loading...
Cover image for The Biggest Change in the Software Development Industry the Past 10 Years

The Biggest Change in the Software Development Industry the Past 10 Years

gergelyorosz profile image Gergely Orosz ・3 min read

I've been a professional software developer for more than 10 years. With the decade ending, I did a reflection of major changes I've seen in the industry the past 10 years, across mobile, web, backend development and engineering careers. A lot has changed, from Javascript adoption, through iOS/Android growth and distributed systems becoming more accessible. One trend stood out though, that I think is more important than any technology innovation. It's how the "brilliant jerk" developer is slowly being pushed out from better developer teams and companies.

Brilliant jerk developers fading away. In 2010, the industry was filled with "brilliant jerks" and 10x engineers - guys who were supposedly great coders but had zero social skills. If you could not work with one of these people, the blame was on you. With more mature engineering management, managers (and teams) now realize how toxic these people are. Better companies don't hire people with toxic attitude. See also the No Asshole Rule book.

I've experienced this change firsthand. 2010-2015 I had the poor luck to work with a few of these individuals. They were ones who walked over others, were hostile to any form of constructive criticism and made others feel threatened - especially minorities on the team. Managers I worked with had no clue how to handle them, being too afraid to take action. They were afraid to confront them, let alone think of managing them out, as they saw these people were often the star performers on the team - on paper. This was not just small companies: Microsoft was a place I observed quite a few people roaming around.

Starting from around 2015, I am seeing lots of change in the right direction, towards inclusive and safe cultures and teams. People are sharing their negative experiences, calling out companies that handle situations like this poorly. Companies that get a reputation of being friendly to the "brilliant jerk" types see a sharp drop on talent wanting to work there. As an engineering manager, I say no to otherwise talented engineers, if they are hostile towards interviewers or display signs of being unable to take feedback or being overly defensive - characteristics of a brilliant jerk.

I also don't hire engineering managers who do not know how to deal with brilliant jerks on a team. There is only one good way to deal with a situation like this: give feedback, help the person change. If they don't: manage them out for the sake of the team, no matter how brilliant they might be.

Dev.to is a fantastic example of the "no brilliant jerks allowed" rule in action across an online community, making this a safe place for everyone to participate to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, there are still places that pay less attention to spotting people with this behavior, giving them direct feedback and educating teams about microaggressions and the inclusive workplace.

Fortunately, it seems we are at a turning point, as an industry. This is a topic I'm planning on actively exploring in my book on growing as a software engineer, and how role model senior engineers have a responsibility in leading by example on creating safe and supportive working environments - especially for beginners and those new to the company and industry.

Here's to hoping that by 2030 we'll look back and ask "What do you mean by a brilliant jerk? Haven't come across one of them in a decade..."

Posted on by:

gergelyorosz profile

Gergely Orosz

@gergelyorosz

Engineering lead @Uber. I love to help people grow and share what I learned. I write longer articles on software engineering at blog.pragmaticengineer.com.

Discussion

markdown guide
 

Dev.to is a fantastic example of the "no brilliant jerks allowed" rule in action across an online community

This is such a true statement. qq, is your detection for "brilliant jerks" a measured part of the interview process, or does it rely on your experience to make the call??

 

We have a hiring manager and bar raiser interview on top of the coding interviews. On these two interviews, we gather signals on the softer side: on things like teamwork, mentorship, handling conflict. We also talk through past projects.

If on this interview - or any of the other ones - we see yellow or red flags, we note them and discuss them in the end. Yellow flags can be things like being defensive, not taking feedback or not good handling of conflict. Red flags could be unacceptable language, hostility towards interviewers, badmouthing all previous employers and others.

If someone shows too many signs of not being a team player, that can be a blocker to moving forward. The hiring manager and bar raiser are responsible to hire people who make the team better and raise the bar of talent we have.

So to answer your question: we gather signals as part of the interview process. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the hiring manager and bar raiser to make this call, but everyone in the process provides feedback.

 

Wow i didn't know that Uber has a yellow and red flags to judge "brilliant jerk" as part of their interview process very interesting.

Uber has a process of collecting signals during interviews, and roles on who is responsible to collect certain signals. We have a policy of no brilliant jerks among others. And if we see people who display signs of what a brilliant jerk is, it is a blocker for hiring.

I cannot speak or represent all of Uber. I can talk for myself and I will follow this approach whether at Uber or at other places, as it’s the approach to create high-performing and safe teams.

 

I hope you're right about this Gergely (although the recent 10x developer conversations from 2019 don't fill me with hope). I'm curious to know whether there's a noticeable difference on this topic pre-Kalanick and post-Kalanick at Uber, as it seems like the company was founded and run by a brilliant jerk for many years.

 

I saw Uber change a lot since - things like equal pay, expectations on collaboration and being nice to each other (citizenship) being expected of all developers. There's also less rewarding of individual heroism, especially if it involves pushing other people aside. I would not hire anyone on my team who displays any signs of being a brilliant jerk, and I am pretty sure this is across Uber (however, I cannot talk to others).

I can only share my opinion - the company is vast and each team is different. Stats might tell a story, if they were available or public. I can only share what I've know: of the about 25 people who work or ever worked on my team the past 3.5 years, all are still with the company, no one left. Even though I am certain that all of them have their Linkedin inboxes full with great opportunities, and could easily change companies, if not happy.

 

Thanks so much for this information Gergely - much appreciated. And I'm very jealous of your low attrition rates.

 

My vote for most profoundly true article for 2020! We used to say "If you are not ADD yet, just stay in IT another year" But maybe it wasn't a joke.

I had a fellow tell me once he had Asperger's, he was brilliant, but vicious. Another one had a steel plate in his frontal head area from Vietnam, most of us rough gruff types enjoyed him but he scared everyone else to death.

The worst, by far, have been the self-appointed leaders of their own nation. You know, they have very deep rules and regulations for entry into their kingdom; but you only discover them one at a time after you've accidentally tripped them. Companies seem to like these kinds because they have no empathy or compassion for those in-the-trenches doing the real work.

One guy on a project, was universally declared weird by almost everyone. I had to work with him exclusively and found out, he wasn't weird, he was just very introverted and didn't give proper social queues/feedback to those around him. He admitted as much. Turns out he served 15 years in the Navy on a Nuclear Submarine as a Lieutenant. We became good buds. I felt compelled to buy his lunches when we went out... He was extremely smart.