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Are Software Developers Naturally Weird? 579

Posted by Soulskill
from the please-put-your-pants-on dept.
jammag writes "Well, c'mon, yes — let's admit it. As a veteran coder discusses as he looks at his career, software development is brimming with the offbeat, the quirky and the downright odd. As he remembers, there was the 'Software Lyrics' guy and the 'Inappropriate Phone Call' programmer, among others. Are unique types drawn to the profession, or are we 'transformed over time by our darkened working environments and exposure to computer screen radiation?'"
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Are Software Developers Naturally Weird?

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  • by dsginter (104154) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:10PM (#29785113)

    There is no "normal" - everyone seems to have something. Developers (and geeks, in general) just wear it out there on their sleeve.

    • by clang_jangle (975789) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:19PM (#29785181) Journal
      I agree with that -- most people are "weird", have their quirks, etc. But geeks are often regarded as weird by everyone else, perhaps because we understand "the incomprehensible", so we are less oppressed in some ways than the people in HR, marketing, etc. They expect us to be weird, so we don't have to hide it as much in order to get by.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tuxgeek (872962)

        Let's take this one step further
        Everyone you know and everyone you will ever meet, are neurotic, to one degree or another

        Once you understand this, then daily life interacting with others in the sand box becomes much easier
        Geeks are no different. We're just smarter than most others, or at least we like to think so .. d:/

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WaywardGeek (1480513)

          My tiny company makes money through outstanding engineering, both software and chip design. Our software algorithms geeks (self included) are not normal people. When I hire for this position, I'm looking for a personality disorder which causes otherwise bright intelligent outgoing people to be happy in dark corners hacking out brilliant solutions to problems few people will ever hear about. The trick is finding such people who can still work in a team environment.

          So, normal software developers are not we

          • by Xtravar (725372) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:28PM (#29786603) Homepage Journal

            So, normal software developers are not weird. They do simple things, like subclassing windows and putting together trees of data structures. But... the few who can do magic under the hood - yes, those guys are just a bit different.

            Ya know... I find the normal developers to be the weirdest. I think it takes a really extraordinary person to appear 'normal' on the outside and still code like a motha'. Usually it's the dummies who act awkward, in my experience.

            There are people who are born to solve problems, to take things apart and put them back together. These used to be the mechanics and engineers in decades past.

            And then there are people who don't fit in anywhere else and decide they want to unite with other awkward people, and working with computers is a byproduct of that. This is the type who says, "Gee, I like video games, I should be a computer developer." Bleh.

            • by Gorobei (127755) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @07:38PM (#29788023)

              Ya know... I find the normal developers to be the weirdest.

              Exactly right. All developers are a bit quirky, but the seriously weird always seem to be the wannabes in the middle of the pack.

              The best developers I know are odd: they ignore a lot of life-stuff, but concentrate on making really good technical and biz decisions. They seem strange, but have no trouble finding hot girlfriends and good jobs. The second tier is a bit of a cargo-cult: they imitate the strange aspect, then get confused when the chicks and money don't arrive.

          • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:51PM (#29787759) Journal

            Most people operate in an environment where other peoples opinions are more important than the facts. So, they make an effort to fit in and not telegraph things that might be controversial. People in IT, engineering, etc... they operate in an environment where the facts are everything, and the more controversial a fact, the more reward to the person who establishes it.

            It's easy to fit in, and be normal. You spend a bit of money on clothes, you spend a bit of time learning about things that normal people care about, like sports and dancing, you shut up about things that require specialization in the field to understand, and you're done. Other people aren't psychic... they don't see into your weird little brain. If you spend a little time caring to fit in, you do.

            When I turned 30, for a number of personal reasons, I actually made the effort for the first time in my life, and spent years afterwards wondering why I had been unwilling to do so for so long when the effort required was so small and the social rewards were so great. I chalk it up to naivety.

            Software developers seem weird because they don't care to seem normal, they overestimate the effort required, and they underestimate the rewards. It's not that most people are genuinely normal and weirdos have to wear camouflage to fake it. It's that most people wear camouflage, and weirdos refuse to do so.

          • by Chrisje (471362) on Monday October 19, 2009 @03:35AM (#29791075)

            All of you people are delusional. I have weird friends in tech, definitely, but then I have to admit most of my friends are in tech, and this is a tech forum. All of this "I am a bigger geek than you" is a pissing contest without any merit.

            To illustrate this, I had a girlfriend once. Lived together with her for three years. She was a delightful woman whom I met in her dad's little Classical Music and Jazz CD store. She was completely non-technical and functioned relatively normally in most settings, but by god was she a geek. A classical music geek with a penchant for literature and some other culturally tinged stuff. Spoke Czech, Swedish and English, was highly intelligent and had a shitty job for a while. Now she works at a law firm that deals with patents and patent law (Patentbyrå), as an assistant to patent lawyers. She was so goddamn geeky at heart she would put most of us on /. to shame. It's just a kind of weirdness and geekiness most of "us" here on /. won't recognize if it kicked us in the arse, that is.

            Maybe your average software developer can do magic under the hood, but he's not motivated to. Maybe (s)he can do magic under the hood in bed, in a kitchen, on a squash court, with a chemistry lab or with a bass, but you'll never know it. On the other hand, one of the most common beliefs amongst humans is that one is different or not normal. Superior, even.

            This planet is filled with weird fuckers. The trick is figuring out what's weird about whom.

