As a long-time manager of IT teams (and many years spent as a software engineer), I have heard many misconceptions about us that cause all sorts of problems in organizations. Here are my top 5 myths, along with suggestions for how to combat these misconceptions and become an IT Partner Rockstar.
1. We hate the company where we work
Ok, I'll admit it. We do ourselves a disservice on this one. We tend to grouse and complain about all the little things that annoy us. Inept and out-of-touch upper management, policies that feel like they're right out of Office Space, uncomfortable furniture and desks. There seems to be no end to what irks us.
But beneath this crusty exterior I find some of the most dedicated, hard-working individuals in a company. I have more stories than I can count of engineers canceling dates, vacations, even hospital stays to tackle an emergency. Pride of ownership plays a big part, but pride in something bigger, pride in a company they believe in, is often at the root of this.
What you can do: understand that engineers' bad attitudes are often a defense mechanism, and seek the real heart beneath the crustiness.
2. We don't care
A corollary to the above, our crusty attitude extends to all aspects of our life, often giving people the impression that we're not very passionate and don't care about much (outside of being first in line for the new Star Wars movie). You may hear phrases like "I don't care", "whatever, it doesn't matter", or "it's not my problem".
The attitude is really a defense mechanism to avoid getting hurt or burned. Many of us grew up being tormented and teased (despite what people think, being a "nerd" is still not cool), and we adapted by keeping our emotions in check. Deep down though, we care, often a lot.
What you can do: as above, don't assume ill intent and move past the surface attitude to the deeper emotion. Give engineers meaningful and challenging projects to work on, encourage them along the way, and celebrate their successes.
3. Developers aren’t creative
This one really bugs me, perhaps because I like to think I'm a closet creative. In Western culture, we tend to associate the word "creative" with art: painting, books, movies, music, marketing, etc. But scientists and engineers can be just as creative. They just use a different medium of expression. They mix new design patterns, applications, APIs, and from a palette of foundational technologies, and the results are beautiful (in their own way).
What you can do: treat engineers like other creatives. Give them freedom within "creative constraints" to make a solution their own, give them space and time to work, be wary of strong passionate personalities, and show appreciation for what they produce.
4. Developers don’t make good leaders
Here's another one where I may be a bit biased. While developers may not have some of the fundamental people skills associated with good leaders, they are dedicated, passionate problem solvers and growth-minded people. Over time, with sound training, they can grow into some of the best leaders I've seen.
What you can do: encourage engineers to develop soft skills, identify positive role models they can emulate, and share that the best leaders are still creating, just in a more abstract way than a developer.
5. Developers aren’t good team players
Tensions between developers can run high, and they tend to look down their noses at non-technical people. But in the right context, with the right incentives and structure, they can blossom as solid team contributors.
The key here is to focus on attitude and shared responsibility, making clear who is accountable for what by establishing clear roles and responsibilities. Often, engineers' complaints about teams are warranted, and can help guide you to a better structure and outcome.
What you can do: pair engineers with non-technical people they like personally to help wear down stereotypes. Set clear project roles and give them a higher cause to work for on the project. Context matters.
And finally, remember this: engineers are people too. Common sense and decency go a long way in combating these myths.
Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams by Mickey W. Mantle and Ron Lichty
Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down by John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead
Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio