Angry Young Technologist

The Angry Young Technologist (AYT) is fresh out of college, or in some cases high school, new to the workplace, and has strong beliefs. They get their information from whatever sites are the bleeding edge, and are a great source of information about up and coming technology.

You might think that since AYTs are interested in the latest and greatest, that they are perfect choices to help you drive change, but they are hampered in their ability to help by a couple of things. If they are on your side, they are tenacious allies in the quest for change. But their choice of sides wasn’t governed by any convincing arguments that you made, merely that you chose something they liked. They might agree with you, but they can’t objectively review your solution and tell you if it doesn’t fit the environment. If they oppose you, they are obstacles that will not listen to any argument.

Now, not every younger person working in technology is this type. I’ll make it clear I’m not saying that at all. Venn diagrams and all that, not every YT is a AYT.

You enter a typical staff meeting and the AYT has a problem with the latest upgrade to the site.

“Why are we still using stored procedures for this application? We could switch to an ORM solution, and not be tied down to the SQL server. ” or something like that.

And, on the surface, it’s true. Stored procedures in this environment have to go through the DBAs. This adds an extra day to updates. It’s also low on the priority list of the DBAs and so can take more then a day. On top of that, a lot of the developers have good SQL chops, and are a bit better at SQL than the DBAs.

The AYT tends to find lots of issues like this:

  • It’s absurd that we aren’t using [insert currently rising language here].
  • Why the hell are we still using [Technology older then 2 years].
  • The fact that we have to do [whatever policy mandates] is a joke.
  • If only we did [whatever] we wouldn’t have all of these problems.

Then on top of it, they have terrible delivery. Words like “stupid”, “idiotic”, and worse are their goto adjectives. At this point in their careers they don’t have a firm grasp of diplomacy, tact, or the basic understanding that someone can disagree with them and not be stupid.

In the case of the above mentioned SQL policy he’s got a point. It’s terribly inefficient. The DBAs have other things to do, don’t get updates out on any sort of schedule, and don’t add a lot of value to the process.

The AYT is a few years out of college, so he wasn’t here while this app was being built, deployed and used in production for the first year. He didn’t track down crazy bugs in the reporting system. He didn’t enter 50 bug fixes that one week in September.

What the AYT wants to do amounts to a complete burn and redo of the existing code, simply to make the code technique (not quality or features) match current practices. It’s a bad idea, and people smarter than I have made this case.

This one example points to the root cause of the AYT’s lack of reason, a failure to understand the history of a given environment. Also he tends to not understand that decisions are made for more than just pure technology reasons. AYTs often don’t get the context of business, personnel, or other non-technology concerns.

  • If an organization has deep expertise in proprietary technology x, switching to free technology y has high retraining costs.
  • If an organization has expensively committed to technology x and technology y is only moderately better, the utility of switching is low.
  • Policies that effect technology are more often than not driven by non-technical reasons. While CYA policies are annoying they combat the high negative utility of drawing management ire.

These are all true, but would be dismissed by the AYT as irrelevant. Most of us that have been around for a little bit know that each of these has a tremendous impact on organizations.

Combine that failure to grok things with terrible delivery and you get one outcome: almost total lack of adoption for the things that the AYT champions. He’s making the wrong arguments, and he’s doing it like jackass.

I’m being tough on the AYT because I used to be him. I thought managers were idiots, upper management didn’t get it, and if only we did X, things would be so much better.

How’d I get over it? Getting beat by people with better people skills and less technology chops wears thin after awhile. Being successful the few times I stumbled into diplomacy helped. Not starting from a position that people who didn’t immediately agree with me had brain damage was a healthier place to be.

In short, experience is the best teacher. I wish I could have learned some of that easier and earlier.

Not all is lost. There are some positives to be gotten out of this character, whether you are one, or are confronting one.

  • Their passion, while perhaps a little rough, can be a great agent of change
  • The need for a given rule, procedure, or technology expires before the practice of it. They may be blustering, but they can also be the canary in the coal mine.
  • If they realize their delivery and vision of the problem are wrong, they can become a rational actor.
  • Coming along without the baggage of the past allows them to catch things in need of genuine change.

Do you know any AYTs? If so, try and take them under your wing and explain context when you can. When you see them crash and burn, let them know why.

Are you an AYT? After you’re done flaming me because “I don’t get it”, do some self examination. Are you ignoring non-technical factors? Are you being abrasive? Are you arguing against change because it doesn’t use the latest and greatest?

And don’t worry, my next post in this series will be on Angry Old Technologists who can be just as bad.

6 thoughts on “Angry Young Technologist

  1. I finally finished your book last week. How I wish I could go back in time and hand me a copy back in 1999.

    I too, was once an AYT. One boss had to limit me to 3 instances of “If we were using X, we’d be done by now” a day.


  2. Great post Terry, though while I totally agree with this characterization (I may or may not have been one myself) your description does seem to bely putting this person into “The Irrational.” Their argument isn’t exactly irrational as it is uninformed by history and business sense and delivered without tact. In fact, might this person be too quick to jump on any “change” you are trying press rather than oppose it? As in, he/she is more likely to be an ally in drivig technical change – but not necessarily a good ally. They are more likely (as you indicate) to be “irrational” when the proper argument is that change in this case is not appropriate or beneficial.


  3. Wow. Thanks. I see a lot of myself in this. I might be an interesting case, though. I’m not good with conflict, so instead of vocalizing my irrational disagreements with people in outbursts of anger, I tend to store it up inside my head. I’ll try to push people in a certain direction and when they disagree, I’ll just pull an all nighter and do something myself. Then I’ll unveil my accomplishment and prove everyone wrong. Very passive aggressive. Very prideful and self-serving. Very ugly. But, fortunately, thanks in part to this post, I’m growing aware of and addressing my flaws so I can become a better team player.


  4. Wow, this is the third draft of this post for me. The first one I was operating under the impression that I used to be like that but am not anymore. But then I realized I am just like that now and the worst part is I haven’t even graduated from college yet.

    Though I am improving, I recognize the importance of just getting things done, quickly, and efficiently. For instance I’ve been trying to learn Rails to switch from PHP so I can focus more on business logic than trying to create those basic systems for logging in or the CRUD stuff from scratch. Even in PHP I’ve started to use WordPress for most projects just because it works well and wont take a lot of time to get strong results.

    This is definitely an eye opener for me so I think from this point forward I’m going to have to be careful and more respectful when I deal with my clients. I know I’ll often complain to a client when they’re paying 3x more for a host that offers not even a third of what they could get from a basic, popular hosting service like hostgator or something. Even if the change is seemingly better it might entail more work, problems, and require more skills than they are willing to deal with that I didn’t consider.


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