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Ron, The Untouchable, Invincible, No-Good Developer

bytebodger profile image Adam Nathaniel Davis Updated on ・5 min read

[NOTE: This will be the first in a new series - Tales From The Dev Side - where I tell true stories from my career. No deep dives into specific tech. But everything in these tales will be true, with no embellishment or fabrication.]

I was brought on as a contractor for a large bank here in town. My role was the tech lead on a project to implement a new .NET CMS (Sitecore). As a contractor, no one else on the team reported to me, but I was responsible for managing the project's progress, organizing the development efforts, and doing a fair bit of coding myself.

For the most part, the team was amazing. Some of the best devs I've ever worked with. I was really impressed with the talent they managed to find. Or at least, I was impressed - until I met Ron...


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The Blunderkind

Ron was fairly young - mid-20s. The Director hired him and spoke of him like he was a revelation. Everyone else just sorta rolled their eyes when I mentioned Ron. But it's worth noting that he was the only employee on the team. Everyone else on the team was a contractor.

My first indication of Ron's... "abilities" came when we were all working on fairly large and independent pieces of the project. It was a 3-week sprint and we all took every last day to finish our individual tasks. I hadn't paid much attention to Ron's work because, at that point, I hadn't yet realized his faults, we were all swamped in our own work, and no one else on the team required any micromanagement whatsoever.

When the sprint finished, Ron claimed that he ran into several unforeseeable issues, and he needed more time. So we pushed his task into a second 3-week sprint. You can guess where this is going...

After he'd spent 6 weeks working on his task, we sat down as a team to review each other's work. It quickly became apparent that Ron didn't even understand the task. He built something that had little resemblance to the original requirements. Even worse, what he built didn't even work.

I asked one of the best senior devs on the team to spend a little time reviewing Ron's work. I needed to know A) what could be done to fix it, and B) how long it would take to do so. He reported back that, A) there was nothing salvageable in the code - it all had to be scrapped - and, B) if he did it himself, it would take him about a week.

From that point forward, Ron was little more than a mascot to us. We'd give him a few dead-simple tasks to keep him occupied - and out of our way. He'd spend a ridiculous amount of time on those tasks. And while he was toiling away on these elementary tickets, the rest of us were cranking out code and working toward go-live.


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Rewarding Incompetence

One day the Director called us all together for an impromptu meeting. He didn't need to talk to us about the CMS project. He needed to publicly bestow some recognition - on Ron.

Ron had apparently built something special-and-magical, for some other project, right before I came onboard. I had no idea what that project was. I didn't even fully understand, from the Director's description, exactly what Ron had supposedly built. But it was clear that the Director was tickled pink.

They gave Ron a nice little framed certificate. They ordered a cake. The CIO even came down to glad-hand for a few minutes.

I'm sure this will shock you, but many months later, I finally saw what Ron was rewarded for. Well, I saw the code. I couldn't see the app - because the app was never deployed. It couldn't be deployed - because it didn't work.



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The Worst-est Performance Review Ever

At the end of the year, right about the time that the CMS project was going live, it came time for Ron's performance review. Normally, that wouldn't be any concern of mine - because I was a contractor and Ron didn't report to me. But Ron's "formal" manager was a guy who worked remotely on the other side of the country and he had zero interaction with Ron, or anyone else on the project. So he had no idea what Ron had been doing or how to rate his performance.

Ron's manager asked me if I would write the body of Ron's review. The idea was that I'd write the content, and then Ron's manager would simply put his seal-of-approval on it - because he really had no way to evaluate Ron's performance. I warned him, in no uncertain terms, that if I wrote the review, it would be ugly. He assured me that he had no problem with that.

As cruel and sadistic as it might sound, I sometimes wish I had saved a personal copy of that review. It was brutal. I wasn't trying - in any way - to be mean or petty. I didn't have to be. Simply documenting Ron's "performance" was enough to make the review scathing. It was by far the most negative review that I've ever written for anyone.

I even delivered the review. Ron obviously wasn't thrilled with it, but he took it all quite calmly. I figured that he'd be quitting soon. Anyone with any situational awareness understands that a review like this typically means that this is not the place for them, long-term. Of course, Ron had a stunning lack of situational awareness. And he showed no signs of jumping ship.


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The Boss Of You

After the CMS project went live, the bank offered me a salaried position as a Development Manager. For some stupid reason, I accepted.

I was to lead a new team that would be created to support the public site. You know where this is going... Because the universe never tires of laughing at me, when they assembled this new team, Ron was (of course) a founding member.

