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How To Deal With (Techie) Prima Donnas

Hemos posted more than 13 years ago | from the get-on-yer-firesuit dept.

Programming 425

budcub writes "IT Recruitermag has a informative column, on How to deal with Prima Donna programmers from a management point of view." Put on the asebestos -- but I will say that a number of people that I've worked with, or talked to, have complained about working with people like this before.

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Do me a favor, please? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#92952)

The site is slashdotted. Most of you haven't been able to read the article yet. But that doesn't seem to be stopping some of you from posting. "Prima Donna Programmers" is a very provocative title, to be sure, but I'm not interested in wading through four hundred posts on what you imagine the article is about. So do me a favor and hold off until you've actually read it. OK?

Re:Just dealt with one of these... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#92953)

And you know what? That guy was probably worth at least 10 of the programmers on the street offering to code for food. With the dot-com craze the market got flooded with minimal-talent "programmers" who read Java for Dummies and think they have a useful coding skillset. You make the large mistake of assuming all programmers are created anywhere near equal. The talented engineers and programmers of the world know what their value is, and they are not going to lower their standards because of a handful of people who saw a quick route to money during the dot-com craze.

Re:The "solutions" offered, and some different ide (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#92954)

"Almost all prima donnas I know are under 25 and haven't worked more than one or two jobs. "

Except when they are over 30 and are entrenched somewhere in the management structure. I've seen the opposite, people who were probably very techincially involved with only the normal swagger at 25, but at 35 they've gone off the "prima donna" deep end when they've been given a little power but have lost the full grasp of the technology. Nothing better than sitting in a meeting and hearing about the struggles with JCL or 16-bit ODBC while you can't get your decisions on the agenda because someone refuses to admit they don't understand the issues.

Re:A good philosophy (1)

Eccles (932) | more than 13 years ago | (#92955)

Everyone Is Replacable

Or, a similar sentiment:

The graveyards are full of indispensible men.--Charles de Gaulle

(Who is himself in a graveyard now, so...)

Re:Hehe. (1)

mandolin (7248) | more than 13 years ago | (#92969)

The article fails to mention that Prima Donnas are so easily offended, and mis-represent the issue to favor themselves.

I don't think these character traits are specific to prima donnas. Particularly the 2nd one.

We all look like that to them. (1)

Flyer (13280) | more than 13 years ago | (#92979)

Hey folks. People with skills all look like primadonas to managers. It is quite embarasing to manager types that we can build something without their help (usually faster) and they cannot do anything but warm a seat without us.

Perhaps I am too self conscious... (1)

NitsujTPU (19263) | more than 13 years ago | (#92981)

But I think that myself and several of my friends are pretty much the subject of this article... Though I have a couple friends who readily come to mind even to me as exceedingly displaying this property.

No challenges (1)

The Cat (19816) | more than 13 years ago | (#92983)

Its just like the kid in school that finishes their work early. They are bored. Class doesn't challenge them, therefore they lose interest and become a distraction.


Give them a more difficult challenge. Encourage them to succeed! Give them more interesting work to do. ASK THEM WHAT THEY WANT MOST AND FIGURE OUT A WAY TO DO WHAT THEY WANT!

See, there is such a thing as a prima donna MANAGER too. "You will agree with me or I will fire you."

Don't allow the leaders on the team to focus their determination on arguing with the manager and the rest of the team. Give them a challenge to overcome, and they will outproduce everyone else.

Re:Hehe. (1)

rhaig (24891) | more than 13 years ago | (#92992)

"if they work against the corporation that is paying them, their genius is *useless*"

So you'd rather have someone who mindlessly implements something when management says "do it", rather than someone who thinks through the "it" and comes up with a better solution? Is it better to be obedient and implement a solution that is O(n^2), or refuse to do that and come up with something that is O(log(n))??

Refusing to write crappy code, refusing to implement a stupid solution to a simple (or even complex problem), thinking through a problem before coming up with a solution. Are these marks of a prima donna?? Ok, count me in.

Re:I don't understand..... (1)

rhaig (24891) | more than 13 years ago | (#92993)

prima donnas don't need to spell well. you understood what he was trying to say didn't you? All the underlings should be able to do that. If not, then they weren't meant to hear what we said.

Re:The real primo donnas (1)

Sxooter (29722) | more than 13 years ago | (#92995)

Yeah, and that site is running apache and php, so it can handle a bit of load. Musta had a (good) prima donna program it too.

Re:The "solutions" offered, and some different ide (1)

Sxooter (29722) | more than 13 years ago | (#92996)

Interestingly enough, I've seen corporate environments where the arrogant idiot in marketing gets much further ahead the the arrogant genious in development.

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (1)

garyrich (30652) | more than 13 years ago | (#93002)

I assume you're referring to the "Surgical Team" style development team where someone is the "chief surgeon" and everyone else fills in to support this individual. I can see your point, but I doubt many surgeons would pull the type of shit prima donna programmers pull.
Surgical Team Member: What's route do you plan to send the arthroscope down doctor?
Chief Surgeon: I can't tell you what I'm doing, it's too complicated, now look away everyone, only I may look at this stage of the operation.
Surgical Team Member: I've finished the sutures, doctor.
Chief Surgeon: You call those sutures? My cat has coughed up better work than that.

You haven't known many surgeons, have you? The above sounds like a fairly typical heart surgeon. Surgery attracts MDs that don't like people, since the patient is out cold when they do their work.

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (1)

stoney27 (36372) | more than 13 years ago | (#93007)

Ever look into Extreme Programming? [] One of the aspects of XP is that all coding is done in pairs, know as pair programming. This type of programming creates better code in about haft the time and if any production code it not programmed with your partner it is thrown out.

I know the concept sounds very strange especially to people, like my self, who view code more as art the engineering. But it does work. Not all programs are cut out for XP but if all the shop does it. It can be very beneficial to all.


Cost/Benefit (1)

camusflage (65105) | more than 13 years ago | (#93028)

You (the manager) have to take the good with the bad. Sure, the primadonna can drag things down, but consider what they do bring. I'm sure some would consider me to be one, but I'm always helpful for those who are willing to listen, instead of simply asking my opinion because someone said they better ask me. I'll do the grunt work if I have to. Just today I handed off a coding fix to one of my developers because he knew nothing about the documentation I needed to start writing.

OTOH, a primadonna who doesn't have the skills is a drag all around. There's a fine line that a lot of us walk, between indulging our quirks and buckling down. As a professional, it's up to you to make sure that your vision and your manager's vision of that line are in agreement with one another.

Re:I don't understand..... (1)

cheese_wallet (88279) | more than 13 years ago | (#93040)

Maybe you should lern to spel.

Re:Hehe. (1)

cheese_wallet (88279) | more than 13 years ago | (#93041)

The article fails to mention that Prima Donnas are so easily offended, and mis-represent the issue to favor themselves.

Maybe if they had some prima donna's (1)

cs668 (89484) | more than 13 years ago | (#93043)

The site would stay up under some load :-)

An other approach to managing "Them" (1)

bill_kress (99356) | more than 13 years ago | (#93046)

One decent "Prima donna" is going to do the work of 5-10 "Normal Programmers". This is one of those strange facts that you never believe until you see it.

Being at the capibility level that enables that kind of programming skill often requires giving up some portion of your life--useless parts like childhood and socializing, so of course you're dealing, for the most part, with people who haven't a clue how to deal with others and are personally insecure.

How to fix it? Give them everything they want. Project Ownership!--Put them in charge of a group. Allow them to report to upper management (Nothing is going to piss them off more than some inept middle manager trying to puff himself up by micro-managing decent programmers).

Now the other side of the coin, you must take certian steps to limit your exposure:

*Make them responsible for deadlines.
*Have an independant QA team ready to check the output.
*Have quick turn-around times so you can keep an eye on progress.
*Have code reviews. Put your "Prima Donna" in charge, but involve others.
*Encourage them to use ANY or ALL of the "Extreme Programming" techniques--they will all limit your exposure and mature your programmers without costing anything.

I work for a company that employs 150 people based, for the most part, on the work of one extremely talented person that some might even refer to by the "P" word (when he's not around).

