Do Developers Need to Brown-Nose To Advance Career?

Monday Jul 19th 2010 by Eric Spiegel
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Those developers who actively curry favor with management may not be popular with their colleagues. Still, is this a good strategy?

“You are SUCH a brown-noser!”

Ouch.

That was probably the least flattering thing I had been called. Maybe even worse than being called an idiot.

I’m sure any developer would have done the same thing. Actually, maybe not. But they should! I’ll let you be the judge.

Here’s what happened. I had just returned from a meeting with the CIO. Yep, a little ‘ol developer like me had requested a face-to-face with the big dog. I found over the years that it is so true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Therefore, I went out of my way to be squeaky.

I had a few years of coding under my belt and was just starting to take some graduate classes. One of the hot topics in class was telecommuting – especially for technology workers.

I thought “Gee, why shouldn’t every developer be able to telecommute?”

So I emailed the CIO directly and just like that I had my meeting scheduled – just that simple. You’d think the CIO gets tons of emails from employees with suggestions. I have found that is not the case. And that doesn’t just apply to the CIO, but also to others in management.

At my meeting, I used my full allotment of time to explain why telecommuting would give the company a competitive advantage and how we could avoid the downsides of too much goofing off at home. The CIO was impressed with my preparation and asked me to write a report on it to present to the management team.

Yay! I was excited. So when I came back to my cubicle, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone. I mean, they could be no less than thrilled that I was pushing forward such a great perk that would benefit us all.

That’s when I learned that while it is true that speaking out and coming up with ideas are typically welcomed by managers, it is also true that these actions can be perceived by co-workers as being overly obsequious (i.e. too much sucking up to the boss).

Everyone’s comments ranged from “Admit it. You’re just trying to get noticed,” to “Remember us little guys when you get the big promotion.” And of course, the infamous “brown-nose” comment that many people get labeled with when they go out of their way to improve an organization.

(I must admit the definition of this term is quite humorous, but I digress…)

Sorry, but I don’t see it that way at all. If you have a great idea, why keep it to yourself? Some developers have told me that it’s their job to write code, not to propose methods for fixing the organization.

So it’s okay to suggest a way to code better, but not work better? Really?

To me that line of thinking belittles developers. If an organization is going to improve, ideas need to come from everyone. Of course you can’t spend all your time idea mongering, but as long as your development work is being performed well, why not use your brain to noodle on different and new ideas? And then share those ideas!

Ah, but then you may open yourself to the same accusations of having ulterior, self-serving motives. But guess what?

Who cares!

Because even if speaking up with fresh approaches is self-serving and helps you climb the career ladder faster, what does it matter if you are improving the organization?

True, if you’re truly sucking up just to get your name and face in front of management, then your scheming will be smelled a mile away. Your ideas must have value or you’re just making a fool of yourself and wasting everyone’s time.

The “Fool” Aspect

Let me delve into the “don’t make a fool of yourself” caveat a bit deeper.

Next Page: Be real....

Everyone has worked with or been in school with the person who always has their hand up. It’s the “Hermione Granger” syndrome. For those who aren’t Harry Potter fans, Hermione is always the first to answer any questions that come up in classes such as “Defense Against The Dark Arts,” which leads to annoyance and snickering by her fellow classmates.

You don’t need to be “in your face” 24 hours a day with answers and suggestions like Ms. Granger. Give others a chance to shine. Even take the time to encourage others to get involved outside of their development work.

Be Real

Instead of publicly trying to show how smart you are, find time for one-on-one interactions with different people in management. Besides emailing suggestions, try finagling a casual lunch with your manager or discuss your ideas at a company function or happy hour.

The bottom line is that if you put forward ideas that help the organization, and you’re sincere in your efforts to see them through, management will be appreciative. More important, it will reflect well on you when annual review rolls around.

Oh sure, maybe the end result is self-serving. Having been a manager for many years now, I know that if a developer is proactive with suggestions, I’m not only listening, but I’m noting their ambition because they are going the extra mile to help the organization.

And there it is. The word “ambition” just sticks out and juxtaposes nicely with “brown-nose.”

I’ll say it again – who cares!

Unless of course you just want to be in the good graces of your coworkers who have no ambition and would prefer to see that you have none, either. In that case, just write your code and go home when the whistle blows.

I personally feel that this approach is a waste of brain power. Developers are smart and those smarts are wasted when they just bury their head in the monitor, trying to block out the world around them.

I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with that because the work assigned is getting done. But it will likely result in a maximum of “Performs To Expectations” on their annual review.

If you want to hit the “Exceeds Expectations” mark on your annual review, don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your suggestions. And most of all, don’t be worried about taunts from your coworkers – who may just end up reporting to you.

ALSO SEE: Why Developers Get Fired

AND: Too Old To Write Software? Or Just the 'Wrong Era'?

AND: Developer Salary Levels, 2004-2009

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