A Developer who does exactly what they are told without questions, regardless if it is the right thing to do.
- Can mutate into: “The Bull in the China Shop” Developer
- Dangerous when coupled with: “The Tyrant” Project Manager
- Likelihood of fixing: None
- Danger to project: Low
From a management perspective, what could be better than a developer who does exactly what they are told to? Indeed, the key problem with The Diva Developer is that they will not do what they are instructed to, so surely a fully obedient developer is a boon to the project. Unfortunately, The Soldier carries its own liability: they will dutifully march off a cliff if instructed to do so, dragging the whole project with them.
The Soldier Developer can be of any level of competency – from The Incompetent to The Rock Star and anywhere in between. The key characteristic of The Soldier is their compliance: they will do what you tell them to do without question, every time. It’s easy to mistake this for fantastic leadership motivating the troops, but the fact is that excellence in leadership is very rare.
There are multiple paths that lead to the creations of The Soldier developer:
- You have rejected their objections so many times that they have simply stopped complaining, as they see there is no point. If their objections were valid, then you will have lost a valuable source of information as to how to improve.
- The Soldier only wants to do the minimum to get by, and doing only and exactly what was asked of them is by definition the minimum.
- They know you are asking them to do the wrong thing, and want you to suffer the consequences.
- They are so fed up that they are looking for another job, and are just bidding their time until they find one.
- They lack the knowledge and experience to know they are doing the wrong thing, and therefore stumble blindly forward.
- They fear being punished for making mistakes, and believe that doing only and exactly what they are asked for is the best way to avoid punishment.
- They have convinced themselves that being fully compliant is the path to career advancement, which is a sad situation as this is almost never true in the innovation-driven field of software development.
- They are actually an ex-military trained soldier and have brought that mentality into their new career of software development.
As a result, despite how pleasant is may seem at first glance, it is a rarely a good thing if you have The Soldier Developer on your hands.
Provided you are instructing them to do the right things, The Soldier can be of no trouble to a project at all. In fact, with strong leadership, having a staff of soldiers is highly effective. However, if you need feedback from your developers to help collaboratively guide the project, you will get no such collaboration. This leaves you in a situation of not knowing what you do not know, and The Soldier is not about to tell you.
If you can identify the source of why The Solder so compliant without question, you have a shot at fixing them. However, by their very nature, they will not be open about why they are the way they are. Their communication will normally be closed off, and they will want to keep the conversation on specific topics you have asked to speak to them about. If you press them on if there is a problem, the most likely response is “No”, regardless of their true feelings.
Your best hope is to glean from others they have confided in as to what their true issues are, but this requires that their confidants betray their trust, which is not likely to happen. Even if it does, and you do find their true issue, you then have to fix it, which can be difficult. Then provided you fix it, you have to hope The Soldier changes their behavior, as only they can change themselves.
All in all, they are nearly an impossible problem to fix. So, it tends to be a better investment to put strong leadership in place.