More Companies Adopt ‘No Jerk’ Policies

When it comes to hiring, there are two rules that Nimble Storage CEO Suresh Vasudevan follows. One’s a headline-grabber, the other obvious, if not often followed.

Angry Man“First, we do not hire jerks,” Vasudevan told the Register. “If I can choose between an arrogant rocket scientist and an agreeable guy that I love to work with — that isn’t quite as talented yet, I choose the latter.”

The strategy, which Silicon Valley regulars may recognize as uncommon, has apparently worked well. San Jose-based Nimble Storage, which sells flash optimized hybrid data storage systems, had a successful IPO last December, causing Barron’s to wonder whether it will be “the next great storage company.”

If there is a single overriding image of tech companies, it is of a world-class engineer who makes things happen but also happens to be a world-class jerk, someone whose bad behavior generates ulcers, hurt feelings, mental breakdowns and lawsuits.

For their titular bosses – if anyone really controls these people – it’s a deal with the devil. Great performance sometimes comes at considerable cost, and not just in salary and options.

One way Vasudevan avoids these people is by focusing hiring on those his workers already know.

“We love to work with employee referrals. It says a lot when our own employees bring another potential colleague to us, because they will have shared the company culture with that new colleague and have estimated they are the right type for us,” he said.

Hiring experts say that every selection matters, because a single poorly chosen employee can, over time, infect an entire company. First, they can demoralize those they work with. More importantly, as these people get promoted – and they do – there’s a tendency to hire others just like themselves.

Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht has gone so far as to add a “no jerks” line to his company’s job descriptions. And the Bellevue, Wash., corporate wellness company has noticed a change in who applies for its jobs. “The volume has gone up,” Albrecht told Inc. magazine, “so we know we struck a chord: We received more than 150 applicants for one position.”

Many people have actively pursued his jobs, “mentioning the company vibe and values, expressing a desire to work at a place where they are treated like people.”

What is a workplace jerk?

“There are often varying definitions of jerkiness — and sometimes stylistic differences can be misconstrued. If you raise your voice on behalf of a customer, is that jerkiness? We use judgment, but if a consensus develops, there may be a better fit for that person at a more jerk-tolerant company,” Albrecht concluded.

Comments

  1. BY Donald Peters says:

    In my experience, very few technical people are true jerks. Some are perceived as jerks because of the lack of social skills or tact or overcompensation for insecurity, but a little effort usually turns them into valuable team members. The real jerks have a legal degree or an MBA.

    • BY James N says:

      Best comment ever, Donald. Best comment ever.

      • BY Gus 3 says:

        Agreed. It would seem that this particular article is focusing on “Jerks” in the tech field. In my experience, any technical-minded and technically-talented “jerk” can be easily “handled” by an experienced, and caring manager.

        I’d like to read an article about which companies are actually putting money and effort into hiring and developing managers to care for their direct reports. Or, how about an article on trends and current practices from companies who are known to develop and care for their employees regardless of their personality flaws.

        What I took away from this article is that, even the smaller (start-up) companies are getting less tolerant of personality differences, and the trend is towards a more herd-like mentality rather than working with talented people to work with well with each other in tolerance of each others differences.

        Given my takeaway above, personaly, I would probably steer away from job ads with a stated “no jerks” policy.

    • BY JohnE says:

      I saw this article after reading a post on LinkedIn where someone was asking a fairly basic question on Java. While there were some helpful responses, there were quite a few “jerk” responses. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of jerks among technical people, and I say that as one myself (a technical person, that is, hopefully not a jerk).

      “Please, do some reading before asking…”
      “Their names are self explanative…”
      “Read the Javadocs! They are quite extensive regarding these types. You do read the Javadocs, right?”
      “Before you look lazy and/or stupid again, do your own research.”

      While it may be true that the poster could have done some research to answer the question, sometimes it’s helpful to get a more concise answer that such a forum could provide. It’s amazing that people wanted to waste their time posting snide remarks rather than just ignoring it altogether.

