Are Quirky Developers Brilliant or Dangerous?: Page 2


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A little background on Josh first. He sometimes wore t-shirts with offensive slogans. He would disappear from work, some time for days.

More than one female I worked with said that he had made inappropriate comments around them. Yet, he was still there and the highest paid developer.

I decided to talk to Josh. When I went into his office (he was the only developer with his own private office) I could have used a flashlight because it was so dark in there. More like a cave than an office.

A clothespin for my nose wouldn’t have hurt either.

I don’t remember the exact words, but it went something like this.

“Hi Josh,” I said, trying to sound upbeat.


Josh continued to type furiously on his keyboard. I continued, “Uh, Josh can I have a minute to talk about our customer issue?”

He kept typing and said, “Go for it.”

“I want to thank you for solving the problem, but I also understand you weren’t willing to help yesterday when my team asked for your help.”

Josh, not looking up from the keyboard, muttered “So?”

“Well, why didn’t you help out?”

“I was trying to meet a deadline,” he said with indifference.

“I understand that, but it would be helpful if you…”

Joss cut me off and said with contempt “Helpful if I explained to a moron how to do his job? I write code. My code works. End of story.”

I’m not sure how the conversation ended, but then again, it wasn’t much of a conversation. I decided to talk to Josh’s manager.

As soon as I mentioned the topic, his manager quickly jumped up and shut her office door.

She said, “Look, you need to back off. Josh is Josh. He is temperamental and he could quit anytime if I’m not fully supportive of him. He puts out code faster than any developer on the team.”

I tried to reason with her about Josh needing to be a team player and to write better documented code. Her response was that any developer worth their salt doesn’t need documentation.

The “code” was the documentation. She ignored the whole “team” comment.

Then she smiled and said, “Let me be clear. If we lose Josh, we can kiss this next deadline goodbye and my job with it. End of story.”

Two “end of stories” in one day. Well, it wasn’t the end of the story. After a few more customer implementation problems the CEO stepped in and forced the issue.

And what do you think happened after the conversation with Josh? He didn’t show up for work the next day. Never even picked up what was left in his office.

He was just…gone.

And with him went his knowledge of the convoluted (brilliant?) code. A lot of very good and even “average” developers eventually cleaned up the mess, but it cost the company a lot of time and money.

Call developers like Josh quirky, crazy or irrational, but there is no doubt that they are smart off the charts. But if you continue to be an enabler, then they can become a danger to your company, team and your career.

Also see: Do Nice Engineers Finish Last in Tough Times?

Eric Spiegel is CEO and co-founder of XTS, which provides software for planning, managing and auditing Citrix and other virtualization platforms.

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Tags: developer, software, management, IT

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