Prima Donnas and Prima Donna Wannabes (1)

Feign Ram (114284) | more than 13 years ago | (#93058)

This discussion is actually about Prima Donna Wannabes. Are Prima Donna's like Linus or K &R such PITAs ? I don't think so. So this is about those wannabes without any perspective. Not documenting code/work, refusing to share information, trying to act overly cool, stubborn refusal to recognise the needs of a production environment, master-of-all-I-survey attitude are all signs 2 well known to anyone who has spent some time in sw companies. The best way to avoid these jerks is to filter them at the interview stage itself. It's very very difficult to get rid of them once they are in , since most of them manage to appear technically competent and at present there are way too many PHB managers in sw groups who are blind to the faults of these Wannabe's. It's especially difficult if these types are from some top school, then the managers won't even hear of it.

Re:Hehe. (1)

Doomdark (136619) | more than 13 years ago | (#93070)

I don't think that's what he meant actually. I do know very well how some very very skilled programmers have perversely inflated egos and unhealthy attitudes, and the thing is that at that point the technical genius is pretty much useless. There are things that are too big to be handled by single individual (no matter how smart and capable), and at that point Prima Donnas are to be avoided at all costs. And of course, the risk of losing a PD should be considered too. Having one huge rotten egg in your basket stinks, even more when it breaks...

There are so many ways to avoid writing crappy code that refusal should seldom be necessary. And good (even average) managers know better than to force-feed their implementation ideas to the guy that actually does the implementation and is most likely in better position to do the design. However, by same token, skilled professional programmers know, too, better than to refuse to do things they are asked to. What I mean is "what" is usually decided by other people than "how" (should be obvious of course).

The real trick . . . (1)

fetta (141344) | more than 13 years ago | (#93073)

The real trick is to distinguish the prima donnas who contribute from those who don't.

I've worked with prima donnas who were worth every headache they caused, but I've also worked with folks who thought they were worth a lot more than they really were.

How to deal with Prima Donna Magazines? (1)

selkirk (175431) | more than 13 years ago | (#93086)

How to deal with Prima Donna Magazines? Slashdot em!

Re:Jenny's Story (1)

QueenOfSwords (179856) | more than 13 years ago | (#93089)

Who the hell are you?

I object! (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 13 years ago | (#93090)

"Prima Donna" has a negative connotation. I prefer to be called "Technically Gifted"

Thinks the World Revolves Around Him (1)

BenboX (194360) | more than 13 years ago | (#93095)

Other symptoms of prima donna syndrome include an obsessive desire for control, the attitude that the world revolves around them, and the conviction that the regular rules donâ(TM)t apply to them.

So, Bill Gates got to where he is by never growing out of it?


The solution ... (1)

K45 (207177) | more than 13 years ago | (#93105)

... to Prima Dona websevers is simply to post a link on slashdot.

First things first, when dealing with techie pds (1)

WillSeattle (239206) | more than 13 years ago | (#93116)

is to spell asbestos correctly.

Seriously, just because the techie prima donnas might think it's fine to type misspelled words and phrases, as a manager, you need to make sure they can understand you.

the article kinda upset me (1)

rohar (253766) | more than 13 years ago | (#93124)

Reading through the article, was actually kinda upsetting...
I have tended to act like this

It's easy to write songs, you just sit down and write them.

Management just needs to understand the problem. (1)

barfy (256323) | more than 13 years ago | (#93129)

From a management perspective... Prima Donnaship is a cost of doing business. It either costs you too much, or it doesn't. If it costs too much don't spend it. If it doesn't (IE return on investment is substantial), figure out how to deal with it. And if you can't then the management cost is too high, and you upper management will have to adapt, change, or the company will suffer and possibly die. Much of successful commercial software is talent based. It is very similar to other Intellectual Property pursuits. Often the most commercially successful Talents, have management issues regardless of the field. Successful management understands that and provides the appropriate environment for the talent. Just because it is a business cost does not mean that you don't spend it.

The real primo donnas (1)

nukebuddy (258109) | more than 13 years ago | (#93131)

These girls [] are the real thing: the absolutely most primo donnas around.

Re:Hehe. (1)

Fat Casper (260409) | more than 13 years ago | (#93134)

Guess what? A great programmer can fit him(or her)self into the overall scheme of things, resulting in a better final product. A mediocre one, a mere hack whose egotism leads him to think that his shit doesn't stink, is a liability. A Programmer with more limited coding skills who understands he is part of a team, working on a project not his own but the company's, is far more valuable. You know, someone worth being invested in so he can become a good programmer. Maybe there aren't many worth doing that for these days.

"You know, the golf course is the only place he isn't handicapped."

Re:So what should I take away from a comments like (1)

Fat Casper (260409) | more than 13 years ago | (#93137)

Damn, that's well over the USRDA of question marks in that post. Maybe you should use the Demoronizer [] .

"You know, the golf course is the only place he isn't handicapped."

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (1)

Fat Casper (260409) | more than 13 years ago | (#93138)

It doesn't matter how late you stay up coding- your head is still solidly on your shoulders. Despite the fact that teams can work very well, "Unity of command" is a principle that has proven itself too mant times to be ignored, as is "Too many cooks spoil the broth." You can have all the people you want contributing to the project, but the overall scheme of things needs to be in as few hands as possible.

"You know, the golf course is the only place he isn't handicapped."

news that matters? (1)

steadph (267458) | more than 13 years ago | (#93142)

Well now... how can we read the news if it's slashdotted already?

Almost all the sites that I have visited a couple of months till now that is linked to slashdot is slashdotted to death! cnet, nytimes, zdnet and a few sites seems to be immune though...

Can the editors at least put a mirror web page?

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (1)

PKI Champion (307395) | more than 13 years ago | (#93145)

I looked into it very seriously! I'm sure many of us have done some form of pair programming, e.g. to solve serious problems, but not necessarily by the Extreme Programming guidelines for everything.

As a program manager who's seen a team's productivity hurt by weaker individuals, or star's who don't share their knowledge, I wanted to try something that might help. One of my teams had 2 stars, 10 average, and 3 not so productive members. The majority of the team was being held hostage by the stars' not making their deadlines, etc. and the weaker ones on the team also not making their deadlines.

I wanted to try it out, so I did a trial for three weeks; 1 star w/one weak, and 1 star with one average. Personality mattered. I was amazed at how much more knowledgeable the perceived weak individual displayed of the system afterwards! I did get some pushback from the stars, but I also saw them concentrate more on the immediate problem than the elegant solution.

However, when I tried to institutionalize it, I got immediate pushback from my management. Two people to do the work of one? We can't afford the headcount, la da da. Such is life.

In situations where you'd like to gain some degree of control over your stars or mentor weaker team members, pair programming helped me, and it might help you too.

Dilbert (1)

SkewlD00d (314017) | more than 13 years ago | (#93148)

Maybe you should read the Dilbert Guide to Management.

Re:I ain't no prima donna... (1)

SkewlD00d (314017) | more than 13 years ago | (#93149)

Yeah, like where's my fridge? I want an office on Mahagony Row and a female intern. That's not too much to ask. Maybe I need to run for congress. No Prima Donnas in there; just look at Rep. Condit.

Recent DNS changes (1)

ttmighty (410945) | more than 13 years ago | (#93154)

It would seem (Acording to Arin and
That both the IP address range through Arin and the DNS records for the host have been changed in the last few hours.

Would be nice to be able to make changes without bringing the service down, 'eh guys?

Uhhh, you might want to rethink were you post. (1)

ttmighty (410945) | more than 13 years ago | (#93155)

difficult woman soloist? (1)

Richard Sta11man (443141) | more than 13 years ago | (#93158)

?The term ?prima donna? comes from a difficult leading woman soloist in an opera,? Henning reflects.

Not exactly. Since it's just Italiano for "first woman" Here's the OED entry. It's copyrighted, but this is fair fuckin' use.

1. The first or principal female singer in an opera. Also prima donna assoluta [It., lit. = absolute], a prima donna of outstanding excellence.

