 'House' glorify it and apparently make people think it is okay to be an asshole as long as you get the job done.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (5, Informative)

java killed the dino (935800) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209809)

Shows like 'House' glorify it and apparently make people think it is okay to be an asshole as long as you get the job done.

It isn't?

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209935)

Well, the hospital knows House is an ahole, puts him on a team with other Doctors that are suppose to contain his aholeness. Real problem is that the management there does a poor job of containment. However their decision to keep him saves how many lives? Which is the right thing to do... now the "correct" business decision would be to fire him. We all wish we could work in a place where the right thing wins over the correct business decision...

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (1)

thhamm (764787) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210129)

Real problem is that the management there does a poor job of containment.
but the management is cute. dang. rrr cuddy. :P nice legs.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (5, Funny)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210007)

He may be an ass, but I agree with the parent that if you cure cancer I don't care if walk around shirtless and speak in Klingon.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (5, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209967)

Sounds like Dr. House for developers. People think because they are smart and/or great at their craft they can basically do anything they want.

Right. And that must be stopped. Because extraordinary results shouldn't result in extraordinary rewards. Genius developers who can solve problems in an hour which could take the rest of your team a month or more should get the same cubicles and be subject to the same strictures as everyone else.

Sorry, I'm not buying it. It's hard to compensate a quirky genius developer. You can pay them well (and usually have to), but that only goes so far -- they generally aren't like CEOs for whom money is the end rather than a means. Perks like an office rather than a cubicle are perfectly reasonable incentives, and so is "slack". If your genius developer doesn't document his code, a lesser developer can document it in far less time it would take any number of lesser developers to write and document it, or at least one of them isn't worth his salt.

Spiegel has rigged the question by choosing, embellishing, or inventing out of whole cloth a "quirky developer" who Spiegel claims caused most of the problems he solved and went beyond what any company could tolerate (open sexual harassment). But just because his probably-fictional "Josh" wasn't worth the trouble doesn't mean it's a good idea to treat your best developers like interchangable code-monkeys for whom following procedures is more important than brilliance.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210021)

Sounds like Dr. House for developers. People think because they are smart and/or great at their craft they can basically do anything they want. This ties back to the /. article about the younger generation being more narcissistic than ever. Shows like 'House' glorify it and apparently make people think it is okay to be an asshole as long as you get the job done.

What those people don't realize is as soon as the organization perceives their value is less than their douchbaggery they are curt lose. I've seen it happen, an guess what - the organization survives just fine and the rest of the staff is grateful.

Very few people truly have the rare talents that lets them get away with such crap for an extended period of time.

While it is nice to have the genius that can perform wonders; the truth is most organizations can be quite successful with a set of bright, hardworking people who like what they do, are rewarded for good work and treated fairly.

Despite the stereotypes of managers perpetuated on /., many realize that their role is to help their employees succeed and deliver quality work. The really good ones want people on their team that are the brightest and best (and play nice together or at least fake it well); because that makes their job easier and everyone wins.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (1)

binary paladin (684759) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210075)

I don't know that House glorifies it. (Maybe something changed in the last two seasons.) However, I've never noticed that the show portrays him as a terribly happy person or someone you'd want to be.

However, I'll take an asshole who gets the job done over 95% of the people that have worked in any office I've ever worked in. I don't need to be coddled, I need the job done! It's not necessarily about being narcissistic, it's about trying to do some REAL work and not have to worry about the cover sheet on TPS reports.

Re:Dr. House Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210105)

Recently I wound up yelling at my boss, literally, after a 24 hour clean up marathon because the developers took out the production servers by basically ignoring the set policies.

He pretty much told me that it's people who really believe in their work who are willing to yell when necessary.

So yeah, I can be a mini House now and then, but it's really tough not to be a jerk when the people around you are morons.

(I also fixed a server with duct tape 5 mins before a demo that got the company a major contract, that might be part of why they put up with my occasional rant)

Who asks such a stupid question? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209781)

Got nothing better to do you grass mud elephant!

Stop generalizing!!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27209785)

That guy sounds like a douche bag, glad I didn't have to work with him.

