Narcissism

I was reading the post on Narcissism over at the (always excellent) Coding Horror Blog and I was reminded of something that happened to me.

Many years ago, I was disappointed by my job. I was working at a small consulting company which had been mostly a software development outfit and was transitioning to being more of a general marketing consultancy. I didn’t mind that as much, I have a greater love (or tolerance, depending on your perspective) for marketing than the average developer. Actually, I was driven out by a top-down mandate to “improve our process” which was manifest around trying to adopt development methodologies that were state-of-the-art thirty years ago. It felt as if they were saying to me “all of those things you did to make the last project you ran a big success (tight feedback loops, close developer-to-customer collaboration, design for change, light up-front-documentation)… well, don’t do any of them again.”

So I quit.

In retrospect, I think it would have been possible to improve the situation, but I didn’t yet have a solid handle on why I was doing the things I was doing and how to help a software development team be more effective. I was still essentially “in the closet” –embarrassed that I didn’t want to write 200 page functional and technical spec documents before doing any actual coding. This was before the Agile/Scrum concepts were as mainstream as they are now.

When I was interviewing for another job, I found myself absolutely enthralled by one of the interviewers. He seemed like the single most brilliant developer I had ever met. I was so eager to work with this guy, that I let myself overlook a bunch of warning signs about the organization (legacy code base, previous-generation languages/tools, uninteresting problem domain, deplorable office space, disrespectful management, etc.). I wound up taking the job.

Many months later, as I was trying to figure out how I came to be in the horrible situation I was in, I came to the shameful realization that I thought this guy was brilliant because he reminded me of myself. It was narcissism, plain and simple. Ever since then, I’ve been cautious to think about why I think someone is so amazingly smart.

The same phenomenon came up again last summer, when I did a “Pragmatic TDD” seminar presentation for a handful of development companies. After one presentation, a guy came up to me and said “Your presentation was great. Just brilliant. This is exactly what I’ve been advocating we do for forever.”

Of course I brilliant, I was just like him.

Now, I’m trying to do a better job of being honest with myself, challenging myself, and listening intently to those I immediately disagree with.

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