[1768 [W. DONALDSON] Life Sir B. Sapskull II. viii. 53 So great is the infatuation of playing, and the secret satisfaction of being the prima of a Company so prevalent, that [etc.].] 1782 W. BECKFORD Let. 5 Apr. in J. W. Oliver Life William Beckford (1932) v. 110 Our Prima Donna, Miss Fawkener..has real talent. 1812 SOUTHEY Lett., to Miss Barker 3 May, An author, like a prima donna, has a sort of dignity from appearing sometimes incog., when, in reality, everybody knows him. 1842 LONGFELLOW in Life (1891) I. 433 The prima donna of the Düsseldorf theatre. 1855 GEO. ELIOT in Fraser's Mag. LII. 50/2 He will..interpolate no cantata to show off the powers of a prima donna assoluta. 1880 W. S. ROCKSTRO in Grove Dict. Mus. II. 509/1 [In an Opera] the First Woman (Prima donna) was always a high Soprano. 1887 J. A. F. MAITLAND in Dict. Nat. Biog. XII. 274/1 In managing recalcitrant prime donne and other mutinous persons. 1938 Oxf. Compan. Mus. 749/2 The term Prima Donna Assoluta (?absolute first lady?) is sometimes used to make perfectly clear the position of the very most important woman member of an opera company. 1958 Listener 14 Aug. 250/2 A singer who is hailed as a prima donna assoluta. 1976 S. GALATOPOULOS (title) Callas: prima donna assoluta.

2. transf. and fig. A person of the highest standing in a particular field or activity; one who behaves in a self-important or temperamental manner.

1834 [see ANGRIAN a.]. 1846 Swell's Night Guide 36 Here also hang out some of the prima donnas of the flags and curbs, some of the small fry of 80, Quadrant. 1861 B. HEMYING in H. Mayhew London Labour (1862) Extra vol. 215/1 Two classes of prostitutes come under this denomination [{em}] first, kept mistresses, and secondly, prima donnas or those who live in a superior style. 1877 A. MACMILLAN Let. in C. Morgan House of Macmillan (1943) vii. 117 It is clear that our Prima Donna must be paid on a different scale from the others. 1936 Amer. Mercury May p. x/2 Prima donna, the first-class gripe artist; a temperamental [jazz] musician. 1938 Times Lit. Suppl. 639/3 We see her [sc. Madame de Stael] the ?prima donna?, exacting, torrential and exasperating. 1943 Sun (Baltimore) 24 Sept. 14/2 A willingness to merge his identity with that of the journal of which he was a part. He was no prima donna. 1948 D. CECIL Two Quiet Lives II. 146 The most trivial points..were enough to produce a violent explosion of prima donna temperament. 1970 S. ELLIN Bind iv. 22 You've been putting on a prima donna act for the last hour. What's it all about? 1973 C. BONINGTON Next Horizon ix. 140 He had invited Royal be chief [climbing] instructor, and the two men, both prima donnas in their own right, could not have offered a greater contrast. 1976 BOTHAM & DONNELLY Valentino iv. 34 Di Valentina was rapidly becoming the prima donna of the Manhattan cabaret set. 1978 Jrnl. R. Soc. Arts CXXVI. 537/2 The industrial designer tends often to adopt the rôle of catalyst rather than that of a prima-donna in his relationship with his colleagues in the development team.

Hence as v. intr.; also prima [{sm}] donna-ish a., prima [{sm}] donnaism, prima- [{sm}] donnaship.

1889 Scottish Art Rev. II. 114 Miss still too young and amateurish to make it possible to predict whether she will be..spoiled by her early prima-donnaship. 1940 E. HEMINGWAY For whom Bell Tolls xiv. 181 Stop prima-donnaing and accept the fact. 1961 A. WILSON Old Men at Zoo i. 25 It..served to increase my dislike for their unusual touchy, prima donna-ish relationship. 1969 P. DICKINSON Pride of Heroes I. 16 Pibble had taken a prima-donna-ish dislike to the stationmaster. 1970 ?B. MATHER? Break in Line ix. 117, I felt no resentment... It was going to be hairy enough without any prima-donnaing on my part. 1970 C. F. HOCKETT Leonard Bloomfield Anthol. p. xiv, We can still know..his reaction to the pettishness, the prima-donnaism, the neglect of already accumulated experience, and the antiscientific bias that have all too often characterized our discussions. 1973 ?B. MATHER? Snowline vi. 73 He is apt to get prima donna-ish when he is out of temper. 1980 Daily Tel. 14 Jan. 12 We hope that he will go on being equally modest and lazy, cocking a snook at the prima-donna-ish antics of some chess masters while continuing from strength to strength.

Re:Most Primma Donnas are underpaid (1)

basit (454875) | more than 13 years ago | (#93170)

I'm not sure if this is an issue of "capitalism", just because its chic to bash it, doesnt mean its always relevant. This is more of an issue of "theres-more-benefit-to-hiring-3-average-programme rs-than-pay-out-the-wazoo-for-one-damn-good-one". Also in a capitalist paradigm, this highly talented individual would invent something befitting his greatness, and be a gagillionare. And this happens all the time in the US... Basit

Re:Most Primma Donnas are underpaid (1)

basit (454875) | more than 13 years ago | (#93171)

erg--his or her greatness. thats the other great thing about america, we might not be the MOST equal society, but we try hard (most of us, atleast, i hope). sorry.

Just dealt with one of these... (1)

jfroot (455025) | more than 13 years ago | (#93172)

Just recently I dealt with a job-seeking Java developer. He wanted us to fly him out to Vancouver, put him up at a fancy hotel etc.. When there are people in the street offering to code for food, this guy has the gaul to expect nothing less than the royal treatment. Techies with piss-poor attitudes in this economy will be filtered out.. You are the most arrogant link... g'bye..

i cant get to the story! (1)

gnurd (455798) | more than 13 years ago | (#93173)

this is bullshit! i cant get to the story, how am i supposed to finish this complex mind to appendage to user input device project if the links dont work! huh? do you think i can just waste *my* time while this sight is slashdotted?....buncha amateurs....

How to deal with pretentious IT recruiter mags... (1)

The AC Avenger (456951) | more than 13 years ago | (#93174)

Slashdot them!

Re:Just dealt with one of these... (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 13 years ago | (#93182)

Gaul is an old name for France. Talented programmers know they are talented, and demand appropriate treatment...the old market demand thing.

Re:Link borken? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 13 years ago | (#93183)

More like the IIS server with incredible RAM, a DS3 directly connected...with an IDE hard disk...and Microsoft NT OS

I ain't no prima donna... (1)

Anonymous DWord (466154) | more than 13 years ago | (#93190)

so shaddup and massage my feet while I write this socket function. And where's my damn cappuccino? Hello? Like, how am I supposed to get any work done in these conditions?

I want to kill these "hi-tech Boomhauers". (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#93201)

You know the ones. The techno wannabees. The ones who know just enough to think they know it all. These are often contract people, beta testers, accounting ilk, tech support bozos, or just whoever happens to be in the office next to the programmers office. They like to spew jargon and think they are big shots, connected to all levels of company operations.

"Yeah man we gotta ODBC the user database from the SQL server into the IIS machine's Java applet to ramp up the TPS and get it all into the Excel template for the reports for the CIO I tell you whut."

Then they just look at the programmers like they're all supposed to jump and start implementing all this shit.

I wanna say "Fuck you VB script kiddie punk. I've been keeping the machines running here for 10 years. You'll be gone within one. And you're telling us how everything should be rewritten and run?"

But I'm mellow now. As a veteran, I've found that simply ignoring these people works best; tossing out a randomly directed "yeah, sure", if pressed. Whatever get these people to quit bugging you and go bother someone else.

God, I hate them.

Re:Hehe. (2)

Ian Bicking (980) | more than 13 years ago | (#93204)

But mediocre programmers are already useless. Unless maybe you are shooting for a mediocre program.

Assholes, territorialism, and egoism are all drags. But so is mediocrity. At least an asshole might also be a good programmer. The mediocre programmer might be a good mascot, but not a whole lot else.

Unless, god bless you, you are actually willing to invest in an individual so they can become a good programmer. There aren't many willing to do that these days.

Two views (2)

John Whitley (6067) | more than 13 years ago | (#93208)

There is an interesting contrast to be made here. There's obviously a problem with the sort of prima donna who has actively destructive habits. E.g. acts in an unprofessional manner towards coworkers, doesn't follow "egoless" programming practices, or is otherwise immature in the workplace -- that boatload of alleged talent notwithstanding.

