Rick could not solve the problem of how to work effectively on a team.
We fired our top talent. Best decision we ever made.
Jonathan Solórzano-Hamilton

Why was Rick allowed to reach this point? Did anyone question why things were this way? Did Rick have a manager — and, if so, what did the manager do? Did anyone ever try to mentor Rick in working more effectively on a team?

I think these are essential questions. Because, if your only response to a Rick on your team is to fire him — your team is going to generate and chew up a lot of Ricks in the future, because Ricks are a structural problem.

I’ve personally been on a Rick-trajectory before. The best thing to ever happen to me in my career was for my manager to take me aside and have a hard conversation. I was not fired. My manager realized that my apparent arrogance was actually anxiety & stress & long hours & overwork because I really didn’t want to fail. And no one else was helping. As it turned out, I wasn’t a genius or the only smart guy in the room — it was just that I was allowed to fall into that niche and everyone else cleared out of the way as a matter of organizational habit. And, of course, it didn’t help that I was irritable & angsty all the time — see also: stress & overwork.

My manager set me on a path to step away from the core of the project, ease off the throttle, mentor others, document things, strip away the complexity. My manager helped me to understand that what I was doing was of no use — no matter how apparently clever — unless my teammates could understand it and pitch in. Over the years since, I’ve gotten near obsessive about increasing the “bus factor” on all projects involving me, since I don’t want to be that Rick again.

Yes, of course, the Ricks of the engineering world have culpability and need to grow self-awareness about this stuff. But, sometimes a “senior” engineer is incomplete and is actually “junior” in a lot of the ways that count. They don’t need firing, they just need help.

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