      • by icebike (68054) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:15PM (#29785547)

        Software types are more analytical, (either as a result or as an cause of them being in their field). As such they see things that Joe Random doesn't even notice.

        When the waitress says "If you need anything else, my name is Betty" Joe Random grunts and takes a bite of his meal. Programmer dude wonders what her name is if he doesn't need any thing else.

        When the reporter says "For CNN, I'm Wolf Blitzer", programmer dude shouts at the TV demanding to know who the reporter is when he dons his lederhosen and cowboy hat and goes dancing.

        Ouch, that hurts to think about, I'll stop now.

        Computer types are so used to thinking about eventualities, undesirable consequences, dangling IF conditions, and protecting against them that they fall into doing so in personal life as well. A simple, carelessly worded question in normal conversation can render them speechless while the gears grind.

        Actions or behavior without negative consequences may lead to new discovery, and therefore need not be avoided. Being a little weird may be a calculated strategy to see if those around them are hopelessly hidebound.

        • by Devout_IPUite (1284636) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:32PM (#29785689)

          AHAHA...

          Yeah, I've gotten to the level know when someone asks me the 'wrong' question I now answer "You're not asking me the right question". I used to answer it.

          I usually tell them what the right question is and then the answer for it.

          I've come a long way from just answering the wrong question and leaving it sit.

          • by noidentity (188756) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:12PM (#29786029)

            Yeah, I've gotten to the level know when someone asks me the 'wrong' question I now answer "You're not asking me the right question". I used to answer it.

            I do this out of habit now when someone asks me a negated question:

            Someone: "Are you not going?"
            Me: "Correct"

            I used to answer "Yes, I'm not going", but "correct" is a more lazy way now. Answering just "yes" when I'm not going just confuses them, even though they are to blame for asking the negated question in the first place. I mean, it's not too hard to grasp. If the answer to "Are you going?" is "no", then clearly the answer to "Are you not going?" is "yes".

            • by RichardJenkins (1362463) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:17PM (#29786507)

              I think that's very naive approach to verbal communication often adopted by programmers.

              If a person "says" something, then they are using spoken words to convey a particular meaning. In most contexts, using the words "Are you not going" conveys that the speaker does not know for certain if the addressed person is going (though the speaker suspects the addressed is not going - against earlier expectations), and requests that the addressed confirms that they are not going by responding in the negative or belays their suspicions by replying some other way. I suspect this phrase has become prevalent because it is extremely economical - almost universally understood and can convey what I typed in a couple lines in less than a second. Note that it conveys more information than a mere request for the addressed to make their position on a subject clear.

              Most native English speakers are capable of using contextual clues to understand all this intuitively, and will not be consciously aware absurdity that arises when the words are parsed literally. Some people need to resort to intellectually determining the meaning of phrases like this.

              Where I say 'programmers' it may be more appropriate to say 'people who lie further to the autistic side of the autism spectrum than average'

            • "How would you like your eggs?"

              "Dead".

              "Very funny. How would you like your eggs served?"

              "On a plate would be a good start."

              "No, I mean, how would you like them cooked?"

              "On a stove?"

              "Do you want them sunny-side up, scrambled, poached, or over easy?"

              "Yes. That's certainly better than raw."

              "Which one?"

              "You mean I have to choose which egg I want cooked? You can't do them both?"

              "How do you want your eggs?"

              "You can't do them the way I want them."

              "We can do them ANY way you want them."

              "Okay, then I want them for free."

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by StarfishOne (756076)

            So familiar :)

            E.g. something along the line of:

            "Would you like chocolade or cake?"

            "Yes!" ;-)
          • Helicopter Problem

            A helicopter was flying around above Seattle yesterday when an electrical malfunction disabled all of the aircraft's electronic navigation and communications equipment.

            Due to the clouds and haze, the pilot could not determine the helicopter's position and course to steer to the airport.

            The pilot saw a tall building, flew toward it, circled, drew a handwritten sign, and held it in the helicopter's window. The pilot's sign said "WHERE AM I?" in large letters.

            People in the tall building quickly responded to the aircraft, drew a large sign, and held it in a building window. Their sign said "YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER."

            The pilot smiled, waved, looked at his map, determined the course to steer to SEATAC airport, and landed safely.

            After they were on the ground, the co-pilot asked the pilot how the "YOU ARE IN A HELICOPTER" sign helped determine their position in Seatle.

            The pilot responded "I knew that had to be the MICROSOFT building because, similar to their help-lines, they gave me a technically correct but completely useless answer."

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            Yeah, I've gotten to the level know [sic] when someone asks me the 'wrong' question I now answer "You're not asking me the right question".

            Allow me to introduce you to the next level - at this level you ignore minor failings of spelling or syntax (as you see them) if it is still clear what meaning was intended. If correcting mistakes, you take care not to make some of your own in the answer (bonus points for finding some error in this reply, but to harp on it *would* mean you're missing the point somewhat). Many people, who programmers might otherwise consider normal or even stupid, reach this level by age 18 or so.

            The structure of human langu

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by jedrek (79264)

            That sounds like a great solution to the problem of having people who like spending time with you.

        • by Swampash (1131503) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @08:24PM (#29788307)

          Software types are more analytical, (either as a result or as an cause of them being in their field). As such they see things that Joe Random doesn't even notice.

          When the waitress says "If you need anything else, my name is Betty" Joe Random grunts and takes a bite of his meal. Programmer dude wonders what her name is if he doesn't need any thing else.

