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    I’ve worked with people like the guy who was fired. In every case, those people were given the leeway to become so critical specifically because managers with no real idea how to evaluate technical skill mistook their arrogance, inability to work well with others, cowboy coding practices, and willingness to promise anything as signs of programming genius. Meanwhile, better programmers who could actually communicate and collaborate but who didn’t fit the managers’ cliched movie image of the anti-social Mountain-Dew-at-3am hacker were treated as bench players.

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      One thing I didn’t see mentioned in either of these articles (this response and the original), is what I call the “promise pipeline”. Who is telling who when what will be done? When one or more team members is overworked, the first place I look is who is involved in setting delivery expectations. If deadlines are being promised before technical analysis is performed then you’re in serious trouble as an organization. You either need to backtrack on your promises post-analysis, or you throw it over the wall and let the implementation team go crazy.

      You often see this in businesses with sales bonuses based on closing commission. This can be fixed a couple ways: one is with delivery commissions (sales member gets commission when something is delivered, and not just an entry in the CRM system), and another is having sales and developers work as part of the same team (can be difficult culturally for some businesses).

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        As a side remark, the worst estimators in my experience were not clueless MBA types but technical people without a stake in delivery. E.g. architects and requirements analysts. Developers tend to be overly optimistic about deadlines, and removing the direct consequences of not meeting them only makes things much worse.

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          There’s absolutely nothing respectable about firing people. If you have to fire an employee then you failed miserably at your job. It’s almost never the employees fault when they get fired. It’s almost always the fault of HR for hiring the wrong people for the role, or management for not knowing how to lead, inspire and motivate their teams properly.

          I think that goes way too far in the opposite direction. There are genuinely toxic people out there. Sometimes those people can hide their toxicity well enough to pass through your interview process. At that point, once you’ve realized that this person is hurting your team, you should fire them. Claiming that there’s nothing respectable about firing people is equivalent to asking people to have perfect clairvoyance about the future behavior of someone they’ve met for at most a handful of hours.

          Of course, I do agree that after you fire a developer, you and your management should sit down and look at the process and ask yourselves, “Is there anything we could have done better here?” But sometimes the answer is, no, we couldn’t have done better here because to reduce the type-1 error of hiring a toxic person when we shouldn’t have, we’d have to raise type-2 errors significantly by rejecting anyone whom we didn’t think would fit perfectly with the team as it stands, even if they would have been a good contributor.

          Sometimes the cost of hiring diverse talent who’re adaptable and a have a wide range of skills is letting the occasional abrasive personality slip through. The key is to determine early on whether someone is affecting the team negatively, and then figuring out why and what to do about it an kind and humane manner.

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              I agree that “abrasive” was poor phrasing. However, I wanted to find a more neutral phrasing that would convey the same meaning as “toxic” without the negative moral connotations. I agree that developers have personality quirks, and I would go farther. Sometimes the new-hire’s personality will clash with the collective personality of the team in a way that could not be forecast ahead of time, and, moreover, this is no one’s fault. In such cases, the kindest thing to do is to admit that things aren’t working out to let the new hire go (with a generous severance package).

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          If you read in between the lines, it appears that management was complacent to lay problems at Rick’s doorstop, and didn’t care that Rick and/or the team didn’t take time to document the problem and/or resolution.


          Instead of tackling the root cause of the issue (hey man, whats eating you?), they opted for the quick and easy fix (Hey Rick, GTFO!). Par for the course, as far as I can tell.

          If you read actual text, you’d see that this was something the company already thought of:

          I agree that the situation that came about was also his manager’s fault. He never should have been allowed to take on so much. If it gives comfort to anyone else reading this, the manager went first because ultimately management bears responsibility, always.

          They then followed up with:

          Rick rejected months of overtures by leadership. He refused to take time off or allow any work to be delegated. He also repeatedly rejected attempts to introduce free open source frameworks to replace hard-to-maintain bespoke tools.

          As I mention in a comment on the original post, I’m surprised at how many people are kneejerk defending Rick. In this case, I’m embarassed for this poster who not only kneejerk defended him, but claimed additional insight into the story, all while ignoring the wealth of info provided by the original author.

          Could he have provided this info in the original post? Sure. Why should he have to? What is so special about this particular “we fired a toxic team member” story that everyone is instantly certain they did it wrong? And unwilling to do even the least bit of additional reading about it?

          Why does this story of Rick prompt such irrational, emotional responses?

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            Why does this story of Rick prompt such irrational, emotional responses?

            Explaining why someone was terminated within a company is a really delicate task. Doing so on the internet requires even more tact.

            Comparing the terminated employee with a narcissistic, nihilistic, and downright crazy cartoon character doesn’t demonstrate much respect for the terminated employee or the seriousness of the situation. I think that’s the main reason the original article left a bad taste in my mouth.

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              Thanks @davidholman, it’s bizarre to me that someone could think the comparison or even the title of the original blog post are any acceptable way for a manager to discuss other colleagues.

