Are software developers naturally weird?


I was recently read a blog post recently by Eric Spiegel, that made it to Slashdot where he asked the question: “Are software developers naturally weird?”. I think deep down everyone who works in IT is a bit weird, and i will repeat Eric’s remark: “Go on admit it”. Whether it is something tiny or their complete character, you can usually put your finger on something out of the ordinary. My REAL question is: Is everyone weird in some way once you get close to them?

My own experiences show that he may be onto something. I’ve had quite a few odd work colleagues and find myself also thinking oddly about certain mannerisms that i myself have started to portray. Is our inner weirdo what makes us so good at what we do? Is our day to day job potentially also bringing/creating these traits to us anew?

The thing about work colleagues is that you spend more time with them than you do with the people you love. Whether you like it or not they usually make up the most part of your life – even if you can’t wait to get away from them at the end of the day.

Young man in old mans body boss

One of the first roles i had as a software developer was for a boss in his early 50’s who seemed to have a hard dealing with the fact that he wasn’t as young as he once was.

He rode his bike to work and loved prancing around in his bike pants before and after riding just to let us know he was riding his bike. There is nothing worse than trying to debug code at the end of a long day with someone wearing bike pants with a padded crotch standing over your shoulder just a little bit too close (read: your shoulder being rubbed now and then by crotch)

This seemed to be a contradiction in the sense that while reminding us how young at heart he was in different ways multiple times daily he would also, on the flip side, love to tell us how he’d used punch cards to write code “back in the day” as well as reminding us how he had been one of the few Australians to get Netscape 1 when it came out.

But the worst part was when he wanted to prove his coding abilities even though he was in management. Whenever there was an issue or bug that was taking the team a while to sort out he would bounce into the room announcing

“Step aside and let the lion teach the cub some new tricks”

I’ll just say that he didn’t really help us very much… ever.

Smelly lunch guy

Another weird developer that i have worked with in the past was a recent immigrant from China who was 20 and very socially unaware. He was a great guy and thankfully didn’t take himself too seriously – his work was top notch too.

The problems started really on his first day. His girl friend made him lunch everyday and he BYO’d. I have worked with many Asian people over the years and am very used to the great foods they make, as well as jealousy looking on as they show today's gourmet meal, usually provided for them by their partners (lucky guys… hint hint - Rachelle? lol)

On his first day he brought in some giant king prawns, rice and chicken – and heated it in our works’ kitchenette microwave. Strangely the combination of this food and a microwave made the smell that wafted from it so strong that it made it almost impossible to stay in the board room where everyone who BYO’d ate lunch (a large room), and everyone (even the other Asian staff) soon quietly left. This continued for a couple of weeks before management let him know that it was inappropriate for him to continue as we used the room for client meetings. Every day after this he would grumble about how management had made him stop and how unfair it was – in fact any time food was brought up he had a grumble (late night pizza anyone?).

Still to this day i have no idea how his food always reeked so badly – never before or after have i smelt food that bad.

Uptight ninja

One of the hardest guys that i have had to work with was actually also one of the smartest guys I've ever had to privilege of being around. If your reading this you know who you are.

The guy was extremely uptight and would always jump to the negative side of everything, usually while quietly mumbling crazily to himself and fiddling with things. Whenever a client would ask for something that was out of the ordinary, it seemed to make him completely freak out. He would always find a way to offer the solution and it would usually push the guys around him into learning something new and cool, but the amount of stress he seemed to place on himself was almost like he was experiencing an autistic outburst. I feel bad to say it but it was quite funny to be around, while at the same time you wished you could calm him down.

My own issues

Well i may be going out on a limb here but a number of traits of my own have started to come to my attention.

Sometimes (Rachelle would like to think more than just sometimes) i start lines of conversation with people that are close to me and drift off before i finish. This happens a lot while coding or watching TV. A lot of the people who know me have gotten used to this trait and simply ignore it - sometimes i may continue the conversation many minutes later where i left off leaving people wondering what the hell I'm talking about as it was so long since I'd left the conversation.

Another thing that i find myself doing is dreaming of code. This happens a lot when I’m under pressure at work or am having problems solving something. The worst case of this happens when i am ill with a fever, can’t sleep or am having feverish sleep. This is the worst as code becomes a nightmare problem that can’t be solved, even if i know the answer i have repetitive issues where the code doesn’t work.

Your thoughts?

What odd work colleague experiences have you had? And is it just software people, IT people or everyone who at the end of the day once you get to know them are weird?