          What you are describing is JOE RANDOM seeing things that the programmer doesn't even notice.

          When the waitress says "If you need anything else, my name is Betty" Joe Random instantly knows that what she means is "if you need anything else and you can't immediately find me, just tell any other restaurant employee what you want and that you are being looked after by Betty. I value the opportunity to provide personal service to you because I'm a waitress and much of my take-home pay is in tips from happy customers". Joe Random understands this because he understands people, has eaten in restaurants before, has tipped waitresses before, and he understands the unwritten rules of communication in a wide range of social situations, including this one.

          Programmer dude has problems understanding why people don't explain themselves clearly, when in fact the problem is that he has no sense of communication in a social context. Joe Random and Betty just exchanged a massive amount of information, referring to customs, past experiences, the hierarchy of the restaurant staff, Betty's personal situation, possible future events, and Joe Random's understanding with nothing more than one verbal sentence from Betty and a grunt from Joe Random.

          Programmer dude noticed none of this.

      • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:02PM (#29785943) Journal

        I think it has more to do with the way a geek's brain works. I'll give an example, true story-

        So I'm doing a little hired gun work for a friend who needed someone to set up a bunch of systems at this decently sized office. Now before I even get to his office i hear all these 'stories" about how Jimmy is 'weird" and 'rude' and how they needed him because he is a wiz at code so don't piss him off. Me, I've played gigs behind chicken wire and dodged gunfire before, so don't nothing phase me. A couple of days later some of them in that section of the office are stopping me asking "How do you do it? We can hear you two just a laughing and joking, he is NEVER like that with us!"

        I said "You just got to know how guys like him work, hell I've BEEN a guy like him. When a pro basketball player is shooting free throws and hitting nothing but net, would you disturb him? When he gets that blank look on his face the answer to a problem is popping in his head, when he goes flying off it isn't to be rude, it is because if he doesn't put it down RIGHT NOW he will lose it, maybe forever. The reason I get along fine with him is when I see that blank look come over him I just shut up and let him get into the zone. Do that and all is gravy."

        So this whole thing over the guy being "weird" or "rude" was just that he had anywhere from 3-12 problems at a time floating around his brain and when the answer would come to him he would have to rush to get it all down while it was fresh. By the time I left everybody got along fine with him, because when they saw that "blank look" they would just stop talking and pick back up next time they saw him. It wasn't like he was TRYING to be rude or act like an ass, it was just his head was "too full" and he needed to get stuff out when he fell into the zone. Sometimes you just have to let the guy work, you know?

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:24PM (#29785229) Homepage

      Less social skills may translate to less social inhibitions in this case.

      From my working experience with both programmers and other non-technical office personal, they're all equally weird, irrational and silly.

      Even 60 year old men and women are as childish and immature by nature as they were when they were 10, they've only got 50 more years experience in dealing with it.

    • by skirtsteak_asshat (1622625) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:50PM (#29785375)
      Take a NORMAL intelligent person and put them on the unfiltered net for extended periods, I think you'll find it rubs off on you. No amount of soap, scrubbing, or red bull can get your mind clean again.
    • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@s[ ]hdot.org ['las' in gap]> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:12PM (#29785527)

      Exactly. What do you define as "weird"?

      The question if something is $absolutePointXOnAbsoluteAxisY can only come from someone, who does not realize, that everything in this universe is relative. Especially things like "weirdness". And twice so. Because 1. your own view of what is weird, is defined relative to your own position ("That's weirder than me, so I'll call it 'weird'."), and 2. your own position is also only definable through other relative positions. ("How weird are you?" will always be answered with something like "Well, less than that crazy guy. But more than that no-fun loser there.")

      Additionally, I don't think weirdness is ever reducible to one axis, and so it's also a multi-factor value (aka. multi-dimensional vector), where things like weighting them based on their orthogonality to get to the magnitude, come into play. (In other words: What factors make someone weird for you, and how important are those factors?)

      The thing is, that the importance of that question is dependent on your own self-confidence.
      Basically, if you know you're cool and fun and all, then even if someone calls you "weird" you will say "Nah, you're just no fun.", not even trying to defend yourself. (For what? He is wrong, not you. :)
      And if you are insecure and think you are a loser and a weirdo, you will believe them. You will most likely even act according to your expectations of yourself. Expect yourself to fail in harmonizing with others. (Harmony [the "rhythm"] is an essential factor in social groups. I love playing it like an instrument, when I'm able to.)
      For all positions between those extremes, of course the result is something in the middle.

      Sadly, most software developers grew up, thinking that it's somehow "uncool" to be able to create all those wonderful programs with their elegance. That social incompetence is to be expected when one "hangs in front of his computer all the time".
      Seriously? Who says that? Have you ever checked? Has anyone ever checked? Are those who checked even competent to check it? Or is it all just a false social conditioning, based on prejudice and exclusion of the unknown, like with children in school? Something that still dominates your life right now, by making you insecure *for no freakin' reason at all*.

      [optional part]

      I was like that. EXACTLY like that. Worst of the kind. I had a huge fear to even *talk* to girls until I was 20+. Seriously!
      But as you might know, you will feel like wanting to die when you live like that. Luckily I realized, that all those social rules where just made up. My definitions of what I am were just made up. I could change them, and become whatever I wanted.
      And, oh fuck did I change! :D
      I just decided, that from now on, I know what is how, have my own set of values, and define myself and what I am. Then I worked to get to that point.

