Monday, September 16, 2013

Being a Jerk Does Not Make You a Better Programmer

Can you believe this A@@ Hole.
Image courtesy of
It has been quite a week in the technology world.  The big news this week was the firing of Business Insider’s chief technical officer Pax Dickinson for a series of insensitive and sexist tweets.  As someone who has been fired, I really do not like to gloat at the misfortune of others.  I am going to make an exception for Mr. Dickinson.  This week on the blog I explain why people like Mr. Dickinson are a poison to the profession of software development and technology start-ups.

When I first joined this profession, it was male dominated.  Guys wrote code.  It was just the nature of the profession.  Diversity was usually based on experience and ethnic background as programmers from India, Asia, and the United States blended together to form development teams.  I remember quite vividly when the attacks on the world trade center took place that the developers at my firm closed ranks around the lone Muslim member of our development team because we did not want our co-workers hassling him.  People who code together tend to stick together.

As the years wore by it became obvious to me that we needed more women in the profession.  Homosexual slurs were used to describe code that wasn't acceptable.  Developers who couldn't take a joke were called “p#%&ys” and women who worked with us affectionately referred to the development work area as the “pig pen” for all the misogynistic behavior exhibited by the developers.  It was 2009 and I had finally realized that programming had far too much alpha male ignorance associated with it.

Around this time, I discovered the Chicago area application life-cycle management group.  It was led by a woman smart as a whip and tough enough not to take any grief in the profession.  It was also here that I met many women who were managing projects and in the trenches writing code.  To me it was a revelation, women not only could write software but they could teach and provide proper instruction to their fellow developers.  It was a breath of fresh air and it was at that point I realized that if I ever started my own company I wanted to encourage the participation of women in the world of technology.

Pax Dickinson fits into this discussion because he comes from the “brogrammer” school of development.  These individuals are nurtured in the world of game development and the start-up community.  They are defined by their arrogance, intelligence and total lack of an internal filter.  They are not afraid to call an algebra teacher stupid if they know the answer before teacher shows the work on the black board.  They take pride being the smartest person in the room and will make sure everyone knows they are the smartest person in the room.  As it was explained to me once, “a good programmer is smart and he is arrogant enough to make sure everyone knows it.”

Really Mr. Dickinson fits the definition of an asshole as outlined by Robert I. Sutton PhD in his book “The No Asshole Rule” which are people,  “…who consistently aim their venom at less powerful people and rarely, if ever, at more powerful people.”  Dickinson has made a career of making people who are not him feel like dirt.  Women who he thinks can’t code are beneath him.  Developers who don’t understand his mode of operation are worthless.  Heaven forbid you question his business practices or products because that will make you a target as well.

As Mr. Dickinson gained wealth and fame in the world of technology, it merely made a bad problem worse.  Business Insider should have known better than to hire this guy but when they did they gave him the ultimate license to be an asshole to his fellow man.  It is not surprise that he got himself in trouble and soiled the reputation of the organization which fired him.

I suppose that this is an object lesion then in the world of technology.  Sooner or later an asshole is going to get what is coming to him.  They can hide but sooner or later they are exposed as the cretins they are and they are cast aside because people do not want to do business with them.  I have always striven not to be an asshole in the technology world.  It is why I founded my company and why I am looking forward to hiring developers who are going to make a difference in my organization.  I don’t care about gender, ethnic origin or religion.  I just want to make sure they know C# and can code responsive layouts.

So while Mr. Dickinson is packing his desk and protesting his punishment, I am going to get on with the business of running my start-up and helping small and medium businesses work in the cloud.

Until next time.