Steve Fenton

The Rockstar Programmer Stereotype

The term “Rockstar Programmer” label has been going back and forth for a while now. It started with people recruiting for “Rockstar Programmers”, then went into backlash with people bemoaning why you would want someone opinionated and difficult.

Working in a room with single minded, opinionated and difficult colleagues does not make a great team, or a better product; it makes a disaster.

Let me share a story of a journalist from a small-time magazine turning up to interview a rockstar on the day they signed a new record deal.

I turned up at the venue and found my way to the green room. I knocked on the door and waited for a second or two. The door opened up and I was greeted by a calm, smiling face. The face of the lead singer. I stumbled for a second – I had expected a tour manager, or a runner. My stunned idiocy was graciously ignored and I was invited in and offered a drink… still by the front man, who went and found me the drink and brought it over. He sat me down on the couch and perched on an uncomfortable chair and the interview began…

Or this one.

Having been guided into the depths of the venue basement, I could feel my heart pounding. I was greeted by the front man, who pulled me a drink from his rider. We sat at opposite ends of a well used sofa and started talking. Then the rest of the band trickled in to observe, dropping in additional comments and filling in details as the interview progressed. There weren’t enough seats to go around, so I offered them the sofa – but they politely allowed me to keep the seat and even offered to go and get me a cup of tea.

These stories are even more impressive when you consider how many interviews these bands had to do – and how small the magazines are that I represented. They would have been well within their rights to tell the magazine they were too busy… or to limit my time to five minutes… or to not take the interview seriously. Instead, I had unlimited access and got given real insight into their music. Who would have guessed that this loud rock band who were permanently sitting at the top of the indie chart (when such a thing existed) wrote songs inspired by philosophy and were happy to let me sit on their sofa and drink their rider. Who would have predicted that the lead singer of a band would greet people at the stage door and make them feel so welcome, it felt like the guest was the person the day was all about.

I can honestly say that I would gladly work with these rockstars. In fact, in my ten years of writing for four music magazines I only ever encountered one act that acted like the rockstar stereotype – and they were a novice act with just a single song to their names (a number they have yet to improve upon). When you want to be a rockstar, you are more likely to behave according to the stereotype than when you are a rockstar.

A “Rockstar Programmer” to me is someone who has done the miles, knows a great deal, and humbly sits and shares what they know with a scruffy beginner who can barely play an instrument but blindly writes opinions about people who can play.

The real problem is not the real rockstars, but the myriad novice acts that think they are rockstars.

Written by Steve Fenton on