      And now I literally can't program, when I did not go out, and had fun, socializing and stuff. And when I'm out, I am not in the corner, in fear that someone could laugh at "that weird dork there". No, I'm in the freakin' center!
      I have no idea why, as I'm not thinking that I'm someone especially great or something, but people somehow love me now. I get drinks for free, people applauding me, and girls looking at me with glowing eyes. But I have no idea why?? Hell, there are so many better looking, cooler and richer guys in the same room! But hey... Not that I don't like it. :)
      And the best thing: Now that I have it, I don't feel any urge to try to get it anymore. It has become almost an afterthought.

      [/optional part]

      Conclusion: No. Software development does NOT make you weird. Not in any known universe! Insecurity, and a environment full of prejudice, since early childhood, make you weird.
      I'm a software developer / game designer and I am also according to others one of the "coolest guys they know". (Again, I myself am never trying to place myself above someone.)
      I see no reason why this should not also be true for anyone else on this site!

    • by v1 (525388) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:23PM (#29785607) Homepage Journal

      Well said. I think geeks place more value in how they feel about themselves, rather than how others feel about them. Ask a random hundred what's more important to them, "how you feel about yourself" or "how others view you", see what answers you get. You could probably pick out most of the geeks real quick with just that.

      • by Comatose51 (687974) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:35PM (#29786679) Homepage
        I don't know about that. Geeks care about how other think of them. Geeks often feel the need to be recognized as the smartest guy in the room. Put a bunch of geeks together and see the type of arguments they will get in. They'll split hair until there's nothing left just to proof their "superiority". They might not care how others think of them in other dimensions such as clothing, hygiene, sociability, etc. but "intelligence" in a very narrowly defined way matters a lot to geeks.
    • There is a "normal". Its is not however, a statistical result. Rather it is closer to a Platonic ideal, an archetypical state of being that all aspire to, yet few if any achieve. Intelligent, sophisticated, gregarious, athletic, witty, educated, admired, adventurous, wise, inspirational, a pillar of society; in short everything the Modern Major General should be.

      When people say "normal", what they really mean is "ideal". "Why can't I/you be more normal?!", really means "Why can't I/you be closer to perfection!!". The concepts of individuality and uniqueness is for most people, platitudes. In reality, they strive for unreasonable goals and live in perpetual disappointment with their own and others "shortcomings".

      Our industrial society, saturated as it is with millions of identical items, widgets and products, cannot really accept habits or traits that fall outside the norm. Witness the rise of "disorders" like Aspergers or ADHD; habits and attitudes which cannot be accepted as a normal part of the human condition, and which must be medicated to bring them closer to the ideal or "normal". If you do not conform to the tolerances specified by what is seen on television, cinema or in the New Yorker magazine, you are a defective widget and must be either corrected or replaced.

      Some programmers have traits or habits not usually seen in the general populace. Invariably you will find that the problem is rarely these traits in and of themselves, but rather the discomfort of others who when faced with such deviations from the norm actually become offended and will seek redress. For a long time, our society catered to this outrage and imposed conformity towards the contemporary ideal. Happily we've stopped doing this, and we're all better off because of it. However, there remain many who can become visibly distressed whenever the world does not agree with their own conceptions. Often they will fight to change the world rather than change their minds.

      The truth is we are all individuals. And the real truth is that this is more than just a platitude.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lunzo (1065904)

        Having met people who have Aspergers or ADHD I'm quite happy with both conditions being classed as disorders. Someone with ADHD will do anything to get the attention of others and can't bear being out of the spotlight for 5 seconds. By anything I mean acting completely out of character and adopting different personas when around different people if they think that acting a particular way will get them the attention they crave. I knew someone with Aspergers at high school and he had no concept of emotion. E

      • by cain (14472) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @06:53PM (#29787773) Journal

        The truth is we are all individuals.

        I'm not.

  • by elvesrus (71218) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:11PM (#29785123)

    It's the screen radiation, but The Others don't think that way...

  • by noidentity (188756) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:16PM (#29785147)
    I'm thinking that different professions have different levels of social pressure to conform to a certain way of behaving and appearing, and the coder profession has less of this pressure, perhaps because good programmers have to constantly question assumptions and think outside the box to come up with good designs. But hell if I know or care.
    • Yes! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by NoYob (1630681) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:28PM (#29785253)
      I've known some pretty interesting folks in all professions - they just keep it to themselves.

      And some organizations do not put up with behavior at all that was mentioned in the article. A more professional manager would have a much different team an wouldn't have had the problem he had.

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:16PM (#29785157)

    Here's a tip: everybody loves to think they're unique and "weird." The most conventional, boring, person you know is going to describe how wacky their party was if you ask.

    In reality, there's no such thing as "weird" because there's no such thing as "normal." If you encounter somebody you think embodies "normal", well, you just don't know them well-enough. (I bet a lot of people thought Tom Cruise was normal before he started jumping on Oprah's couch.)

    • Pedantic (Score:5, Interesting)

      by copponex (13876) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:35PM (#29785291) Homepage

      I think most people who are detailed oriented are considered eccentric. Good businesspeople, programmers, chefs, military strategists, and anyone who has to have things a certain way are considered weird.

      Programmers just happen to be more detail oriented than most everyone else. One character in a program with hundreds of thousands is the difference between having something that compiles and something that doesn't. It takes a certain type of personality to accept this as part of the job description.

