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One of the things I’ve been carrying around with me for years is the concept I call “teams” — like, how I more or less rank my peers. It’s sort of an evaluation tool.

I don’t tell people where they are in my rankings, because some people might feel that they should be ranked higher than they are, and I don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings. It’s really a way of gauging how I feel about people, anyway… some of the rankings aren’t based on actual technical skills, but on personality clashes. That’s okay, you know? Someone might be a perfect fit technically speaking, but just be too arrogant to work with comfortably.

I’m mostly writing it up because I think it might be interesting to others to read about and think about.

Five teams

The way I see it, there are five classifications of people in the field.

The Stars

These are the “names.” They’re people whose skills are beyond question, and if they called me and said, “Hey, Joe, where are you going with that…” wait, wrong quote. If they called and said, “Hey, Joe, come join my team, we need a janitor!” I’d be saying, “Yes, sir, on my way, sir, do you want me to mop clockwise or counterclockwise, sir?”

This group’s pretty exclusive. Peter van der Linden and Magnus Stenman are in this group, and it’s not easy to get here. There are a lot of names that you’d expect to be here… that just aren’t. (Maybe it’s personality… but usually it’s “That guy is amazing, but he just doesn’t have that IT FACTOR for me.”)

If one of these guys asked a stupid question, I’d be pretty sure they were trolling me. Alternatively, I’m so stupid by comparison to them that I don’t even understand the question.

The A-Team

These are those people with whom I’d love to work on a daily basis. We’re peers, we are able to get along, fights are seen in their natural and right context (i.e., disagreements, we work them out and move on), we’re friends although perhaps we don’t necessarily socialize together, we’re mature.

If people on this list are looking for work, well, that highlights the stupidity of the industry – these people should be snapped up in minutes if they’re available. (The only reasons they wouldn’t be are based on bill rates – they’re expensive, because they should be – or because of marketing, because most people that I know of dislike marketing themselves.)

This is a tiny list, just like the “stars” list. There are six names on it. Most of the people on it – if they know about the list at all – suspect strongly that they’d be on it.

If a billionaire came to me and said “build a team, cost’s no object, they should be able to do anything,” these are the people I would call.

When these guys ask stupid questions, it’s fine – they’re either trolling me, teaching me, or using rubber duck techniques – they don’t remain stupid for long. I can point out the thinking behind the answer and they get it. Quickly. Discussions here tend to be one-sentence affairs: “I need to do this.” “Do you have that available?” “Got it, done.”

The B-Team

This is a much larger group than the A-Team. (This is actually most of the industry.) These people are really good at what they do. We tend to get along well. (Sometimes we don’t – some people who would be on the A-team end up here because of personality conflicts.) These are people from whom I can learn, and who can generally pick up things from me as well.

When these blokes say something silly, it’s usually because they’re competent enough to know better, but they just don’t see it at first. I’m pretty sure they’ll come around. I don’t resent the question, because I have faith in their abilities.

Membership on this list is a sign of respect. I’d be happy to work with these people – in fact, I’d put myself on this list. Most of the people with whom I’ve worked are also in this group, although I suppose quite a few would be on…

The C-Team

This is the reservoir of the Great Unwashed. (Note the sarcasm.) These are people who might be competent, but… they just don’t have the “it factor.”

Maybe they’re just not interested enough in how things work, or why they work. Maybe they ask just the wrong stupid question.

It’s hard to say, but these are people I’m happy to help and teach. I don’t have anything against them, but I’d see being recognized as their peer a little insulting. (That’s not to say that it might not be true.)

Some people are here because of aptitude; they just really aren’t that good. Maybe flipping burgers is the right option, you know?

Some people are here because of attitude; when something is explained to them, they get it, but they need to have it explained in depth because maybe they just don’t care that much.

Silly questions from this group… well, I want to answer them, and I try to, because I want them to show me that they belong in the B-team. But after a while, the questions get tiresome. Too many of them, and the person risks falling into …

The Gutter

These are people who you probably couldn’t pay me to work with. They’re actively stupid, or doltish, or offensive. They’re jerks, or they’re ignorant beyond belief.

them: how do I echo 'hello world' to stdout?
me  : println("hello world")
them: but how do I get it to say 'hello world' on stdout
me  : um, println("hello world") just like I just said?
them: why didn't you just answer me
them: I tried pritnln("kelpto whirl") and it didn't print hello world
me  : did you try copy and paste on the code I showed you?
them: no, that'd be dumb, i just want to print hello world
them: you dirty Jew, Jews need to be killed on sight
them: did you know that Jews drink blood at night
them: I hope you get cancer and die

Sadly, this kind of conversation has actually happened.

This is, thankfully, a small list. People here are the ones who work to get on it. You don’t just find your way to be in the gutter; it takes effort and persistence. (After all, everyone has a bad day every now and then, and I want to forgive just like I want to be forgiven, right? Do not do to others as you would not want done to you, and all that?)

This is R. Hillel’s “golden rule.” Jesus inverted it to a positive form: “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Your mileage may vary as to which one you prefer; common culture refers to the positive form as the “golden rule” and the negative form as the “silver rule.”

People on this list are trying to offend, through rank ignorance or through trying to be offensive.

I don’t like people being here. It means that I have failed to forgive them, and that I am unable to empathize with them somehow.

But it happens.

I definitely don’t tell people when they’re on this list – for one thing, that would mean talking to them (and their being in this group means I find talking to them distasteful) and for another, it would probably be insulting to them, and I don’t want to insult people unnecessarily.


Hmm, good question, Anonymous Reader!

I make these lists because it is a way for me to help determine who I want to learn from, and how much. It’s also a way of complimenting them in my internal dialogue, which makes it easier to compliment them in my external dialogue (i.e., the bits people can read and hear.) It’s good practice for me.

Actually, now that I think about it, if you’re careful, you can tell who’s on each list… except for the gutter. People there are difficult to detect, because I try not to ever communicate with or about them, and if I do mention them, it’s not by name.

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