      • BY Don King says:

        Technical professionals are like a fine wine. We mellow with age and experience. The longer you’re in the field and the more varied your expertise, the more you understand and don’t care. Meaning that over time and experience, you come to know that there are millions of ways to accomplish on an objective, they all work, some better than others obviously, and you get to the point you don’t care which path someone wishes to take. The technical professional feels secure in knowing that regardless of the path chosen, the pro knows how to navigate the road to the objective. So, they’re generally eager to be helpful. So long as they’re not taken advantage of, or exploited in some fashion. This attitude, or persona, usually develops over a period of about 10 experience years in the field.

        Prior to that, particularly in the first five years of experience most technical, or technology, people have an arrogance about themselves. They think they know it all, and usually do. However, at the same time, most of them are insecure and scared of what they don’t know. Those that realize that which they don’t know, while at the same time feeling they know it all go on to become Technical or Technology Professionals. The rest are relegated to being arrogant jerks for the rest of their days in jerkdom.

        I wanted to distinguish between experience years and calendar years. They are absolutely not the same. The time that you spend learning, creating, inventing, pioneering, designing or engineering, developing and continuously adding value, are experience years. For example, if it took a technical person a calendar year to become proficient at something and be able to apply that expertise for new innovation, that’s an experience year. Every year thereafter that the person continues to add value by doing the above are experience years. If on the other hand that person with the 1 experience year were to essentially repeat that 1 year experience without adding any value that’s not experience years. That’s 1 year experience, repeated.

        Then on top of that you have what appears to be a by product, consequence (I don’t exactly know what to call it) of “one upmanship” of Internet.

        This is what I’ve seen. I agree with you that it would take just as much, if not more time and effort in typing up snide remarks, instead of typing up the answer. Or ignoring it altogether.

        I don’t know how else to explain it.

      • BY Unca Alby says:

        You also need to recognize that LinkedIn is supposed to be for professionals, not students. Every now and again, you’ll see a question that is so incredibly basic it boggles the mind.

        I’m still amazed at a question from an “Oracle Consultant” who was apparently stumped that sqlplus required a password. This is like claiming to be a race-car driver and you don’t know what those little pedal thingies on the floor are for.

        Some groups even expressly forbid asking “Homework Questions.” There are other, better places, to get answers for the basic questions. This should already be obvious when joining the group.

        And you get tired of it sometimes. Can you really blame a person for getting a little testy?

    • BY Unca Alby says:

      Hear hear!!

  2. BY Tim Loftus says:

    The best part is that the jerks have real trouble hiding their true jerk personality, and reveal it almost every time.

  3. BY Darian Dunn, CISSP, CISA, CRISC says:

    Although I have always tried to avoid jerks on the workplace, I keep telling recruiters the most important item I consider when changing jobs is my boss. If I have a good one, I will enjoy going to work. If I have a bad one….no matter how much they pay me, I will leave.

    I do have one concern with Nimble Storage’s hiring approach, “One way Vasudevan avoids these people is by focusing hiring on those his workers already know.” I would expect this would limit the influx of new ideas into the company. This could also lead to a non-diverse organization (all white or all black or all male or ……).

    If you have strong leadership at the top and circular review process, the jerks can be removed if one slips past the hiring process.

  4. BY Stimpy says:

    How about when the CEO is a jerk who has instituted punitive employee review mandates? Then the whole culture becomes an employee abusing jerk. I could name a few corporations like this, including the one I retired from not long ago. You need to evaluate the culture as well as your potential supervisor before hiring on.

    • BY Pete says:

      Stimpy, your post is great. A manager can be a complete difference and turn a whole team into a Jerk-infested nightmare. This happened to me in my last job for a financial services company, and the 6 workers on the team were either:
      A) too scared to confront said manager (actually, multiple confrontations were needed)
      B) too lazy and reliant on manager, given the title

      Imagine if the chief executive is a jerk, and this will undoubtedbly affect everyone in the company. That is very scary! Difficult to hold a CEO accountable.

  5. BY Rob R. says:

    “The real jerks have a legal degree or an MBA.”