      There are certain people who have it worse - civil engineers and doctors, for example. Once they have computed a load or prescribed a treatment, there is no way to edit and rebuild.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tonycheese (921278)

      While I do think this is a big part of the story - that people just think they themselves are weirder than other people, it would make sense that software developers are weirder than other professions. My impression of coders are that the people who get sucked into that field or that profession tend to dislike regular, non-internet social interaction than other people. Compound that with a profession that requires less social interaction than other professions and people will start acting how they want. I g

    • by TrekkieGod (627867) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:07PM (#29785503) Homepage Journal

      Here's a tip: everybody loves to think they're unique and "weird." The most conventional, boring, person you know is going to describe how wacky their party was if you ask.

      If you read the article, you'll see that this isn't what this is all about. The "song lyrics developer" placed song lyrics in the comments of his code. That was apparently "distracting" to QA, so managed had a talk with him. They asked him why he did it, he said that when he was writing boring code, that made it more exciting, so they came to an "agreement" where he'd stop commenting the code with lyrics and in exchange, he'd be allowed "to pursue more interesting side projects."

      In other words, management thought that they exchanged the extra 15 seconds it takes every time he writes one of those lyrics comments to get him to do more work for them in the form of "interesting side-projects." Poor dude agreed because he likely felt his job was threatened, and what they actually did was make him less productive because he's no longer as happy in his work.

      Now, it wasn't even a problem of offensive curse words in comments, which is quite common. He was just peppering the code with random lyrics. Any company with management that makes things THAT strict is making the work environment a serious pain, and it's not someplace I'd work at. I suspect that guy also started submitting resumes to other places and just agreed to compromise until he could find a better job.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @05:28PM (#29787109) Homepage

        I'd much rather have a comment tell me something is a WTF and is clearly violating some assumption the developer had rather than lyric comments. Work is work and play is play, I might end up making doodles on meeting notes during PHB moments but not on the final writeup I send out. Somehow I suspect the lyric comments were instead of, not in addition to the comments that ought ot have been there. Take five, grab a cup of coffee and chill out with whatever rather than stuff that kind of things into the product.

  • No, there are not (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ZouPrime (460611) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:18PM (#29785171)

    Strange, weird and unique peoples work in every sphere of society. You only think coders are special because you happen to hang out with coders and not, say, accountants. If you were hanging out with accountants, you would find accountants a weird and diverse bunch too, but instead you have a stereotypical view of how accountants act, just like the rest of the population have a stereotypical view of coders.

  • by mpoulton (689851) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:18PM (#29785173)
    The stories in the article don't seem unique to software at all. That type and degree of weirdness shows up in every type of work, techie or not. People are just strange! We all know our families are strange - we've either adapted and become oblivious, or moved on. With coworkers, however, we are forced to interact daily with a group of random people we don't get to choose individually. That exposes us to a broad cross-section of societal weirdness that we aren't used to, and we notice it. I think everyone has had this experience to some extent. That's one reason The Office is such a popular show; we can all identify the Michael Scotts and Dwight Schrutes in our lives.
  • We're just better suited to the task.

  • Short résumé (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:23PM (#29785223) Homepage Journal

    Everybody is unique.

  • Or... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:24PM (#29785231) Homepage Journal
    Do weird people naturally become software developers?
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:27PM (#29785249)
    A lot of softies I know feel they have to prove something. Whether that's simply to get attention, or as an attempt to stand out from the masses, I can't say. It does seem though, that if you want to get noticed you have to be or do something that set you apart. Examples such as being a drama queen (is this classic attention seeking as you see in small children?), or claiming "special allowances" (I've just *got* to have a desk by the window - or I get SAD") or just having strange habits or superstitions: like not getting in to the office until lunchtime ("but I'm an afternoon person") - for whatever reason.

    Personally I think a lot of it has to do with power and boundaries - again, just like with small children. Because any IT person who shows a modicum of talent is so sought after, that their employers will go to great lengths to retain them. If that means playing along with their emotional issues, well: so be it.

  • What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yvan256 (722131) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:29PM (#29785265) Homepage Journal

    Are Software Developers Naturally Weird?

    What do you mean? African or european developers?

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eihab (823648) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:30PM (#29785271)

    This must be some kind of a joke. The first "example" is:

    When Ted would deliver his code for the QA group for testing, there would be much rolling of the eyes. You see, Ted like to sprinkle comments in his code that were not relevant to the software. And not just irrelevant comments, but just plain weird comments. For example, a case statement would be preceded with:

    “I went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees. Asked the Lord above for mercy, ‘save me if you please.”

    Huh? Or, a comment next to a loop would state:

    “You spin me right round, baby right round like a record, baby Right round round round”

    Yep – song lyrics. The first is from an Eric Clapton song “Crossroads” and if you saw the Wedding Singer, you’d recognize the looping Dead or Alive lyrics.

    But, again huh???

    Where these comments hurting anyone? Probably not, but they were at a minimum distracting.

    That's not weird, this guy is just an idiot who can't be bothered commenting his code.

    I'm fine with the occasional clever witty comment (I've done it myself) as long as the code makes sense and that everything is documented (e.g. This method does x, y, z and also takes over the world).

    The other two examples are just as bogus:

    a) a guy who interrupts co-workers at inappropriate times and starts chatting about life matters and doesn't know when to shut up.

    b) a girl who's always on the phone distracting co-workers with inappropriate topics (calling guys about passing STDs to them and eventually doing phone interviews for other jobs).

