About hiring programmers and Asperger’s syndrome

Managers in software teams are often confronted with highly intelligent programmers; programmers that all suffer in some extent from Asperger’s syndrome. These people are very intelligent, question authority and do not do what is told unless they are satisfied with the reasons why. They have a low social sensibility and love endless discussions about principles. They like to stick to rules onces they are settled, can focus for hours on single pieces of code, love to be fully focused and hate it to be disturbed.

Am I generalizing? Yes, you bet I am, but I am sure: If you are a programmer you will recognize some of it.

“Managing programmers is like herding cats” – Meilir Page-Jones

I love that quote, because it holds so much value. Some say it only applies to senior programmers. But that leads to the following dilemma: hire easy-to-steer junior programmers that may have little or negative contribution to the software you are building or hire hard-to-steer seniors that can bring big value. Whether it is true or not, I think the latter is preferable.

Dealing with senior programmers is hard and I believe it is a challenge that does not have its match in other industries. One of the factors that is making matters worse is the global lack of senior programmers. These programmers can afford to behave arrogantly and non-compliant because the software business needs them so badly. They can always find another well-paying job. All they have to do is mention on their social media profile that they are “available” and it will rain job offers on them.

One of the methods I see that people use to get a grip on their developers, is to pay them above average or get them secondary benefits that are so good they cannot be matched elsewhere. But then again, you must be careful this does not lead to arrogance, lack of self-criticism and a feeling of superiority. These are definitely enemies of a good working team, so this cure may be worse than the disease.

Further reading on Asperger’s syndrome

The following links give some more insight into Asperger’s syndrome:

  1. http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aspergers_pr.html
  2. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-2557765/Is-man-wired-differently.html
  3. http://www.healthcentral.com/autism/c/1443/153287/asperger-difficulty/
  4. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/04/11/health/aspergers-work-irpt/
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2 thoughts on “About hiring programmers and Asperger’s syndrome”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, @Maurits. I was in both ‘skin’ (programmer and manager), and can see the point.

    >>> to pay them above average or get them secondary benefits that are so good they cannot be matched elsewhere
    That practice exists for quite some time, but it so rare nowadays, by the way.

    What I want to add, this is a view from an experienced manager (I think) to a senior or junior programmer. I think those conflicts (Senior Prog Manager) happens very often when a manager is not experienced enough.

  2. @Ilia: Thank you. I’m not sure this practice does not happen, I believe it does. On the second point I agree with you that conflicts should be avoided and that an experienced IT manager would be good at that.

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