I’ve tried to write this post so many times, and never need happy with how it came out. So fuck it, I’m going to write it in one sitting and post it. This is by the way no reflection on my current job, I’ve been brewing this one for well over two years. A post about Crunch Mode I re-read this morning and some of the tweets that followed made me get this written down finally.
There is a horrible pattern of behavior I see in myself that is counter productive, inefficiant and unhealthy. I’ve see it in a lot of other people too over the last 15 years or so. I’m sure it’s got a name, but I call it Geek Hero Syndrome, and I’m doing everything I can to work it out of my system
I like all the words in “Geek Hero Syndrome”
I do too, but here’s what it looks like
- There’s a problem
- I (and sometimes only I) can fix it by either some arcane code technique (my love of gluing *nix commands together) or by smashing myself to bits at a keyboard for 28 hours
- The problem is solved!
- I AM A KING! People bestow praise on me and lap it up
- Nothing changes
So I fix a problem and everything is ok, where is the problem in this? The problem is two fold:
- The original source of the problem is less liekly to be fixed because we can now work about it using me as a hammer
- I get a stonking adrenaline bump and all the associated feelings both during the fix and from the praise afterwards.
Point 2 just reinforces point 1. Not intentionally, if you don’t go and fix the underlaying problem after you solve the current crisis this is negligent, but in a world where the business is moving on to the next problem and you’ve not got time to do a really good job of cleaning up it is all too easy to move on and maybe my subconcious isn’t helping here. I think eventually you become a little addicted to the brain chemical bump you get when saving the day.
The need for heros occationally
Don’t get me wrong here, when shit hits the fan people really should pull out all the stops to get the business up and running again and if people go above and beyond the call of duty in the name of the business they deserve praise. I can name the times when people I’ve worked with have done the most amazing things, both in terms of smarts and sheer physical endurance because the business was utterly fucked. As an example my old manager had to be carried from his chair and taxied back to a hotel after rescuing a permissions and security model for a financial institution in one 26 hour XML marathon (that’s a whole untellable story in itself).
My point is that Being The Hero should not be a regular or frequent thing. High frequency things have a much strong reinforcement effect and that’s what we should be avoiding. Be a hero because the world is on fucking fire, not the backups didn’t run.
The long term effects of Geek Hero Syndrome
The effects are obvious once you start thinging about them. The business become reliant on having heros and you end up with Key Person Dependancies. People begin to resent other bits of the business because ‘they always have to fix things’. The business has problems scaling because each hero is effectively a bottleneck. People burn out because their superpower is being able to work for 36 hours fueled only by caffine, pizza and fury. I imagine that people’s health suffers. Geek Hero Syndrome reinforces not only iteself but other bad habbit.
What I’m doing
Once I spotted the tendency to being a rubbish hero in myself I tried to groom it out of me and as I write this all I’m seeing is me trying to be a better team member and employee.
I try to keep my working hours reasonably regular and reasonably “on contract”. Longer hours do not make me a better me.
I’m documenting more, so that other people can do the stuff I do without having to figure it out or default to me doing it.
I’m trying to get my kicks from non-hero situations, for example writing a script which works every time no matter what rather than fixing the mess when it fails. This one is tough and to be honest, I’m probably open to critisism that says “this is the script you should have written before” (and it’s right)
I’m trying to really focus on improving my skills, not my stamana. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your skills (which XKCD captures so well)
Writing these down makes me reliase none of this is rocket science.
A note on the use of Hero
I went looking for a gender neutral alternative to the word Hero because in my mind hero was a masculine term (after all we have the word heroine), however another word did not present itself and a bit of googling led to this interesting link suggesting the rise of hero as a gender netural word, so I stuck with it.