    Agreed, I would also add HR people to that list.

    • BY Mike Andersen says:

      Yes, you nailed it by adding HR folks.

      • BY NavyFlyer1325 says:

        Let’s not forget to add Recruiters: Recruiters who do not read your submission, who want you to instead parrot back your skills matching the requisition in their hand, who want you to fill out a “screening form” for the requisition in their hand, who invite you most assiduously to submit for a position, but then never follow up with the results of the assignment. These jerks are the bane of my existence!

        • BY Dan says:

          Who recruits the recruiters?

          Who recruits the recruiter recruiters?

  6. BY Java4U says:

    It is clear to me that the company is looking to not hire jerks to improve moral. But to go so far as to say they would hire someone inexperienced over someone experienced is a bit to far. the customer suffers. I see this trend in many foreign based US companies out of India where they write whitepapers on why not to hire Rock Stars. The thinking may work well in low level projects with little oversight were learning on the customers dime is where the savings came from, but it works very poorly in high level, highly visible projects. It also may work well when brining in someone to learn from one of your Aces. But, it works poorly at the C and V level. I believe “We do not hire jerks” is code for hiring who you want to hire, US citizen or H1B. Most probably the latter. IT demands a meritocracy environment with a nursery for future achievers- not cronyism. I do not even know this guy, and think he is already a Jerk- and risking my business so he can hire is friends

  7. BY Tim Sales says:

    The statement, “If I can choose between an arrogant rocket scientist and an agreeable guy that I love to work with — that isn’t quite as talented yet, I choose the latter.” is complete nonsense and can only have come from an HR person. Anyone who has been working in a complex technical environment for any length of time knows that many really smart people are not so great in the social skills department.

    Guess what? When the platform is crumbling and customers are lighting up the phones , the “nice guy, that doesn’t know anything” is absolutely useless and the so called “jerk” who can solve the most complex issues is who you want and is the one making the $$.. So, if you want to run a business with nice guys that will take years to get anywhere close to the “jerk” in skill, go ahead but your business wont last long..
    I suppose it will be nice a friendly while you are there and will be very fuzzy feeling :)

  8. BY paul raj says:

    Hi Pals,

    good to see you all here, i have gone thru the worst jerks in my life, I see that i am not alone and thanks for your reviews.

    thanks for all your reviews.

  9. BY Luke says:

    To all Jerks, beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

    Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
    The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

    And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

    I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

  10. BY Karen deterra says:

    bull, I worked as a software tester and each time I logged a defect the system would send the coder an email. each time this particular coder got the email from me he would say ” you fu….. Douchbag” I was the only female there and I had the cube right next to his. Nice, another one was arrested on the premises for domestic battery and kiddie porn. I’m out of IT and I work from home now.

  11. BY Karen DeTerra says:

    Yes there are jerks out there, as many times the only women in the department I came to experience true hostility and pervasive bullying. No big deal since my friends and relatives have been through the same in the military and the health profession, but you know I still thought how great it would be without the jerk in the room. I now face an added challenge in IT …my age. On a recent interview I was met by the manager with “you’re not what we expected”. The interview never got past asking me ‘so what shows do you like to watch’ and gee what do you do for fun. A true jerk collection.

    • BY Darian Dunn, CISSP, CISA, CRISC says:

      Karen DeTerra, as an IT Sec. person, I have been involved in investigating several incidents of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. I don’t think that any company can avoid inappropriate behavior in the workplace all the time. What separates the good companies from the bad is how they handle it. You didn’t give me enough details to know if they handled it properly. The only advice I can give you is remember HR will take care of the company interest. They are not there to protect you. Document, document, document, everything. Be ready to leave if necessary. I would suggest outside legal council, but that usually causes more issues than it solves.

    • BY J Ellen says:

      Karen,
      I know exactly where you’re coming from. I’ve been in IT for over 30 years, in departments many times as the only woman. There is a lot of bullying and inappropriate behavior, and most of the time management looks at it as an IT thing and lets it go. And now I have the same problem about my age – my experience doesn’t matter – I’m an older woman and looked at as meaningless. I’m also finding that the men in the department look at me as a target for bullying because of my age, even the junior programmers. I frankly don’t understand how it is allowed but am also looking to become an independent contractor again just to get away from them.

