Ask anybody to describe a rock star developer and you will get a myriad list of definitions.
· They solve every problem quickly
· They are deadline beaters
· Their code is virtually bug-free
· They love taking challenges which are unsolvable
· They are the backbone of the project. Nothing works without them.
And so on…….
So far so good. But that brings us to another question.
Do rock stars remain rock stars forever? Why do we often see situations when developers start as rock stars and end up being mediocre? What brings their downfall?
The short answer is indispensability.
Their downfall starts from the day they start becoming indispensable to the project. Work starts revolving around them and sooner or later they end up getting sucked into work from all sides. No meeting starts without them. No solution is complete unless vetted by them. They cannot go on vacation as nobody is there to cover for them. And the other developers get so accustomed to The Rockstar handling difficult problems that they become lazy and complacent.
The result? The rock star loses his creativity. He gets burned out. His work degenerates and becomes scrappier by the day and one day he quits. The project suffers. The team suffers and the company suffers for putting all the eggs in one basket. The rock star developer also, often never recovers from the burnout scars and becomes a mediocre developer who does his work assigned to him, nothing more.
The lesson here is becoming essential and not indispensable.
An essential developer focuses on the work to be done but keeps himself out of the picture. Their goal is to help others help themselves so that they can free their time for bigger things.
An indispensable developer, on the other hand, monopolizes all the work and hurts himself and the team in the long run. The essential developer creates a team of rock stars and the indispensable developer leaves behind a motley of ignorant and incompetent fools.
And real rock star developers leave behind a 10 X times more effective team rather than focusing on being 20 X times better than the rest of the team.
Here are some ways to be a real rock star developer.
Be a Linchpin.
Seth Godin in his book Linchpin describes the linchpin as a person who can “invent, lead (regardless of title), connect others, make things happen, and create order out of chaos.” Linchpins are the people who can work with “no rule book,” people who are happy to always make their best effort to transform even mundane tasks into works of art to be cherished.
And as a developer, you can be a linchpin by simply gifting your knowledge. In ancient tribes, those who had the most power, the Kings and Queens and Chiefs were those who gave the most gifts. In the modern world, a developer’s power comes by gifting empowerment to other developers. There can be several simple ways to go about it.
· Be a mentor and groom junior developers
· Write utility codes that can be used by all.
· Create a side initiative project in cutting edge technologies involving other developers.
And so on…
The key here is to give your art for free without expecting any repayment in return. This can be your best ideas, your incredible coding skills or open-sourcing that amazing software you designed.
By empowering the team with the most precious gift you ever gave, you are not only building your own tribe but also fostering diverse creative energies within the team.
Control FOMO-Fear of Missing Out.
Essential developers are eager to explore new opportunities but also very selective in what they choose to do and what they choose not to do.
For example, you want to attend a highly informative course on SAP HANA. But the timings are clashing with a meeting, which you need to attend every day to give a status update. You know precisely that you do not contribute anything to the meeting but people expect you to be present in the meeting. You are popular and don’t want to disappoint anybody but at the same time, you know the meeting is not adding any value to you or to the team.
What will you do? The real fight here is between satisfying your ego versus satisfying your knowledge. Essential developers know that tangible value far outweighs the loss in popularity votes and they select precisely that.
Essential developers do a trade-off between the essential and non-essential every day. They are OK if there is a drop in popularity as their focus is on long term tangible results which benefit all. They believe and advocate the logic that less means more and more = mediocre. More and more is always valueless.
Staying true to your purpose and being selective results in a more meaningful quality of life. Essential developers are not afraid of missing out on the action. Rather they relish the joy of missing out(JOMO) so that they can use the time constructively.
Essential developers focus on the real work, their real results and let the non-essential fall away.
Be an Everyman’s leader.
The essential developer is an everyman’s leader.
He might not have any position or power but he always takes that extra effort to help whoever needs his help. He is an agent of change and quite often developers flock around him rather than around their managers when they are feeling lost or stuck somewhere. He sees you struggle, take five minutes to teach one neat trick and show you that you can do it too. He creates a single point of trust who can be approached by anybody in times of need.
And at crunch times, the everyman’s leader rises to the occasion, help people around them rally and organize, and work cooperatively to resolve the part of the situation they have some influence over. And above all, they do not hoard knowledge as they know knowledge is power only when it is shared. They share their knowledge because they consider that if it’s useful to them, it will be useful to everyone.
That said, the main characteristics of a real rock star developer are the same for almost any field or position: integrity, adaptability, and the desire to do excellent work. And it all comes down to one simple truth; — pour your soul into whatever you do. Represent your brand in such a way that the whole world knows that you own it. You will then be truly a star in the real sense.
As Ice cube has rightly said.
Don’t worry about being a star, worry about doing good work, and all that will come to you.