Programmer Personality Traits Explained by an Expert
Stereotypes abound about programmers. People who are drawn to tech are introverted, socially awkward, lazy, or rude—or so laypeople believe. But are they really?
Certainly, people who have these traits exist in software development. That’s why the stereotypes exist. But there are plenty of people who don’t fit within this mold.
To understand why these stereotypes exist and why—especially when it comes to the notion that programmers are lazy—they’re often wrong, we sat down with someone with years of experience in the software world: Erik Dietrich. Erik has worked as a developer, architect, manager, CIO, and, eventually, independent management and strategy consultant. This breadth of experience allows him to speak to all industry personas.
Let’s hear his take on programmer personality traits and how they fit within these common stereotypes.
Is there a personality or a set of traits that’s best suited to being a programmer?
Erik: I honestly don’t think so. And that’s probably a slightly contrarian take. I think a lot of people would say the best-suited person to be a programmer is somebody who is left-brain mathematical. There’s a lot of stereotyping around programmers being introverted, socially awkward, etc. So you’d get a lot of canned response there. It has been my experience that isn’t true, that you will find plenty of extroverted programmers. You’ll find plenty of programmers that are highly creative outside of a mathematical context. Maybe they’re good artists, maybe they play in a band, all kinds of things. So I found that it really runs the gamut.
I do think that because of the nature of the role, it’s a lot of deep work, deep thought that’s often done in an isolated fashion. Maybe more than the average position, it does tend to attract people that kind of like to work quietly or alone like that. You might have a little more of that than the average role. But I think to generalize from there isn’t fair. So I think that there’s the popular perception, but I guess to answer the question, no, I don’t really think there’s a common set of traits associated.
There are 20 million programmers in the world. So across a scope of 20 million people, you’re gonna get a lot of different people. You know, it’s kind of like saying, is there a common trait that all people between the ages of 48 and 50 share? No, probably not. There’s a lot of those people.
Are programmers lazy? And why are programmers so rude?
Make Me a Programmer asked: So based on that—that there is no one set of traits attributable to programmers—what are your thoughts on the stereotype of programmers being considered lazy or rude? Is this another misconception?
Erik: An aggregate “are programmers lazy?” No. But I’ll do an interesting aside here in a minute.
It has been my experience that there’s a fair amount of academic rigor that goes into a computer science degree. And if you don’t go the computer science degree route and you’re self-taught, self-taught people typically aren’t lazy. Programming is sort of conceptually difficult, a lot of people might find it. So the barriers to entry can be kind of high, and usually lazy people don’t clear high barriers to entry.
Now, the digression that I’ll offer when it comes to laziness is there is this kind of aphorism, this idea that you should be “lazy.” Because the idea is that if you’re lazy as a programmer, you won’t keep doing repetitive tasks. Instead, you’ll say, “Oh, I should write a program that does this for me.” So you’ll hear programmers banter that back and forth, like, “Oh, it’s good to be lazy as a programmer because it means you’re not going to do a lot of repetitive ‘work harder, not smarter’ grunt work.” But that’s kind of an in-group joke. So I would say no, that programmers aren’t lazy.
Are they rude? Again, going back to the demographics, like 20 million people, no, they aren’t all rude. I think where programmers get that reputation, perhaps, is that there’s a lot of gatekeeping and a lot of judgment in many online programmer forums. It’s interesting.
There’s a segment of the programmer population that’s super helpful, loves sharing knowledge, loves talking at conferences, loves mentoring people and bringing people in.
And then there’s this other set that seems hell bent on gatekeeping and talking about who is a real programmer and who isn’t. If your first exposure to the programming community is that latter segment, I can totally get where you would have that impression. And it’s real and it exists. And if you go onto places like Hacker News or Reddit, you’ll see it all over the place.
But if you go below that, know there’s a lot of deeply helpful people in the programming community. It’s just that you might unfortunately be exposed to the rude people earlier than the rest. So, hopefully, that nuance comes through clearly.