I'M A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER. I'm as good as anybody I have ever met at programming computers and a lot better than most. What I'm not good at is dealing with people.
One day, in a desperate attempt to get out of a terrible job situation, I wind up across a desk from one Dave Champion, in a job interview.
Dave says, "You have a good background in defence programming and the kind of skill set we're looking for. You have significant recent experience in the areas we need. However, you have a reputation for not being able to deal with people."
I say, "Mr. Champion, over the past several years I have worked for any number of operations here in San Diego. Thus, I have worked with at least some of the programmers you have on staff. A careful man, such as yourself, has therefore checked with your staff and interviewed the programmers with whom I have worked in the past. Since you have interviewed the programmers with whom I have worked, they have told you that I can work with people. Thus, you already know I can work with people. It puzzles me as to why you're asking me about my ability to work with people."
Dave pauses and looks carefully at me. He then says, "Yes, the programmers you have worked with in the past say that you're good and that you can work with people. However, the managers you have worked for say that you're good but that you can't work with people."
I ask, "Are you then interviewing me for a manager job, where I'll need to work with other managers or a programmer job where I'll need to work with other programmers?"
Dave smiles briefly and says, "A programmer job where you'll need to work with other programmers. Apparently your inability to work with managers won't be a problem here. However, why is it that you seem to have an inability to work for a lot of managers?"
I say, "You'll note, in my resume, that in addition to programming, I have also sold a lot of programming work to the military. I did that sales work by patiently explaining to military officers how I could solve their problems and then by defending my sales pitch to the military technical guys. The average manager can make a sales pitch to a military officer, however, he can't defend his sales pitch to the military technical guys. If my method of selling ever catches on, there'll be a lot of former managers out of work and a lot of articulate programmers moving up into manager's slots. I suspect that the managers have arrived at the same conclusion. That may explain the hostility of the managers."
Dave chuckles, "You know, that just might explain some of your problem with your previous managers. I used to be a programmer myself and I can see maybe a bit of the situation from the inside."
The interview then continues for a while. However, it has become clear to me that Dave has to have my skill set to get at least some of his work done. In addition, my skill level will overcome any reservations he has about my supposed inability to work with other people. If I don't screw up, I have the job! I make damn sure I don't screw up.
Finally we get to talking about salary. I go all the way to asking for a second bowl of gruel and it sells!
At the end of my interview, Dave makes me a job offer and I accept.
I resign from my current job. I'm careful to keep my resignation professional and not burn any bridges. Well, I do burn the bridge to my current manager, but that bridge was burnt a long time ago.
I go to work for Dave Champion and do that which I do. I do the work that I'm assigned. I also help the other programmers, at their request, to solve difficult problems. The junior guys think I'm a great guy, however, the senior programmers begin to complain to Dave that I'm doing something wrong.
Dave calls me in and tells me, "I'm getting some complaints from the senior programmers about your work."
"Exactly what sort of complaints?" I ask.
Dave says, "Apparently the other senior programmers don't think you should be involving yourself with the junior programmers."
"Dave, I do the work you assign me. My work is good work and I know it's good work, because it has to pass peer review and then Configuration Board review. When my work is delivered, it works as advertised and the customer is happy. I also help other programmers, mostly junior programmers, but only when they ask me for the help. I'm a better programmer than the guys asking me for help and that's obvious. I haven't made any kind of fuss about the help I give or the obvious ranking it gives my skill. It would appear that some of your senior people are worried about the obvious ranking it gives my skill. Given the situation, what would you suggest that I do?"
Dave thinks for a minute and says, "I would suggest that you continue to do what you're doing, without discussing this meeting with anyone. I told the complainers to quit their bitching and get back to work."
I say, "Good, that's what I'll do."
I go back to work, and continue to do my assigned work and a bit more. One other thing I do is to continue to work out after work.
I was an athlete in high school and a pretty good one. I played three sports and even won a couple of league championships as a track and field competitor. Unfortunately, I wasn't good enough and also not big enough to earn a college athletic scholarship. During my college days, I grew to six feet two inches tall and got a lot stronger. However, the magic time for a college athletic scholarship had passed and I didn't have the time to try to walk on to earn a place on an athletic team at the major university I attended.
I did continue to work out to keep in shape. I prefer to learn things rather than just run around a track or strain at weights. Thus, I took up kung-fu and became pretty good at it. Even after I graduated from college and started to work, I kept up my kung-fu practice.
However, upon reflection, I can see that the kung-fu thing is a continuation of a problem that I'll always have. I'm not a people person and I don't do well with things where people interaction is a key. I do get along very well with the guys who I play kung-fu with, but they're mostly eighteen or nineteen-year-old guys who'll never advance my cause socially. Unfortunately the only 'solution' to the problem is for me to try to be someone other than who I am. I may not be all that good at people skills, but trying to be someone other than who I am will lead only to disaster.