If you've worked in tech and have any degree of actual talent, you have run into the following scenario: You are on a team and that team has at least one member that isn't pulling their weight. The reasons why generally range from a lack of work ethic to a lack of talent. Regardless that person can't seem to get themselves fired. Why is that?
UPDATE 8/9/2023: Lutz, in this particular case, has now been fired. Nobody misses him.
As somebody who is currently on a tech team that includes a person whom we universally agree is dead weight, I have spent a lot of time pondering this as of late. This person, whom I will refer to as Lutz for the remainder of this post, started a week after I did and has produced largely nothing over the last nine months. In the same time period I have delivered features, bug fixes, new tools and new processes to help streamline our ability to actually deploy software. Lutz's real superpower is their ability to turn an hour long bug ticket into a multi-week odyssey of bullshit standup updates, Teams unavailability and a complete and utter lack of code commits.
Let's be real clear: Lutz isn't a junior developer. Their resume claims they have eight years of development experience. Yet the current situation is one in which nobody asks them for their opinions. Nobody has assigned them any real level of responsibility. Behind the scenes we have all conceded that we don't give Lutz anything truly important to work on because we are afraid that not only will they slow walk it at best, but that they'll screw it up badly at worst. The other day in our Teams chat Lutz actually asked the team: "Does anybody know what could be causing this divide by zero exception I'm getting?"
Now don't get me wrong, I have a lot of bitches to pitch with my current employer. However this is not a trend that is unique to them. No in fact I have seem some variation of this story play out time and time again at virtually every single job I have had for the last few decades. To be blunt: I'm more than a little tired of it.
In every single case: The worst part is that everybody on the team knows Lutz is useless yet we are all powerless to do anything about it. Lutz was clearly under performing in their very first month of employment. If I had the power, I'd have fired Lutz after a few months, because I do believe in at least offering somebody a path to redemption before letting them go. That of course would've required me to give them a heart-to-heart talk (likely more than one) and basically lay down an ultimatum which I would then have to let play out.
Despite claims on the parts of my managers over the years, I don't believe they are doing an effective job of this. Now to be fair, I'm sure some of the responsibility for this falls upon the company itself as some companies make it insanely difficult to fire people outside of a layoff style event. In this particular case, Lutz is making absolutely no effort at all. My personal theory is that Lutz is likely working more than one job at the same time and we happen to be the one of lessor priority. Even then, they're not particularly good when it comes to the actual work. They're mediocre at best, and that's me being kind.
What I would like to say to the managers out there is that having a Lutz on a team is a huge morale killer for your high performers. It aggravates me to no end that I'm spending hours thinking and coding through the difficult problems created by my employer's sometimes less than rational project aspirations while Lutz is clearly spending their free time finding new and inventive ways to jam their fist up their own ass. Every time I have to listen to Lutz unload one of their bullshit updates in standup and listen to my boss take it at face value, I have to be sure my microphone is muted. Gagging doesn't come across well over Teams.
As my regular readers know, I hate tech job interviews. They are basically soul sucking exercises designed to weed out people who can't / won't eat a lot of shit, perform parlor tricks that in no way correlate to future job performance, spew off a bunch of useless facts and win the algorithmic quiz bowl. My current employer had one of the easiest interview cycles I have been through in years with the height of difficultly culminating in a timed live leetcode session which they recorded. But you know what? None of that matters in this case. Every team I'm on seems to have a Lutz. Lutz goes through the same interview process I do, whether it be insane or easy. Lutz still gets hired. Which means that our insane interview processes aren't particularly effective when it comes to keeping the dead weight off the company payroll.
Part of the problem here revolves around the fact that measuring the performance of technical people, software developers especially, is extremely difficult if not just outright impossible. It gets even harder when you try to do it in a way that allows you to statistically compare the performance of one developer to another. There is no doubt in my mind that this truth factors very heavily into the Lutz problem. Because there is no widely accepted legitimate way to measure developer performance, there is no way to "fall back to the data" when it comes to making the case for firing a developer.
That of course would make any competent HR professional leary, because their primary job is to protect the company from the employee. In the case of Lutz, the prevailing logic seems to favor a calculus in which simply paying the person until they choose to leave and tank some other team's / company's productivity is less risky than firing them and potentially having to deal with a lawsuit.
Finally I think one of the other problems here is that most managers really don't want to fire people. While I am sure this is an uncomfortable situation and I don't envy them having to go through it, this is kind of what y'all signed up for. We live in a world which has legitimized the idea of having a fulltime professional management class. You can at least do us a favor by attempting to do that job well even if you can't be bothered to fully understand what your underlings actually do.
With all that being said, at the end of the day I put most of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the managers themselves. To them I say: Find your cajones and fire the dead weight. The size of your empire when measured in terms of headcount alone is meaningless if you have a roster filled with Lutzes. Keeping them on the payroll is a morale killer for your high performers and given a long enough timeline, will result in you losing those high performers.
I have worked with a lot of Lutzes over the years. I wish they would all find a different line of work. My current Lutz is no exception. I also wish my managers, both current and former, had the insight and the principles required to do what is best for them, the team and the company as a whole and invite these people to a party at the unemployment office.
Because that's where Lutz belongs.