On the other hand, there are those who happen to be good programmers, but who are really hard-core computer scientists and/or software engineers. In such cases management fails utterly to understand why they work and act differently than the rest of the rank and file programmers. In days of yore, they might have achived the word "Analyst" somewhere in their title, but distinctions other than "Senior" and "Principal" seem passe these days. The basic nature of such an individual's contributions to a project are often far, far different than the rank 'n file... but both are seen as "programmers". So the question is: how to effectively educate management and set expectations under such circumstances to avoid an unwarranted "prima donna" tag due to miscommunication about the nature of one's work?

Team Player (2)

The Cat (19816) | more than 13 years ago | (#93218)

..and you're instantly called a "prima donna" if you aren't a team player, which means "agree with us even if we're wrong."

Just do what all managers do: sacrifice the quality of the project in the interests of the personality contest. Nobody cares if the work gets done, just as long as everyone agrees.

I don't care if someone wants to be a prima donna as long as the work gets done. Most managers, OTOH, are far more interested in consensus than leadership, which is, in turn, why the dot-coms couldn't ship anything.

Re:No challenges (2)

JatTDB (29747) | more than 13 years ago | (#93234)

The nature of a business is to complete the tasks at hand. If an employee doesn't consider his paycheck as incentive enough to do the job properly (which includes things like documentation and proper communication with the rest of the group), then the employee should try to find a different job. The "interest" of the employee in the job material doesn't need to be anywhere near the top of the list of employer priorities.

A while back, I tended to act in some of the ways detailed in the article, though maybe not quite so severe. I noticed that I was often withdrawn from coworkers, and tasks that required me to interact with others became increasingly frustrating. So, I started documenting a lot of the more obscure tasks. I started keeping people informed on the status of projects that touched their tasks. Now, I tend to be more on the same page with my coworkers. We get a lot more work done with less conflicts and problems.

Yes, there are bad managers, and sometimes it's hard to get rid of them. If you can't get rid of them, and you're really that damn good, then you should be able to get another job without too much trouble.

Re:Hehe. (2)

Kanasta (70274) | more than 13 years ago | (#93246)

Argh, find me /any/ programmer that has the capacity to document their work! Something other than

// increment i

and then have no comments when they use some complicated algorithm!


I don't understand..... (2)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 13 years ago | (#93249)

I'm no prima donna, I'm just better then all of you. Why can't you people just get that through your heads?

Face it... (2)

11thangel (103409) | more than 13 years ago | (#93257)

Everywhere you go, there will be people like that. And according to murphy's law, 90% of them will be in control of your job and/or salary.

Alpha Male programmers, whodathunkit? (2)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 13 years ago | (#93260)

Programmers who pick on other people, think they own the right of way, and who manipulate upper management, because they're valuable.

I know we've never seen this kind of behavior among regular human beings, right?

Has anyone ever heard of the 'alpha male'? The tactics of a Prima Donna are quite similar.
63,000 bugs in the code, 63,000 bugs,
ya get 1 whacked with a service pack,

Re:I object! (2)

hagar© (115031) | more than 13 years ago | (#93263)

really? i prefer "evil bastard god of IT"...

Prima Donnas are a bitch (2)

small_dick (127697) | more than 13 years ago | (#93266)

...especially to managers who like to write code...bad code at that.

Anyone else had a manager that came up through the 'Peter Principle of Programming' rather than actually learning about how to manage software?

As in a total drooling moron who designs classes with methods and members that have not-a-damn thing to do with the object they represent?

Wow, refusing to write crappy code must be the real mark of a prima donna.

Treatment, not tyranny. End the drug war and free our American POWs.

Re:Hehe. (2)

BillyOblivion (230643) | more than 13 years ago | (#93280)

But mediocre programmers are already useless. Unless maybe you are shooting for a mediocre program.

No, they aren't.

There are large sections of programs, especially large programs, that have no complicated stuff in them, no real challenges, just re-solving old problems, and if the architecture was done properly then they won't have any probelms.

Additionally, a large part of many programmers jobs is simply retrofitting old code to new hardware. A marginally complicated task, but well within the talents of a "mediocre" progammer.

Assholes, territorialism, and egoism are all drags. But so is mediocrity. At least an asshole might also be a good programmer. The mediocre programmer might be a good mascot, but not a whole lot else.

More nonsense.

There is a lot more to writing a programs than writing code, and sometimes the very things that make one a "mediocre" programmer may make one good at things like dealing with nightly builds, managing the source control system (you *do* use some sort of "version control" don't you?).

Prima Donnas (we have one in my group (System Administrator)) are a real nightmare to work with, as they are unreliable. They get bored half way through a project, they don't care enough about interfaces and product usage, etc. I'll take a group of mediocre admins who know their limits and get the job done over one who doesn't know his limits and wanders off when he gets bored.

lessons... (2)

MikeySquid (309780) | more than 13 years ago | (#93289)

Lessons from a defeated Primma Donna:

1. You put in extra time and worked harder than everyone else to get the job done. It really paid off. The project works great! Guess what... nobody appreciates the extra work you did! They don't care! They now want you to share what you learned or worked extra hard at with everyone else so everyone can benefit from your hard work. When you refuse... You are a TroubleMaker!!!!!!!!!!

lesson: DON'T work harder than everyone else. This is America. The game is to get away with doing as little work as possible and kiss the bosses ass. This will get you much further in life. Like that guy you trained who is now running the dept. He sure doesn't work hard, does he?

2. If they want to get rid of you it will be because they don't like you, Not because of how hard you work or good you are. STOP WORKING SO HARD! Be nice and pleasant and just put in your time.

3. Demand reviews. You will never know how you stand with the company unless you get feedback. I have acted like a Prima Donna usually when : I did way more work than everyone else, for the same pay or when I didn;t know how I stood with the company and was nervouse for my future. Companies no longer take care of employees. Take care of yourself. Put your self first. You need security. If you don't find it where you are, you may find it somewhere else, but most companies are all run the same and you will probably be in the same situation you are now. Learn the change now so you don't mess up your next job too.

4. If you are a Prima Donna you probably suffer from a lack of self respect. Unless you respect yourself others will not respect you either. Working harder will not get you self respect, but it WILL get you Repetitive Stress Disorder. Learn office politics. You will need it in life. Even if you hate office politics. You will lose every time if you do not "play the game".

Get counseling if you need it. It helps.

Re:Link borken? (2)

Magumbo (414471) | more than 13 years ago | (#93293)

If only they would have listened to the poor guys (and gals) they call techie prima donnas their site would have been able to take a good slashdotting. But no, they go and bitch about us.

Fuck you management! We want more money! And you better listen to us when we tell you the 486 linux box with the dsl pipe won't cut it for your webserver (cost effective as it may be).


Re:The "solutions" offered, and some different ide (2)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 13 years ago | (#93299)

I've seen two classes of people who might rate the label "prima donna".

Category 1: people who are really good at what they do, but who are arrogant and obnoxious about it.

Category 2: people who are complete morons, but who are arrogant and obnoxious because they think they're in Category 1. This is often the "a little knowledge..." syndrome at work.

I can deal with Category 1 people - while obnoxious, they tend to be good enough to get away with it. I have no time for Category 2.

You hit the nail on the head.. (2)

houTTni (463318) | more than 13 years ago | (#93300)

Although the title did say "techie prima donnas" so I am not sure if they were referring to net eng's, etc. But as far as coding goes, you are absolutely correct. Much more efficent to have 3 coders on 3 different projects at the same time then have the same 3 coders work together on each project in sequence. And even more than just the developmental flow, coding styles come into play. Trying to follow code from a visual (caps, lowercase, etc) style and a flow style can sometimes be more daunting that just rewriting.

"Press any key to begin."

Managers bring this on themselves. (2)

auto232359 (466722) | more than 13 years ago | (#93301)

It seems to me that the solution to the problem is one which will absolutely never be utilized. This whole article smacks of the tiresome diatribe managers chant to each other when complaining about their ever-failing employees to one another. The one thing that 95%+ of the managers I have worked for have had in common is the utter inability to look in the mirror and consider that their behavious is fostering the environment that turns their employees sour. If you want a team, then try to make people feel like they belong. That each of them matters. If you want loyalty and committment, don't use scapegoats or pass the buck. Take responsibility for the mistakes, not just the credit for the successes. Treat employee's like they are a valuable part of the company instead of one of those EIR (everyone is replaceable) cogs if you don't want them talking about how they could be freelancing...

Wow.. (3)

Toast (3221) | more than 13 years ago | (#93304)

That puppy went down faster than usual.

