Who is a Rock Star?
I say Lemmy Kilmister.
He is the guy who founded Motörhead. In 2015, he made a new record. At this time, he was 69.
Yes! But it is not that obvious for some of us. Recruiters look for “rock star engineers”, “ninjas” or bad-ass-nerf-gun-fighters. I heard some people announcing a “rock star” at a conference - but then only some guy with a Mac entered the stage. I am even guilty myself to call some people a “rock star”, and now I feel bad about it!
For some reason, programmers like we are not happy to be just “programmers”. We call ourselves “developers” to make clear we do more than typing into a computer. “Architects”, who don’t build bridges, to make clear we are the people who tell “developers” what they should type. And “Engineers” is popular too. Why can’t we just say we are all programmers, no matter if you hack excel, write emails or actual code? Each role in a software project today is meant to program some computer.
I would like to explain why I don’t like to be called a Rock Star, even when you think I am extraordinary in any kind (I am not).
I knew a few things about Rock Stars. I wanted to become one when I was young, but I failed. Today I am happy I failed.
Let us take a glimpse into Lemmy Kilmisters life.
According to Lemmy’s book “White Line Fever”, Rock Stars tend to drink and smoke. They love Rock’n’Roll music and are on tour as often as they can. They have no home; they are nomads. If you are going onto Lemmy’s nerves, chances are you end up in a punch-up with him. I heard he drunk up to two bottles of Whisky a day without getting drunk. Hotels might tell you a story or two about rock stars too.
Rock stars are people who entertain us. We worship them. We love their art. But we don’t want to have them in our living room. What would you say, when Ozzy Osbourne would bite off animals heads in your kitchen? When Alice Cooper would spill blood on your brand-new carpet?
Rock stars make rock music.
If you don’t like a song of Motörheads recent album, it might surprise you they don’t have GitHub Issues and don’t accept any change requests. They label each issue with “won’t fix” by default. From a music theoretical standpoint, Lemmy might not write the perfect songs. Who cares?
Rock Bands are sometimes single man shows. Rock-Band-Teams do not use Kanban or Scrum! Instead, they sometimes show up in meetings full of beer and drugs.
Office rooms are closed all time, even in summer. There are no windows in the office. Even when four people sweat in a small rehearsal room, you cannot open the doors - it would be too loud for your neighbours. Sometimes the smell of a rehearsal room is also annoying for neighbours and cannot be compared in any way to the usual office smells.
If you are not exactly as big as Motörhead, you have a problem. Drinks are expensive, people are stealing your music in the internet and idiots ruin your live shows with a bad sound mix. Finally everybody out there wants to become a Rock Star and it’s pretty difficult to stand out of the masses.
Software Developers are opposite. We are usually somehow educated, don’t punch our managers and accept change requests. We have hardware gadgets and a hair cut (most of us). We need to work with our minds, which means we cannot drink two bottles of whisky daily.
We may like to play some music from time to time. But when we have joined a peer review and the colleague smells like he didn’t change his clothes after three days of party in the nearby night club the fun stops.
Unlike Rock Stars, we use version control and check our history. We focus on progress. We want to keep control when we work (with Scrum); Rock stars try to lose control on stage. Lemmy will never go on stage, remember how to move at 2:53 when playing “Ace of Spades” or announce “Killed by Death, Version 2.53.1”.
Let us define a “Rock Star Programmer”.
“A rock star programmer is a guy who always looks drunken and just does his own thing, not caring about others. You can’t put him on a team because he doesn’t like to discuss his code. IF he joins a meeting he is usually late. He doesn’t care about version control but changes our applications in the production system without testing. He urgently want credits for all of his changes and constantly complains somebody has stolen his ideas. And after a while working with your Rock Star you’ll find out that he keeps the window closed for days, and the whole office smells of sweat, beer and cold cigarette smoke.”
Unless you think that I am a Rock Star: please don’t call me one.
This is a half-serious blog post that I wrote because of Phil Taylor. Phil Taylor died at 61. He was known for his innovating drumming style, back in the 80ties. Phil did not only influence the big drummers like Lars Ulrich, but he also influenced young dreamers like me. RIP, Phil!