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In an era defined by software, we know very little about the developers that power it

Fri 29 Mar 2019 | Dimitrios Mistriotis

Not all software developers are geeks. Dimitrios Mistriotis, software developer and ex-Googler, says understanding your own “archetype” could change how you think about your career

After working on web platforms and web user interfaces for, startups, places starting up, and large companies such as Google, I resolved to write a book that deciphered and mapped out the mental machinery of software developers. In an era defined by software, we actually know very little about the people who write all those lines of code that power it. “IT Archetypes” aims to change that.

There are now more than 7.2 billion people on planet Earth and about 32 million of them visit Stack Overflow every month. Who are all these people? What motivates them on a personal and professional level, why and how do they operate? Are they all or most of them obsessed “geeks”?, Do they secretly admire Mark Zuckerberg? Why do some of them bring up questions about Spolsky test in interviews and what is a “Spolsky test” anyway?

Writing “IT Archetypes” started out as an attempt to understand two things. First, why my CV was so patchy and second to explore the frustrations I felt while was working for a company that, among other things, was using antiquated technologies and management structures. When joined I noticed that I really hated the place, while, to my surprise, many of my colleagues seemed to like it (some seemed to like it a lot).

My first reaction was to point the finger at each of them and say “what is wrong with you?”. Then after several months of frustration, I started to internalise my concerns and ask “what is wrong with me?” After some self-reflection I realised that, firstly, I should not have joined this company in the first place, and second that by analysing why and how people like me end up in this position I had enough material to write a book.

People watching

My research led me to the anthropological studies and the material “out there” examining people in IT. An anthropologist typically tries to embed themselves in the “Amazonian tribe” – in our case among developers – and then tries to understand and express their observations with the framework that has been taught to them in their studies. A question that I had was this: what if we let the Amazonian tribesmen speak for themselves?

My central thesis is that you can roughly categorise the workers that constitute modern IT into three distinct categories. The first group – the one with the fewest members but with the largest impact – are the so-called “Commandos”. For Commandos, occupation equals passion plus purpose.

They are the people that have side projects on weekends, learn new technologies to expand their mental horizons, attend meetups, are the ones excited to try something new and the first ones to get bored. For them, their work is an integral part of their character.

“Once we define the archetypes and have their differences laid out, we can explore their intersubjectivity and its implications for the company”

The second one I name “Infantry”. Here, occupation equals career. These are the “five years of JavaEE experience” or the “Oracle DBAs” with 3 certifications. They tend to prefer more steady approaches and make decisions that will advance their careers more than anything else. You usually meet them in conferences.

The last archetype I propose is “Police”. For Police, their field is only a “job” – a means to an end. They prefer to follow orders and do as they are told. While this gives them some capabilities to specific technologies and methodologies, it is always within limits. Since their motivation is only external, they want to be told what to do. Although they are the great silent majority of the workforce, they are not as vocal or visible as the other two.

Staffological power

Once we define the archetypes and have their differences laid out, we can explore their intersubjectivity and its implications for the company: how people belonging to one archetype see people that belong to the same or others, how they interact with each other and how they approach different business situations.

These archetypes can be utilised as “visual aids” to see and explain the IT landscape, and from their individual standpoints answer the questions that come and go in discussions often raised about the industry. Many companies advertise that they hire “the best”, despite the definition of “best” varying a lot from company to company. In the context of the three archetypes, what does “best” actually mean?

By employing my taxonomy, interesting questions also arise regarding which type of person should be hired and when; and if a coding test is necessary or if other factors are more significant. It’s vital we start examining those who make up our software-defined era if we are to understand why so many developers leave en-masse after something seemingly trivial or random.

  • You can read the first chapters of IT Archetypes www.itarchetypes.com and also sign up for the newsletter. It is available in print from Amazon with the Kindle available soon. Register your interest and join the discussion on GoodReads.

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