4 min read

Eeyores in tech

Does tech turn cool people into grumpy d-bags?
Eeyores in tech
Is tech a magnet for grumpy d-bags? Or does tech turn cool people into grumpy d-bags?

Show Notes

Hey folks, welcome to The Imposters Club podcast for misfits in tech. I'm your host, Teddy Kim. And here's something I've been pondering of late. Why are there so many Eeyores in tech? You remember Eeyore the donkey from the Winnie the Pooh books who always slumps around being negative and harshing everyone else's buzz. Eeyore is the donkey who says things like days, weeks months, who knows. I swear I just heard that in an estimation meeting. Yeah, if donkeys could join mensa, Eeyores would be first in line, because Eeyore likes to remind others of his intellectual superiority, especially compared to the other residents of 100-acre woods, who haven't got brains any of them...only grey fluff blown into their heads by mistake.

Now, I know what you're thinking, there are Eeyores in every industry. Why single out tech? Well, I will grudgingly concede that tech hasn't cornered the market on Eeyores...but we've got most of them, I'll die on that hill. May it please the court, Exhibt A: techie Twitter. Oh, my God, follow a hashtag like dark agile or no estimates and you'll see what I mean. What are these grumpy dweebs complaining about? Bad agile implementations are the definition of a first-world problem. Get over it. Exhibit B: Stack Overflow. Yeah, let's start a website where noobs with innocent questions can get ambushed by sarcastic status-signaling uber dorks with an axe to grind. Hey shithead! Don't you get it? Sarcasm demeans you. It doesn't demean us.

The apotheosis of the techie or it can be found at a site called DevRage. That's the place where Eeyores go to be with other Eeyores for a big pity party. Because people who make piles of money need a safe space to rant about their cushy jobs and privileged lives.

So here's the question. Is there something about tech that attracts Eeyores like house flies to poop or is it working in tech that actually turns people into Eeyores?Nature or nurture...that is the question. And it's complicated. In the olden days, software used to be a profession where you could hunker down in a cube and work in complete isolation for hours or days. That may not be appealing to you but it's certainly appealing to some. I know many, many engineers of a certain vintage, who freely admit that they entered tech so they wouldn't have to talk to people. So that's the argument for nature over nurture in brief.

The reason there are so many Eeyores in tech is the same reason there are so many extroverts in sales, the work appeals to a certain personality type. But nowadays, tech has a different image. In the mainstream media, techies may be quirky, like Abby from NCIS but we're generally portrayed as upbeat, socially competent people who work well with others. That's a welcome change.

In the popular imagination, tech is no longer the province of isolated weirdos with pudding in their beards. We're all about collaborative knowledge work now with an emphasis on collaborating. I personally don't know any early-career devs, who would list self-isolation as a motivation for entering tech. And my anecdotal observation is that younger devs are a lot less socially awkward than the older generations. And yet, there seem to be just as many, if not more Eeyores than ever. If anything, I've seen even more among the younger generations. So what gives? Maybe it's not nature over nurture. Maybe there's something about tech that turns normal people into Eeyores. It's plausible. Tech is full of disappointments, failed projects, death marches, mass layoffs, angry customers, crappy code, technical debt, fizzbuzz interviews, bad management, worthless ceremonies. The list goes on and on.

And maybe techie Eeyores isn't just a gloomy pessimist. Maybe he's making a rational adjustment to reality. It's complicated. And ultimately, it's the wrong question. Why is tech filled with Eeyores isn't important? What are we going to do about it? That's the real question. I have some perspective on this. Since I was an Eeyore once. Yes, I confess, I'm not proud of it. I was that guy. But I got past it. Here's how.

One of the formative moments in my professional life was at a software startup called Health Nexis. This was about 15 years ago. We were working 16 hour days, nights, and weekends, grinding away under crazy deadlines, the pressure was enormous. There was a lot to grumble about, and we grumbled loud and long to anyone who would listen. One day I was grumbling in a meeting being a total Eeyore as usual. The CEO of the company said six words that changed my life forever. She looked me dead in the eye and said, you are living the life you chose. She was right. Nobody made me work at a startup. I knew what I was getting into when I signed up. And nobody made me stay when things got hard. I could have just found another job more to my liking. For that matter, nobody made me work in tech. It was my decision to become a programmer. I was living the life I chose.

So here's my advice to all you Eeyores out there. If you don't like the way things are, make it better. If you don't like how you are, do better. If you're disappointed in your team members, and your management, help them to do better. But please get out of here with that weak ass, victim energy... you're not a victim homie, you're living the life you chose.

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