That said, I've worked with many brilliant developers who this persons direct oposite (not including programming skills)

Don't think everyone is like him, stop generalizing. Its like saying most blondes are stupid...

Well, most blondes are stupid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210053)

Male and female (et al.) It's a genetic thing that persists because, obviously, people like screwing blondes.

Classical developer example... (1)

ccguy (1116865) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209795)

These stories always make up a developer with a bad attitude.

Well, you should tolerate such an employee the same you would tolerate him if he was a great salesman than drove everyone else crazy.

Apparently bad attitude is worse when it comes from a developer, why?

Re:Classical developer example... (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210169)

That is an easy one. With a sales person you can draw a direct line between the person with a bad attitude and the dollars they are generating. With a developer the value of putting up with the bad attitude is more abstract. The first line manager might understand the value, but as you move up the food chain you get too people that are increasingly less likely to understand the value add.

Football on Slashdot? (4, Interesting)

bytethese (1372715) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209805)

To make an analogy here, he sounds like the TO of coding...

I knew a "Josh" (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209817)

Except his name was Robert, and he was best bud's with the company owner as they had gone to school together.

One experience I had with him was that Robert (working remotely) broke the system one day which affected my work and when I mentioned this to the owner, rather than him speaking to Robert, the owner went and quietly fixed the issue himself.

It was things like that that pissed me off and eventually led to me quitting.

Re:I knew a "Josh" (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210207)

Was "Robert" a genius or just incompetent with connections to the boss? There is a big difference. If he wasn't willing or able to fix what he broke it sounds more like the latter.

right tool (5, Insightful)

trb (8509) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209833)

If you need to cut, there's no tool as good as a sharp knife. If you need to turn a screw, a sharp knife probably isn't the right tool. If you have a guy who's a sharp knife, and you're using him to turn screws, maybe the problem isn't him. Maybe the problem is you.

Re:right tool (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209953)

Or maybe Josh needs to find himself a nice silverware drawer where he can sparkle.

Re:right tool (3, Insightful)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210131)

but my knife does not stink, mumble loudly, have action figures cluttering TWO cubicle spaces and refuses to empty that festering experiment of a mini fridge under his desk.

My knife looks good and does it's job without offending all the other tools.

Amazing (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209835)

"Josh" is the kind of guy that develops Googles, Yahoo, etc. This idiot is obviously one of those guys who is jealous of any who show better skills then themselves. That does not mean that "Josh" should not be encouraged to change for the better, but a lot of that is simple maturity. OTH, this poster will never be a better coder.

Re:Amazing (3, Insightful)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210125)

"Josh" is the kind of guy who thinks he can develop the next Google, and that the shit he's taking in the lobby planter smells just like the rest of the roses. He's already missed the boat if he's in the workplace and still hasn't figured how to network himself properly.

Re:Amazing (1)

INeededALogin (771371) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210139)

OTH, this poster will never be a better coder.

Exactly. The poster would be outsourced. Josh would be left as the head of research or something. Regardless... this whole topic is moot because now it is nothing but the anti-Joshs posting against the Joshs. Unfortunately their are a lot more of anti-Josh.

team player ? (3, Interesting)

artg (24127) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209847)

It's up to management to apportion work to where it's done best. Some people work well in teams, some better as individuals. Make use of people's strengths and give them the work that suits them. Rudeness is not necessarily an offence (though harrassment of e.g. female coworkers is) - it's just part of the price. If it's not worth the cost, then don't employ him. Similarly with obscure code and prima-donna behaviour: if the overall cost of writing and maintenance is lower when it's all done by easily-managed people, then that's who you should employ. And make sure the same test is applied to the CEO.

Re:team player ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210109)

. Rudeness is not necessarily an offence (though harrassment of e.g. female coworkers is)

Yep, being rude to women is an offence: welcome to women's rights: the majority rule and they are women.