  12. BY Jerky McJerkster says:

    By that logic, there should be a LOT of CEOs looking for work right now.

  13. BY Jerky McJerkster says:

    Moderators here seem to be extremely qualified in the jerk department.

  14. BY tb4000 says:

    Refusing to hire jerks in the IT realm basically means you don’t want to hire anyone in the IT realm.

    • BY Dan says:

      Developers can be an odd breed and idiosyncratic. Conversely, technical managers who are skilled at bringing harmony can do a lot to diplomatically dampen down jerkiness. While egregiously destructive behavior can’t be tolerated, people also shouldn’t expect instant perfect harmony from the word go; there is going to be a time when everybody adjusts to everybody else. And there is no infallible approach — sometimes being too cheerful and helpful can be interpreted as “a bad fit.” That happened to me at my last gig.

  15. BY Jeff says:

    Interesting to see the views here, but I can say (being one of the non-jerk it guys) I tend to keep jobs because I am both skilled and friendly. I have worked with people, both employers and employees who are all levels in multiple companies (both in skill and various attitudes)… and the person who wrote this article did not say he would hire unskilled workers with friendly attitudes, he said ‘not quite as skilled’ (meaning they are skilled enough to do the job and have potential.) The potential for lawsuits is there if your employees OR officers are attitudinally challenged and will often harm a company. There is no reason why they need to have poor attitudes. Not one reason. Sorry but this is 20+ years of experience talking. A good attitude makes for a better work environment. Poor attitudes make everyone involved OFTEN CUSTOMERS have a problem with the company. Again, personal experience. Not just opinion. People consider me a rock star because both my skill level and my ability to play well with others. Why would you want anything else?

  16. BY Steve says:

    I have done this for years (weed out jerks early in the interview process).

  17. BY anonymous says:

    I wasn’t surprised when the new Federal Health System broke down, because I’ve seen too much over the past 15 years how and by whom the governmental projects, federal or state, have been built and being built.

    The choice of ‘an agreeable guy’ over an ‘arrogant rocket scientist’ can be a good strategy for IT consulting firms to bring in more revenues, but a very likely reason for project delays and defeats, and one of the real reasons for US going to deep debt. Most of IT projects I have seen can be built on 1/3 of their budget and done better, if they have hired really qualified, rocket scientists-like programmers, arrogant or not…

    The real trouble is, you don’t really have many rocket scientists-like programmers there. And there are too ‘agreeable’ many mediocre programmers.

    • BY Don King says:

      You’ve got plenty of “rocket scientist” programmers in the US. The problem is companies don’t want to pay the price.

      The “agreeable” mediocre programmers are H1B’s at half the price of American, “rocket scientist” type programmers.

      I agree, small teams of top of the chart, expensive, professionals would bring in a better product, in less time and less overall cost, than the penny wise, pound foolish approach. I wouldn’t say at 1/3 of current cost. But certainly significantly less.

  18. BY Pete says:

    Define jerk. Some people just call it leadership instead. Surrounding yourself with yes men only validates yourself and never challenges group think. The world needs more jerks to kick the doors down that hold us all back.

  19. BY Jack says:

    What makes a person a jerk is often in the eye of the beholder. For instance, it’s not uncommon for perfectionists to be labeled as “jerks” by people who just don’t get why high quality should be the goal rather than just accepting a so-so result.

    One such perfectionist “jerk” was Steve Jobs, whose well-known perfectionism ended up yielding products of uncompromising quality and one of the world’s most successful companies. (http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2011/10/17/111017ta_talk_surowiecki)

    I’ve also heard it said that Lucille Ball could be a “jerk” insisting on many takes before accepting the final version of a scene. Ditto James Cameron.

