Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden

A guy walks in to your company for an interview. You’re the interviewer.

The applicant is “highly individualist, moralist, elitist, arrogant about his superior intellect … contemptuous of corporate profiteering … and, at times, fond of anti-authoritarian sloganeering.

Would you hire him? (The majority of such applicants are male).

For former Google and Microsoft engineer, David Auerbach, the answer is yes.

Even more startling to many, is the applicant he described was Edward Snowden, the man accused of whistleblowing the U.S. National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance program.

Without getting in to the NSA’s Stasi-like program, it’s easy to see how a typical Snowden would soon be unwelcome in a standard company.

“In a field where an overlooked bug could cost millions, you want people who will speak their minds, even if they’re sometimes obnoxious about it. Seniority does not grant respect or authority,” Auerbach writes.

For a normal business — i.e. not one that celebrates creativity — Snowden’s behavior is verboten. Even the most brilliant programmer will find themselves standing outside clutching their final payslip and wondering how up to date their resumé is.

In a small country like Ireland — and I’m told Israel is like this too — the hotshot programmer’s big sin would be causing “offense.”

That is, some poor diddums, usually in a more senior position, gets his feelings hurt because someone pointed out he was wrong. (I’m talking about men here because, in my experience, I don’t think women take offense as easily about stuff like that).

But, the experience would be the same in most companies. People free with their opinions and forthright about perceived stupidity don’t tend to hang around for long.

Auerbach says part of the problem comes from the nature of programming. The quality of coding and tech skills can “be assessed far more objectively than other measures of intelligence or job performance, and it can split your worldview into the same objective, extremely meritocrtatic terms.”

Or maybe Auerbach got it back-the-front. People with that worldview are attracted to software development. Regardless, it makes for an environment where things are right or wrong, black or white, or smart or dumb.

The Opposite

Funnily enough, in the same week I read about Snowden, I came across a blog post advising quiet workers on how to interrupt.

“There is one kind of person (who is universally disliked) that brags, is always talking, pretends they know it all, doesn’t add value, but acts like they are really important.

There is another kind of person who is highly capable, but doesn’t speak up because they are SO afraid that they will turn into (or be seen as) that first type of person.”

Just in case I get accused of making a Snowden-like division of everybody, the article in question says there is “loads of room in between.”