Don't be a rock star

July 4, 2021

“Rock star” engineers thrive in the spot light. We know they’re good at their job, because they are the ones who jump into action in an emergency. They’re always the ones who know the arcane secrets. A rock star probably wrote at least half the project you’re working on right now. Management goes to the rock stars for help when something goes wrong. Juniors want to be rock stars. Recruiters and hiring managers sometimes look for rock star engineers by name.

So you should strive for this, right?

Wrong. Don’t be like this.

“Rock star” engineering is a terrible anti-pattern. Here are some reasons why:

  1. A “rock star” is usually a single point of failure. This is one of the main sub-plots of The Phoenix Project (a must-read for anyone interested in DevOps).
  2. A “rock star” is egocentric. Good engineering practices don’t care about ego (or blame, for that matter).
  3. The existence of a “rock star” is a strong indicator of organizational dysfunction. Environments that encourage stardom generally discourage teamwork (often despite lipservice to the contrary), and tend to undermine any attempts at blame-free failure resolutions.