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Know Anyone Persecuted Out of this field?

I do. (This is an offshoot of the recent rants & tirades on laissez faire capitalism and age discrimination debunking.)

I have worked off and on for the last 12 years or so with a guy I will call "R". "R" is an OK programmer and seeks to continually improve his skills, but is not exactly the most confident or dynamic person you'd meet.

"R" tends to get stuck with the most righteously shitty and thankless maintenance tasks in an organization because he won't speak up and defend himself. He allows his hands to be tied as tightly as everyone around him chooses.

"R" appears to be consistently thought by most managers as a heel dragging loser.

At the last job I worked around this guy on, "R" was accosted in a lab at the company we worked at by a high powered egotistical weenie who is the management's "favorite" - a real primma donna d*ck. This guy yelled at "R" in front of some other people and argued loudly with him over "R" getting a completely FUBARed project done that had been dumped in "R"'s lap preempotorily. "R" walked out in the middle of the day due to this and didn't report back to work again. The company took the tact that "R" was insubordinate for arguing with this guy and quitting; they proposed probation for "R" (IE, punishment for reacting to being treated like s***). "R" did not come back at all, resigned, and did not at least say what he thought to anyone in charge, he just basically disappeared.

My point: this field is a "working with things" field and so attracts people that tend to not be great at all at confrontation, arguing for their interests, or other people related actions. But many (most?) companies appear to gloatingly exploit their ability to push around these "knowledge workers" who aren't that good at batting for their own rights. Many of us, it seems, get boxed into tiny little corners hounded from all directions, and those that can't take it either resign or explode.

It's as though - the qualities that make people good at this stuff also make them vulnerable and exploitable in political situations. And everyone involved - HR, company owners, headhunters, etc - seems to realize this but the afflicted geeks themselves.

Worklife for a technical person can often resemble a bunch of schoolyard bullies stealing the bright kids' books and lunch and throwing them over the kid's head.

It's been about a year since this happened. Last I heard, "R" was thinking of driving a truck. Seriously.
Just a commentary. I don't know if this is a recurring pattern in our industry or is just this one person's issue.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, February 20, 2003

This guy was employed by a Fortune 500 company. He's got an outside contract which he accepted  as a moonlight project. To be fair to his employer, he reported this fact to his employer which prohibited him to do the moonlight project, unless the client pays him through this F500 company. He already gave his words to his client, so he had to accept this unfair condition for less money to his pocket (talking about constitutional rights and "pursuit of happiness")

At the end of the project the client offered him to charge for the lost money, which he did. The employer found it out and fired him for insubordination with no possibility for rehiring. (Nonetheless to say they hired him as a consultant to solve a WAN problem one month after they fired him)

This is how management and HR people can easily bully a technical worker whos experience is in the technical field and not in office politics.

Gold fish
Thursday, February 20, 2003

Bored Bystander wrote, "Just a commentary. I don't know if this is a recurring pattern in our industry or is just this one person's issue".

Yes it is a recurring pattern in our industry.  Although I am sure that each person who feels they were persecuted out of this field has their own unique story. 

One Programmer's Opinion
Thursday, February 20, 2003

It's a pity the person who created this whole injustice couldn't be pulled aside and be presented in detail a list of just how negatively they affected somebody elses life.

Being a techie myself, and not oversupplied with political nous, over the years I have learned the power of silence and appropriate response. I have controlled response to a number of different situations that have stood me in good stead when my heart is pounding and my mind is reeling.

Rule one is never accept a lambasting with silence, especially in public, usually a quick short sharp non debating type remark, like 'Rubbish!', or 'Calm down you'll have a heart attack' and then just look at your watch and walk away. Something like that, don't try and be too clever when the fans spraying it everywhere.

14 year contractor
Thursday, February 20, 2003

>> It's a pity the person who created this whole injustice couldn't be pulled aside and be presented in detail a list of just how negatively they affected somebody elses life.


You want to know something else? The guy that did this appeared to be PROUD of the event. I suspect that this weasel would be on a major ego trip if he heard that it torpedoed this person's self confidence. He would view his rich salary and continued presence  as affirmation that he's better than everyone else. I heard through the grapevine that the executives, who are a clique of stupid clod farmboys who got lucky, apparently instructed this guy to "get tough" with "R".

While I am belaboring this event, I've seen similar dynamics in other companies. Someone is "set up" and it's almost celebratory that the person's life is ruined or the person is reduced to "nothing."

