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volume 1, issue 32

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Behind the Curtain:
You Are Not Da Man






By Matt "Thraka" Gilbert

ell, friends, like most of the developers, I have been busting my ass for E3 deadlines, but I am doing my best to squeeze in a column this week. Deadlines are, after all, a big deal. Commitments are a big deal. Thanks for the comments by mail. As usual, I didnít get to it all. I am beginning to realize that no matter how much I keep telling myself "Iíll get around to responding", sometimes I just donít.

Last column, I promised that I would be getting more into topics of interest to people other than newbie, and so we shall. Warning: there is some cold hard truth in this installment, so if you want to hold on to your Pollyanna view of things, bail now. If, on the other hand, you want to have some idea of what kind of bastards you may find yourself dealing with on occasion, especially at the dreaded Ďreviewí time, read on.

Yeh, for you old timers, this is a flame job. Youíll like it.

You are Not Da Man

The biggest problem that people have in this business is ego. Either they have too much, or they donít have enough. Too much ego will annoy your teammates, and it will make you miss important things they have to share. Too little ego is bad, too. If you allow yourself to be awed by your teammates, there will come a time when you have the answer to a problem, and you fail to provide it because you think it might be wrong.

And, of course, no one ever really has the perfect mix. If you think you do, then youíre way into the Too Much category. Like I said, you are not Da Man, and the more you think you are, the more trouble it can cause. You have to work with a team.

But what exactly is a Ďteamí? I mean, itís easy to say ĎItís a bunch of guys who work together to make some stuff.'í But thatís not all it is, not if itís a good team. You must not merely work together, you must work together with respect, or your team will fall apart. If youíre really unlucky, it will fall apart before you finish what you are doing, and that is about the biggest disaster you encounter in this biz. And the number one cause of this is finger pointing, and the treachery that goes along with it.

Iíll let you in on a little secret: most people on teams have not a single fucking clue how to behave. All they really know is that they are really cool, and could not possibly have an equal share of responsibility in any problems that arise. I hope, with this article, to have an impact on that kind of guy, and maybe shock him into realizing s few things that he has missed about himself.

You know the type: they turn in their little reports at quarterly intervals, dutifully slagging their teammates, as they imagine they are supposed to be doing, just like Da Company tells them. They keep a little black book of every mistake their teammates have made, and report it like good little Naziís. They tell themselves that they are telling the truth, and thatís how itís supposed to work. They pretend as if what theyíre doing is a Good Thing, a Constructive Thing, instead of the savage, backstabbing act of cowardice that it is. And the bad news is this: it happens all the time, folks.

If you are one of these people, wake up. This sort of behavior serves only one purpose, to buff your own sense of worth at the expense of your teammate. Itís unlikely to change a damned thing, and itís inevitably going to have very real effects on a very real person. Unless that person legitimately deserves to get fired, then youíre out of line for taking personal issues beyond your team. This is not kindergarten, and adults are supposed to deal with differences without dragging in teacher or parents. Whether you do something like this out of spite, or out of simply stupidity, youíre screwing with someoneís livelihood. Touchy feely bullshit aside, when you screw with a manís ability to feed himself and his family, you make him an enemy, and any stumbling, bullshit rationalization about your intentions after the fact is just that, a bullshit rationalization.

When you take a notion that youíre such a brilliant paragon of virtue that you are entitled to bitch about your teammates flaws, youíre breaking the unspoken deal he had with you to keep mum about yours. Itís a two way street, after all. Now, on paper, instead of two outstanding team members, you have two whiny, lazy, hard to work with, add-whatever-corporate-sin-you-like-to-the-list people. What did you gain? Jack shit. What did you lose? Besides a friend, youíve lost your teammateís respect.

Guess how long it will take you to earn it back?

The Military Team

I make no bones about the fact that I learned how to work with others in the Navy. Thereís a lot of gung ho phrases I could go into, but in short, I learned that you never screw someone over small shit. You never know when youíll be praying the guy who saw you fall overboard isnít the same guy you put on report last week because he had Ďan attitude problemí.

Take boot camp, for example. Itís team building at its finest. Know why? Because they teach you not to point fingers. They teach you to cover for those who are part of your team, instead of selling them out. You know how they do that? They make the slightest mistake a big deal. And when they find these mistakes, they punish the whole group with PT (i.e. pushups, situps, running, etc., you know, Physical Training) until you drop. This is known as getting Ďmashedí, and it happens a lot in the beginning, because most young civilians are self serving, ignorant pricks. But you learn, as time goes by, that there are ways to avoid getting mashed. If your teammate fucks up, you help him fix it, and you keep your mouth shut about it. Before long, it becomes second nature. You protect yourself by protecting your teammate. Usually, by the time boot camp ends, youíve learned the true extent of the lesson, that you are no better than your teammate. Heís saved you from grief, and you have done likewise.

