Becoming a Better Developer Part 10: What Do Your Colleagues Think of You?

This is part of an ongoing series centered on becoming a better software developer. For other posts in the series, see the Becoming a Better Developer heading in the right navigation.

In the book Joy at Work, the former CEO of an $8 billion energy company describes an experiment where he allowed a business development group to determine their own salaries over the course of two years.

The first year everyone chose their own salary but the numbers were kept private. The result was that the best people paid themselves too little, and the average and under-performing people paid themselves too much. This is in line with Paul Graham’s quote: “…people who are great at something are not so much convinced of their own greatness as mystified at why everyone else seems so incompetent.”

The next year the company set a total budget for the department’s salaries and repeated the exercise, except this time all of the employees had to submit their proposed pay to their colleagues for comment – not to be approved or rejected, simply for comment. When everything was said and done the department was only slightly over budget, and upon closer inspection the company determined one person was highly overpaid based on the salaries of his colleagues with similar abilities. This person had not listened to the feedback of his co-workers who had told him he was overpaying himself. After being informed of this, he reduced his salary and they met their budget.

What does this tell us?

First, people who think they are underpaid are probably not very good at what they do.

Second, people who think they are overpaid are probably pretty good.

Finally, the people you work with are the best judge of your abilities. Yes, even better than you.

If everyone at work thinks you’re abrasive, it’s time to take a serious look at your interpersonal style.

Have you ever seen yourself give a speech or teach a class? Every time I see footage of myself I’m shocked at how I look when I’m in front of a group. I’m appalled at my posture and nervous ticks I didn’t know I had.

Your colleagues are the video camera that can see your ability to write code, deal with stress, communicate your ideas, write clearly, and a whole slew of other things that are critical to our jobs as software developers. If you’re not using them as a resource you are overlooking a powerful tool that can help improve both your technical and non-technical abilities.

The moral: If you are genuinely interested in improving as a developer, ask your colleagues what they think of your abilities. Not just your development skills, but your writing skills, interpersonal style, ability to deal with stress, etc…

Then ask them again and tell them to be honest.

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5 comments ↓

#1 ~rick on 10.20.06 at 2:05 am

Nice post…I guess it’s time to stop complaining about being under-paid.

#2 http:// on 10.20.06 at 2:08 pm

This post only applies to $8 billion dollar companies and the experiment was probably with managers who are overpaid anyways. In smaller companies, best people are underpaid and everybody knows it.

#3 Bart on 10.20.06 at 8:13 pm

I believe the main take away from this post is that asking your co-workers for their honest feedback is one of the best things you can do to learn about your strenghts and weaknesses. I would also include your clients in this list of people to solicit for feedback. Often this works best if you do it annonymously. You can hand out surveys to 10-20 people and place a drop box in your office/cube. If there are comments or responses that you’d like to follow-up on you can simply start talking to these people about what you learned and see who is willing to share more details.

#4 Tyler Watson on 10.27.06 at 6:06 pm

I really enjoyed this post. We can be an inward-looking people, but not accomplish an accurate self-reflection. It’s a scary proposition to ask others to evaluate us, but if done in a safe and honest environment, I could see how such an exercise could reap huge rewards.

#5 Jonathan Danylko on 11.30.06 at 6:21 pm

Good article! I love the series. :-) Interesting philosophy about the under and over-paid mentality. If you’re looking for more programming lessons, I posted something similar about lessons learned over a 20 year period as a programmer. http://www.dcs-media.com/desdev/Detail.aspx?ArticleId=578 JD