Re:Wow.. (3)

Mike Buddha (10734) | more than 13 years ago | (#93306)

It figures, the link's to an asp. I'm guessing IIS.

Re:The "solutions" offered, and some different ide (3)

brianvan (42539) | more than 13 years ago | (#93312)

I agree that there's a tendency for recent college grads to be prima donnas. Typically, such people are prima donnas themselves.

I just graduated, but I (humbly) do not consider myself a prima donna. I don't assume I know everything, I don't challenge direct orders (I'm not afraid to give feedback, though), and I enjoy working with other people. I also DON'T have a lot of experience or knowledge, but that doesn't mean I'm useless. My main professional goal right now is to learn as much as possible and contribute in any way possible to a real work environment.

In this case, though, as other people have said, age does NOT correlate to one's workplace attitude. Older programmers sometimes have a "I'm more important because I've worked longer" mentality that pollutes their interactions with younger co-workers. Sometimes they don't have this attitude, but it's an easy trap to fall into. Also, being a prima donna isn't something you grow out of unless you have an awakening - you can stay a prima donna forever if you choose to.

I don't take offense to the suggestion that younger people are prima donnas - because they are - but then again, older people can be too. I think that it's a problem with gifted people in general, and it affects various professional fields and areas of study. So this is basically history repeating itself with computers. The best solution is to prevent people from being prima donnas in the first place because it's a hard thing to convince someone with an oversize ego that something is wrong with them. But prevention is unlikely, seeing how even the dirtiest crackwhores and muscle thugs can also think that the world revolves around them as well...

why the focus on programmers? (3)

tcyun (80828) | more than 13 years ago | (#93314)

I must say that there are plenty of people (managers, support, IT, HR, etc.) that have the exact same types of problems/foibles/etc. Why is it that they are focusing on programmers instead of how to more properly screen out these types of employees, work with them, provide education to them, etc.

while I instinctively agree with the article's statement that prima donnas should be removed from teams (there is a decent discussion towards the end of the article), I feel that there should have been some more discussion in the article that did not just write them off completely.

The article's subtitle is "managing the employee..." I guess that firing them is one way to manage, but I hoped for a more interesting solution.

smart not brilliant (3)

sopwath (95515) | more than 13 years ago | (#93315)

I hate how they recommend making it look like they're just going to replace you. (the managers replace the programmers) What the hell kind of work environment is that? I've worked at places where my job security was about nill and everyone wasn't working hard, they were trying to make it look like they were working hard so they didn't get fired. That's a bad way to run a business.

The article also recommends hiring smart, not brilliant, people. Those brilliant people end up changing the world, I'd like one of them working for me if I ever get into a managment position. Just think what one of those brilliant people could do for your company or your project for that matter. Most things aren't earth shattering, but you can change the way a lot of people do thier work. Someone like Gates might have outright taken a lot of things from Apple, but his relentless persuit of what he wanted made him the richest man on earth. Where would we be if he had just done eveything IBM told him to do. There'd be no linux revolution, becuase the home PC would never have taken off in the first place.


As if programming primma donnas were special... (3)

DaveWood (101146) | more than 13 years ago | (#93317)

Interpersonal communication problems are the norm in every aspect of human endeavor. Someone who has trouble communicating, or more accurrately, trouble working well with other people can cause all kinds of trouble no matter what you're doing.

Egotistical and abrasive people who program might stand apart because programming is a discipline which tempts one to think of it in objective terms - that there might really be an up or a down, a "better" or "worse" solution... additionally, we tend to think of programmers as bricklayers; once it is clear to a bricklayer where the wall needs to be, he should be able to build it without incident, and joining his work with that of another craftsman should be straightforward.

I suppose a reporter might lately find it a stereotype well-developed enough to "report" on; the shortage of programming talent worldwide actually has given programmers more clout in their endeavors; mobility, stakes in their companies, etc. And of course, more ability to make spectacles of themselves without causing lightning to strike.

The annoyance of a newly minted ego, and the difficulty with which it is sometimes dispatched, coming somewhat out of left-field, as it were, must certainly disturb the established primma donnas of the workplace and the world, and those that observe them. Certainly, we must see this "phenomenon" in the context of the irrational, antisocial behavior we have come to expect from others; our "executive class," for instance - producers, managers, entrepeneurs, owners, landlords...

In winding up, though, I can't help but think that the particular experience of the programmer lends them to concern with organizations, structures, rules, and hierarchies, and because of this, they may be continually confronted with the derivative of the moment's annoyance, seeing its underlying, persistent and tantalizingly correctable causes, finding unique sources of frustration in them. The tendency to see one's life, or one's company, as a system, and to understand it with the particular rigor and clarity of the skillful architect, may frequently lead an engineer, quite unsuspecting, into frequent (and to the layman, inexplicable or antagonistic) conflict with those around them, unless or until their experience with people, and their understanding of human relationships, allows them to act on their feelings with more sophistication.

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (3)

MrBlack (104657) | more than 13 years ago | (#93318)

I assume you're referring to the "Surgical Team" style development team where someone is the "chief surgeon" and everyone else fills in to support this individual. I can see your point, but I doubt many surgeons would pull the type of shit prima donna programmers pull.

Surgical Team Member: What's route do you plan to send the arthroscope down doctor?
Chief Surgeon: I can't tell you what I'm doing, it's too complicated, now look away everyone, only I may look at this stage of the operation.
Surgical Team Member: I've finished the sutures, doctor.
Chief Surgeon: You call those sutures? My cat has coughed up better work than that.

self-perpetuating culture (3)

tunesmith (136392) | more than 13 years ago | (#93320)

I find it interesting that the absolute last resort that the article mentioned in dealing with it was sitting down with the tech worker and talking to them about it. But that seems to jibe with my employment experience in silicon valley.

I have not once ever been approached by a manager, even informally, saying "You know, I like some of what you're doing, but I could really use some more of xxxxxx" or "I'd like to see some improvement in xxxxxx". I'm not talking about the old-school microsoftian pseudo-confrontational insults and "motivation" you'll get from some hardliners. I'm talking about basic honesty and constructive criticism, like a healthy romantic relationship or friendship - where you actually talk about potential problems and head them off at the pass.

At my employee reviews (which I had to ask for), they were always 100% positive and I had to specifically ask "What sort of things would be helpful for me to WORK on or improve upon?" and it was like pulling teeth getting them to answer. And I know first-hand that after enough time of being ignored in that sense, it gets easier and easier to start slacking off and pulling attitude.

There are a lot of "prima donna egotists" out there that will probably give you a couple of surprised blinks and then actually be receptive and adult to a manager that goes up and has an honest, concerned, constructive conversation with them.


you left out (3) (142825) | more than 13 years ago | (#93321)

Learn from them.

While at MSI, I had the tech support, later became the product manager come to me with, "I know this is a stupid question..". I taught him enough to come to me with a question that had been thought through and in some cases a possible solution. Or, if there was a bug, he would tell what steps to reproduce, isolate, and classify the bug prior to comming to me. In a little time, he started learning alot.

People don't learn by being told what to do. When people think and understand, they learn.

Re:Been it, Seen it (3)

TekPolitik (147802) | more than 13 years ago | (#93322)

The best revenge for prima donnas is to give them what they want until thep choke.

I'll second this. We had a prima-donna here recently who loved to find the most obscure way possible to implement a feature. If there was a direct way, he'd never use it. His mission was to show how "clever" he was by using obscure C++ features or arcane side-effects of them to achieve his ends. He always thought he had the best ideas on how development should be done and wasn't backwards about saying so.

So, I gave him a senior role. He choked on it and three months later he resigned.

The thing is, people who take this approach may be clever at some things, but designing and implementing workable and maintainable projects isn't one of them. Prima donnas will hang themselves, given enough rope.

can't get to article... however... (3)

giantsquidmarks (179758) | more than 13 years ago | (#93323)

There are also prima donna Managers, Executive assistants, Bankers, Stock Brokers, Doctors, Professors, Hair Stylists, etc... In short, there are prima donna PEOPLE who happen to make a living at a specific profession.

It is easy for a craftsperson to be a prima donna because they can easily come to the false conclusion they are unique.

You know what... If I write a program in a week that saves my company 700,000/year over the next 5 years... i'm going to have a little personal pride. It's human... It's fun...

