This post originally appeared in Human Infrastructure Magazine, a twice-weekly Packet Pushers newsletter. You can get Human Infrastructure for free when you sign up to become a Packet Pushers member at Ignition.
This tweet crossed my Twitter timeline recently. I’m confident it’s not actually by the legendary investor Warren Buffett because it’s not a verified account, and the last name is spelled wrong.
Besides, I suspect Mr. Buffett has better things to do than fuss with social media–empire building must be quite time consuming.
Even so, I liked the sentiments expressed.
I’ve decided to make my own list from an IT engineering perspective. And instead of listing the smartest traits, I’ll explore the characteristics of the most fragile.
The most fragile engineers I know:
- Are easily offended. Engineers I’ve met with fragile egos lack confidence and are offended by everything. New technology. Having to integrate with other tech silos. Having to make design compromises. Criticism. They are argumentative, angry, and hypercritical of others, describing them as “idiots,” “morons,” and other vociferous denigrations. And since managers (senior executives especially) are obviously useless, every managerial directive is a new source of outrage and offense.
- Talk more than they listen. Fragile engineers need to prove to everyone that they know everything. When explaining a problem to them, they cut you off as if they already know what to do about your issue. They think they know better than the business stakeholders, and like to implement technology instead of solve problems.
- Enjoy arguing. The most fragile engineers I’ve worked with are contradictory people. Their perspective is rarely “we can figure out a way to make this work.” Instead, they want to prove why the new thing can’t work, didn’t work the last time, and won’t ever work in the future. They are a barrier and not an enabler.
- Never admit when they are wrong. Fragile engineers are never wrong. They never make a configuration mistake. They never unplug the wrong cable. They never shut down the interface that cuts them off from the management plane of an entire campus. They never power down the wrong router in the rack. They never make a bad recommendation. I mean, they do all of these things. We all have. But fragile engineers never admit their screw-ups, covering up with ambiguity. Truly evil engineers will blame others.
- Doggedly hold an opinion. When confronted with evidence, they will contradict and fight despite what the data says. These folks seem to think that changing an opinion is some admission of inadequacy, and fragile egos can’t tolerate that. Facts be damned.
- Keep smart people away. Fragile engineers are threatened by more skilled engineers, and will do their best to keep them away. After all, a skilled engineer might make them look bad, and that just won’t do. It’s not about growing into something better. It’s about protecting the existing situation.
- Force others to accept their perspective. The fragile engineer doesn’t want to hear other points of view. Why bother when one’s own point of view is clearly the only correct way to think? For these folks, the best way forward is to convince everyone else of their idiocy, and wrestle them to the ground with their opinion.
After more than two decades of working with technology, I hope I’m more mature and less fragile. Writing my contrary points above, I found myself wincing at a career’s worth of memories tied to such people.
A fragile ego can steamroll relationships. The data center rack you stand up today is the one you’ll tear back out eventually. It’s not that important that you won the argument about the cable coloring scheme.
Interpersonal relationships have the potential to last much longer, and can make you better in the process. They are worth investing in. However, you need to be vulnerable before that growth can occur. Vulnerability isn’t fragility–it’s admitting you don’t know everything.
Vulnerability is a sign of maturity.