When Developers Are Rock Stars, You’re Just The Roadies

Joe Strazzere reviews a job listing for a QA position at Fog Creek Software and finds its job expectations a little odd:

Joel seems to believe that one part of a tester’s role is to boost the morale of developers. He says “Believe it or not, one of the most valuable features of a tester is providing positive reinforcement.” I have to say that I’ve never heard that expressed before, and I can’t say that I agree. While I do want my testers to be professional, and enthusiastic about the company and their job, I really don’t want my testers concerned with programmer morale. What if programmer morale starts to dip? Should we blame the testers?

Anyone who has read Joel on Software for any length of time knows that Mr. Spolsky and Fog Creek Software are very developer-centric. Spolsky does not hide that he thinks the best and the brightest developers work for him, the rock stars, the Olympians. You need to watch out for those guys. Not Spolsky and Fog Creek Software, et al, specifically. But the Rock Star Developers and environments that cater to them.

Rock Star Developers think that software only exists as a proving ground to showcase their genius! It’s not about solving users’ problems or streamlining operations that take place in the physical world. It’s fourth dimensional chess, man, except the fourth dimension isn’t time, you silly mortal; Rock Stars are not beholden to time and to deadlines. Only to the elegance of their solutions. That’s the fourth dimension. Elegance as defined by Rock Star Developers.

You’ll notice that, at Fog Creek Software, the software tester is only there to improve morale and not to provide massages. That’s because Rock Star Developers know that the other people in software companies lack any sort of valuable skills; if software testers could provide good massages, they would not waste their time as software testers; they would be masseurs or masseuses.

I’ve worked at some Rock Star Developer workplaces in the past. It’s not for everyone; if you’re going to go into that sort of environment, you really have to get your elbows up and throw them from time to time if you’re going to actually make the software better. Or, alternately, you could just not care.

So how can you determine if a company is a Developerpalooza before you give your two weeks’ notice at your current environment? Here are a couple signs to look for:

  • It’s a small to medium sized company. A large company gets corporate enough that its bureaucratic professionals will stabilize things into being interchangeable with any other big company in any other industry.
  • The leader of the company is a developer.
  • Or, the leadership of the company is located elsewhere from the software development campus, and a developer runs the campus.
  • The leader of the company talks/blogs about the developers as though they were more important than the other people in the company.

I’m not saying you should never work in those circumstances; you can get a lot of fiscal reward out of working for a small or medium sized company if they offer stock options or stock purchase plans. However, you’re less likely to get respect as a tester out of the gate. Get in there, throw some elbows, and maybe you’ll get some respect to go along with your salary.

(Full disclosure: I once responded to Joel Spolsky when he was looking for someone to write a new edition of his FogBugz book. I didn’t get the gig, so if you’d like, you can think I’m retaliating here instead of just spreading my usual misodevny.)

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