Bored Bystander
Thursday, February 20, 2003

Scene from a university:

One of the more senior programmers (call him Michael) in an office where I worked was essentially hounded into quitting by a young manager who has only worked there three years, but who has won favor with management.  It was a real shame.  There were some very old systems there, that nobody -- including the young manager -- really knows how to maintain, except Michael.


Thursday, February 20, 2003

re: scene from a university

Sounds like a place I know.  One of the people I know who work there said to me once (paraphrased): "All of the people I truly respected and wanted to learn from when I got here have all since left.  They were some of the best programmers and developers I've ever known, and they left because of office politics..."

I wonder how many universities/businesses that scene is played out in regularly.  How many places have lost some *very* good programmers due to politics... arg.  it sickens me to think about it.

Andrew Hurst
Friday, February 21, 2003

Not to be harsh, but people who are 'persecuted out of this field' are simply people who don't stand up for themselves or what they believe in. 

While I agree office politics suck, you're going to have to deal with this in any field. 

GiorgioG
Friday, February 21, 2003

To my eternal shame, about six years ago I was involved in a bullying clique against a junior developer. He was maintaining ten year old DOS code, didn't get involved with anybody else on the team, and lacked certain social skills (eg: don't try and chat up every female in the office).

So we basically laid into him, while management turned a blind eye.

Why? I don't know. He didn't say much, and his work didn't integrate with ours, so he wasn't getting in the way. I guess it's cause we didn't see him having any value to the company, and having him as a "common enemy" helped the rest of the team to (dysfunctionally) bond together.

He didn't stay for long.

Better than being unemployed...
Friday, February 21, 2003

Giorgio:

>>  people who are 'persecuted out of this field' are simply people who don't stand up for themselves or what they believe in. 

Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!! My attitude is that people who allow themselves to be beaten up contribute to the problem just as much as those who do the aggressing, because the victims provide riskless positive feedback.

My firm policy after some earlier career setbacks is to give a bloody nose to ANYONE who messes with me or slanders me or puts me down, no exceptions.

I am hesitatant to pull out the big guns but I feel much better about myself than someone who acts like milquetoast.

And that's what I've told "R" over the years. He always takes this as information that is worthwhile for anyone but himself. He always says things like "so and so wasn't around to shield me."  Victim mentality.

Bored Bystander
Friday, February 21, 2003

Yep.

"No one can take advantage of you without your permission"

Vincent
Friday, February 21, 2003

>My firm policy after some earlier career
>setbacks is to give a bloody nose to
>ANYONE who messes with me or
>slanders me or puts me down, no exceptions.

How exactly do you do that while still being professional?

Not a slam, I'm actually curious.  The guy above with the "rubbish" idea had one way, I'm curious for others ....

Matt H.
Friday, February 21, 2003

>>How exactly do you do that while still being professional?
>>Not a slam, I'm actually curious.  The guy above with the "rubbish" idea had one way, I'm curious for others ....

Simple, basic verbal confrontation. And ongoing. That which nobody expects "only" a programmer to do.

Actually, it never gets to the point of my casting insults or aspersions.  I simply confront with facts. I summarize actions and words and I request a clarification. And I generally nip things in the bud before they poison the relationship and lead to 'shouting matches'.

I think there's a lot of truth in the adage that by avoiding conflict, you actually increase the opportunities for conflict to occur.

Here is an example also mined from the same situation I opened the thread with.

"R" was told by an executive of that company some months before that he ("R") was considered to be 'conspiring' in some way with another progammer who was considered to be keeping "things" from management. Kind of an internal "fifth column" thing to extort from the company by withholding work.

In reality "R" simply got butonholed by the disfavored programmer socially; in any event "R" didn't even like the guy but he was being lumped in with

"R" didn't say ANYTHING... not a g-d'd *thing* in his personal defense to this accusation. He took it without challenging this moron.

I told "R" later "YOU DID WHAT! YOU LET SO AND SO TELL YOU THAT YOU WERE LUMPED IN WITH THAT GUY!" And he shrugged and admitted that he "should" have said something.

So, that's my philoshophy in a nutshell: confront and air grievances early, before they amount to anything really toxic.

Bored Bystander
Friday, February 21, 2003

It's surely significant that the only thing mentioned which involves action by a group, as opposed to an individual, is bullying, as opposed to resisting bullying.

Isn't this supposed to be a profession where we work in teams a lot of the time?

If anyone starts attacking someone else in my team, even if I agree with the specific point, I will make it my business to point out what they contribute to the team, the negative effect on the team of losing them, the message it sends to everyone else in the team, etc.