    I'm sorry, but none of this warrant a "software developers are naturally weird" headline. People are weird and every profession has its crazes. I can think of a lot of professions that suffer from the last two examples more so than software development.

    This article is either a troll or the bastard child of a slow news Sunday, either way, I took the bait.

    • Quite so... (Score:3, Informative)

      by denzacar (181829)

      Also, author comes off as a bit of a jerk.
      "Crossroads" and "You spin me round" comments were not only funny, but also completely on topic.

      "Crossroads" - case statement, "You spin me round" - loop.

      "At a minimum distracting"? You know what else is distracting?
      Having a sense of humor.

  • No, not that wierd (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:31PM (#29785273) Homepage

    If you think software developers are weird, you're not getting out enough.

    Commission salespeople and futures traders are much weirder. Some CEOs are weird. Low-end rock musicians are weird. (Above the "club band" level, some sanity tends to emerge, or at least the self-destructive ones are filtered out.) Strippers are weird. Successful high-end call girls, though, tend to be chillingly sane when not in their work personas.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You know lots of CEOs, futures traders, rock musicians, and high-end call girls, do you? I'd like to work where you work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by russotto (537200)

        You know lots of CEOs, futures traders, rock musicians, and high-end call girls, do you? I'd like to work where you work.

        Either a brothel or on Capitol Hill, I would think. Can't see anywhere else you'd have all of them.

    • CEOs & traders (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:41PM (#29786733)
      My personal view, based on several of them, is that CEOs are weird because they are put in an impossible job which rewards a degree of psychopathy, but are expected also to be successful socially. Traders would be expected to be weird for quite a different reason. As Taleb points out, they think that they are making rational decisions which affect the outcome of their bets, when in fact the outcome is more or less random. As a result there is little correlation between their mental processes and reward. This is a recipe for neurosis.

      Programming involves trying to reproduce the literal mindedness of an autistic person. Maths involves deliberate abstraction from the real world. Surgery involves doing things that may kill someone in order to cure them. It's unsurprising that these occupations too can result in strange mindsets in their practitioners.

  • by nycguy (892403) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:31PM (#29785277)
    This article reminds me of a couple of incidents earlier in my career:

    I usually find the HR department to be pain in the ass, but there are times when they are indispensable. When I first started working, I was managing a team of fresh college graduates. They all went out together after work one Friday for "movie night." The next week, one of the women who worked for me came to my office very upset. Turns out that after movie night, she'd gone to a bar with her fellow team members, then taken him back to her place and had sex. She was worried about pregnancy and disease because the sex had been unprotected. She was also upset that he was "being cold to [her]" the first day back in the office. At that point, I just said, "this is a topic for our HR department" and walked her and her "movie night buddy" to the office of the HR rep for our area. The resolution was to have one of them volunteer to be transferred to another area, but there was subsequent drama anyway. Social ineptitude coupled with inexperience and raging hormones is an unusually bad combination.

    I also worked with a programmer who cursed worse than a sailor and "adjusted himself" more frequently than an entire team of baseball players. We used to take bets on how many times he would grab his crotch during a conversation, and if the meeting was all guys, we'd all adjust ourselves for laughs and to see if he'd pick up on it--he was completely oblivious. For whatever reason it went on for years without anyone ever doing anything about it. On the cursing part, he did eventually get called in to HR and scolded for his language, to which I am told his exact response was "Holy shit, I'm so fucking sorry." He still kept his job, though.
    • by jonaskoelker (922170) <jonaskoelker@ g n u .org> on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:26PM (#29786139) Homepage

      if the meeting was all guys, we'd all adjust ourselves for laughs and to see if he'd pick up on it--he was completely oblivious. For whatever reason it went on for years without anyone ever doing anything about it. On the cursing part, he did eventually get called in to HR and scolded for his language, to which I am told his exact response was "Holy shit, I'm so fucking sorry." He still kept his job, though.

      Here's the lesson I learned from your post: some people are willing to change, they just need someone to tell them how they should change. They might even be grateful that you've helped them change for the better.

      Now, ask yourself: whenever you find people you'd like to change, do you want to risk them never changing by not asking? How does that weigh against the risk of them being offended by you asking?

  • by cryfreedomlove (929828) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:39PM (#29785309)
    I find that often hiring managers tolerate jerks in our profession because a lot of hotshot programmers develop a large ego early in their careers, aided by management teams that enable this disfunction. The net result is a work place with high turn over of 'normal people'. There are a lot of hiring managers who read Slashdot. My message to then is 'Don't hire jerks'. Great programmers have lots of options about who to work for. If you have a team where you tolerate jerks then good people will leave and good prospective employees will turn down your job offers after meeting your jerks during the interview process.
  • by jjohnson (62583) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:48PM (#29785363) Homepage

    Geeks love to tell themselves self-congratulatory tales about how they're weird, or prone to Aspergers, or otherwise exempt from the normal conventions of human interaction, because they're so smart and talented. Hey baby, I'm a rockstar! I don't need to know all that crap about proper hygiene or graceful social interaction--my brain is too full of powerful code that's the next killer app!

    Programming will mature as a discipline when programmers see themselves as not that different from any other skilled, educated professional.

