What I look for in a co-worker

What do I want in a co-worker?

So, there is plenty out there about finding a good candidate to work for you, but there is remarkably little in what you should look for in a co-worker. Obviously talent, work ethic, ability to accomplish the most with the least amount of code, yada yada yada.

But what do I really want from a co-worker? I mean, those are just traits that should solely be viewed as means to an end. So I’ve compiled a list of what I’d like to see. And yes, the language gets a little harsh, and that has to do with years of unsettled hatred which this post has had the opportunity to release upon the world much akin to a great swarm of locusts the fact that I really am passionate about this. My favorite co-workers have embodied the best of these. My least favorite the worst. And I’m not saying that I am the most able in all of these issues, but they are still imperitive.

So, here goes:

  • Answer your own damn questions

    Ok, that is a bit much, and having trained people I can say that is actually disturbing when someone who is new does not ask questions (and I admit that this is self-contradictory and bordering on hypocritical[1]), but asking others should always be viewed as a last resort. Chances are, if I am at work, I have a deadline. If I have a deadline, then I don’t want to walk you through some problem you should be able to solve with the documentation and the source code. If you are asking me about something, if you are interrupting, it better be because you have exhausted your other options and I am genuinely needed for the task.

    It is my experience that the people who aren’t willing to put forth the effort to actually investigate answers before asking questions are either:

    1. habitually lazy
    2. incompetant
    3. or both

    On Stack Overflow those questions are most likely to be down-voted and closed immediately. They rightly receive comments like, “We will not do the work for you.” In the workplace, they are no better.

  • Be personable

    When I decided to add this, part of me thought, “What are you, nuts? You want someone able, not a friend,” but then I paused. The fact of the matter is that the people I could not relate to, the people who came across as stand-offish and arrogant were an active distraction. Interactions with them left me frustrated and kept me from having a clear head. No, social ability is important and we need to remember that.

  • Speak up in turn

    This should not warrant an explanation, but I’ll give one anyway. Let us know if you think that we are taking the long way around and let us know before we are half-way there. If you believe that we are making things harder on ourselves, if you think there is a better way, then let the team know about it. Yes, you will inevitably run into someone’s pride, so tact is needed, but speaking as someone with enough pride to go around, I’d rather have injured pride than 80 hour weeks. On the other hand, at hour 79, if you say “I told you so,” well, them’s fightin’ words.

  • Volunteer

    I don’t mean that you should carry the world on your shoulders, but there will be times when you are less busy than someone else. Keep in mind that you are a part of a team and if one person misses a deadline, everyone will suffer. Also, if, for some reason, there has been some problem with developer load-balancing, then idle hands are the devil’s handiwork, and not because goofing off loses money, because others in the department will see and resent.

  • Meet your deadlines.

    My company has been around for 10 years. We have gotten particularly good at estimating how much time is supposed to be taken by what tasks. Deadlines are generally workable. If you are consistently behind, however, that means that your work load will then spill onto my plate. And one of the worst things to happen to someone is to inherit a project which is already two weeks behind schedule when I have not budgetted my time for that.[2]

  • If you can’t meet your deadlines let us know

    (this might remind you a bit about the point about speaking up) If you are missing a deadline or running late, then something has clearly gone wrong. Most of the time it is something unavoidable, but we cannot have Spartan boys. Much like bug huggers, they will inevitably make major projects run behind.

How can this be summed up? Well, I want to work with people who are able to handle their load. I want to work with people who, frankly, I don’t need to worry about. It reminds me of a Torvalds quote:

To kind of explain what Linux is, you have to explain what an operating system is. And the thing about an operating system is that you’re never ever supposed to see it. Because nobody really uses an operating system; people use programs on their computer. And the only mission in life of an operating system is to help those programs run. So an operating system never does anything on its own; it’s only waiting for the programs to ask for certain resources, or ask for a certain file on the disk, or ask to connect to the outside world. And then the operating system steps in and tries to make it easy for people to write programs.

Now, I don’t want to say that we should all be computers, but his point is apt. You should be able to say the same thing about co-workers, shouldn’t you? I mean this really is not just an ideal for how all software should work, but the seamlessness he describes is how a good team should work. Because, honestly, if I am worried about Frank’s TPS reports, then I am not spending my time working for the success of the team. And, to be frank, every moment we spend worrying about each other, that is another moment lost.

  1. [1] I admit hypocracy as Richard III admits his mallace: an old acting instructor of mine made the comment that, “Richard III is the only character you can play who actively admits his mallace. The beginning soliloquy of the play can be summed up, ‘I’m bad, I know I’m bad, now watch me be bad.’”. He doesn’t defend his evil ways, he revels in them. This isn’t to say that it is a good thing to be hypocritical but that is an inevitable proof of humanity. Besides, I am far to lazy to actually reason my way through this.
  2. [2] The only one worse is weeks behind schedule and written by someone who couldn’t tell his posterior from a hole in the ground.
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2 Responses to What I look for in a co-worker

  1. Tim Post says:

    I completely agree about answering your own questions, until the point where you just get so completely snow blind that you aren’t seeing the forest for the trees. Sometimes, I’m not looking for someone to share their knowledge, but rather use it in conjunction with there eyeballs to spot whatever the heck it may be that I’m missing.

    But, these interruptions are rare. I can’t teach someone how to program AND do my job too.

    • I agree. I’ve been thinking of amending that to talk about those reasonable folks who ask questions in a way that does not involve taking my attention away from the work at hand.

      We also can’t get rid of those “Captain Obvious” people who help us spot what the hell is going wrong, but, once again, exhaust all reasonable options first. I don’t mind playing Captain Obvious once a week, or even once every other day. It’s when it gets to be much more than that…

      I knew someone once who was successfully able to bring three projects behind (two of which he was not working on) because he wanted bug spotters. I’m more referring to them.

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