    James Brown was known to fine his backup singers if they didn’t have a clean, pressed shirt, a shoe shine—or if they missed a beat. Martha Stewart set such high standards for cooking, crafting and entertaining that she drove legions of people to try to emulate her seemingly perfect ways. (http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052970204840504578085802751238578)

    Unfortunately, this kind of perfectionism has come under attack in recent years as our culture seems to be evermore embracing “go along to get along” mediocrity as the desirable state of affairs. Thank goodness some people are still unwilling to assimilate into the bland sameness of this group-think.

    That said, we have all known people who act like jerks, not for a higher purpose, but merely because their arrogance convinces them they need not respect the views of mere mortals.

    My advice to companies: If the candidate seems like a jerk, be mindful of what kind of “jerk” she really is.

    Is she driven to excellence and not accepting of lazy sloppiness in herself and others? Or does she think she walks on water and can’t be bothered by teammates who she views as all fools?

    The former can inspire a team to reach unimaginably great heights, but the latter can drive a team into great depths of despair.

    I’d be careful about passing up a perfectionist “jerk” Steve Jobs to hire easy going, do-nothing Harvey Milktoast.

    • BY Gemma says:

      I’m one of these so-called jerks who expects a job to be done to the highest possible quality. There is a massive difference between being assertive and unwilling to accept less, and being a perfectionist who also has a serious attitude problem.

      For me, it’s about how we treat people. I can still be assertive, and treat people with at least a basic level of respect.

      All the perfectionist jerks out there have attitude problems who don’t give a shit about hurting people and will trample on folks to get what they want, just because that’s how they are.

  20. BY U Blakeley says:

    “One way Vasudevan avoids these people is by focusing hiring on those his workers already know.” So you’re not actually talking about “jerks” but people your current people already know, and like. Sounds like an entirely political atmosphere that I wouldn’t care for.

  21. BY Alice says:

    So if you “raise your voice on behalf of a customer”, that makes you a jerk? This attitude really saddens me. I agree with the others, this is mob-mentality…let’s turn a blind eye to the problems within a business, because warm fuzzy feelings are much more important. Yeah.

  22. BY Beyond belief says:

    Boy I just went through the biggest jerk experience ever. I’ll explain it but plan on being cross eyed afterwards.

    My superior called the police because I wanted to reschedule a meeting. There was one underlying cause… I won a grievance against him the prior day. I was not fired. It was his inability to control himself.

    Orwellian.

  23. BY Rich says:

    IT has become a fad for a generation. Lot’s of IT workers posture at being technical gurus. These are the ‘jerks’ that the article refers to. The fact is, computers are dumb machines. Anyone that is not bored by computers does not understand them.

    I’ve been working with technology since the mid-1980s. I’ve worked with plenty of IT guru jerks. They can talk and talk and talk about computers, but when it comes to implementing or troubleshooting systems they are lost.

    If someone doesn’t have the common sense to be personable how can you expect them to have the logical skills needed to work with technology?

  24. BY Qwe Rty says:

    Good thing no one told the hospital that employs Dr. Gregory House

  25. BY Steven Tomlinson says:

    20 some odd years in the industry …
    My definition of a “jerk”: someone who takes credit for other’s work, someone who never owns their mistakes, someone who replies to a question with phrases like “it works for me, I don’t know why you’re having a problem”, someone who uses phrases like “simply do this” or “all you need to do” in a meeting with managers or peers which makes the other person look dumb and they aren’t. Someone who always has something to say on every topic of discussion instead of listening and learning from other’s experiences.

    An agreeable person: someone who understands that code can be written more than one way to solve a problem, there’s is not always the only and best way. Someone who understands that although a complex algorithm can be written in one line of code, that proves nothing except that their code will be difficult for a junior developer to maintain later. Someone who listens and restates a person’s question before jumping right in, that always saves time and frustration. Someone who shares credit for triumphs and discoveries, someone who understands that almost every mistake is an opportunity to learn. Someone who realizes that just becasue they may be very smart, unless you have the support of everyone your organization it means nothing in the end.

    The people in the second group will be there when things go wrong and get to the business at hand …. working and solving the problem.
    The people in the first group will be sure a signifcant amount of time is spent pointing fingers and generally wasting time, while management is left twisting in the wind.

