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      I think what’s termed a Necessary Jerk here is also referred to as a Brilliant Jerk in case anyone’s looking for related thoughts:

      Anyhow, I agree with the article.

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      I keep reading this, but I’ve only seen it once, thankfully - and I’ve been in my share of workplaces, having spent about half my career as a contractor. Am I a lucky freak, or is it just not actually that common?

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        Well, for another anecdotal data point… In my 30 year career I’ve seen many “necessary nice people”, and several executives who were jerks, but I can’t think of any “necessary jerk” individual contributors. There were certainly some jerks, but they didn’t seem necessary.

        They do enable good dramatic situations, though, so I can understand why they’re popular in literature. And for obvious reasons they’re overrepresented in real life stories of office harassment.

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          What do you mean by “necessary nice person”?

          Is it “A is the only person who knows how to do X?”, ie https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_factor

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            Sometimes, but more often it’s “A can do X twice as fast as anybody else” or “A knows who knows how to do X for any value of X”.

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        What I’ve seen is people whose lack of social finesse has been papered over because “well programmers haha”

        (I’ve had this advantage as well)

        I have never seen another job position where being bad at humans is considered acceptable. I am, of course, all for giving people opportunities to improve, but the bar is set so much lower than basically any other job

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          “Well I guess they don’t have to talk to the customers directly….let’s hire them!”

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        I think the people who truly encompass this personality type (or a combination of traits that make for this type of personality) typically find they’re war towards the top .. if they’re good at what they do. Those who are truly lacking empathy, that find their way further along on the sociopath/psychopathic scales, tend to via for positions at the top. They take large risks and, if they’re good at it, they jump in to fill positions the moment they can.

        I agree, I have encountered few of these Necessary Jerks on my team in myself in my 15+ years in tech. There were one or two, but none that were really that bad or who I couldn’t find some common ground and get along with. There were more people who were incompetent, which is annoying, but so long as they’re nice and trying .. eh..everyone needs a job. There are people who are incompetent and refuse to learn and shit heads about it, and you wonder why the hell they still have a job – and you just gotta be as nice as you can (They are a lesson in patience).

        From what I’ve heard, people with necessary jerks, are typically teams with just really shitty management. I think this post that was up a few months ago really encompasses that type of work environment:


        For the type of person I mentioned at the beginning of this comment, I recommend the book The Dictators Handbook. It’s pretty eye opening as far as what it really takes to grab and hold onto a position of power, like being a CEO. Spoiler alert, knowing anything useful about your business or technology, or even caring about your employees/staff, has very little to do with it.

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      Jerk has many different interpretations, though. The person who cancels your under-performing project because continued investment is unwise is sort of being a jerk, but is also necessary. Software folks can be incredibly fragile in the face of criticism, business needs, and politics. So lets shut down any instances of office harassment or other abusive, narcissistic behavior, but (completely independent of that very valiant goal!) be realistic that we’re not living in a fantasy conflict-free zone of ponies and cupcakes.

      Maybe this is my own weird career path talking, but I wish I could get my colleagues to understand that feedback (solicited or not) is far better for everyone than none, and that even the best teams have imperfect communication routines (and being a team player does mean having some level of skin thickness to work specific disagreements). I.e:

      blatantly interrupting a colleague in a meeting

      Sometimes people interrupt each other. It’s best to avoid, but sometimes it’s for a good reason. Most of the time the right course of action is to either say, “excuse me, I’d appreciate it if you don’t interrupt me(/them) while I’m(/they’re) talking”, or just get over it, depending on the situation.

      to subtly belittling

      Emphasis mine.

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      The notion that jerks get ahead is a lot broader then individual contributors in tech. (I’m pretty sure every philosopher since the invention of writing has discussed the subject).

      In my experience, it appears that there are fewer assholes in software engineering then in other professions. Most software developers are nice people, who value themselves by the quality of their work, which is probably why the jerks stand out.

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      It’s completely off-topic to the article, but I take issue with Granny Weatherwax being described as a jerk. Tough and demanding sure, but as a Discworld witch she dedicated her whole life to serving others. I don’t think not smiling and having a bit of an ego instantly transforms you into jerk.