Re:Hehe. Agreed, who are you working for? (3)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#93326)

Something I became aware of years ago was that other people had a certain knack for plowing through the drudgery and getting done things I that I would have found painfully boring and avoided. Learning to be a contributor as a big asset and when I interview people I look for that kind of attitude first. Saves trouble later.

All your .sig are belong to us!

So what should I take away from a comments like... (3)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 13 years ago | (#93327)

When the manager finally decided he'd tolerated enough shenanigans, he confronted a loss of face and credibility with his superiors. Why? Because he had to tell upper management: 'I want to get rid of the most talented person I've got.' And his bosses thought he'd lost his mind.

"They're very smart," Andretta says of prima donnas. "And they know who their audience is - upper management - and they play to them very well."

Why use your powers (with upper managment) for Evil, of course, and get the middle layer drone out of the way first. They should have nuked her the moment she went upstairs... Smart, but not smart enough, I guess.

Re:The "solutions" offered, and some different ide (3)

JubJubb (318098) | more than 13 years ago | (#93331)

I'm pretty sure they're not talking about the scourge of IT, the loathsome College Grad ;)...

From the article:
"...the most talented person I've got..."
"...They're very smart..."
"...the best programmers' drive for excellence can leave them understandably curt when others seem less committed..."


Sounds like the Prima Donna is an exceptionally talented programmer, and not, as you say, a one-trick pony. Ego problems aren't confined to young people, you know. But maybe I should just shut up and let the older, wiser and bitter speak.

Can't let those young 'uns get all uppity now!

Full Text of article... (4)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#93332)

(are we allowed to do this?) agement101.asp?ContentID=603

Let's stipulate from the outset that programmers are allowed to be quirky. Expected to be eccentric. But we're not talking about the idiosyncratically intelligent or the interestingly offbeat. We're talking about the insufferable egotist who can't or won't Play Nice.

The syndrome often is found in someone like this: a young and brilliant software developer who lives and breathes IT. A true geek, "Hal" spends a lot of work time in techie chat rooms engaged in in-depth UNIX conversations, sharing code and discussing programming challenges. Despite his inclination to partake in on-the-job recreation, Hal is a prolific and productive programmer. So far, so good. Just another proud member of the hacker tribe, right? But unfortunately, Hal has another side. He makes rude and disparaging comments about his coworkers. If he doesn't like a project, he'll let it slide. In particular, he resists the drudgery of correcting or upgrading "someone else's ugly program."

Hal also challenges managerial authority and expresses his contempt for his position. He tosses out statements like, "I could be making $200 an hour doing security work," and makes other muscle-flexing gestures to show that he can do what he wants, when he wants.

Liz Rosenberg, IT director for Driehaus Capital Management [], an investment management firm in Chicago, recalls the Hal-type she managed a few years ago. "He seemed to feel that he was this all-knowing programming god," she says. Brilliant but bratty, though, because for every technical problem he solved, he created a personnel problem for the team.

Like Hal and like most wizards, prima donnas really do have talent and a true love of IT. But, the prima donna combines this passion and expertise with arrogance or lack of concern for others. With Hal, it was constant complaining and carping. Other symptoms of prima donna syndrome include an obsessive desire for control, the attitude that the world revolves around them, and the conviction that the regular rules don't apply to them.

Ed Wojchiehowski, CIO of Menasha Corporation [], a conglomerate of manufacturing and services companies headquartered in Neenah, Wisc., recalls an individual who created a very innovative logistics software package. Impressed, Wojchiehowski asked the programmer to work with others on the team to expand and modify the package to make it, oh, actually useable to the corporation.

But the programmer, call him "Spock," refused to share information with other programmers. Spock claimed his innovation was too complicated to explain and that by the time he was done explaining, he could have changed the program.

Wojchiehowski concluded Spock's real agenda was control. "Prima donnas hold back information or work 80 hours a week so they don't have to share information with anybody," the CIO says. "I've discovered in many cases, it's almost physically painful for them to give it up."

ALL ABOUT ME At other times, prima donnas give the impression that they believe the world and the project revolves around them. Early in the beginnings of Perseus Development Corp., [], a provider of Web-based survey software and services in Braintree, Mass., Jeffrey Henning, president of the software division, was managing a developer who took the attitude of, "I'm the most important person in the company, and without me, you couldn't exist." "Angela" refused to help other programmers with their work, yet expected them to drop their work to help her.

This developer was very valuable: She'd written most of the early versions of the company's products. "Nevertheless, she was close to being more trouble than she was worth," Henning says. Her exclusive focus on her own needs was a constant obstacle for the department.

"The term 'prima donna' comes from a difficult leading woman soloist in an opera," Henning reflects. "I think 'soloist' is a key word. A lot of prima donnas act like soloists - they don't work well with the team, and they think their voice is the most important."

BEYOND THE RULES Some prima donnas behave as though ordinary rules, such as work schedules, don't apply to them. Andy Andretta, a senior partner with Daprex [], a software evaluation firm in Stamford, Conn., recalls a prima donna who found just showing up to work regularly a problem. The employee, who held a second-level support position for a software product, often worked magic fixing bugs - when he was there. "But," as Andretta points out, "he's not too valuable if he's not there, which was quite a lot."

The situation only deteriorated as the manager continued to accommodate the delinquent, Andretta says. To complicate matters, the prima donna had a shrewd sense of timing and organizational politics. Like the Lone Ranger, he'd ride in just in time to play the hero in emergencies and take the credit. "He'd put the bow on the package," Andretta says.

When the manager finally decided he'd tolerated enough shenanigans, he confronted a loss of face and credibility with his superiors. Why? Because he had to tell upper management: 'I want to get rid of the most talented person I've got.' And his bosses thought he'd lost his mind.

"They're very smart," Andretta says of prima donnas. "And they know who their audience is - upper management - and they play to them very well."

Seeing it from the prima donna's perspective The trick for the IT manager is that some of these charges could also be made, to a lesser extent, against positive, contributing employees. For example, playing games or spending time in techie chatrooms is common and can help many programmers to be more productive. As Peter Seebach, a member of the technical staff of, a firm providing Internet infrastructure-grade systems, software and solutions in Berkeley, Calif., writes at his Web site "The Care and Feeding of Your Hacker" [], "Hackers, writers and painters all need some amount of time to spend 'percolating,' that is, doing something else to let their subconscious work on a problem."

Menasha's Wojchiehowski agrees that this kind of putzing around while searching for an idea is perfectly acceptable. "I don't worry if they're playing a game," he says. "And, I don't have any problem with walking into somebody's office and finding them with their feet on their desk staring at the ceiling. They may be thinking about the problem."

It's also true that the best programmers' drive for excellence can leave them understandably curt when others seem less committed. Eric Haddan, a self-described "recovering prima donna," has been frustrated when working with team members who seem more motivated by opportunism than a true love of programming. "The market is flooded with a bunch of people who just took some classes, but they're not really into it," says Haddan, a software development manager for eSynch Corp. [], a Tustin, Calif., firm which provides video delivery tools, streaming media services, and software utilities. "They have a degree and they've heard the money's good."

As for the charge of "arrogance or rudeness," some hackers argue that it's just as big a failing for others to be too tender or defensive. "I used to be a lot meaner to co-workers than I am now," Seebach, the hacker translator, reveals. "People say, 'They worked hard on it, so don't trash it,' but on the other hand, would you like to drive over a bridge with the assurance that people worked hard on it? Or do you want to know they got it right? A complete refusal to acknowledge either side of that constitutes failing to play well with others."

So how do you tell the difference between someone who's just creative and frustrated and someone who's suffering from a bad case of prima donna syndrome? The true prima donna, according to managers, won't work with you or for you. Andretta believes that prima donna syndrome is marked by denial. "They do not accept the fact that they are wrong," he says. "It's not them, it's everyone else."

As a result, a prima donna often leaves havoc in his wake. Not least is the damage to morale. Seeing someone else, no matter how talented, disregard the rules that others must follow can be dismaying to employees who are working hard and playing by the book. "Once you start with favoritism you turn good people sour," Daprex's Andretta contends. "It's never worth it."

Besides seeing someone get away with murder, colleagues may wind up doing the prima donna's work, which really causes resentment. In Andretta's situation, other employees often had to pick up the work of the AWOL programmer, delaying the completion of their own assignments. "It affected our work load and morale," Andretta recalls.