I actually told the new Director (the old Director - the one who hired Ron and thought he was amazing - had been fired) that, if I had Ron on my team, I'd probably have to fire him. The new Director, having no inherent loyalty to Ron, just said, "That's fine. You do whatever you need to do."

So that's how I formally become Ron's boss...


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The Cliffhanger

This lovely little story will be a two-parter. I'm sure you're dying to find out how the rest of my adventures with Ron played out. And I won't leave you hanging. Stay tuned for Part Deux where I'll spew all the details of the thrilling conclusion!

Discussion

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jennrmillerdev profile image
Jen Miller

Haha,
I'm also at a bank as a lead and contractor...so I've seen some things.

Some managers/leads hate giving constructive criticism (or "bad reviews") on people so those developers go on with their career continuing bad habits. I've seen some people turn it around after a review...sometimes they just need to be told straight up about certain things and they work to fix it. One "Ron" I worked with came to me asking specifically for constructive criticism because he couldn't believe the manger only had good things to say about him.

With the proper feedback, team structure, etc, some developers like "Ron" can grow and improve. Hopefully your Ron is one of those. But...

I've also been on the receiving end of developer angst who hate constructive criticism and turn constructive feedback into a "all you accept are 10x developers" kind of drama.

After the CMS project went live, the bank offered me a salaried position as a Development Manager. For some stupid reason, I accepted.

:)

.. waiting for part 2

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

Feedback is always a touchy subject. When you mix feedback with developer egos, there's a distinct danger of it turning explosive.

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entomy profile image
Patrick Kelly

Hah, so I'm not the only one who sees it. As an outsider who does this as a hobby, I regularly find myself... confused... by the behavior of many developers. There's certain behaviors and egos you see far more often in this field than in others.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

As a long time dev myself who does this for fun and for profit, it would be easy to assume that I'm a dyed-in-the-wool "developer advocate". But I know my colleagues. Hell, I even know myself. And I know that sometimes devs are not the most rational people in the world to deal with.

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entomy profile image
Patrick Kelly

It reminds me of surgeons, actually. Only in medicine surgeons are a minority, and nurses tend to be good about giving attitude back to keep things in check. Where's the collaborative checks in development? From what I hear, designers, testers, documenters, etc, largely operate as entirely seperate groups.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

IMHO, the "checks" employed by most companies come down to minimizing the dev role. In other words, they tend to avoid any problems from the devs' attitudes by excluding the devs from as much of the app-design process as possible.

As you can imagine, this approach causes... other negative side effects.

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entomy profile image
Patrick Kelly

I've been debating whether I want to work professionally in this field. Advancement in medicine has high costs, and I quite like programming. Been doing it as a hobby for fifteen years now. You've definitely given me a question I want to ask at interviews.

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ricardo profile image
Ricardo Luz

It's quite hard work with developers that are founding members, usually, they aren't the best technically, and even stupid things that they do are praised by the CEO/CTO, my way to solve this problem in one of the companies that I worked before was delegate less technical tasks to them like be the team scrum master or tests task.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

I couldn't agree with you more. But just to make sure that we're on the same page, I wanna make clear that when I talk about "older" programmers, I'm talking about far more people than just founding members.

There's a whole other post here. But I've found most founding members to be a complete PITA. Their legacy solutions are cobbled together and based upon whatever tech they learned 20 years ago. But if you say even the slightest thing to imply that the legacy solution is somehow less-than-perfect, they get needlessly defensive. In other words, their crappy solution becomes their "baby".

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sirseanofloxley profile image
Sean Allin Newell

Bahahahah! So funny you just gave 'em silly little tasks that he took forever to complete. You'd think it'd be a pretty big hint to oneself that it takes one 2-4x longer than everyone else to do smaller changes. 🤷‍♂️

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

Yeah - he was definitely blissfully aware of his "fit" within the team. If you gave him a text change that took him a week to implement, any everyone else had completed multiple features in that same week, it never really dawned on him that there was something "unbalanced" about that arrangement.

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wick3dr0se

Followed. I'm intrigued by your portrayal of Raj. We all know the type.. There's many self-proclaimed hackers just like Raj out there. Waiting for part 2 and some updates on Raj 🤣. Is he still a "coder"? Did he ever quit? I need to know more!

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

Haha - glad you're enjoying the tale. I have no idea if he's still a "coder". I haven't seen him in several years, although I did hear a rumor that he was trying to launch a startup based on a laughably-bad premise.

As for whether-or-not he quit, that will absolutely be covered in the second half of the article! Stay tuned.

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nibble profile image
Joseph Mawa

Of course, Raj had a stunning lack of situational awareness. And he showed no signs of jumping ship

Poor Raj. I can't wait for part 2.