Bailing Out Your Company

—Andy Hunt


One of the largest factors that contributes to success in an organization is psychological safety (cite Accelerate). It’s also perhaps the hardest thing to get right. Countless management articles will tell you that you need psychological safety, but come up a little bit light on the particulars.

Most agree, however, that you have to have an culture and a working environment where:

  • You feel free to express your ideas and opinions, without fear of being mocked or ridiculed
  • You trust your team members and your boss to have your back
  • It’s okay to disagree on approaches, and have a productive discussion

Unfortunately that culture is very much at odds with the classic, stereotypical “chief programmer” concept, and with basic human nature. Our species has a particular problem with ego management. Too often, our egos get in our way. Let’s face it, in this industry, we’re all smart people. Maybe top of our classes. Quick to figure stuff out, great at puzzles or brain teasers, word play or trivia (e.g., what’s the shortest legal C program that will compile, but dump core? I can do it in five characters). We want, maybe even need, to show off a little. But that’s just your ego talking.

Consider this analogy: your team (or your whole company or organization) is piled into a leaky rowboat, currently filled with water, adrift in the middle of the ocean. Everyone’s job is to bail water.

No one cares how big your bucket is

No one cares how big your bucket is. The point is to bail out the boat. If the rest of your team has small buckets—or are cupping their hands and trying their best—help them find bigger buckets. It’s in your best interest to help them. The point isn’t to impress anyone with your own bucket prowess. And if, perchance, you are really good with the bucket, share your technique with everyone else. You want everyone to be able to bail as well as you.

Because if they don’t, you’re all going to sink. Even if you’re the best bailer in the world, that’s not enough to keep your end of the boat afloat.

For everyone on your team, you can either learn something from them, or you can teach something to them. Many times, you may experience both from the same person. Our field has gotten so large and diffuse that no one knows it all anymore; it’s just not possible. Odds are, you are not the smartest person in the room. And if you are, then you’re definitely in the wrong room.


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