Sometimes it's scary, but I try not to let that stop me.

Clearly there are sometimes people who can't, or won't contribute, but in my experience it is rare.  In such a case I have nothing to say in their defence - it's not a crusade on my part.

But think on this.

At school I saw that there is always a "natural" subject of bullying who just attracts it like a lightning conductor.  But if this person disappears, there is always someone who is next on the list - and it could be you.

We should all try to give, and hope to receive, mutual respect and support.

Don't give bullies an easy ride!

Mathematical Dunce
Friday, February 21, 2003

Bored Bystander wrote, "He always says things like "so and so wasn't around to shield me."  Victim mentality."

It sounds like "R" has some deep personality issues.  I wonder why he has this victim mentality.

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, February 21, 2003

I worked at a place once where the common tactic was to bully people into quitting so the managers wouldn't have to actually fire people. 

I think it was a problem with having too many managers.  They didn't have enough to do so on occasion they would "manage some people". 


Friday, February 21, 2003

"My firm policy after some earlier career setbacks is to give a bloody nose to ANYONE who messes with me"

You are so right! And don't forget to shoot their dog and burn down their house!

Dennis Atkins
Friday, February 21, 2003

Sysadmins.  I see it all the time in companies, though I haven't observed it yet in academia.

anon
Friday, February 21, 2003

You shouldn't blame the victim.  In the psychology of persecution, victims of workplace persecution are often convinced by management that they HAVE failed.  So of course they will not stick up for themselves.  That's what happened in the university situation I described earlier.

These persecutions often occur because managers are incompetent.  Because they don't know how to organize the office and distribute assignments equitably, some people are essentially set up to fail.  Tasks that could only really be solved by a team of dedicated and experienced programmers, are given to a single person.

Other people are given high-profile, but easier tasks, and because they have regular successes, they become the hotshots in the office.  They are thought of as more competent than the people who are set up to fail, even though they may actually be less proficient.  It's bad management that leads to these situations.

The person who is set up to fail, often assumes that it really IS his fault, that he really HAS failed, and he is persecuted out of a job.  He doesn't stick up for himself because the bullying worked -- management convinced him that he really is incompetent.  When in fact, it is management that is incompetent.

The managers, because they are loud and self-congratulatory "go-getters," are assumed to be doing a good job managing.  The person who is hounded out of a job is the scapegoat for management's failures.


Friday, February 21, 2003

I think the real problem is non-technical managers.  Thus what should be simple choices between competing options get turned into personality issues.  When managers have no idea of the actual facts of the case, it becomes simpler to just go with the more confident person.

Also, fighting your way out of these situations is often not an option.  Usually by the time you realize you are being undermined, the damage has been done.  When bully A stands up and says "We can do X,Y & Z, using only bubble-gum and Access," and you say "No we can't." You are a complainer, A is a doer.

IT is so deadline driven that projects become highly susceptible to bullying blackmail. 

Contrary Mary
Friday, February 21, 2003

I second Bored's observation. In ugly environments, programmers can be easy targets. They can be blamed for everything, and they often aren't skilled in analysing issues or dealing with attacks.

If anything bad or wrong occurs, you should definitely respond. If you're surprised at the time, then sit down and work out the issues, then go and see the relevant people later, including the attacker. Also file written complaints to their managers.

Also, it's a good general principle never to be involved in anything wrong or illegal, no matter how much your manager thinks no-one will notice. Any manager that works like that will never defend you if it comes out.

Also, programmers really need to learn to say No a lot more.

Been there
Friday, February 21, 2003

Okay, I fit the "R" description almost to a tee.

Why doesn't "R" argue back.  "R" does, you just don't remember it because for each time R objects.  Alpha Male boss, who R would enjoy throwing out a window, restates some banal attacking comment 6 times for each point raised by "R".

Let's see.  R only want's to achieve a goal.  While boss only wants to posture correctly - a dominant posture, telling everyone that they need to be superman.

Instead of R being motivated, R "checks out" on a personal level because R doesn't think work should be getting personal.  To R, it's needless harassment instead of cooperation or giving R the power to get things done.

R is in a corner because the co. won't spend money on something and blames R that R needs to buy anything.  R is not getting the capital expenditures, or permission to do a job, that R needs to do. 

