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A shout out for the introverts

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | Oct. 7, 2014
It's not news that a lot of IT folk are introverted. But let's acknowledge what a good thing that is.

boy programmer

Developers like to think they're extroverted. Chances are they're not. A recent IDG study, Introverts vs. Extroverts: Is There an IT Personality?, found that just over half of IT workers are introverts. Only those engineers who mistakenly think they're extroverted would find that surprising.

Now, before you take offense, to say that most IT workers are introverts (as defined by HR's favorite personality inventory, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI) isn't to say that they are the stereotypical computer nerd.

You know the stereotype I mean: An extremely bright, badly dressed, pudgy man with all the social graces of a bad-tempered alligator, who plays Dungeons and Dragons twice a week, can recite Monty Python skits and Star Wars scenes from memory, and can passionately argue that vi is better than EMACS and that only lusers run Linux since FreeBSD is the one true geek operating system.

Not that there's anything wrong with that! Indeed, that rather, ahem, describes me. But, while that may be the idea people have in their heads when they think of an introverted, computer-savvy IT person, that's not the real story.

As Susan Cain wrote in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, the key differences between introverts and extroverts in the workplace come down to three points:

1) Introverts tend to become drained by external interaction, whether it's a team meeting, loud music or a large crowd, while extroverts thrive in those situations.

2) Introverts tend to work more slowly and deliberately, while extroverts tend to tackle tasks headlong.

3) Introverts may have strong social skills, but they listen more than they talk and often express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They also tend to dislike conflict.

That's it. That's all being an introvert really means. So if you're the kind of person who likes to work in an office by yourself or after hours, who takes your time with your work, and who would rather email or IM than pick up the phone, congratulations! You're likely to be an introvert, and you can do just fine in IT.

There is one major problem lying in wait for you, though. As Shawn Eadens, a senior management consultant at JLA Consulting, said in the report, "The introvert is significantly undervalued and under-appreciated for their multi-faceted contributions."

Indeed, I strongly suspect that's why the open-source approach has come to dominate not only programming but also technical collaboration initiatives such as OpenStack, for cloud computing; OpenDaylight, for software-defined networking; and the AllSeen Alliance, for the Internet of Things. The open-source world is a code-driven meritocracy where being able to speak up at a meeting counts for far less than delivering efficient programs, and where claiming credit for an idea on a teleconference won't get you as far as delivering a well-explained, pithy idea on a developer's email list or IRC conversation.


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