The Dark Side Of Software Development That No One Talks About

Hey, you.

Yeah, you.  Psst.  Come over here.

I’m going to tell you something that you may not have heard before.

Are you ready for it?

Software developers are jerks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of great developers and nice people who are software developers, and there are lots of great supportive environments and thriving communities in software development land, but there are also lots of jerks.

You have to learn to grow a thick skin

You don’t hear this much, because it isn’t really nice to say.  And hey, I’m an eternal optimist, so I’d rather not look at the negative, but ignoring reality doesn’t make it go away.

Black Rhino

The truth is not everyone has your best interests at heart.  The truth is that a large number of people would like nothing more than to see you fail; to prove once and for all that they are smarter than you.

Chances are if you are doing something unique or you propose a new idea, you’ll have more critics than supporters.  I don’t say this to be mean or to discourage you—I actually have the opposite intent.  Rather, I say it so that you can be prepared and not think it has anything to do with your personally.  Hopefully, I can help you grow the kind of thick skin you are going to need if you are going to succeed as a software developer.

There has been a good amount of griping and general banter about women in tech lately.  Both sides of this imaginary war have crossed lines and drawn blood.  I’ve stayed out of it so far, and I’ll continue to—I’m not taking sides.  But, in some ways this whole debate has shown just how nasty people can be in our industry, and over some pretty petty things.

The problem is that most software developers, male or female, aren’t really ready for the nastiness they are about to encounter when they start writing code as a career.  Worse yet, much of this nastiness is disguised in a very passive aggressive manner, so targets of this ire aren’t even aware of it—at first.

Lots of us could definitely stand to read a book like “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills,” or one of my favorites that I recommend every chance I get, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

Where does this vileness come from?

We work in a sort of strange field where intelligence and ability are highly prized, but some of these same qualities made some of us victims of aggression and abuse earlier in life.

This tends to result in a culture in which many of the participants are constantly trying to prove themselves and evaluating themselves against others.

To put to plainly, it means there are lots of sensitive and bloated egos floating around.

It is sort of a “kick the dog” syndrome where software developers who were kicked earlier in life, or even earlier in their careers, tend to feel justified in kicking the programmers who they see beneath them.

This same kind of mentality also tends to foster cynical thinking and an outright rejection of any idea that doesn’t self-originate.

But, I probably don’t have to tell you this, so much as to remind you of it, because if you’ve been in the industry for any amount of time, you’ve probably felt and experienced this yourself.  You may even be a perpetrator of it—we all are from time to time—just some of us more than others.

What you can do about it

So you might be wondering what my purpose is in telling you all this.  Am I just complaining for the sake of complaining?

No, definitely not.  Like I said, I spend much of my day trying to see the positive.  I don’t like to dwell on the negative.

My real purpose is to put this out in the open so that I’ll stop getting emails from tired, beat up developers or want-to-be developers who have been beaten down so hard by their peers that they feel that they are somehow below them.

Everyone feels doubt in their abilities and worth from time to time, but you’ve got to learn to recognize where the doubt and fear is coming from.  Sometimes, it is a healthy dose of skepticism in our own abilities that keeps us from floating our head way up above the clouds, but many times it is just the reflection of others who are making us feel inferior.

I’ve sat through countless meetings where good, smart software developers who had good opinions and ideas kept their mouth shut and didn’t say a word.  I’ve been to leadership and effective communication classes that told me that the vocal participants in the room were to blame; that they were being too assertive and aggressive and forcing others into the room to become more introverted.

But, you know what?  That is hogwash!

Business man

Are you going to live your life waiting for someone else to step out of the way, so your quiet voice can be heard?  Or are you going to make your own voice louder?

You are much better off realizing that people are jerks and learning how to speak out and deal with criticism than you are believing that you are inferior and not worthy of a seat at the table.

Don’t blame your own situation on other people being egotistical loud mouth jerks and accept their bullying and allow them to project the image of how they want to see you onto yourself.  Instead, realize that is just the way it is and you have to learn to adapt to this environment.

As much as I’d like it to change, it probably won’t, so at some point you’ve got to start living in reality or find a more peaceful and accepting atmosphere.

Don’t be part of the problem

Just because the situation is somewhat bleak, doesn’t mean you have to be part of the problem as well.

I originally started this blog, because I was fed up with all the egos that were trying to make programming seem so much harder than it really is.  My whole mission in life for the past few years has been to take things that other people are trying to make seem complex (so that they can appear smarter or superior) and instead make them simple.

I charge you with taking up the same quest.  You don’t have to start a blog dedicated to the cause or wear a Simple Programmer T-Shirt, but you can start helping other software developers and making them feel like they can do it instead of making them feel like they need years of practice to attain your level of skill.

If we want to make a difference in the community, we have to start trying to make things seem simpler rather than harder.

There are plenty of people out there who will gladly challenge a new idea or tell you why you can’t accomplish some goal, but there needs to be more of us—especially those of us who’ve been in the field for awhile—who tell people why they can do it and how easy it really is.

Real strategy to deal with this problem

Dealing with jerks and negativity is hard.  It is really hard.

In my career, I’ve dealt with my fair share of it, and I still deal with it today.  In this post, I just highlighted the problem and offered simple suggestions, but I’m actually working on a much bigger project to distill some of these specific software developer career tips into a bigger package.

If you are interested in finding out the moment this product is officially launched, sign up here, and I’ll be sure to let you know.

How about you?

Do you run into lots of egos in software development?  How do you stay positive and not let them crush your spirit?

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."
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10 years ago

I agree John you often have to have a thick skin, a lot of developers have their hidden agendas and don’t enjoy working as part of a team.

10 years ago

Yes, I totally agree. I’ve been interviewing a lot lately and feel like I’m being interrogated by Nazi prison gaurds. I’m thinking of getting out of this field. Does it realy matter if I can’t remember if a “page” keyword in a .jsp page is an element, directive, or something else? I know how to use it well and set content types, etc., so is is really fair that I may have been denied a job because I forgot the technical term for this during an interview?

Stephen McConnell
Stephen McConnell
9 years ago

Unfortunately, this is not a problem relegated to JUST Software Development. All aspects of being in a workforce have people who want to make themselves look good by making you look bad. And then, you will find those extremely smart people that just think they are above you and if you can’t operate at their level they discount you. I’m 63 and in my 20+ years in the USAF and 20+ years working in the Civilian IT world, this is and always will be the case. You will also find people that enjoy mentoring you, enjoy making you look good,… Read more »

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