Asshole Engineers Tear Teams Apart!

Calvin sitting behind a "A swift kick in the butt" stand

This is the second post regarding personality types.  In my prior post regarding shy engineers, I mentioned some of the problems with being a too-shy engineer with respect to your advancement capabilities.  In this post, I want to broach the subject of the completely reverse side of that coin.  In fact, I have to admit there will likely be a bit of cynicism you’ll be able to detect as I write.  I’m referring to those I would like to call assholes.  Now many people have written about assholes, though most of them are referring to managers.  Bob Sutton has even come out with “The No Asshole Rule” which I highly recommend you read, regardless of your level in your organization.

There are a few features common to asshole engineers:

  1. Condescension oozes from their voice whenever they speak to you.  In fact, many will even respond to another person’s suggestion with contempt and derision because, obviously, no one can have good ideas besides them.
  2. They look for any opportunity to claim credit for success.  This includes taking credit from those shy engineers who they KNOW won’t say anything about it.
  3. On the counter side of that, they will look for any scapegoat to blame their failure on.  Beware of an asshole engineer who just got thrown into hot water, because they will be on the warpath to relieve themselves of that burden.
  4. In any idea that is not their own, they find and voice all of the potential flaws and drawbacks, no matter how minute they may be, while rejecting any and all criticism of their ideas, because obviously, no ideas are as good as theirs.  This should not be misconstrued as saying that criticism is bad.  Constructive criticism, as long as it’s productive, is essential.  The problem is when it moves beyond productive into demeaning.
  5. They suck up (yep, brown nosing) to their superiors and anyone who happens to have any power in the organization.  Obviously sucking up is the way to get noticed by management, and get promotions.  This has the side effect of actually getting them promotions… more on that below.

Asshole engineers have many adverse effects on the teams in which they work.  In fact, they can lead the team to utter failure!

First of these is a loss of productivity due to others feeling belittled and worthless.  Next is that assholes tend to dominate discussion and polarize issues to their advantage.  When this happens, even if their responses are the best option to be pursued, your team loses its cohesiveness as a problem-solving entity.

Third, along the lines of the mortgage situation we all have seen recently, assholes tend to privatize the gains and socialize the losses.  How often have you heard the lead of a team say that the success of the team was due to their unfaltering leadership?  I’d imagine frequently.  How about the other side?  I can’t say I’ve heard a lead say, “I failed the team and we couldn’t get it done.”  Instead it turns into “The team couldn’t get it done on time.”  There’s the socializing of losses…

I have two more types of engineer to discuss, the “I’m capable! Though I can’t/don’t show it…” engineers, and the productive, team building engineers.  I’ll see if I can come up with better descriptors by tomorrow.  Once these descriptions are complete, I’ll be investigating how management can cope with them, as well as how engineers can work to gain their rightful place amidst a sea of assholes around them.

What’s your opinion?  Have I left out any attributes of asshole engineers?  Do you have any insights as to how YOU think you would solve the problems that arise out of this type of behavior?  Please let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: please read my followup post entitled: “5 Ways to put assholes in their place

  • This is so true… especially when the asshole engineers become asshole managers…

    • Christian Fey

      I will be writing an entirely separate post on rising engineers to the level of incompetence in the future! It definitely is a problem and I’m constantly amazed that managers above engineers can’t see why it is so. Thanks for the comment!

  • Matsumoto

    Great post. This is very true. I am not an engineer, but I work with engineers sometimes. Asshole engineers are very difficult people to deal with…

    • Christian Fey

      I’m going to do my best to write some insights into how to deal with these types of people. Unfortunately, all too often, there’s very little you can do about it in the short term due to differing departments and managers, but there are some things that you can do. Stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

  • Just because you are talented does not mean you can treat everyone like trash. Thinking “Rodney” from Stargate Atlantis, my how we hated that character.

    • Christian Fey

      Thank you Wes! It is entirely true, but it seems that those who feel the most talented AND are Assholes need to stomp others down. Thanks for reading!

      • frank burch