Quote of the week

John Strong hits close to home, or to my home anyway:

[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.

(Via Sophistpundit.)


  1. fillyjonk »

    1 May 2009 · 7:12 am

    I channel all of my powers-of-denial in the direction of office politics.

    It’s the one area of life where I’m willing – no, happy – to play dumb.

  2. McGehee »

    1 May 2009 · 10:29 am

    The nearest I ever came to playing office politics (not in an actual office), I confess I played something akin to nuclear war.

    I got left alone after that.

  3. Tatyana »

    1 May 2009 · 11:04 am

    Oh, but what would people with arts/English majors do if not office politics? What would graduate of “social sciences” do? Or Poli? Or Philosophy?

    What would people like the over-100 days-incompetent in the White Office do, if not for the office/city/state/fed politics?

  4. CGHill »

    1 May 2009 · 11:13 am

    “Stay the hell out of the way” is obviously too much to hope for.

  5. Tatyana »

    1 May 2009 · 11:47 am


  6. McGehee »

    1 May 2009 · 12:11 pm

    What would graduate of …poli [do]?

    Ooh! Pick me! ;-)

  7. Tatyana »

    1 May 2009 · 2:59 pm

    McG: it’s a bit hard to go nuclear towards your manager, HR, Principals and/or clients. Although a girl may dream…

    How did you do it?

  8. Brian J. »

    1 May 2009 · 4:07 pm

    I heartily recommend a job in QA. You’re going to offend, bother, and kick everyone in the ego anyway. It’s very liberating, and the closest I come to politics is using passive voice to spare people’s feelings, such as saying “This was totally screwed up by you.”

  9. McGehee »

    1 May 2009 · 5:04 pm

    Well, like I said, it wasn’t an actual office situation. I just knew what the other person feared most and presented it as a possibility in all (apparent) innocence.

    Intimidation is a much more subtle tool than most people realize.

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