This is a Military teammate

  • Once in a while, I look at the code one of my teammates has written, and I think to myself, "This is shit." Sometimes I even tell him so. But I never once said to myself, "My teammate sucks because of this." I assume that my teammate must have been pressed for time, or had a bad day.
  • Every month or so, a teammate says something rude or mean to me. Maybe he was tired, or sick, or heís in a bad mood because of home life. Who knows? Sometimes, I snap back, but usually, I grind my teeth and shut my mouth. I never once said to myself, "This guy just has an attitude problem."
  • Quite often, I see the time line we planned for things at the beginning of the project was made without full knowledge of the issues we would face. We imagine that things will go a certain way, and we find we were wrong. But I donít lay it at anyone elseís feet and point a finger, because I was part of the call, too.
  • On a number of occasions, I have disagreed about how things should be implemented. On a number of occasions I have been right. But I donít think I ever began to discount a team memberís input simply because he had been wrong in the past.
  • Whenever anyone asked me my opinion of my teammates, I said in no uncertain terms that my teammates were damned good at their jobs, and that I was proud to work with them, despite the fact that they occasionally displayed their own human foibles.


And this is a Military teammate betrayed by finger pointing

  • On a few occasions, I have written careless or poorly commented code. My teammates latched on to it as exemplary of my performance, and made note of it in my evaluations. They never asked me why the code was poorly commented or careless. If they had, they might have learned that it was a hack written at 3am on a Sunday night. They might have found out that it was to cover a bug in the code they themselves had written so we could submit a milestone the next day. But like I said, they never asked.
  • A lot of times, I have said rude or thoughtless things to my teammates. They wrote it down, and used it against me when they got the chance. They never asked me if the ulcer I was ignoring to meet our deadline was making me less than friendly, or if the pressure I was under was eating away at me night and day. They just marked the Ďassholeí checkbox and clicked ĎOKí.
  • When I began the project, I knew almost nothing about the machine I was working on. I looked at the schedule my teammates had prepared, and said, "Yeah, this should be cool." They must have thought the same thing when they wrote the schedule. Later, after discovering just how mistaken we had been about things, I noted that we had been terribly naive in our estimates. My teammates divested themselves of all responsibility, choosing instead to claim that I was incapable of making accurate time estimates, and said that if things were otherwise, I would have vetoed the schedule in the beginning. They never explained why they, themselves, thought the schedule was reasonable. They never asked themselves whether or not they would have made the same mistakes, given a machine that had numerous flaws and legion quirks. They had that luxury, because I was the fool who accepted the task
  • On a number of occasions, I have disagreed about how things should be implemented, quite vehemently. On a number of occasions I was wrong. My teammates noted on my evaluations that my methods were Ďusually wrongí. They forgot all about the times that they had been wrong.
  • When asked about me, my teammates marked me as a poor performer, as sloppy. They said that I did not plan my work, and pointed to the times that I had been required to redo work, or take a new approach. They neglected the fact that their own work was easy to plan because they were working on a platform with which they had experience. They neglected the fact that the initial implementation of much generic code was done on their own platform, with little knowledge or regard for the issues that we would face in making the transition from floating to fixed point. They neglected, in their own planning, the issues of precision and the limits of expressing large quantities that would inevitably arise. They tell themselves that these things could not have been foreseen, because they lacked knowledge of my platform. Yet they claim I, having no more knowledge than they, was negligent in not foreseeing these issues.
  • Even though my project is on time, my teammates chose to credit themselves for this, and to blame me for errors that took us off schedule in the past. It was not enough that they succeed. They felt the need to pretend as if I had failed in order to feel some sense of worth. They needed to feel like supermen, and in order to do that, they had to paint me as less than capable.

Who would you rather have on your team? Who do you have on your team?

And people wonder why I am anti-corporate. Watch yourself out there, guys. It ainít pretty. But it does indeed happen just like this sometimes.

Next time: Know Thy Headhunter!


- Matt 'Thraka' Gilbert is a console programmer, currently working at StormFront Studios. These are his own ravings, and have nothing whatsoever to do with his employer.


Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Behind the Curatain is © 1999 Matt Gilbert. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. And ignore the man behind the curtain. He's just got a shotgun aimed at your head...nothing to get alarmed about.