[A]t no time in the 16 years I worked as a programmer did I ever have the slightest doubt that technical merit would be rewarded. Software development managers have a chronic and urgent need for talented engineers who can solve real business problems, and this gives the engineer a relative immunity to politics. If the engineer thinks of politics, it is probably because he has an ambition to obtain a role of influence beyond his technical niche.
Late in my career I became a technical writer. Suddenly, I noticed that office politics mattered. You had to be more careful about what you said in e-mails. You had to worry about not offending people on the outskirts of your professional orbit (editors, production people, even secretaries). The sort of technical writing I did requires a lot of knowledge about operating system internals, but the measure of performance is less objective. As Eric Raymond noted in a previous podcast (The Cathedral and the Bazaar), a computer program either works or it doesn’t.
Lacking any such ambition, I ignore office politics, except to note that I’ve already been through high school once already, fercrissake, and I refuse to endure it again.