Are You a Grumpy Developer?


We developers have a grumpiness problem. More specifically, to the outside world we have a reputation for being grumpy. I’m always a bit nervous to make absolute statements, but I feel more comfortable with this point since I have the backup of Google autocomplete.

I’m not trying to troll, I think this is an actual problem. I even talked about this briefly during my talk at this year’s TwilioCon, but I thought it was worth diving into more detail in blog format. I want to specifically look at why being perceived as grumpy is a problem and what I think we can do about it.

Why Being Grumpy is a Problem

A lot of people may agree with me that developers are perceived as grumpy, but ask “so what?”. Grumpiness doesn’t inherently prevent us from doing our jobs. Some may even argue that the best developers have earned the right to be grumpy. I think there are countless reasons that being grumpy is a problem, but for the sake of brevity I wanted to focus on three key things.

[0] If you’re grumpy, you’re hurting your company.

For a majority of developers our job involves interacting with other members of the company. Our attitudes can spread and, often times, infect an entire organization. Perhaps in more basic terms: when the rest of the company is afraid of coming to talk to the development team because of it’s grumpiness, a rift has been created in the company and it suffers because of it.

[1] If you’re grumpy, you’re hurting the community.

I’m an introvert. I’d hazard to guess a lot of developers reading this post are introverts. I spent a lot of time not engaging with the developer community because I was afraid. Am I smart enough? Can I keep up in a discussion about NoSQL? Will this blog post get eaten alive if it gets posted on Hacker News? When we project our grumpiness out into the community, we are scaring people away. Smart people, people who quite possibly may change the world someday, may not be coming to conferences or meetups because our grumpiness makes them feel unwelcome.

[2] If you’re grumpy, you’re hurting yourself.

Life is awesome. I mean, a week ago someone jumped out of space! How incredible is that?!?! Being a developer, in and of itself, is amazing. We have the ability to create these amazing things out of 1’s and 0’s. As someone who spent a majority of my late teenage years and early twenties living in grumpiness, I can confidently say that if you’re doing this you are hurting yourself. It may sound harsh, but there really is so much more to life than we see when we’re grumpy.

What We Can Do About It

Whoa, you made it this far into the blog post! You just made my day! Enough about the problem, let’s talk about solutions. The reality is everyone probably has to deal with grumpiness in their own way, but here are three things that helped me.

[0] Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately

It’s really easy to jump on social media and criticize things. I’ve been as bad at it as anyone. If my flight is delayed, or a service I’m using is screws up, I hop on twitter and start complaining. We should be using our social channels to promote the things we think are awesome. And if you see someone do something you don’t like just drop them a note privately. If all people see are developers complaining and being snarky, they’re going to continue to think we’re grumpy.

[1] Listen

I think a lot of  the perceived grumpiness comes from people always feeling like they’re interrupting us. No one likes to be interrupted, but I think trying to do a better job at making people feel like we want to listen makes a big impact. When someone comes to talk to me it’s not uncommon for me to keep coding or checking twitter while they talk (perhaps my wife’s #1 pet peeve). You will be amazed with how differently someone perceives you when you stop and listen to them.

[2] Stop Being Grumpy

Ask yourself, “Am I being grumpy right now?”. If the answer is yes, then stop! It sounds silly, but just being mindful of our grumpiness can make a big impact. Not sure if you’re being grumpy? Ask a close friend or co-worker.

Now What?

I believe that if we all actively work to not be grumpy we can change the way the rest of the world perceives developers. I can’t wait for the first autocomplete on Google for “Why developers are ” to be “Why developers are friendly”, “Why developers are hilarious” or “Why developers are building tiny robots to take over the world”. #NotGrumpy