Dealing with a Slacker Developer

When a fellow developer spends more time battling Orcs than writing code, how do you handle it?


You Can't Detect What You Can't See: Illuminating the Entire Kill Chain

Posted December 19, 2011

Eric Spiegel

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“You have got to be kidding me!”

I was actually surprised I said it out loud. But there it was: my true feelings.

My teammates and manager were staring back at me. Some of them sat there, mouths agape. My friend John had a Cheshire grin a mile wide, obviously finding great humor in my embarrassment.

And Jerry, the object of my ire, was looking indignant yet smug.

What got me all up in arms? Let’s rewind one week.

I was happily coding away in my cubicle – as happy as one can be in a cubicle. My buddy John popped up over the cubicle wall and made a “pssst” sound.

I looked up and he was motioning for me to look over the wall. Reluctantly I stood up. Normally I hate being disturbed when I’m knee deep in root cause analysis.

But John didn’t usually bug me unless he had something worthwhile to see. And even before I stood up, I had a feeling what this was about.

That’s because our teammate Jerry was a real piece of work. And I mean Jerry was the epitome of the opposite of actually doing work. He was the ultimate slacker who found a way to skate by while doing the absolute minimum amount of work. John and I always marveled at his ability to fly under the radar of our manager Chuck.

Jerry’s teammates would see him surfing web gaming sites most of the day. He was addicted to Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (the predecessor to World of Warcraft) and would spend time not just playing, but research how to find hidden spells and secret quests.

This was before IT departments were smart enough to track usage or block sites. And Jerry took full advantage of it.

I’d ask Jerry what he was up to and he would – with surprising honesty – say something like, “I’m trying to find out the best way to kill Orcs.” Yet, it never failed: whenever Chuck strolled by his cube, somehow someway Jerry would adopt the working stance of a developer who was feverishly writing code.

He’d have his nose practically pressed up against his screen furiously pounding the keyboard. And Chuck would make some comment like “man you are really attacking that code – keep at it.”

John and I would exchange the “Oh, I want to vomit” look and go back to writing real code – not playing games.

Why Not Me?

Maybe part of me was jealous. Wouldn’t it be great to goof off doing what you liked most of the day without getting busted?

I, on the other hand, couldn’t get away with anything. My manager scolded me once for being on the phone too long because the IT department was smart enough to track phone usage. At the time I was building a house and admittedly spent a lot of time on the phone with contractors. But it was a one-time event, whereas Jerry was always gaming or researching gaming.

Well, that day when John asked me to look over the cube wall, I knew it had to do with Jerry. And sure enough, there he was, not doing work. This time he was literally dancing around his cube.

I said, “Jerry, what are you doing?”

Jerry said, “Oh man, I’m so excited! I just discovered the cheat code for God mode.”

I said, “Good for you.”

What was I supposed to say? John and I just shook our heads and went back to work.

You may ask: what does it matter as long as Jerry was getting his work done? Fair question – and I’m a big believer in letting people work in their own way as long as it leads to positive results.

I believe software development is the type of job that benefits from employers providing the freedom to work in whatever way or whichever place individuals are at their creative best. A “Big Brother” approach to management is totally counterintuitive in the world of software development.

So what was my problem with Jerry? It was that his work was crap. And our manager Chuck was oblivious.

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Tags: developer, programmers, developer salary

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