Just because some skeptics are irrational about something, doesn’t mean that they don’t know they are being irrational. They know that if they gave the real reason for their resistance that people would find their objections unacceptable. In short if someone’s reason for not accepting that your company should support the iPhone and invest in iOS apps is that they think “Apple users are obnoxious hipsters,” they’re going to get dismissed out of hand. They know it, so they resist by bringing up “the Evil Walled Garden” argument. If you are able to mount a solid case against the “Walled Garden” argument, they switch to opposing Apple because “Android hardware would be cheaper”

Now to be clear, I’m not saying any objection to Apple is irrational. I’m saying if you specifically are going to resist Apple in an honest business focused decision for the specific reason “Apple users are obnoxious hipsters,” you are being irrational. I’m also not saying “the Evil Walled Garden” or “Android hardware is cheaper” are right or wrong arguments. I’m saying they can be rational arguments (with evidence and justificaiton) but that arguing those things without believing or weakly believing in them to cover up for an irrational objection is the problem here. 

I worked with a guy who stated “I don’t believe in indices [in a relational database].”

I know. We can argue many things: what columns to index, clustered or unclustered, whether we should even be using relational databases… But we can all agree that if you are using relational databases at some point you need to use indices.

But that was this guy’s beef. He resisted any sort of argument that he needed an index on any of his tables. He showed us articles that said “YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE INDEXES… on tables with many more writes than reads“. When performance was effected by a lack of an index, he said the performance was acceptable. When performance was still an issue he went into a long diatribe about how hardware upgrades on the server side would make his performance issues go away in an acceptable timeframe.

Then we introduced ORM (object relational mapping) into the environment. He objected…. loudly. Why? “The performance tradeoffs are too great.”

Clearly his issue with ORM wasn’t really performance. He had no problem waiting for performance to be enhanced by hardware upgrades, which is itself kinda silly.  And his acceptance of poor performing SQL was not because he hated indices. It was because his real resistance was based on something else.

What was that real reason? I don’t know but I have my theories. (I became much friendlier with him later, and it never came up.) I think in general the truth had more to do with trying to limit the number of new technologies and techniques so that he could keep a handle on the environment as he was also doing a fair amount of managerial, administrative, and business work as well. When you’re stretched so thin, you have to figure out a way to contain complexity. But that’s just my theory.

Ultimately his real reason doesn’t matter. Because like all of the Irrational types, you should ignore them.

It’s tough though, because these guys masquerade as rational types before you realize what’s going on. So how do you spot them?

A few signs:

  • Drastically changing objections, did these guys start out as Burned, and then change to Time Crunched when confronted with evidence?
  • Dramatic reversals of objections raised in previous discussions, did they go from indifference to performance to performance being the only thing?
  • Being a Chameleon in the past, if they have done this to you before, and you haven’t figured out a root cause then it is likely that they are repeating.

In general these guys and gals suck. They waste a lot of time because you are fooled into arguing with them rationally since they act rational. But if you suspect you’re face to face with a chameleon: cut your losses – move on to try and convert someone else. Either they are Irrational, and you saved yourself some grief, or they aren’t, but they’ll be easier to bring around with more converts on your side.

Angry Old Technologist

The Angry Old Technologist (AOT) has been around forever. They built the system that you are trying to change. They’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about programming, hot shot. In short, you’re trying to change things, they’re yelling at you to get off their lawn.

Now, that’s not to say anyone with more then a few years of experience is a senior citizen. Nor that all criticism from people that share characteristics with this group.

Unlike last week’s character, the Angry Young Technologist (AYT), I don’t have experience being the AOT. At least I think I don’t. I’m fairly sure I’ve never been the one saying we absolutely shouldn’t change something. I may have argued against a particular change, or implementation, but not generalized change. Therefore, my thoughts here are more conjecture and inference than actual experience. Anyone who sees themselves in this description is welcome to set the record straight on anything I get wrong.

I was once at a conference where there was a Q&A with representatives from Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, and, of course Adobe. Someone got up and started talking about the current pace of change, and how every year all of us were coming out with more tools and technology. And he got angrier and angrier as he spoke, until he blurted out:

Why do you guys keep forcing me to learn new stuff?

And therein lies the key problem of the Angry Old Technologist: progress forces change; change forces them to learn; and they don’t want to.

Now, back when I was an AYT I never understood this. How can you hate to learn more things? As I get older, while I don’t resent learning new things, I can understand why you might.

I’m lucky, part of my job is to keep learning new things. Not all jobs build into them the need to learn new things. Most don’t. When you’re younger and have less responsibility, it’s not a huge deal, you can just spend your free time learning new things. As you get older, other concerns come in, like family, kids, housing, health care, retirement funds, school districts, PTAs ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

All that stuff, some of which people refer to as your real life, destroys your free time. When you’re young, and passionate about technology, that free time is where you spend long hours focusing and mastering new things. When you get older and attached, you don’t have that time. Learning goes from something you love to do and you can easily do because you have copious free time, to something you have to make time to do.

And that’s if you’re passionate about what you do. If not, you start as a young person having to spend time to play catchup. By the time your free time is gone, the idea of learning new things terrifies you because you don’t know when you’re going to do it, and you never know the worth as all technology has an expiration date.

Where does the anger come from? What do you get when you combine no time, with years of responsibility, the pressure to constantly learn new things, some of which may be “dead” before you even implement them, and fear of what happens when you fail? You get rage, pure and simple.

There is bad news here for the guy from the conference, and for all of the other AOTs: There is no stopping the change. We technology companies might impact, alter, or nudge the waves of changes. But ultimately we don’t control them; they are caused by too many disparate sources to be controlled, even if we wanted to.

So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT?

  • Well they’re irrational, so you should ignore them. Didn’t you read my book?
  • Learn from their knowledge of the current environment.
  • Engage them and try to bring them onboard without patronizing them.

So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT… in the mirror?

  • Accept that the future cannot be stopped.
  • Accept that it’s okay you can’t grasp every new piece of technology.
  • Be part of the change, which will eventually replace what exists now, instead of opposing it.
  • But mostly stop being so angry.

So what do you do when you’re face to face with an AOT and they’re your employee?


  • Build-in continuing education and skunkworks into employee goals.


This is a tough group, and they are some of the most resistant to change. They’re also tough because a lot of them end up in management. So avoid, if you can, defer if you can’t, and give them opportunities to save face along the way.

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.