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              Could he have provided this info in the original post? Sure. Why should he have to? What is so special about this particular “we fired a toxic team member” story that everyone is instantly certain they did it wrong? And unwilling to do even the least bit of additional reading about it?

              The guy who wrote the original article, which is 99% scapegoating “Rick”, is a manager who seriously thinks literally months of 12-hour days 7 days a week is a good idea: https://medium.freecodecamp.org/our-team-broke-up-with-instant-legacy-releases-and-you-can-too-d129d7ae96bb :

              It took eight months of seven-day weeks and twelve-hour days to complete our last legacy system overhaul.

              No wonder “Rick” burnt out.

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                Hey thanks for the reply, I did apparently miss something in the original - likely as it was hidden underneath the blanket of scapegoating. The “actual text” link from you is a completely different article however, that I had not yet seen.

                To answer the question you pose at the bottom: it’s because many of us have been there. Either directly involved or on the sidelines. We’ve seen the personalities and the egos and the mismanagement. It’s a difficult subject. However I wouldn’t call the responses “irrational”. Emotional, yes, but those empathetic enough will relive their own personal experiences and react. I worked for a toxic company for several years, and saw some bad shit. I saw crazy nepotistic owners oversell the world and then fire those that they used after burning them out to the core. Those who survive take away an insight that we shouldn’t need. Ask me how many times a day I get to say “no” to some absurd request now :)

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                  The “actual text” link from you is a completely different article however

                  It’s a comment on the original article. Medium treats it as an additional document, but it’s eminently findable on the original article page.

                  However I wouldn’t call the responses “irrational”.

                  How is it rational? A rational response to “somebody I don’t know got fired” might be something like “did he deserve to be fired? I’ll look into that”, or “something sounds fishy about this story. If I feel the need to post my own essay response, it will be asking those questions and examining different ways they could be answered”.

                  Not “I’m now going to post a kneejerk rant against imagined management problems, because Rick deserved better!”. That seems textbook irrational to me.

                  those empathetic enough will relive their own personal experiences and react.

                  I did. I’ve been burnt by Ricks before. I suspect I’ll be burnt by Ricks again. My response is similar to the original article author’s: fix systemic problems where possible, train toxic people when possible, but fire toxic people who insist on remaining toxic.

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                    Right, and they fired the manager.

                    Then they tried, for a year, to coax Rick into a different, better, set of work behaviors, and he resisted the entire time. Then he was fired. That part all seems reasonable to me.

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                      And then instead of reasonably moving on from the monster they ultimately created, they publicly shat on the guy, nicknaming him after a cartoon character that embodies every character flaw I can think of. That seems to be the source of contention, at least for me.

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                    The title of the story is about firing rick, and being proud of it, not “we fucked up bad and we unfortunately had to fire someone”. The content of the article is 99% about how Rick was to blame for everything. I can’t even find the link you gave off the front page, I assume it’s nested somewhere in the content. So your claim that you just have to read the actual text and everyone is freaking out over nothing doesn’t jive with reality:

                    The author, as management, does not take responsibility in the original post.

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                      I turned from a happy, liked and productive person into a Rick. I’ll elide the details, but the gist was that I tried to fight another pre-existing Rick, but he had way too much power for me to handle. Unfortunately, I’m not the kind of person to be bothered by power structures, so I kept banging on that wall until I became a mess. In my last year in that organization, on a typical night I would spend several hours hating the situation and people involved, instead of sleeping.

                      Management was also powerless towards the first Rick, until eventually they used their power to remove the easier problem, i.e. me.

                      I’m not saying that this sort of thing can happen to anyone, but I’m quite certain that many kinds of people can be corrupted by a bad environment.

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                        Sounds to me like “Rick” piled a huge amount of architectural and technical debt upon himself and probably was too afraid/proud to own up it. One guy that both owns the architecture and is coding furiously in isolation sounds like a circus performer spinning plates on the end of sticks - in the end its not going to end well for anyone.

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                          Rick was a symptom of the larger disease. It boils down to not enough people saying “No, this cannot be delivered by the date you fantasize about” (including Rick, Rick’s manager, and the guy who wrote the original article).

                          Sure, maybe there was some delay and issues due to custom libs and tools and other things (raise your hand if you’ve never eschewed an existing library that solves your problem), but the real problem is that too much work got through the dam, and Rick was not in a position to stop the flood that landed on him.

                          The fix wasn’t letting Rick go, the fix was saying “We’re only delivering this realistic set of work by this realistic date!”.

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                            I think the core reason was Rick probably got lucky in that early architecture decisions made adding features super quick which made him look like a rockstar. As more features were shoehorned in and it turned into a big ball of mud he started slowing down and stopped communicating as he was too afraid/proud/depressed to let people know his grand vision was breaking down. I’m sure we’ve all been there.

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                              he was too afraid/proud/depressed to let people know his grand vision was breaking down

                              That’s what a burnout looks like, compounded by working in an environment where people that are no longer useful are kicked out of the company and out of medical insurance with all the blame placed firmly on their heads so they can no longer find another plantation to work on.