Something in the techie DNA results in more weirdness than mere mortals (non-techies). Perhaps this quirkiness is because a certain type of personality is drawn to the techie world. Or maybe were somehow transformed over time by our darkened working environments and exposure to computer screen radiation.
When weird gets in the way of getting work done, that is when it becomes a problem that cannot be ignored but often is.
Management just doesnt like to get involved in matters of weirdness. They close their eyes and hope (and pray) that it just magically goes away.
I can tell you that nothing irks coworkers more than having to deal with a personality that doesnt mesh with their own on a daily basis. This doesnt mean either person is wrong (or even weird), but it does mean for them to work effectively together, they need to recognize and talk through their differences. And often a manager is often required to step in and jumpstart this difficult conversation.
Sounds nice in theory, however I bet you could count on one hand how many times issues of this nature have been dealt with by management.
Well, from a managers perspective, until someones behavior is impacting deliverables, it isnt worth addressing. And from the employees perspective, they dont want to ratchet up an uncomfortable situation to an even more unbearable level.
In either case, the negative feelings and poor results usually have to reach a boiling point for someone to take action. And of course by then the damage is done.
Lets be clear though, Im not talking about extreme cases. There is a difference between weird and really bizarre.
When the level of weirdness turns into inappropriate behavior then were talking about a different story that usually ends up with a trip to HR and ultimately a pink slip. (In some cases a visit with professional help might be warranted.)
Im instead focusing on the 99% of cases where someones actions make others unsure how to deal with them, thus creating a negative working environment.
Thanks to some of my techie friends on LinkedIn, along with some of my own experiences, here are a few such weird situations. These were actual scenarios where the behavior of a techie team member caused a difficult work environment to the extent that the result was decreased productivity and unsatisfied customers. And in one case caused a worthy team member to resign.
(And yes, Ive changed the names to protect the weird.)
Weird Developers I Have Known
The 'Song Lyrics' Developer When Ted would deliver his code for the QA group for testing, there would be much rolling of the eyes. You see, Ted like to sprinkle comments in his code that were not relevant to the software. And not just irrelevant comments, but just plain weird comments. For example, a case statement would be preceded with:
I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees. Asked the Lord above for mercy, save me if you please.
Huh? Or, a comment next to a loop would state:
You spin me right round, baby right round like a record, baby Right round round round
Yep song lyrics. The first is from an Eric Clapton song Crossroads and if you saw the Wedding Singer, youd recognize the looping Dead or Alive lyrics.
But, again huh???
Where these comments hurting anyone? Probably not, but they were at a minimum distracting. When confronted by his manager, Ted said he was just trying to make the code more interesting because he was bored.
This problem was more easily solved. He agreed to cool it on the lyrical comments if he could pursue some more interesting new technology side projects.
The 'Incredibly Chatty' Developer Every day Jimmy would come into Sams office at random times. He would just appear in the doorway and start ranting about current events.
At first, Sam was amused and bantered back and forth with Jimmy. But then it started to interfere with Sams work. Sam would be in the middle of some task when Jimmys sudden loud ranting practically caused Sam to eject from his seat.
It got to the point where Sam would be afraid to start a new task without first checking that Jimmy was not around, to verify that Jimmy had his face deeply buried into his monitor solving some complex design issue.
Nobody was better at solving complex problems than Jimmy, which is why others had put up with his rants. Sam tried to subtly hint that he was busy, to no avail. He finally gave up and started working with his office door closed.
This kept Jimmy out, but also isolated him from the rest of the team. Sam left the company before it went further, but it definitely impacted Sams effectiveness and a talented team member was lost.
The 'Inappropriate Phone Call' Developer This one I experienced personally. We hired a new developer that Ill call Suzy. All the developers had their systems in an open cubicle environment. One day, Stan, a senior developer on my team, came in to my office and shut the door.
He said Suzy was having inappropriate conversations on the phone. So not only was she on the phone for long periods of time, but she was calling her ex-boyfriends to let them know she may have exposed them to an STD.
I remember thinking, How many guys could she possibly be calling? I figured it was best to just wait it out.
It turned out the answer was lots and lots of guys because Stan came back the following week and said he counted multiple phone conversations on the same tawdry topic. I said Id address it with her , but put it off due to other priorities.
After three weeks and multiple complaints, I finally called Suzy into my office and told her that I noticed she was spending too much time on the phone and that others have complained about excessive, distracting conversations.
I totally stayed away from the sensitive subject matter didnt want to go there. She just looked dumbfounded and said Ok. Didnt fight it, just Ok.
So the next week, Stan closes my office door again and proceeds to tell me about her new conversations. The ex-boyfriends have been replaced by recruiters.
She was doing phone interviews, and stating My new boss is a jerk, so Im looking for a new job.
This jerk ended up firing her. But by me procrastinating and not immediately addressing this issue head on, the entire team was being distracted with gossip. Cant say I blame them.
These stories were just the tip of the iceberg. Sure its all anecdotal, but I have to believe there is some truth to the techie community harboring some pretty interesting characters. And that is why I love the world of software.
Never a dull moment!
ALSO SEE: Understanding Your 'Idiot' Manager
Eric Spiegel is CEO and co-founder of XTS, which provides software for planning, managing and auditing Citrix and other virtualization platforms.