Fireside Chat #48: The cult of the hero programmer

Ebunola Adenipekun

Ebunola Adenipekun

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At Codurance, our MDs Sandro Mancuso, Mashooq Badar and José Huerta regularly meet for informal chats after work, where they share their personal insights. These discussions form the basis of our Fireside Chats, which you can find on our YouTube Channel.

This episode focused on the role of the hero programmer - and the supposed cult status they are bestowed with.

José opened with: “The other day I was watching one of those tweets from the whole Twitter saga… someone was like, ‘Oh, I drank a RedBull and I spent the whole night rewriting that piece of crack code that we have had for ten years’. And for me, this is the kind of talk to the point of the hero programmer or the hero developer.”

Mash wanted to be clear on the definition: “I should define what I mean by a hero programmer. And it comes from a few times where I've seen this phenomena in teams in my career where there is this one person that understands every part of the code base and has built all these mechanisms, templates, where things might be and how to get it fixed. But the way they do it is only specific to them. So they're not a team player. They're basically in it for the glory and the only person in the team that matters to them is themselves. 

“The main reason they can put out those fires and they know where the fires might be is because they're often the cause of it! But no one really cares who caused the fire. But they are the ones they come to. And I've seen a few times where there's even a competition and who changed the most lines of code in the past year in the whole system and it was that hero programmer.”

The trio brought about topics such as glory-hunting, a healthy culture, if a company is actually addressing a root cause or just a symptom, if such behaviour brings about a constant expectation and burnout and individualism.

Sandro brought a different perspective about individuals - and it was more about going the extra mile: “I think that companies are better companies and more successful when you have a few individuals that have that spark that you talk about sometimes, that extra motivation. We are not talking about extra hours. What is that spark? It’s that thinking ‘what else can I do?’, that kind of commitment, that kind of person that has that intimacy with their own work, so they should be treasured.”