Why the Highest Paid Developers “Fight” Their Coworkers

You’re going to be asked to do it.

At some point, if it hasn’t happened already, your coworkers or your boss will ask you to do something foolish. Something you know will make things worse for you, your coworkers, maybe even the business itself.

If you’re like most developers, you do it anyway.

That’s what most will do, right? It’s better to keep your head down, avoid making waves and simply do what you’re told. Job security isn’t a thing anymore, but that’s one of the best things you can do to keep your job, for a while at least.

This Common Mistake Creates a Career Handicap

This is the problem.

Most employees want to keep their jobs and their clients. They don’t have the leverage or control they want over their own careers. They need their job. In fact, most people are terrified of losing their jobs.

This has a cascading effect.

Research shows the fear of losing your job creates job dissatisfaction and a lack of commitment at work. This, in turn, affects job performance, negatively increasing the likelihood that you will lose your job. It’s a vicious cycle that seems to repeat itself over and over.

But there’s something worse than the fear of a job loss.

It’s the misplaced confidence or expectation of job security, the kind of confidence that crushes you when you’re actually let go. Both of these issues are a problem, and both of these issues are continually ignored.

Why is it a problem?

Because 78 percent of employees live paycheque-to-paycheque. This includes workers making $100,000+ per year. This is the real reason why most employees have no leverage, no ability to say no. This is the reason most developers won’t fight with their coworkers.

Why Developers Need to Fight Their Coworkers

What do I mean by “fight?”

I’m talking about the ability to explicitly confront anyone, regardless of status, about their poor behavior. At some point, you’ll be asked to do something you know is wrong. It isn’t always a moral issue, sometimes it’s a logistics or planning issue. Other times it a performance issue. Here are a few examples:

  • You’re asked to do something questionable
  • You’re instructed to subtly alter or manipulate your end-users
  • Your boss or a coworker requests work that will break something somewhere else
  • Your boss or coworker requests work that comes with negative consequences in the future
  • You’re told to ignore, reject or avoid a problem that needs immediate attention
  • You’re asked to cover up a problem or minimize a mistake as a personal favor to someone else
  • You’re implicitly expected to side with a boss’ or coworker’s bad idea
  • You’ll be expected to push out shoddy or low quality work to meet a pressing deadline
  • You’ll be asked to promise something everyone knows you can’t (or shouldn’t) deliver
  • You’ll be pushed into situations where you’re expected to choose between two very bad outcomes

Okay then, how do I expect developers to “fight?”

Most of the time your conscience tells you. You know when you’re supposed to speak up in some capacity, whether it’s for yourself or for others. You also know how you feel when you don’t.

Fighting could be as simple as:

  1. Setting a boundary: Please don’t touch stuff on my desk without asking.
  2. Saying No: No, it’s my anniversary, I can’t come in on Saturday.
  3. Communicating what you want: I’ve added $400k in revenue to the company this quarter. That’s why I’m looking for a 20% raise.
  4. Conveying consequences: If we add this feature it will delay our ship date by 12 weeks. Did you want me to continue?
  5. Rejecting invalidation: That’s fine that you don’t have a problem with this. I do so I won’t be doing it.
  6. Protecting your interests: When someone attempts to steal credit for your work you say It sounds like you’re adding to my original idea and I support that.

There are lots of little ways to do what’s right. Most of the time, your conscience will tell you. All you have to do is act on it. These are the situations and circumstances where most developers need to fight but don’t. Because they need that paycheque. If they miss a month or two their life falls apart.

You Can’t Fight Well Without a F!@k Off Fund

When Paulette Perhach wrote the Story of a F!@k Off Fund she struck a nerve. She showed how people accept horrible behavior from those around them, simply because they need their job.

“A few weeks later, your boss calls a one-on-one in his office, walks up behind you, and stands too close. His breath fogs your neck. His hand crawls up your new dress. You squirm away. He says, “Sorry, I thought…”

You know what to do. You’re just shocked to find you’re not doing it. You are not telling him to f!@k off. You are not storming out. All you’re doing is math. You have $159 in the bank and your car payment and your maxed out credit cards and you’ll die before you ask your dad for a loan again and it all equals one thought: I need this job.”

This exemplified the daily struggles she went through because she didn’t have the security she needed. She tolerated horrible behavior from the people in her life.

It’s not as bad as that.

The good news is this isn’t a popularity contest so it doesn’t have to be as bad. But it’s still a problem, whether it’s dealt with or not.