CIO Wojchiehowski points out other hazards. The controlling prima donna who holds onto information will eventually move on - leaving others to figure out what the blazes they were doing. Not surprisingly, such an event can delay or even doom projects completely. In either case, the company loses face with its clients. "It's just negative in all aspects," he says.

If you've determined that you've got a true prima donna on your staff, the next step is figuring out what to do. Sometimes you can make some management moves that rein in the runaway ego. But you must move quickly. "I can assure you, prima donnas only get worse with time," warns Wojchiehowski.

If the individual is productive, but lacks elementary social skills, telecommuting may be an option. In other cases, selective delegation and assignments may give the individual enough challenge to keep them out of too much trouble. The best programmers, prima donnas or not, dislike repetitive tasks. Designing prototypes, for example, can be a good assignment for many of these very bright individuals. But Henning stresses that they are best assigned to prototypes, not actual products. "Products," he points out, "require team input."

Former prima donna Haddan suggests keeping a regular flow of applicants coming in for interviews. In other words, keep the feet of difficult techies to the fire. "If you do find someone good, move her in and start weeding out the bad ones. I am willing to bet you would have to do this only one time," he says. "If the attitude persists, repeat the process."

But, sooner rather than later, the employee will have to be confronted directly. Perseus' Henning had been on the verge of firing Angela, but gave the situation one last try with a blunt performance review. He catalogued and congratulated her strengths and also described explicitly where her performance was failing. The review seemed to help Angela settle down. "I think part of her behavior was insecurity," Henning says. "She was afraid that she wasn't really valued."

Angela's successful turnaround appears to be rare, however. In the end, most managers aren't optimistic about salvaging prima donnas. Instead, they aggressively rid their staffs of them as quickly as possible. "I'm a strong believer in people and am willing to invest in their development," Wojchiehowski explains. "But, frankly, as soon as I understand that it's a prima donna situation, I work to eliminate it. You work with those who are team players. And those who aren't, well, in the most loving manner, you help them exit."

Daprex's Andretta dismisses the idea that a prima donna's talent makes the extra grief worthwhile. "It doesn't matter how smart they are, they will hurt you," he warns. "And, the smarter they are, the more they can hurt you." He believes that it's better to invest in bright - but not brilliant - people and train them to be more productive. "You can buy talent," he says. "Personality, by which I mean a good attitude, really can't be bought. I'll take a team player any day."

Sears ( is a contributing writer in Washington, D.C. Know a prima donna? Tell us your most unbelievable anecdotes at

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (4)

NMerriam (15122) | more than 13 years ago | (#93334)

I can tell you haven't worked with surgeons.

That IS pretty much how they can be in the OR.

Some are nice, but all will give you crap about the quality of your stitches until you turn 50.


Re:Most Primma Donnas are underpaid (4)

Sheepdot (211478) | more than 13 years ago | (#93338)

The number of capitalist bashers on /. seem to think the US is a capitalist society. It's more akin to a odd breed of socialism-capitalism, where the only chance one has of becoming a "capitalist" entails copyrighting or patenting a product, suing those that use it, and using the government to impose regulations on competitors in the name of "public good".

I have yet to hear any economist call that capitalism.

Remember the naked computer operator? (4)

gentlewizard (300741) | more than 13 years ago | (#93339)

To some extent, prima donna behavior is tolerated depending on the scarcity of the person's talent, and the general market for talent in the IT industry.

We've all heard the story of the third shift computer operator who demanded -- and got -- his entire floor locked off during his shift because he liked to work in the nude. And as long as he was the only person who could do that job, the company went along with it. But people like that are the first against the wall when the market frees up.

Any tech job is only 15% technical. The other 85% is people skills. Over the long term, the 85% catches up with you if you neglect it over the short term.

THAT explains it! (4)

freeweed (309734) | more than 13 years ago | (#93341)

One of the aspects of XP is that all coding is done in pairs, know as pair programming. This type of programming creates better code in about haft the time

No wonder the OfficeXP warez that I snagged was 3 fscking cd's!. Oh wait, he said 'better', not 'more' :)

Re:Ever read the mythical man month? (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#93342)

Certainly. To put it in the level of detail of the article, there are 2 types of programming projects, and 2 types of programmers: 1. projects that can be done by 1 person 2. project that require a team 1. people that work best alone (prima donna) 2. people that work best in a group Obviously the truth is in between for both, and personal chemistry is usually a big factor. Yes, Alan Cox could head up and probably finish your kernel group's project in a week alone, and no, you don't have a working relationship with him so you better make sure the guys you do have a working relationship with work together and stay on track to get you to the finish line. To me, this looks like really airy-fairy wisdom regarding talent - and what the MMM says about coding (problem-solving) applies here too: there is no silver bullet. Not in the code, not in managing the coders (yes, managing us beasts requires talent).

How to handle them (me?) (5)

LunaticLeo (3949) | more than 13 years ago | (#93344)

I have dipped into bad behavior before. Now I manage techies.

First of all, those who won't comment code and document design should be beaten severly about the head with a LART. That is bad coding/design practice and is completely unacceptable. Put them on undocumented code. When they bitch have them explain why it is bad and how the company should fix it. Listen to the response and implement. And you might notice their attitude changing. If it doesn't replace them.

Second, give them responsibility. I was once a camp counseler. I took the jokers/ring-leaders and put them in charge; small things at first then bigger things. They dig the power and are usually the most effective leaders. Again, if it doesn't work replace them.

Last, and most imporant. Have a frank conversation with them and respect their opinions. There is nothing as powerful as a little respect. Small reasonable acts of control and general respect are the best way to get people with the program. If it doesn't work, what's left? Fire them.

The "solutions" offered, and some different ideas (5)

Katravax (21568) | more than 13 years ago | (#93345)

In a nutshell, the article offers these solutions:

  1. Let them telecommute
  2. Have them design prototypes rather than production apps
  3. Let them know you're interviewing others
  4. Be honest in a review
  5. Fire them

As a full-time programmer, I have to admit, I don't see a slew of other options. I've dealt with prima donnas, and have probably been one myself at some point. Frankly, the best cure I've seen for it is age: Almost all prima donnas I know are under 25 and haven't worked more than one or two jobs. They haven't yet come into contact with those that are more skilled yet, or haven't been given a big enough challenge yet. A good programming butt-kicking goes a long way.

I also have found that most places suffering from prima donnas are also suffering from a lack of older, good programmers. This tends to reinforce the attitude of the troublemaker -- they think they're the best because it might be true where they are. If possible, pairing them off with a mature, more experienced programmer might give them a dose of the Total Perspective Vortex.

The one last suggestion, and it's mean and may be counter-productive: Make them code in a language they don't know yet. Most prima donnas I know are one-trick ponies, and a tough task in an unfamiliar language may show them they're not infallible.

That said, and the part that will get me modded down into hell, is that every prima donna I've met was a recent college comp-sci graduate at the time. They're only great because their world is so small, and they haven't had to deal with real-world programming and real-world people yet. I guess it goes back to my earlier suggestion: the best cure is age.

Take 'em down a notch . . . ICFP style! (5)

tmoertel (38456) | more than 13 years ago | (#93346)

Suggest to your local prima donna that he enter the ICFP Programming Contest [] . Muse aloud that, since he's such a brilliant programmer, he has a pretty good chance of winning. Tell him that the bragging rights ought to be priceless around the office, and I'm sure that he'll bite and actually enter.

Then, let the contest do the work for you. Watch as your prima donna gets functionally mauled and then garbage collected into oblivion by some of the most talented programmers in the world. Most likely, your elite coder boy won't even understand the challenge task. (Anybody remember the '99 task [] ? Ouch.)

From that point on, subtle reminders of his contest performance will keep your boy in check. "Gee, I thought you would have managed to finish the first part of the challenge task, at least. You must have been sick or something. Well, there's always next year's contest!"

Try not to chuckle aloud when he mentions that he won't be entering next year because of vacation plans.

Total Perspective Vortex (5)

drivers (45076) | more than 13 years ago | (#93347)

If possible, pairing them off with a mature, more experienced programmer might give them a dose of the Total Perspective Vortex.

"You've been in the Total Perspective Vortex?"


"And you've seen your true perspective relative to other programmers?"



"Hey man! I'm John Carmack!"