Anyone can be replaced (1)

iamflimflam1 (1369141) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209851)

These myths of one coder being so valuable that he/she can't be replaced are just untrue. When they are gone people either pick up the code they left behind or if it's incomprehensible it gets rewritten. If you really feel as a manager that you have to keep someone on your team who can't play nicely with other people then it's your responsibility to make sure they don't do any damage to the company or their coworkers.

management doesn't enable him, they fear him. (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209869)

The "Josh" you're referring to has management pissing in their pants.

They let him get away without documenting one program and he'll keep his job forever.

He purposely obfuscates his work to prevent anyone else from doing it. Management knows he holds the keys and they are scared of him.

Management doesn't know much about programming.

On the flip-side, should you really maintain documentation that will make it easier for someone else to do your job? Professionally, yes. But the way employers treat programmers, I'd say Josh was ensuring his job security.

Re:management doesn't enable him, they fear him. (1)

Pope (17780) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209979)

"Job security" my ass. If he's actually that good, he can go anywhere he wants to. This "Josh" sounds like a thoroughbred prima-donna jackass.

Re:management doesn't enable him, they fear him. (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210029)

Perhaps programmers should develop a secure repository of documentation that only the anointed will be allowed to access. If a company does anything to offend the guild, that company would be cut off from any and all documentation related to computers.

Re:management doesn't enable him, they fear him. (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210093)

The "Josh" you're referring to has management pissing in their pants.

They let him get away without documenting one program and he'll keep his job forever.

He purposely obfuscates his work to prevent anyone else from doing it. Management knows he holds the keys and they are scared of him.

Management doesn't know much about programming.

On the flip-side, should you really maintain documentation that will make it easier for someone else to do your job? Professionally, yes. But the way employers treat programmers, I'd say Josh was ensuring his job security.

Maybe, but it also means the first chance they have to fire him they will; and nobody will argue he should be kept.

If he is in fact harassing other employees they may find it necessary to fire him just to avoid a lawsuit.

Oh, I've met a few of them... (4, Insightful)

BlueBoxSW.com (745855) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209879)

... but they always seem to self-destruct on their own.

They either:

1) Take of too much work because they never know how to balance things, and burn themselves out.

2) Stop working on needed projects, and only focus on the fun ones, which loses their value in the company

3) Get Hooked on drugs and/or alchohol, and mess up their own future (MODERATION, people, moderation).

4) Piss off management by sh!tting one to many times in the lobby.

5) Get shown-up by some newbie coder who knows less than them, but is willing to learn new things (Josh doesn't like to learn new things, because it would imply that he wasn't a master of everything in the universe).

why is it or (1)

d-r0ck (1365765) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209885)

They can be both or neither. It really depends. But they are definitely quirky.

Rent-seeking (5, Insightful)

Baldrson (78598) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209887)

"What documentation?"

The story ends there. "Josh" is no coding genius. He's a business genius. He understands that business nowadays is all about rent-seeking. Rent-seeking is looking for a parasitic niche from which you can milk the system with impunity, until the system collapses.

How could anyone learn any other lesson from the goings-on in Washington, D.C. and Wall St. nowadays?

One sided story (4, Interesting)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209899)

I've been pushed hard on projects before -- and been told that documentation wasn't a priority, that getting the code out was. (I had a sign on my wall that said 'Documentation is Phase 2', a direct quote from my manager).

Now, "Josh" seems like he has some personality issues, sure, but don't bitch about the documentation thing. If anything, I find that documentation can be harmful (if it's not kept updated as the code is), and that it's often best when it's written by someone _other_ than the coder who already knows everything (so they don't bother documenting all of the 'obvious' stuff that's only really obvious to them).

If this "Josh" were worth the cost of 4+ "normal" programmers, assign someone extra to follow behind his commits and document what's going on. The lack of documentation is a company problem, not just one programmer's.

Wrong choice of words (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209951)

What a piece of journalism.

Quirky = rare habits and/or rare hobbies and/or rare background/culture that bring a smile to co workers faces or make them interesting to talk to, at least compared to an average drone.

vs

guy in the article = a-hole that everyone hates but has the redeeming characteristic of being somewhat productive (at the cost of ruining everyone elses productivity)

Digital Equipment Company (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209961)

The head of DEC, Ken Olson, has been famously quoted as saying, "We don't have any geniuses at DEC." Where are they now?