  • Your boss refuses to acknowledge the importance of version control and refuses to use Git. Simply expects you to rely on “backups.”
  • One of the designers you work with consistently pitches vanity features that triple your team’s work. No one says anything about it. Your boss consistently blows his stack when your team fails to ship on time.
  • Your account manager is an enabler. Clients feel scope creep is a virtue so they request more work with no change in the timeline. You’re expected to deliver these results.
  • One of the developers on your team does terrible work. You know his work is shoddy so you’re constantly cleaning up after him. He gets all the credit for your pristine edits, though.
  • You write pristine code that performs beautifully. Your coworkers, who didn’t understand what you did, decide to change a “few things,” they break everything. Everyone is angry. The developer who made the changes to your code points at you.
  • You’re forced to work with a prima donna developer who feels his work is (much) better than yours. He doesn’t mind saying so on a daily basis. Your boss says you have to work with him, so you take his abuse and try to finish quickly.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

There are hundreds of little headaches like these, many of them occurring on a daily basis. The circumstances are different, but the pattern is the same. Something goes wrong. You see it but decide to keep your mouth shut. You want to keep your job.

Speaking up could bring unwanted blowback.

Developers Who Fight Are Paid the Most

Quincy Larson mentioned in a freeCodeCamp post that getting a raise comes down to just one thing.

Leverage.

In this context, leverage is the willingness to walk away. That’s right, the same thing Paulette Perhach advocates with her F!@k Off Fund. At any given time you’ll need to be able to walk away from your position or company. And the best part about all of this?

There are lots of ways to create leverage.

  1. You don’t need a paycheque due to (savings, investments, trust fund, etc.)
  2. You’re a brilliant and well-known developer who does great work and is also a pleasure to work with
  3. You have connections (or the ability to create connections) that are beneficial to your company
  4. Your breadth of knowledge is massive. You’re the maven everyone goes to for answers at your work
  5. You’re a unicorn (e.g. developer + marketer + writer combo), a true full stack developer, or something rare
  6. You know/work with a programming language that’s obscure (i.e. RPG) these days but in demand at larger companies
  7. You have a unique ability that enables you to do what other developers can’t/won’t do

Here’s the problem with all of this.

Many developers aren’t interested in creating leverage in their careers. In fact, the majority of developers are focused on one thing. Getting a job. Things are great at first. When they land their job they’re happy. But then the inevitable happens.

Your coworkers misbehave.

They begin treating you in a way that’s less than you deserve. They begin to make mistakes. Then, when they see there are no consequences for their poor behavior, they continue to misbehave.

Why?

Because they believe you won’t do anything about it. Are you really going to call them out on their bad behavior?

Nope.

Because you need this job. That’s also the reason why you’ll be timid when it comes time to ask for a raise. At least, they think so.

Leverage changes all of that.

With leverage, you’re able to create the kind of work environment you want. Why? Leverage communicates something about you wherever you go.

You need me more than I need you.

It’s the unpleasant reality behind career growth in western culture today. Leverage seems to be the one major counterpoint that prevents or minimizes employer abuse.

What abuse?

  1. The Dept. of Justice pursuing companies like Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar for intentionally and illegally making it difficult for employees to change jobs
  2. Companies offering signing bonuses that you’re forced to pay back if you leave within a certain period of time (voluntarily or not)
  3. Stock options that take years to fully vest or are too expensive to exercise. You either stick it out or you walk away with nothing
  4. The secret agreement many large companies have not to poach each other’s employees

Not really fair now, is it?

This is exactly why you need leverage in your career. With the right kind of leverage, you have the tools and resources you need to create the reality and future you want. Want even more success with leverage? Layer your leverage as much as possible.

If you’re…

  • A rockstar developer who is also a contributing member of the PHP and Zend communities
  • A financially responsible person with 6 months to 2 years salary tucked away
  • Receiving cash from smart investments you’ve made
  • Well connected to powerful and influential people in the development community (and beyond)

You have a massive amount of leverage.

Any one of these would be leverage enough to help you boost your salary dramatically, but all of these? There’s no reason why you should be forced to tolerate poor behavior from anyone else.

What if you don’t have any money?

You don’t need money to create leverage. It’s helpful if you can accumulate it, but it’s not the only kind of leverage that exists.

More importantly, it’s all dependent on you.

If you want to build a powerful network of influencers and thought leaders, get out there and start meeting new people. Want to become known as the company maven? Start helping others and sharing your knowledge wherever and whenever you get the chance.