Brian R.
Monday, February 24, 2003

Here's how I would do things different after the one really bad incident I suffered:

If you ever have a serious problem with bullying, that is, you have a manager or supervisor clearly cross serious legal lines---in my case it was a member of senior management viciously slandering me---make an appointment with him (or her) and their boss (if the perp has one) and BRING A LAWYER to put the fear of God (or at least the fear of the legal system) into them.

anonymous
Monday, February 24, 2003

Brian R. wrote, "Instead of R being motivated, R "checks out" on a personal level because R doesn't think work should be getting personal."

And that is where R makes his mistake, in my opinion.  R forgets that business *is* personal.

Brent P. Newhall
Monday, February 24, 2003

I suppose you are right Brent. 

Brian R.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The flip side is that the nature of tech work can be impersonal, and doesn't bow down neatly in a row to each and every business whim.

Brian R.
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

One sense I got in the responses to this post is that everyone here either knows a programmer or other technical person who's been hounded out of a job or has been demolished personally in the line of work, or has had it happen to them.


What I have found consistently with the people that I've known that have had such a long term career problem is that they never seem to learn how to deal strategically with their bosses, and they've also appeared quite unwilling to grow as individuals. In the 10+ years I've known "R" I have commented to him on the path he's taken at times, and he always seems to grasp that he might have acted differently in retrospect, but he has no willingness to accept responsibility for climbing out of this hole in real time. I feel, think, and act quite differently than I did when I met this individual. I draw different conclusions today than I did 10 years ago. "R", on the other hand, thinks and talks pretty much the same as he did when I first ran into him in the late 80s.


One reason I went independent in the early 90's was that one employer after another messed with my mind and my self esteem so much, as a deliberate policy, that I decided that I'd rather take my chances on the open market then be browbeaten, hassled and mentally "raped" again and again. I had observed enough consistency in the policies of employers vs. IT people to know that it was the business environment at fault and that I had to either adapt my work life and expectations, or get out of the industry altogether.

I came to terms  with this equation. "R" chose not to.
I think the conclusion I've drawn over the years is that as a 'profession' we're a bunch of pushovers with no sense of obligation to our individual selves. Every "R" that allows their lack of rational self interest to cause someone to bully them into submission is a bit less bargaining power for the rest of us. Every "R" caving in teaches the bastard employer from hell of the moment that it's alright, fun and exciting to demean, badger and bully the technical guy.

I posted this thread initially to see if I was missing something important. It turns out that I wasn't.

Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but I've been there once, too. In IT, you're either a warrior or you're a P.O.W. - no exceptions, it seems.

Bored Bystander
Tuesday, February 25, 2003

You have me in rapt attention, Bored Bystander.  I lost my job the day before last, and you are spelling everything out as if you were standing there.

I even contemplated lowering my asking price from $10 to $8.50.  Mind you, it is a long commute, I have a CIS degree.  I can easily do the work, yada, yada.

But I decided against letting myself be browbeaten.  Employer is just too cheap IMO. 

And the consultant route makes more sense, if one can find steady work or charge enough to cover the lulls between contracts.  A big if, I would imagine.

Brian R.
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Brian,

>> I even contemplated lowering my asking price from $10 to $8.50.  Mind you, it is a long commute, I have a CIS degree.  I can easily do the work, yada, yada.


This is an *incredibly* tough technology hiring market. I've been working for 23 years and it's worse than in 1980 or 1990.

Having said that, can it be that you're sending the wrong message by going that low?  You're in Home Depot, Lowes', and Kroger's territory at $8.50. I know what you're doing, you're making concessions in order to increase the probability of being hired. The big problem with this approach is that desirability of a hire is usually shaped like a bell curve, where the X axis is asking salary or rate. Too low (interpreted as not believable that you can do anything at all) is as fatal as too high (too expensive.) Toward the middle is the best approach, really.

It's purely psychological. The dumbasses that do the hiring, particularly the class bully type A morons that gain management jobs through networking and no skills, observe your concession and do NOT think "really sharp guy with back against wall giving us a deal". They say instead one of two things: "weak performer and can't find a job" and overlook you, or, "heyyy! I can REALLY dick this guy around and it'll be fun and prove points with everyone else!!" and hire you.

I think you said in this thread that business becomes too personal or something similar. The problem is, it's not only indeed personal, but it becomes a really convenient excuse for some people to act like complete assholes toward their fellow man.

What you should really do is determine what people with similar skills to yours are working for, and peg your salary demand to the midpoint of this range.


Lastly - the mentality in IT hiring tends to be that all the good people are arrogant jerks. If you are too conciliatory, that also won't be believed.


Chin up.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, February 26, 2003

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