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The Irascibles

There is a recent Valleywag article on the top 10 tech tyrants – the toughest tech executives. I note (with dismay) that Valleywag "sees genius" in these individuals.

If you've been reading my journal for a while, you've probably realized that the types of companies that these people run aren't good environments for me. OTOH, when those are the only companies that are hiring, there isn't much choice but to deal with it, somehow.

So here's a thought for you. The entry on Bill Gates notes that as a sixth grader, he once told his mother "Have you ever tried thinking?" If I had ever said such a thing to my mother (or any adult, maybe even anyone within my parents' earshot), I would've been picking myself up off the floor (to coin an oft-heard praise from my youth). It's like the old Lou Rawls song A Natural Man – when someone told you to do something, you did it. No lip (or expect to be smacked in it). So where does this notion come from that it is ok, even preferable, to treat people with utter disrespect?

Another thought. The article also mentions the famous Steve Ballmer chair-throwing incident. I wonder if Steve Ballmer has faced anyone who's just as irascible as he is, but has no fear of him. Someone who, if they felt threatened, would just pop him one good one, enough to send him to the hospital. (After all, a chair thrown, even if not directly at someone, could still cause an injury depending on where/on what it lands.) Would he be so quick to do something that is not only disrespectful, but is reckless, if he thought he would suffer retribution? When I was a kid, playing on the block or in the schoolyard, it was necessary to be a little careful around certain people. If you stood up to their bullying, you ran the risk of having them pull a knife on you, and use it, even. There was also the risk of escalation, where even if you beat the bully up, the bully would jump you (send his gang after you). If you had a gang, you'd retaliate, etc. The end result: someone getting really badly hurt; maybe even killed, like in the Boyz in the Hood film.

So, I just want to understand the mindset; where all of this is coming from. How were these people raised such that they should think this behavior is appropriate, and even worthy? The other thing is, when I tell people that these sorts of things go on, and thus these types of companies are bad for me, they act like I'm crazy because they just don't believe these sorts of things occur. Or they act like I'm not trying to find a job when I say that I'm avoiding certain companies (but not getting offers from other companies because I don't do well enough on the interviews).


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 15th, 2008 12:03 pm (UTC)
Y'know... I don't get this, either. Let me tell you, though, it's not just tech companies. Sadly, it seems as if it's only in the high-value (monetary) tech companies that such behavior is rewarded. Oh, wait - and the high-value (monetary) financial companies, such as Fidelity, etc. I've met some real tyrants at the top from those as well.

In things like the arts, such behavior is tolerated, but kept mainly to the lower levels of the biz.
Aug. 15th, 2008 08:01 pm (UTC)
Sure, there's nothing new about any of this (except perhaps that the media lauds such behavior). I just wonder where it all comes from. Maybe the Ballmers of the world were spoiled kids, who would throw chairs around the room when they didn't get their way. Maybe they've just never grown up (and never been forced to). I wasn't raised that way; this was inappropriate behavior, even for a child. Is it better to be permitted to throw tantrums while also being exposed to advanced logic and mathematics as a child? I don't know.
Aug. 15th, 2008 01:01 pm (UTC)
I don't get it either. I think it's despicable.

People seem to think that rules are rules are rules. You're either a rule-follower or a rule-breaker. Great innovators are expected to "break the rules". What I would think that really refers to are rules about what products have to be like, what is possible to do, etc. They have to be daring. But to people who think that you're either a rule-follower or a rule-breaker, breaking rules about treating people with decency means that you're a rule-breaker, and thus daring and innovative. That's my current speculation, anyway.
Aug. 15th, 2008 08:32 pm (UTC)
When people are rude as children it's because they've seen adults get away with it.

When very powerful people are rude, it's because no one they care about calls them on it, and/or they don't face negative consequences for being rude.

If a company is big enough, the CEO's personality sometimes doesn't strongly affect certain departments or positions (that was my experience at Apple during the couple of years I overlapped with Steve -- I didn't have to deal with him). But it's definitely a good idea to avoid tyrant-run smaller companies.
Aug. 17th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
It has been difficult to explain to some people like my parents how some tech companies are. They interpret my avoiding such companies as not trying to find a job.
Aug. 17th, 2008 03:41 am (UTC)
Parents sometimes have trouble seeing nuances. :/
Aug. 18th, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)
One good reason to be work in at least a semi-rural area like I do: people like that risk getting shot, so they don't do it.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )