What are the characteristics of a bad software engineer?

Answer by Nachiket Naik:

  1. In my experience, these are some characteristics of bad software engineers:

1) The Stack Overflow bot: This person ran into an error, did a quick Google search and applied the first solution they found. The problem here is not that of copying from Stack Overflow. I think there are more solutions on Stack Overflow than any reference guide or manual. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful resource, if not the best. The problem is the robotic application of it without understanding the consequences. The problem is the application of it without fully understanding the context of it and whether it really applies to the current problem at hand. More often than not, I have seen people believe more of what they see on online forums than the code/system in front of them.

2) The I-am-not-a-tester: I don't need to test the code; that is the job of the testers. I don't think that even in this age of mature Agile methodologies, this attitude has waned. There is still an inertia against testing their code. Part of it comes from lacking the interest to set up a testing environment and partly from lack of coherent knowledge of testing. (Is it also partly due to an unspoken stigma against testers in the developer community.)

3) The I-hate-documentation: Some people believe that code documentation must be poetic and hence they lack the skill to do it, ergo not their job. In my opinion, these are the #1 foes of sustainable software. Good software is not software that provides a million cool features. Good software is one that has a few good features that are used consistently by many people and read/updated/modified by a thousand. This brand of developers who believes less in technical communication and precise and detailed documentation is the greatest weed to a company's success.

4) The ugly: My code works, but:

  • I have variables named x, flag, str, arr, etc.
  • Most of what I write is in one giant method.
  • There is no indentation.
  • No consistent coding convention or style.
  • Global variables spewed all over the place, etc.

This is the most annoying thing for me personally. It's not the issue that the code is bad. It could potentially be the greatest piece of code written. But if a diamond necklace is buried in the debris of the Titanic, nobody will find it, and nobody will want to clean it, wear it, use it.

5) The short-term investor: He codes. He deploys. He moves on. No attempt to learn the problem. No interest in the domain. Just give this guy a piece of code, he will slog on it overnight and hand it over. You got a fix/working software. Nothing more achieved from it. Sometimes, it's important that you have certain selfishness in the developer, one who not only cares about the deadline, but also cares about what he/she got to learn from it.

6) The protester: "I didn't do this". "This looks bad". "Not my problem". "This isn't related really to my fix, but someone way over there made a mistake". "I hate this (loop this sentence 10 times a day)", "I can't fix this, get the person who made this code to fix it".
The person who coded that mistake has moved on, when will you?

7) The dictator: My way or the highway is their motto. It's their "ideas" vs "your ideas", not "project ideas". It's their solution vs your solution. I bet there will be an argument for sure. Somehow they will keep coming back to a part of code that you implemented. It somehow discomforts them even if it works, tests, and looks perfectly fine. This person is a big bottleneck to productivity and will be the first person to crumble under pressure and start pointing fingers. This person is not good for the team, however experienced/good a developer he may be.

8) The overcautious: The Java developer who just froze when he learned that he would have to write a Python script. The developer who panicked on learning that something in the registry needs changing. The developer who cringes at having to input things in the database. These people will do anything to avoid getting out of their comfort zone. They have weird superstitions related to having to touch certain parts of the system. I have learned, from personal experience, that this phenomenon is common with new developers. Good developers show a tendency to slowly/swiftly move out of their comfort zone in exploration.

9) The careless: Forgets to take a backup, snapshots, has multiple working directories of code, leaves system out, prints in production code, etc. Again, this is a newbie tendency and gets better with more professional exposure.

10) The lazy pseudo-hacker: They pride themselves at being able to trick the system into working. They find magical solutions to seemingly complex problems. My experience says that 9 out of 10 times, it's just a facade. The hack is bad and will crash sooner or later and will cost much more than having to deal with it, with extra time right now.

EDIT: Please drop in comments. Maybe we could start a new follow-up question as to how a managers/peers/colleagues could handle these cases because almost all of them can be helped to become better. A design pattern of sorts for fixing programmer smells. :-)

What are the characteristics of a bad software engineer?


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