Work from home (2, Interesting)

jlebrech (810586) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209963)

wouldn't he be more producetive if he worked from home?

You now have a performance benchmark, due to him having previous work done in the office.

Weighed in the balance. (1)

LaminatorX (410794) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209969)

Everone should be evaluated in terms of (benefit to the company)-(hassle to deal with+cost of employment+replacement costs). If the result is positive, stay the course. If negative, cut your losses. If borderline, try to work with the person to push towards posative.

Troll (0, Troll)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209985)

The dude's an ass, like Taco pulling this troll, not "quirky" - look up the bloody dictionary sometime.

Not likely to change (1)

JerryLove (1158461) | more than 5 years ago | (#27209997)

Successful salesmen and executives get the same treatement (better?)

Perhaps both, or perhaps not... (1)

Millennium (2451) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210025)

The quirky developers tend to be brilliant: it's how they get hired.

Are they dangerous? That depends on a lot of factors. Most, frankly, are not; the quirks are minor, harmless affairs that can and probably should be overlooked, especially if they do not violate any company policies. Happy coders are better coders.

Dangerous coders do exist, however, just like in any other profession, and it sounds like the article's Josh is one of them. It's tough to argue with his code, but his other behaviors are causing a lot of harm and risking even worse. This is a point where stepping in would be appropriate.

At first I agreed... (1)

Shads (4567) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210041)

I kinda agreed about Josh when I read the article... then I read some of this guys other stuff, about Tyler, and a few of his other articles.

Basically it boils down to he wants cogs in a machine at any cost.

Being different is fine, being a complete and total douche like Josh, no. Josh needed to revise his attitude and this guys needs to revise his also, unthinking cogs are useful in some situations, original thinkers are useful in some situations also.

Dangerous to MANAGEMENT (1)

redelm (54142) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210043)

Yes, talent is dangerous. Often to itself, but that is a different question. But all talent is challenging to everyone who works with it. Most challenging to management who have the responsibility and duty of managing it, and most specifically for covering and backfilling gaps.

You see, the matter is _NOT_ to complain of what the talent is missing, but to be grateful for what it provides and to identify and try to backfill the missing areas.

Glass half empty? Or half-full?

Most unfortunately many managers are there because the want to be. That is, they enjoy the power and do not see the responsibility. Often they simply cannot understand people who are not like them. A singular disqualification for anyone who pretends to manage others.

Do you need these people? (1)

Yaur (1069446) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210057)

Most of the development superstars that I've worked with all have their eccentricities... some of which are irritating and some of which aren't. My belief is that most mediocre developers have to get rid of these to stay employed, but the best don't.

If you are building something new and innovative you need them and have to work around their quirks if you want to keep them. There are obviously limits, though it doesn't sound like you are the one that gets to set them. Where those limits are depends on the project and how badly it needs star developers.

Too many ideas (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210065)

I suspect one reason some of these people are difficult is simply that they have a big brain which makes lots of connections and has lots of ideas, but have to apply it in a very narrow field. Perhaps the quirkiness is partly due to outlying areas of the brain (whole hemispheres?) having nothing to do all day, just like dogs get destructive when they are bored.

I'm putting this forward partly because I know my own boredom threshold is close to zero, but I've been lucky enough to have a portmanteau career - hardware, software, some metallurgy and a ten year spell in management. As a result, I've never got to the top in anything, but I've only twice been bored for very long (and both times I did, I changed jobs.)

The antisocial stuff is a different matter. A lot of (mainly men) get like that when they feel in a position of power. Our own lovely Tony Blair apparently liked to demonstrate his power over civil servants by having meetings with them dressed only in his underpants - look at me, I can go around like this but you have to wear a suit. Other alpha males just like to scream and thump their chests at people while hurling excrement at them, and I believe some non-human primates do this as well.

