Overcoming an engineer’s temper
6 December, 2017
When I worked at Google, I had an engineer in my team who was around forty years old. He was a junior developer, which was surprising to me, as it was hard to see how this friendly engineer who was open to learning and knowledge was still a junior. He didn't have any performance issues as such, so I needed to work out what was blocking him from rising up the ranks. While it was initially difficult to see, I realized that it was his temper that the issue that was mostly getting in his way.
I started out to bring up the subject in our regular one-on-ones with him, to help him to work on his emotional intelligence. In these meetings, I pointed out how much his emotions were interfering with him getting things done. There was one time when he was trying to work remotely with another engineer in Mountain View. He became very angry that the other engineer was not responding or being snappish and began to yell at his computer's screen, right in the middle of the office. I came to talk to him, and said that I could see that he was angry. However, I also asked him what he was going to do next. He sat down with me, but was still annoyed and questioned how an engineer like that could work at Google and why his manager wasn't responding. I managed to calm him down a bit more, and then asked him if he was trying to fix Google, trying to fix this guy, or just trying to get his work done. He said that his goal was to get his code submitted and for that he needed the other engineer. I told him to just do whatever the other engineer said, even if he was asking for nonsense. He then managed to calm down enough to get his code reviewed. I used this moment as a talking point for the next few weeks in our one-on-ones. We discussed at a meta-level what had happened. He then realized that it was when he had calmed down and taken control of his emotions that he could work on the project and get it completed. This clicked in his mind and for the next month, every time he was annoyed, he would talk to me, and within six months his performance had so clearly improved that he had been promoted to the next stage.
This experience gave me a lot of faith in engineers who don't perform as well as they could or should. If you look for a solution, there is the possibility of finding it, and you can then act on it. This can unblock issues, and people can then improve quickly. Don't wait for issues to solve themselves - instead work to identify and then analyze the issue to find a solution.
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