In the wake of Steve Job’s passing there have been a number of takes on his character and impact. One of the common themes that have permeated a lot of reactions in the blogosphere and twitter is Job’s tendency to be a douche. Most people have been negative on this, but a recent article, The Jerk on TechCrunch by MG Siegler has gone the other way, stating:
the tech world could probably use more jerks.
I couldn’t disagree with this statement more, although I agree of much of what Siegler is saying in article. How is that? That sentence is the sound bite distillation of a bigger point: we need more and better criticism in the tech world. That is totally true and not contested; however, I contend you don’t have to be a douche about it.
Why not? Siegler argues that Job’s and in his case Arrington’s abrasiveness had a positive impact. Mostly because in both of these cases, they deal with someone in power being douchy to someone with less power. People have to listen to their superiors, even if they don’t like it.
Most of us in the business of driving technical change are advocating to equals or superiors. When people aren’t compelled to listen to your douchiness, they don’t. Poor delivery in these cases will almost completely ensure that no one will listen to you, no matter how right you are.
Additionally, it presumes that somehow Steve Jobs could be Steve Jobs, give respectful criticism, and people would have not listened. Granted, perhaps being Steven Jobs had to include that abrasiveness and so is unavoidable. But I think once he made it, once he was the great and almighty Steve Jobs, he didn’t need to use it as a tool anymore. Yet reports state he still did. I’d believe that his abrasiveness was a slight obstacle to his success that in his case was outmatched by the rest of his considerable positives. Steve Jobs had a huge impact on the world, far and beyond what most people accomplish. In this sense he was a “Great Man” in the classic definition of it. However that does not mean that everything about him was great, or an advantage. Grownups can admire people and yet still acknowledge flaws in them.
But in any case, I’m not informed enough to know if douchiness worked for or against Steve Jobs with any authority. However I’m firmly convinced that it won’t work for the rest of us.
2 thoughts on “The Fetishism of Douchebaggery”
Good point Terry. I’m not sure the tech industry could survive having “more jerks” anyway!
I do agree completely that “we need more and better criticism in the tech world”.
Criticism is common in art and craft worlds. It can be excruciating to someone who hasn’t accepted it as part of the mentoring and teaching of a skill. I got somewhat used to it in art classes, but no one ever completely gets comfortable with it. As a craftsperson, you do completely get the idea that it helps you get better. The problem is that few individuals have the skills to be a good critic. The software development community is full of people who know enough to be critics, but very few of them have had to develop the soft skills to pull it off without insulting someone.
As software craftspeople, we should be able to handle constructive criticism, but we aren’t usually subjects of it. You don’t really get it in computer science classes to much of a degree. Folks believe it doesn’t matter how you get the answer as long as it is correct. Most of us of a certain age believe that quality software code can be written to a higher standard.
A good critic will know the craftsperson and the field well enough to see a piece in the proper light of day. They can zero in on what is missing and what parts of a design can be improved. One analogy can be the black and white photograph. There are two main parts of criticism in photos. One is technical competence and the other is artistic. It doesn’t matter if you have the once in a lifetime composition if you have scratches or water marks all over the photo. Same with perfect technical and a boring subject.
It doesn’t do us any good to accept mediocre work. Of course, we may be under constraints that won’t allow us to spend the time to redesign and re-code, but we can always try to be better the next time. We can always leave code better than we found it in many ways. I would challenge anyone in an authority role in software development to take the time to mentor coders and to push themselves to be good critics of the work of their staff. That will improve our field in ways that we can measure in ROI or billable hours, but will have a longer lasting legacy.