Rule #15 – There are four species of Computer Programmers

If you are a programmer, this may not directly apply to how your business will unfold since you likely have some of the skills needed to get the coding on track and finished. However, there may be a lesson here, so I’d suggest reading anyway.

When building a software application, whether it will be shipped on CD or hosted on a website, someone at some juncture is going to need to know a lot about software. If you’re like me, that person likely won’t be you. This post is intended to help you understand the four species of “Computer Programmer” because you will likely encounter all four as you try to build your application and it is imperative that you get the right one(s) on your team. Working with the right people is tantamount to your potential success.

The Four Species of Computer Programmer

1. “Basicus Competus” – Disclosure: I fall in to this category. Basicus Competus is pretty good with “WYISWYG” editors like SiteKreator and Yahoo! SiteBuilder. He/She can post to a blog and know enough HTML to make their eBay listings pop without using their editor. They can forward email accounts, download printer drivers, and set up a home-based wireless network. They can probably also change the stylesheet on your MySpace page and upload your photos to Shutterfly. A whole lot of people think that Basicus Competus can work wonders on a computer just because they know how to pick a website template or know what CSS stands for.

Essentially, Basicus Competus is able to do the most remedial tasks while leaving the expert stuff to someone else. If you need a WordPress blog set up or an AdWords campaign managed, Basicus Competus is likely going to be your best bang for the buck. If you’re trying to launch an internet based file sharing program or you’re trying to build a search-engine from scratch, it’s safe to say that even though the species is fairly harmless, Basicus Competus has no place on your team.

2. “Mediocrus Masterus– This species is perhaps the most common in the independent programmer community. Mediocrus Masterus talks big and delivers, well, not quite as big. Mediocrus Masterus is prone to embellishing the truth, or in the worst cases, lying outright. The truth is that very few folks out there are Grade A UI designers, database admins, graphic artists, and masters of C++, .NET, Ruby, Java, Flash, etc. all rolled in to one. If you meet someone who claims they can do all of this and more, claims they can save you money on your budget and deliver a better product then you ever dreamed of faster then you dreamed it could be done, walk the other way immediately. Mediocrus Masterus is is either lying to themselves or lying to you. He/she is hoping you don’t know your keyboard from your mouse and you’ll be easily impressed with the fact that they have drop-shadows on their website buttons and that they can integrate an OSCommerce shopping cart in to a website. Repeat: anyone who tells you that every aspect of your application is in the best hands if its in THEIR hands and their hands alone is trouble. They will cause delays, cost overruns, and the type of headache that will make you sorry you ever got yourself in to this stinking mess. Mediocrus Masterus builds B level products. In a competitive marketplace, A level products succeed. B level products go out of business.

3. “Maximus Talentus” – These people aren’t really in the talent pool for your startup, but you need to know about them nonetheless. Maximus Talentus either (1) works for Google or (2) is working on a startup of their very own which will be purchased shortly by Google. Maximus Talentus is usually unassuming and not much of a braggart. They can’t join you for a beer after work because they are coding away on their own Big Idea and have the desire and drive to actually get it done. This species is downright nasty at a keyboard. Maximus Talentus can absolutely, positively deliver top-notch, high quality results on most anything you need having to do with a computer. User interface? No problem. Massive database integrated in to a larger system? Sure thing. Advanced algorithm connecting Kevin Bacon to everyone who’s ever had a flu shot? Done…yawn…what’s next?

Maximus Talentus is worth every penny. In the event you can find one that isn’t being paid handsomely by a big-time tech company and isn’t working on their own project or running their own business, you have won yourself the Nerd Lottery. If you are already working with a real Maximus Talentus, you should put “keeping this person here, happy, and working hard” at the top of your priority list. If you are a Maximus Talentus, congratulations; I’m impressed (please leave a comment so we know you were here).

4. Specificus Rex – This is the species of talent you should be seeking. Just as available are boutique firms that are essentially the natural habitat of Specificus Rex. Specificus Rex is able to do one things (sometimes two, but rarely more than that) REALLY, REALLY well. Specificus Rex may look like a Basicus Competus working with Photoshop, but he/she can build a 10 million row database that will offer queried results in under a second. Or maybe he doesn’t know the first thing about SQL or networking but can make a user interface that will quickly win the devotion of site visitors.

Specificus Rex is an asset to your organization and while you may be tempted to go with someone who is more “well rounded”, you’re best off working with a group of people who are at the top of the food chain regarding their specific talent or skill. You’d be surprised how easily those folks will work together when they are only asked to manage the part of the project in which they are experts.

A s an aside, there are a number of application development firms springing up that have a well-built team made of Specificus Rex. If you walk in to an introductory meeting and hear the following…

“Hi, I’m Fred. I’m the head of the company and will serve as project manager. This is Lisa, our graphic designer. That’s Bill, who builds the user interface. That’s Becky, who does most of the coding. And that’s Earl, who will be managing the database and making sure everything fits together. Paul over there will handle quality assurance and debugging.”

…then you have hit the jackpot.

Hopefully you know a little more about what to look for when sourcing talent. Though this article was written a little tongue-in-cheek, I think you’ll find that more often then not, programmers you run across will fall in to one of these categories pretty naturally. The final piece of advice I’d offer with regard to sourcing programming talent is that it is important to remember that “well-paid experts” are “well-paid” and “experts” for a reason. In most cases, they are very good at what they do and while the cost may seem excessive on the front end, you’ll be happier spending your money correctly the first time instead of cutting corners with a lesser species and paying for it later.

Happy Hunting.

2 Responses

  1. This is so ridiculously true it’s not even funny. This should be required reading for any project manager.

  2. computer tips

    Cool, very good article, i like it..

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