The Soldier

A Difficult Software Developer who does exactly what they are told without questions, regardless if it is the right thing to do.


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 biding 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 Soldier is 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.

12 thoughts on “The Soldier

  1. For the record, if you are a contractor, what is described in the article (doing what you are told to do without thinking about consequences) is actually illegal here in Russia. The relevant law is Article 716 of the Civil Code (quoting only the relevant part, as translated by Google):

    Article 716. Circumstances about which the contractor is obliged to warn the customer

    1. The contractor shall be obliged to immediately notify the customer and, until receiving instructions from him, suspend work upon detection of

    – the unsuitability or poor quality of the material provided by the customer, equipment, technical documentation or the thing transferred for processing (processing);

    – possible adverse consequences for the customer to fulfill his instructions on the method of performing the work;

    – other circumstances beyond the control of the contractor that threaten the suitability or strength of the results of the work performed or make it impossible to complete it on time.

    © YSS System Lawyer material.
    Read more:

  2. As an (unapologetic) Soldier, I’d also suggest adding a bit for our paths to creation. Something like “They were brought up in a highly structured environment, causing this trait to become deeply-rooted in their methods of responding to leadership suggestion” or however you want to word it.

    Personally, I was raised in a military family, and in addition to that playing a large role, I took part in several similar structures (highly structured, strict leadership) growing up, like sportsball teams and the Boy Scouts. So with an authority figure over my head at almost every step of the way, I never really had that taken away, and still like to make sure that my tasks are well and clearly defined by my project managers before I get started on them as a result. And if I don’t know, I make sure I find out from them. I enjoy a little freedom, but eh structure and chain of command make things easier on me; I find I flail without them.

  3. I’m a soldier. I feel at odds with my team so I’m resigned to just do what I’m told and go home when it’s done. The more I care, the more I’ll get disappointed.

    It’s a coping mechanism to deal with disappointment but also be productive and still well liked.

  4. My first job was the US Army. I was absolutely mystified recently when I was scolded for following orders that I disagreed with.

    I had repeatedly asked “are you absolutely sure you want me to do X”. And got very forceful affirmative answers.

    So I followed orders.

    I doubt they’ll be happy when I push back. But I have been instructed to do so.

  5. I am a soldier too. I just never let my opinions run because back home it’s usually dismissed. I also find it more efficient to just follow orders as opposed to debating them and getting the bad side of my peers. I know this is not an ideal trait to have especially when you’re expected to put out more initiative on ideas.

    Even with that awareness, I find it very difficult to break out of my shell, and it’s taken me years to learn to speak up more. However, there are times when I feel like I say something just to say something, and I don’t really think they bring anything to the conversation. I think one way to train a soldier is to mold them in the kind of system (and the logic behind it) they must follow so that it’s ingrained in their reflex. If anyone were to call out something opposed to the system, it’s easier for them to follow the root core of the beliefs.

  6. I am a soldier.

    Unless you are going for team lead, you are probably going to leave in 1-2 years anyway. Wild success or wild failure, the product manager is going to get the credit/blame. So you can invest in the project and get squat or you can invest in your resume and enjoy the next jump.

    Being a soldier frees up 3-4 hours a day to work on developing my skills that would otherwise be spent battling over project management.

  7. There seems to be a missing “is” in the Solution part:
    “…the source of why The Soldier [is] so compliant without question, …”

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