You may have heard about the dangers of having a hero culture in software development. The reason this is seen as a problem is that we don’t want to have one person on the team with a great deal of specialized knowledge. We want to make sure that the knowledge is spread around the team and that we have people who can work in a variety of different roles and places. I agree with this, but I think that there is still a place for heroes.
What we need is a certain kind of hero. We don’t need the heroes who take on work so that everyone will come to depend on them. We certainly don’t need heroes that look down on the lesser mortals on the team and will do it for you but not teach you how to do it. What we need are old fashioned heroes. The kind you read about or hear about from war stories. The kind of person who jumps on a grenade for his buddies. We need heroes that care about the team and will sacrifice themselves for the sake of the team. We need heroes who work on reducing negative influences on the team. We need heroes who know how to build and forge strong relationships. We need heroes who are willing to do the dirty work and who are willing to share everything they know so that the team can succeed.
In short we need to talk about heroes as those who sacrifice for others. In many ways superhero movies have taught us that a hero is someone who can save the world on his own, but we need to celebrate a more simple style of heroics on our teams. The real hero isn’t the one who checks in a fix to an important bug at 2 in the morning. The real hero is the one who stopped to to chat with the developer at 2 in the afternoon and triggered a thought process in her head that lead to the bug never showing up in the build. The real hero is not the one who stayed late all week finishing up the new feature so that it could get shipped in time. The real hero is the one who spent a half hour pulling the team together to explain what was going on so that the team could work together on coming up with a meaningful solution to the problem they were facing. The heroes we want are the ways that make the team better and that you almost don’t even notice.
Do you know any heroes like this? Do you celebrate them? Are you one? Viva La Hero!