  • viewpoint (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ei4anb (625481) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:49PM (#29785367)
    "Weird" is an irregular adjective that varies with the pronoun. An example illustrates best:
    I am interesting
    You are eccentric
    He is weird
  • by Admiral Burrito (11807) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @01:52PM (#29785399)

    Yes. Computing is warping our minds.

    Computers are just so damn logical, working with them is completely removed from normal everyday life. It's well known that people anthropomorphize computers in order to deal with them in our own frame of reference, but conversely we also mentally shift our thinking into a logical form which we aren't evolved to deal with, so that we can work effectively with computers. The more closely you work with computers, the more this will affect you.

    I don't think this is a new thing though. Mathematicians and people working in hard sciences have certainly faced the same sort of thing. For example, many early scientists (eg. Galileo) have faced persecution because they have found a mode of thinking that "normal" people have found objectionable.

    It'll only get worse as technology progresses.

  • Developers... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 18, 2009 @02:15PM (#29785553)

    I don't have much respect for developers.

    I am a simple laborer who couldn't afford higher education, but I have my geeky things, specially related to videogame design.
    One day, I reunited enough will to combine my work with making a game of my own. It's still in early alpha but it's doing alright.
    Thing is...knowing I have no full education background, I dealed with C and OpenGL and their quirky things (pathetic string support, stupid color handling requiring to learn GLSL to do something worthy, respectively), all by myself. This is not specially impressive, but I didn't do by choice. I had to learn the same way with art/pixel art/animation and sound/music as well as general technique to achieve effects. It wasn't difficult to learn to do the media, but the code is not as straightforward. So I tried looking for help around in order to do some specific things that were hard.

    Every single programming question I deployed on the net was received with an elitist disregard, sending me to read tons of papers and stuff I don't really have an use for, specially because even if I try I can't understand it. They assume you have high education in MIT and you had to start from mainframes like they did or something. This is specially true on the IRC channel #opengl, where everyone seems to be too elite to deal with n00bs and giving incredibly obfuscated replies generally being more of a "don't bother me you fucking ignorant n00b".

    Unfortunately I don't know anyone else who codes around me (this country is not specially literate on IT), since most of my people are laborers like me who'd rather watch TV and get drunk instead of venturing into a coding project. And I can't blame them because unless you reinvent the wheel infinitely you are doomed to be inferior to the top dogs there. They limit knowledge sharing with their arrogant and "I am better than you" attitude, and it's sickening.

    There would be far more indie games and open stuff if they weren't so stubbornly elitist and shared that knowledge because it's going to die when they do otherwise.

    • Re:Developers... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by andre_pl (1607319) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:02PM (#29786397)

      Every single programming question I deployed on the net was received with an elitist disregard, sending me to read tons of papers and stuff I don't really have an use for, specially because even if I try I can't understand it. They assume you have high education in MIT and you had to start from mainframes like they did or something.

      Game programming is a very difficult field, are you expecting these people to just write code for you? sometimes you really do need to understand the fundamentals in order to be able to write the code, If people are giving you links to tons of papers to help solve your problem then I would argue that they are being helpful, its not their fault that you "don't really have an use for" it, or that you don't understand why the background information is important. it sounds to me like you think programming is as easy as "give me teh codez" and then pasting it all together, which may be true for a subset of simple problems, but when developing your own game, its simply not that easy, and you really do need to study and read, a LOT. Even if your game is going to be really similar to some other game out there, you can guarantee that the code is very very different, and nobody can just throw you some code to solve your problems, you need to study and read and understand, and THEN you can write the code yourself... if you need to ask questions in order to create your game, then you don't have enough background knowledge and you really do need to read the materials they're giving you... EVERY programming problem can be solved with enough reading and understanding of the works of the giants whose shoulders you stand on, and nobody will have a more appropriate solution to your problem than you, you just need to find that solution yourself.

  • by oldmeddler (1614805) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:22PM (#29786113)
    Software developers are normal. It's the rest of the world that's weird.
  • by Nitewing98 (308560) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:26PM (#29786141) Homepage

    Thinking over the folks I've worked with, I would have to agree that geeks in general share some common traits. We hate inaccuracy (sometimes pathologically). Most of us have at least one toy (maybe more) on or in our desks. Geeks that do tech support all hate "stupid users" but depend on them for a living (there's a dichotomy). Programmers usually expect true logic to apply to people and are disappointed in people when they won't be logical. Most of us come in late and work late. Once we go home, we get on our computer at home. We tend to like science fiction and fantasy books/movies (including comic books). We will easily convince a non-player character to join our dungeon quest but get a "deer in the headlights" look when confronted with asking someone out on a date.

    Not every geek will conform to the stereotype, but stereotypes come about because they are observations about life. We're not all like the above description, but see if there aren't several of those traits that apply to you.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @03:41PM (#29786245) Journal

    You are "weird" if some narrow pursuit makes up the majority of your life. Be it programming, stamp collecting, keeping up with fashion, or memorizing baseball statistics. It naturally makes your interests rather narrow and much too extreme for average people to understand.

    The non-weird people are those with a well-rounded life, and (generally) moderate or mediocre marketable skills (if any). I know plenty of normal people who make minimum wage... Very few (though some) who are in the top 5%.

    And besides, we sysadmins are much more normal than you programmers (freaks!).