See what I mean?

Leverage gives you the ability, confidence and power you need to call out bad behavior when you see it. You no longer need to tolerate abuse or mistreatment from other people. Leverage gives you (implicit and explicit) power. Leverage, when combined with high IQ strategies, enables you to increase your salary on demand.

Did You Catch the Secret to Leverage?

No?

It’s giving.

What kind of giver are you anyway? Adam Grant Ph.D., Wharton professor and author of the book Give and Take says there are three types of givers.

  1. Givers give with no strings attached and no expectation of return. Selfless givers give indiscriminately and are abused while Otherish givers are smart about when and how they give. When Otherish givers meet a taker they become a matcher.
  2. Matchers preserve balance. If you give, they give. If you take, they take. They punish takers for their selfish behavior and they do their very best to reward givers for their generosity. They do their very best to follow the law of reciprocity.
  3. Takers are focused on themselves. They take without giving until there’s nothing left to receive. They complain when things aren’t to their liking and they look for opportunities to take without reciprocation.

What’s your giving profile? You can find out here.

Genuine giving produces leverage in the long term. Use your ability, time and resources to serve those around you without expectation or keeping score.

Just give.

When you run into a taker, switch to matching to avoid the abuse. Do your best to give more than you receive. Volunteer your time with influential groups and their trust and prestige becomes yours. Share your time and resources with managers and other teams and you build a group of powerful allies.

Wait a minute.

What if you don’t get anything out of giving? What if people take advantage of you with no intention of returning the favor? Use Peter Thiel’s formula.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and founder of Palantir, shared his value formula.

Create X dollars of value for others (your company, boss, coworkers, etc.)
Capture Y percent of X.

This is how you reap the rewards from giving while doing it in a way that’s honorable, respectful and valuable.

Are you saying I should fight about everything?

Not at all.

I’m suggesting that you focus your attention on the details you know are wrong. The issues your conscience pings you about. That happens a lot though. If you followed your conscience whenever something went wrong, you’d be fighting constantly.

The Goldfinger rule is an easy way to deal with that.

“Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.”

When someone makes a mistake and it isn’t serious or egregious, I let it go. Maybe they’re having a bad day. Maybe it was an accident. When it happens again I take note. A third time and I address the problem using all three instances as evidence of the pattern.

It’s a structured way to preserve goodwill.

But it’s also an important way to preserve your psychological health and well-being.

‘I Need This Job’ Is the Hidden Career Handicap

A mindset most developers try to ignore.

It’s a mindset that perpetuates chronic abuse and consistently poor behavior. Average developers live in a state of fear. Better to keep your head down, avoid making waves and simply do what you’re told. Job security isn’t a thing anymore, but that’s one of the best things you can do to keep your job, for a while at least.

It’s a career handicap that throttles your growth.

Smart developers, the highest paid developers, they’ve learned to fight with their coworkers and their boss. They’ve used leverage to convey their willingness to walk away.

You can too.

You can ask for (and receive) what you want. You can improve your career prospects dramatically. Most importantly, you can receive the pay that you’re worth.

But it all starts with leverage.

Create the leverage you need, develop the courage to follow your conscience and you’ll avoid the career handicap that ambushes other developers.

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Replies

  1. This article is quite long. I admit I gave up trying to read it all. The article could probably could say more if it was half as long.

    It depends on what you define fight to be. Fighting requires more than one person. I think that using the word fight dooms the person to failure. It is better to say things like problem resolution. Simply using a different term can have drastic affects.

    Since you say right I will use the word wrong. At least not in my experience. Perhaps things have changed since when I was employed or perhaps it is a cultural difference. I hear that people in India do what their employer says even if it is unreasonable. For me, we often did things that we considered the correct way. I learned that the best way to get a standard changed is to comply with it, whereas most developers might not.

    I do not know if you made this point, but if an employee is asked to do something they think is a mistake then they should at least get it in writing. Something such as an email clearly documenting what is to be done.

    Documentation can be very useful. If a developer must fix someone else’s mess then perhaps the documentation (specifications) could indicate that.

    Managers like meetings. Managers are much more likely to listen to the results of a study performed by multiple employees.

    But again, simply calling it a fight can make it a fight. Don’t do that. Think in terms of analyzing the problem and solving it.

  2. @SamuelCalifornia, thanks for your feedback.

