Who are “rock star” developers?

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When I started my career, I saw people who were very smart, but they were tough to handle. Account and project managers often gave up and moved to another company just to discover that people like that were also working there.

But in the end of the month these people saved the company and managed to finish projects and tasks, that normal developers thought to be impossible. CEO often had trouble working with these guys, but they never got fired. If these people told that they want to move to another company, CEO offered almost incredible salary raise for stay.

Meet “rock star” developers – senior engineers who are incredibly talented, but their attitude is sometimes tough and they are hard to keep under control. These people are Mick Jaggers and Steven Tylers of the engineering world.

I will write how to communicate these guys and keep them under control and motivated.

Everything starts from reputation and knowledge. You have to be smarter than your “rock star” developer, but you have to show your smartness wisely. If you have strong programming background, this will be your weapon of choice. Having only management experience is not enough to deal with these guys.

Take yourself as Colonel Trautman and your developer as Rambo, the one-man-army. If you have seen these movies you will understand what I mean. Col. Trautman was only guy in the world who managed Rambo to keep under control, who otherwise was a loose cannon.

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How he managed to do it? The answer is simple – respect. Col. Trautman managed to earn Rambo’s respect and this kept him under control.

You have to start earning respect from the first day on your new job, because your rock-star developer will certainly test your skills and willpower very soon. Ask for most complicated projects, work for nights and days and your rock-star developer will notice you very soon. Together you will unbeatable.

Usually most developers gain enough experience when they are around 25 years old. Their productive career may last 15-20 years and after that they will discover soon that they cannot compete with younger workforce anymore. This will make them stable, yet productive. But there is a very small chance that HR decided to hire an older developer, because engineering world prefers younger people.

I had an experience with a guy who always came to the office during lunchtime and he left a few hours later. During this time he managed to complete all his tasks and we were in awe – how he managed to do this and how manager tolerates this? Later, when I was talking to manager about him, he told me that for him it does not matter how he completes his job, it is important that it is completed his mission. He also told me that he was meeting this developer after the work to discuss problems that different projects had.

On the other hand I have seen project manager fighting with a rock-star developer and forcing him to work according to the rules, which project manager thought to be right. Because of that, rock-star developer did not appear to the office for a week until CTO asked project manager to meet him. The result – project manager got fired and rock-star developer got raise.

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So whatever you do, don’t start a fight with a rock-star developer, because you cannot win. Even good junior developers are hard to find, but people who are really talented and keep company running, almost impossible. Just work hard, earn respect and everything will be fine.

Of course, there is an another way – hire several average level developers. Their salary requirements are not so high and their professional attitude may be different. But still, it does not mean that the job will get done on time or the average level developer will turn into rock-star..

* Tough rock-star developers seem to be part of the western world. When you go to Asia, especially Japan you will soon discover that managers have almost infinite power there. You can be very good developer, but if you are not following manager’s or company’s internal rules, you will get transferred or fired soon.