As a counter example, look at Richard Feynman, who was interested in all kinds of things and had a very varied career. He did quirky things but in a nice way, asuch as giving evidence in court that all kinds of "respectable" people frequented topless bars, because he didn't care that people knew that he did, or exposing the poor security at Los Alamos diplomatically by safebreaking. Robert Oppenheimer too had a very wide variety of interests, which probably helped him retain his sanity when he was persecuted by Strauss and the McCarthyites. Oppenheimer was also tolerant of diversity as a manager, which helped even if it annoyed the military.

So, my 2c worth; what these people need may be to be included, but to be encouraged to widen their interests.

Josh the lone IU (3, Interesting)

pohl (872) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210083)

Since the article was written from the perspective of someone who is upset with Josh, and therefore prone to paint him in a negative light, I'd like to offer some words that may balance the perspective. I'm no fan of people like Josh, so the following is the devil's advocate perspective:

By way of metaphor, it seems like Josh is the only Integer Unit in a CPU burdened with processing lots of integer-heavy code. He is a resource for which there is a lot of contention. Someone tried to have someone else on the team (say a floating point unit) solve an integer problem, and all they could muster was to go to the Integer Unit, who is already bogged down, and beg for help. Apparently, in this organization, Integer arithmetic is deep voodoo that nobody else can do. Everything flows through Josh. The odds that someone will relieve him of his duties long enough to generate a HowTo on adding two ints are pretty small.

Odds are that the project managers around him aren't thinking in terms of resource contention and how to alleviate it. They may make noises that sound like they understand that task B, with a lower priority than task A, will be starved until A is completed - but then tomorrow they'll still be asking why B isn't done, knowing full well that A is still in queue and they set the priorities themselves.

Even if they do understand priorities, they'll probably constantly adjust priorities eating Josh's productivity with lots of context switching and pipeline stalls.

They need more people who can do what Josh can do. Once he's no longer the only Integer Unit, he won't be able to afford to be a douche-nozzle. If this outcome is worth it to them, they'll pay for it. If it isn't, they'll whine in an editorial.

You're talking about Linus, right? (1)

meist3r (1061628) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210097)

I'm a big Linux fan and I appreciate the man's work on the Kernel and git but his antics sometimes let the asshole part of him slip out a bit too far. Confidence makes you cocky if there is no one to restrain you ever.

Back to "Josh":
A douchebag like that will take the entire project down with him once he snaps. No documentation and an attitude that would prevent proper inheritable code writing from the onset makes this a bad deal. Basically I'd guess they're useful if kept in check, reaally dangerous when you let them do whatever. Much like nuclear power plants really.

Like a former boss said: (1)

dargaud (518470) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210107)

"Whenever you think of a clever programming trick... forget it !"

And I see his point: other people will need to maintain the code afterwards.

no longer acceptable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#27210121)

These so called brilliant people are more of a liability than a benefit. Sure, they can do in one hour
what teams takes days to, but at what cost?

Inappropriate behavior with female colleagues == sexual harassment suit

Too much access == segegation of duties issues (your internal/external audit functions will haunt you with this)

The "what happens if he gets hit by a bus" scenario
Lack of standardization: sorry, Josh likes to use XYZ for his development environment, because he says it's better,
so he's not using a standard environment. What do you do when he decides he's had enough and quits? Who will
be able to continue working on the mental-diarrhea left behind?

Is there a wonder why these folks tend to gravitate more and more towards job based consulting gigs and are more and more moving away from the corporate standard?

No documentation? Are you kidding me? This in the day of ITIL, CobiT, best practices, post-Enron/9-11/Sarbanes-Oxley/Compliance-gone-mad era? Are you fucking shitting me? No documentation? The cowboy days of the early 1990s -- editing a live binary running in memory on production systems during prime time -- are LONG gone.

Time to adapt.

If you don't, get the hell out, you are a problem waiting to happen.

prima donna (1)

Jodka (520060) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210165)

prima donna - noun 1. the chief female singer in an opera or opera company 2. a very temperamental person with an inflated view of their own talent or importance.

Rings a bell... (1)

CFBMoo1 (157453) | more than 5 years ago | (#27210211)

And reminds me of what happened at my first job, though the guy from my experience wasn't that bad. He still did indicate to me one day that the code was the documentation. The good thing was he was more helpful with me figuring it out.

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