    It sounds as if this article wasn’t meant for you. With some of your feedback, I can see where you’re coming from. Other comments I don’t understand.

    For example: “fighting requires more than one person?

    I’m curious, when you’re “fighting” temptation or the urge to do something wrong or say something unkind to someone else, who are you fighting?

    I called it a “fight” because that’s precisely what it is. If a manager decides, for example, that it’s more appropriate that you miss your wedding anniversary for a non-emergency when you requested (and received) that time off four months ago it seems like the word fight is more appropriate.

    In my mind I’m fighting for my boundaries, my relationship and myself.

    It’s of course, fine for us to agree to disagree. But I see no reason why I should accept your viewpoints and experience over my own.

    Then there’s reality.

    Are you really suggesting that employees get each and every “mistake” in writing? If so, I have some questions.

    • What (sane) manager will provide their employees with a written record of a poor or inappropriate request?
    • If your manager asks you to do something immoral (i.e. build a poison pill into your dev project, against the wishes of the client) do you really think your suggestion of “get it in writing” will work?
    • What about managers who are focused on staying in power rather than managing well? How will your “get it in writing” advice work for hapless employees?

    I’m not working with an idealized notion of how things should be. I’m taking things as they are.

    You’re welcome to disagree.

    Respectfully, the advice you’ve shared is dangerous. The unwillingness to call a situation what it is strikes me as naive. I suspect there’s a bit of political correctness at play here but I can’t be sure.

    In one respect you’re right. When someone is abusive, threatening, manipulative, incompetent or inappropriate it’s a problem. This problem often requires “fighting” (i.e. standing up for yourself), as the solution, as I’ve done here with you.

    The article isn’t focused on prescribing the problem it’s designed to deal with a solution that’s sometimes necessary - fighting to resolve the problem.

    I believe this will be more clear for those who choose to finish the article.

    Hope this helps.

  3. No it is not. I am more mature. My comments cannot help you if you are convinced they will not. I hope my comments can help others.

    A classic fighting technique is to exaggerate what someone said then criticize the exaggeration. Your article is about fighting your employer, not temptation.

    Psychologists are familiar with the concept of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. That specific article says:

    A self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a belief or expectation that an individual holds about a future event that manifests because the individual holds it

    Simply by believing you must fight makes a fight.

    I am not suggesting that employees get everything in writing. They should try to. They should however put in writing themselves what their understanding is. And if (in your first point) they decide it is a poor or inappropriate request and make a different decision then it seems you have done something good without a fight.

    As to your second point, you are again exaggerating and criticizing the exaggeration. Your article is not about immorality.

    As for managers who are focused on staying in power rather than managing well, if you have a written record of what has happened that contains facts but not opinions and emotions then it is just a matter of time when that can be used. You can slay the giant with facts instead of letting the giant continue to dominate.

    I sincerely hope there will come a day when you realize the value of what I am saying.

  4. @SamuelCalifornia have you considered your tone or approach? I suspect people would be more willing to give you a fair hearing if you approached with kindness, respect, graciousness and courtesy.

    Why take the time to insult and condescend to someone you’ve never met? Why attempt to tell me, someone you don’t know, what I was thinking when I wrote this article?

    I’m surprised you’re this interested in responding to an article that you couldn’t be bothered to read in its entirety.

    If you couldn’t be bothered to read/finish the article perhaps it’s likely that you’ve missed the salient points?

    Either way, we’ll have to agree to disagree. Good luck.

  5. @rpkamp in theory this works. In reality this breaks down. It can work for major/important items and it should be done (when/where appropriate). But consider the examples I shared in the article.

    When someone attempts to steal credit for your work

    How do you even get something like that in writing? How do you set good boundaries - gently and appropriately letting your co-workers know it’s not okay to steal credit for your hard work?

    What about this one?

    No, it’s my anniversary, I can’t come in on Saturday.

    Let’s say you requested (and received) approval from HR for that time off four months ago.

    He demands that you come in for a non-emergency. No one else. Just you.

    You then ask him to provide you with a request in writing. He gives it to you. Now what? He’s still demanding that you come in to work on your anniversary. What if he says No to your “get it in writing” request? He’s still demanding that you come in on your anniversary.

    Has it eliminated your problem in the present?

    In most cases the answer is No.

    Sure, you can use your documentation to defend/plead your case later. But what about your missed anniversary in the present? What about the effect their bad behavior has on your marriage right now?

    That’s the issue I’m driving at here.

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