The Diva

A Developer so convinced of their irreplaceability that they adopt an attitude of arrogance that makes them impossible to manage.

Problem

At some level, to manage someone, they have to do what you say. The Diva Developer cannot be managed because at their core, they do not believe they work for you, and instead that you have the privilege of working with them. They believe themselves to be utterly irreplaceable, and therefore believe that they hold all the cards in any discussion.

Contrary to their own belief, The Diva Developer is not necessarily a skilled developer (see “The Rockstar” Developer). Their arrogance is based on their view of themselves in the organization, not their actual technical skill. As a result, it is all too common for The Diva developer to rate their skill level much higher than that of their peers, when in truth it is not. This generally leads The Diva Developer to be disliked by their fellow developers.

To determine if you have The Diva Developer on your hands, you can look out for these common catch phrases:

  • “That’s stupid – I’m not doing it like that.”
  • “We should be doing it this way.”
  • “If you don’t like it then you can talk to my manager.”
  • “Well, we’ll see about that.”
  • “I’ll go talk to your boss about it and see what they say.”

The Diva will not take direction. They consider any attempt to be managed as an insult, as they are above having to be accountable for their actions. The Diva problem personality is commonly found among long-time developers who were deeply involved in the companies early success. Now, years later, thanks to their long standing relationships with company founders, believe they are beyond reproach by a mere middle-manager.

The Diva does not represent a material danger to the project, as they typically do nothing but blow hot air. They are disruptive, however, and tend to have a negative effect on moral – especially among newer, more productive Developers. They must therefore be brought back in line in order for the project to flow smoothly.

Solution

The solution to The Diva Developer is to disprove their core belief: That they are irreplaceable and therefore can do whatever they want. The most direct way to disprove this belief is to hire their replacement to work closely with them. To adequately convey to the (most likely in denial) Diva that this is indeed their replacement, two conditions must be satisfied:

  1. The replacement must be better qualified than The Diva
  2. It must be made clear to The Diva that their replacement has no other job than to shadow and be trained by The Diva as their replacement.

The quicker the replacement is at picking up any legacy knowledge The Diva may possess (see “The Legacy Maintainer” and “The Hostage Taker” Developers) , the faster The Diva will fall into line. The effect can be dramatic, such that you may see a turnaround in attitude in only a few days. This is comes in the form of The Diva being highly complementary of their replacement. Ultimately, they are no longer irreplaceable, and therefore are no longer a diva – they are simply a bad employee.

The only hope The Diva then has of retaining their self-perception of status is to get promoted into a managerial position (see “The Aspiring Manager” developer). The more savvy The Diva, the earlier in the training of their replacement they will attempt to do this. Promoting them is ill advised, however, as you will most likely see resignations from developers The Diva is put in charge of. Therefore, upon rejection of their request for promotion, they are left with only two choices: Fall in line with the other developers, or leave. In either case, your problem is solved.


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