Some 80/20 feedback

Jeff had an interesting post today on putting programmers into two bins, an 80% and a 20%.  The 20% were the alpha-geeks, and the 80% were everyone else,
“Morts” for lack of a better term.  One characterization was that the 20% folks let tech-related items push past work hours, while the 80% limited tech stuff to between the hours of 8 and 5.  I still don’t like the idea of pushing people into bins, but there’s only really 3 types of people I care about:

  • Those that lead
  • Those that listen
  • Those that don’t listen

Although I’ve had a relatively short experience in development so far, I’ve only met maybe one or two people that just didn’t listen.  Reasons why they don’t listen might be indifference, personal, political, etc.  These people are very few, maybe 1-5% of the people I’ve worked with, but those are the ones I work to limit my involvement with.

I want leaders, but not all leaders as too many alpha geeks can lead to severe ego clashes.  I don’t want all listeners as someone has to set direction.  But as long as I have at least one leader and enough listeners, it’s enough to deliver.

Also, it’s a mistake to have a goal to bring the 80% up into the 20%.  If someone wants to be in the 20%, fine, but it’s not a prerequisite for a successful project.  Being in the 80% bracket just means you have different priorities, but not that you don’t care.  Saying the 80% just don’t care is misleading, polarizing and narcissistic.

When I used to interview people, I cared less about years of experience, certifications and the like.  Our most successful hires were those who showed a willingness to learn and improve, and an openness to listen and try new approaches.  It only took us about 3-6 months to train good mid-level developers, but it can take years (or never) to convince senior-level folks to listen.

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About Jimmy Bogard

I'm a technical architect with Headspring in Austin, TX. I focus on DDD, distributed systems, and any other acronym-centric design/architecture/methodology. I created AutoMapper and am a co-author of the ASP.NET MVC in Action books.
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