    A little humility goes a long way in this business when it comes to getting results.

    • BY Sheldon Robertson says:

      Steve,

      Thanks for posting the most reasonable response I’ve read here so far. Most of the comments here prove the article’s point: the IT industry has entirely too many arrogant jerks who think their knowledge makes up for their lack of social skills, and that makes working in this field a real drag.

      Engineers hate the thought that they could be judged on anything but their tech savvy, but it happens every day. I was told by my very first manager that I was the rare engineer who did have social skills, but I didn’t get at the time how big of a deal that was. But I know of at least one job I’ve gotten because of them: the Comp. Sci-Ph.D manager was reluctant to hire me but his engineers insisted that he do so, because they needed someone who could talk to the business users who sat in our building (we were in the corporate headquarters). I worked at that company for three years, outlasting my manager who managed to go from being the CIO’s golden boy to pariah because of his lack of social skills. When I resigned from that job, my goodbye note got a swift response from a number of business users who were upset I was leaving, saying I was the only person in my IT group they felt comfortable talking to…

      In my humble opinion, it’s not enough to know your stuff; you also need to be able to communicate clearly and appropriately. It makes a difference in what kinds of jobs you get offered and what kind of salary you make…

  26. BY Mike says:

    I wasn’t surprised when the new Federal Health System broke down, because I’ve seen how and by whom quite a few governmental IT projects have been built over past 15 years. They are much more for spending money to create jobs than getting projects done efficiently in terms of cost and quality.

    The choice of ‘an agreeable guy’ over an ‘arrogant rocket scientist’ can be a good strategy for IT consulting firms to bring in more revenues, but a very likely reason for project delays, defaults, and defeat, and one of the real reasons for US going into deep debts. Most of IT projects I have seen can be built on 1/3 of their budget and done better, had they hired really qualified, rocket scientists-like programmers, arrogant or not…

    The real trouble is, there aren’t many rocket scientists-like programmers there. And there are too many ‘agreeable’ mediocre ones…

  27. BY Death To Jerks says:

    BY Qwe Rty | March 6, 2014

    Good thing no one told the writers of the fictional TV show with a fictional hospital that employs the fictional genius Dr. Gregory House
    —————-

    Fixed it for you.

  28. BY D M says:

    With all due respect without talented technical “jerks” we would not have neither Apollo program nor iPhone/iPad. I have hard time to agree that mediocracy is a good replacement for meritocracy.
    I would suggest instead: do not hire “jerk” managers and hire managers who could handle talented “jerks”.

    • BY Gemma says:

      These managers need to be assertive for that to work. And in my experience, many people – when confronted with an assertive person – tend to mistake the assertiveness as “jerk-like behaviour” simply because they are not used to it.

  29. BY mike says:

    Ahhh, the old ‘it is not what you said, it is the way you said it’ argumentative ploy.

    Form over function.

    What happens when your client is a ‘jerk’ and doesn’t say things the way you like it? kick them to the curb, too?

  30. BY Richard Morgan says:

    I’ve been programming since 1963, and the best managers and co-workers have all been nice people, as well as being very competent in their IT fields. Many of the “jerks” I have encountered have not really been mean-spirited but incompetent.

    It’s usually not a choice between a “rocket scientist” and a decent person to work with. If you are careful in hiring you can have both. The biggest problem I have seen is that far too many mid-level and higher-level managers are incompetent in figuring out who’s a jerk and getting rid of them. It’s hard to fire people but it’s a necessary evil. You can’t always guess right in an interview or two.

  31. BY Rob Colbert says:

    When I started in programming, I was a nice guy. I really was. All bright-eyed & bushy-tailed, ready to code. Then, over the years, as I encountered one too many apathetic IT departments that sit in meetings with their arms crossed saying, “You can’t do that. We need you to [insert compromise here].” As the process continued, I became more and more of a dick. Today, I’m a raging asshole who will come at you sideways with a flame thrower for just *thinking* the word, “No.”

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