Hehe. (5)

Jailbrekr (73837) | more than 13 years ago | (#93352)

These people are absolute geniuses when it comes to programming, but lets face it. No matter how good these programmers are, if they work against the corporation that is paying them, their genius is *useless* when compared to a good/mediocre programmer who has the capacity to communicate and document his/her work.

Flame on!

Techies think too much of themselves (5)

jjwahl (81757) | more than 13 years ago | (#93353)

I've worked with technical types all of my professional life, and I too used to think that I was the ultimate shit. The one that not only knew it all, but had the capacity to learn something I didn't know faster and more thoroughly than anyone else. For the most part this is true, but what I came to realize is that while I am exceptional, I am held in generally high regard because of a couple of things:
  1. I am in a field that is relatively new. The general populace hasn't gotten a chance to even begin to understand computers, what they *really* do, or how to use them to do their bidding. This will change in a generation.
  2. This is (now) a fairly high profile field - lots of press is given to computers and those that master them.
What computer "geniuses" fail to realize is that the computer field is like any other to an extent. To gain expertise in a subject, you have to spend a great deal of time working on it.

How many of you can write a pro-forma tax return for even a small corporation? How many of you can set up a filing system for a law office that works? How many of you can set up the business processes necessary for a 10 million dollar company to handle shipping and returns? I think that we would all agree that individuals that can do these things are intelligent and talented, but when one of these otherwise talented, intelligent people can't manage to understand some computer concept, you think of them as stupid. Well if you're that short and narrow sighted, you're probably not that bright yourself.

There are always exceptional people within any field and many of them tend to be pompous about the fact - it's not a character flaw limited to programmers. Doctors, lawyers, chefs, interior designers, woodworkers, etc... In any of a these professions, you will find people that are arrogant because they're the best and know it, or because they aren't and they don't know it. By definition, the majority of arrogant people fall into the latter category. They've deluded themselves into thinking they're great. And in the computer field, this thinking is often reinforced because they're praised and looked up to by "mortals" for merely knowing what many other computer "geniuses" know.

Do yourselves a favor and do an honest assessment of your level of knowledge in the computer field you happen to dabble in. Are you *really* in the top 1% of all people that dabble in the same area? If not, give your ego a break and come back down to earth. You're not all that. And if you are, give your ego a break anyways. Nobody likes an asshole. If they appear to, they probably talk behind your back.

Most Primma Donnas are underpaid (5)

Carnage4Life (106069) | more than 13 years ago | (#93354)

Management calling good coders Primma Donnas always gets on my nerves for a variety of reasons. Many people (including Phil Greenspun [] ) have quoted the confounding statistic that an excellent programmer is typically 10 times more productive than an average programmer.

Yet I'm yet to hear of a coder who brings in almost half a million dollars in salary. Instead I hear of good coders making about $10K or so more than mediocre HTML jockeys and VB h4x0rs. It continually astounds me that the U.S. claims to be a capitalist society but in this one area we act like everyone is equal when they clearly are not.

Bruce Perens, Linus Torvalds, Bill Joy and Alan Cox could probably code in one weekend what it would take a team of coders a week to do, yet they at best are not even making twice what an intern at a Fortuen 500 makes. Then to add insult to injury the overpaid MBAs who have wrecked the tech industry now have the nerve to call them Primma Donnas.

*spitting noise*


Ever read the mythical man month? (5)

sanemind (155251) | more than 13 years ago | (#93356)

There is a lot of truth to the usefullness of having a singular person architect a large ammount of code. Software development isn't like many other forms of work; you ususally can't get more output from hiring more software engineers, even good ones. People can talk as much as they like about having good use-case diagrams and using well documented abstract procedure call interfaces, but in software development there are always additional inefficiencies in bringing other people up to the task.

Even coding on one's own, there is so much to keep track of that all nighter jolt cola inspired images are not mere flights of fancy, but often a real part of the real coders lifestyle. Handling that kind of hierarchical thinking and concern over so many issues often dosen't readily subdivide into multiple people.

How does this relate to primmadonnas? I don't know. I'm rambling. I've been up coding all night! ;)


A good philosophy (5)

EraseEraseMe (167638) | more than 13 years ago | (#93357)

My parents, for the longest time, due to my burgeoning ego, impressed on me several rules for life that I follow to this day...even if my ego continues to grow ;)

The rule that applies most here is EIR

Everyone Is Replacable

No matter how smart you are, how valuable you think you are, how good at your job you are, how much you can do, there will ALWAYS be someone standing right behind you, ready to take your place, and you should treat each opportunity you have as though the person behind you is going to jump in at any second.

Invariably, this philosophy led me to be overly concerned about my job security,never share information on projects, not work well with other potential competitors and despise middle management but supremely suck upper-management ass but I love my parents and I think their advice may come in handy for someone else :)

Re:I want to kill these "hi-tech Boomhauers". (5)

LionKimbro (200000) | more than 13 years ago | (#93358)

Indeed, and is it not written in the Book of Corporate Wisdom, (Tao of Programming 7.2), written by the venerable Yong Yo Sef and translated by Geoffrey James:

In the east there is a shark which is larger than all other fish. It changes into a bird whose wings are like clouds filling the sky. When this bird moves across the land, it brings a message from corporate headquarters. This message it drops into the midst of the programmers, like a seagull making its mark upon the beach. Then the bird mounts on the wind and, with the blue sky at its back, returns home.

The novice programmer stares in wonder at the bird, for he understands it not. The average programmer dreads the coming of the bird, for he fears its message. The master programmer continues to work at his terminal, for he does not know that the bird has come and gone.

Been it, Seen it (5)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 13 years ago | (#93359)

Long ago, far away, I used to be a bit of a prima donna. Mostly wanted control, wanted to add bells and whistles no-one asked for, didn't comment to hide my stuff. Then it came back to haunt me and I was enlightened. Projects belong to users, do what they ask, turn it over, don't allow them to expect me to know everything about how it works (it's theirs, after all, look in the docs I provided) The best revenge for prima donnas is to give them what they want until the choke. The stress of maintaining their own code can be quite enlightening to the worst offender.

Revenge, however, isn't very sweet when they leave and you're sitting there with a pile of arcane code written by someone in a fit of cleverness (which may actually be really, really badly writtend and/or inflexible.) Dealing with this on the current clock. Probably looked like sweet code to who put it together, but it's awful. Best thing to do is break the bronc, but not it's spirit.

All your .sig are belong to us!

a little nervous about the article... (5)

wrinkledshirt (228541) | more than 13 years ago | (#93360)

One of the suggestions, to make a prima donna feel replaceable, makes me nervous. I think management's got to play a little more of a careful game than just bringing in new people to keep the current difficult ones in check. What it often does is send that same message to ALL the employees.

At one office I worked with, I finally reached my threshold in terms of being handed additional tasks over and above my job requirements, and the way I ended up would probably tag me as a prima donna if my former manager looked at this article and shared it with the hr department -- I became somewhat aloof to the common good, and became a little harder to contact, but trust me, it was a defense mechanism because the harder I worked for her approval, the more I was congratulated and "rewarded" by being given additional tasks.

To make matters worse, they already had the steady influx of additional talent that kept people in other departments paranoid about losing their jobs. It was an office of around 50 people, with 25 core people in the "replaceable" category, with close to a dozen additionals brought in each year. I'd thought that perhaps I might be immune to this because I'd already proven myself to be valuable to the office, but in the end, my complaints about getting too much work weren't really dealt with. They just hired a couple more people, and when I couldn't take it any more and quit, they just brought in someone else. A year later, now, the lower-level staff is finally getting close to getting a union together, but the revolving door policy that was put in place to deal with those who didn't fit in well had already taken its toll on many people who no longer work there.

I guess the point is, if an employee is getting difficult, don't feel that a diagnosis of the problem the EMPLOYEE has is necessarily the first step. It might just have something to do with the environment. Yeah, you don't want one person terrorizing the office because of a lack of common good, but the complete opposite end of the scale can be just as bad, also on office morale.

Re:Take 'em down a notch . . . ICFP style! (5)

baptiste (256004) | more than 13 years ago | (#93362)

Yeah, but God forbid he actually wins - then there will be NO dealing with him!

Perhaps they need... (5)

Fizzlewhiff (256410) | more than 13 years ago | (#93363)

... a techie Prima Donna to fix their dang website.
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