  • by TheNarrator (200498) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @04:19PM (#29786515)

    In order to be a good programmer, one has to have a very good memory for trivia. Why do you think Ken Jennings, a programmer, was the best Jeopardy contestant of all time? Computer systems and APIs are so complicated that if one cannot remember a good chunk of the APIs and how trivia about how parts of the systems work, it can be difficult to get anything done.

    Having a good memory for trivia makes it easy to see all kinds of connections among things in non-programming life, namely in culture, or in day-to-day life in general. This usually leads to a special kind of creativity in which one brings together one's own set of personal behaviors from tying things together instead of just following a template that society provides for us. For instance, instead of trying to imitate the confident corporate person they see on TV, a programmer will choose their outfit based on utility and comfort, pulling together shoes, pants, gadgets, etc, based on utility and comfort.

  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @07:09PM (#29787859) Journal

    First, I am sick to death from seeing people try to claim some watered down form of a mental condition that excuses excessive behaviors they mostly wish they had and makes them seem special without having to put much efforts towards it or even understanding much about it. Understand this about autism/Aspergers and pretty much any state considered disordered as compared to the general population: meeting a diagnostic criteria includes having some persistent behavioral anomalies. Having some of the same persistent behavioral anomalies does not qualify one for the diagnosis. Very few of any who actually earn the diagnosis are capable of anything productive. And if one were to go with the behavioral criteria, the vast majority would earn themselves a far less appealing diagnosis or three, and which point they'd rebel against the process and disclaim any association with any disorder.

    Now, we have in fact looked at 'weird' in psychology, but mostly as to what people think it is, rather than an objective state. I've looked at what kinds of people get that label and how. Programmers, or geeks/nerds in the technical literature, earn that label -- literally. They tend to start out more similar than most, and develop a specific quirk or three in order to exert individuality. They themselves keep each other within boundries of weirdness by approving or disapproving of others quirks, as often as not in how they're expressed rather than pure content. The effect is one of most people taking on the task of marking themselves an individual by developing an unusual, hopefully unique set of markings for their clothing. They appear to ignore the fact that the piece of clothing is a jacket collar. They appear to be unable to recognize that the collar is always on a Nehru jacket.

    The defining word is "affectation". The evidence is in the desperation with which the concept is held and in how vehemently it is denied. A close analogy can be drawn with those who have strong anti-authoritarian rebelliousness early in life. It is not that they are anti-authoritarian, but rather than they are overly sensitive to it and dislike the fact that early in their life they are near the bottom of the ladder. They frequently end up at the other extreme. Likewise, the chronically similar act to differentiate themselves as soon as their situation allows, but only within a limited way, the rest remaining a recognizable part of the fairly closed group for which similarity of some sort remains more a badge than the differences. These too tend to evolve to the opposite end of the spectrum, common end states being either comparing swag t-shirts from conferences, or comparing their ties, the only major item of difference they would ever consider sporting having bought into management.

    You may now feel free to mod me down as troll or flamebait just because I've answered the question with my own considered opinion which will no doubt prove unpopular. Refer back to "vehemence".

  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Sunday October 18, 2009 @10:01PM (#29788859)

    No, I think you are transformed by your stereotypes. In the Anglo-Saxon world, but more particularly in the USA, people are often pigeonholed/pigeonhole themselves into categories, and the stereotypes of their group only serves to reinforce their traits. "Jocks" are more "jocky", "nerds" are more "nerdy", "popular girls" try hard to be more like popular girls, and so on. It's not just in high school either, it works for anything else too.

    I think there's a culture in Anglo-Saxon countries (but again particularly in the USA) for people to trade some of their individual identity for their group identity, which makes people that are strongly defined by the group they feel they belong to, and who identify strongly with those groups. In other words I think that the Anglo-Saxon civilisation is more naturally geared toward communitarianism and self-segregation.

    To contrast with this, in France (where I was born and raised), this phenomenon is practically non-existent, or only extended to social classes (e.g. "les bourges" or "les racailles"). As a result, people (of the same social class) tend to have a feeling of belonging to the same group as anyone else, and personal identity is therefore almost entirely solely reliant on individuality and personal traits, and generally there's a lack of self-awareness as to which pigeonhole one would fit in.

    The consequence of that lack of segregation is that people in a profession don't seem necessarily much more different than people in another. That's how you can have more colleagues in IT who look like rugby players or bikers than colleagues who look like stereotypical nerds. A small confirmation of this was the admission from Irish engineering students that all the foreign French students they had seen in Engineering were much more 'normal' than Irish engineering students were.

    So my answer to the question is, besides aspies, self-reinforcing nerd stereotypes, and a strong awareness that you're "just a full-blown nerd".

  • Visual-Spatial (Score:3, Interesting)

    by poofmeisterp (650750) on Monday October 19, 2009 @12:20AM (#29789897) Journal

    Visual-spatial memory and thought are my primary driver.

    For those who don't "have it," I may appear to be a completely weird person that they can't understand... someone who can look at things from 200,000 different angles and still say that there is no answer.

    It's hard to find friends, lemme tell ya. :)

  • Art vs Science (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Monday October 19, 2009 @02:05AM (#29790639) Homepage Journal
    In my opinion real software developers are more like artists than (computer) scientists.
    If you look at artists for all the disciplines, you'll find that almost all of them could fit the concept of weirdness.
    For the good and the bad.
    Divergent thinkers [wikipedia.org] are very often at the base of new (software) solutions to old problems or for a fresh new breakthrough..
    So, yes, very likely developers look weird when compared to anyone else.

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth. -- Niels Bohr

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