How to be a Code Monkey

May 12, 2008

In my line of work, the pejorative term for a drone is “code monkey.” Yours may have a different parlance: desk jockey, shyster, George W, whatever. They all mean the same thing: you are a warm body, expected to keep your head down, and do what you’re told. You have no ideas, no input, and if you rock the boat, you’re expendable.

There is a reason this is the first step of working your way up the ladder. It reinforces the notion from school that you are not good enough or smart enough to think or act independently. It instills fear into your thought process and conditions you to follow orders from up the chain.

Don’t get me wrong. There is no evil overlord carefully planning the subjugation of your independent mind. We’re not in the tinfoil hat brigade here. What I’m talking about is the status quo, and this is one mechanism by which it is maintained: those who climb ladders are likely to be conditioned to force other people to climb ladders, and they are conditioned to think this is right and proper. I’m here to tell you, it’s not. Companies are not machines used to rank human beings, they are groups of people out to make a profit. If you add value, good, if you don’t, you’re dead weight.

Deal with Reality

Code Monkey

But here we find ourselves, under the crushing weight of tradition and the status quo. People occasionally get lucky and accidentally steal a social networking script and start FaceBook. Chances are that at some point you’ll have to be the code monkey somewhere, even if it’s just for a little while. So here’s how to make the best of it.

  1. Do your work as well as you can. Excelling in whatever you do is a good way to learn a lot about it. Think critically about your work, the work of your peers, and that of your bosses as well. Constantly strive to do better work than you did before.
  2. Treat your boss like a peer. Careful with this one, bronco. You have to navigate the waters of ego with a keen eye to pull this off, but the idea is to carry yourself in such a way that your boss thinks of you as a peer. Speak his language, let him know you understand his job and situation. See #1 to be the perfect employee, but go beyond that by being able to mentally handle your boss’s job as well. It will become a forgone conclusion that you are in the next in line for promotion, or special assignments, or perks, or what have you.
  3. Branch out to other areas of the company.When I worked for Acme, I was always talking to people outside my department, and above my pay grade. I knew a lot about the business that others in my department had no idea about, not even my superiors. My boss’s boss’s boss had a policy of keeping a boundary up around people below the VP pay grade, but his boss had no such compunction. I called him, an Executive Vice President, who people in my department cowered under the shadow of, and I asked him out for lunch. We talked about a lot of things, but my point to him was that the department was headed for trouble. I told him that based on his plans for growth, the department would buckle in about a year and no one there could do anything about it, no matter how smart they were. It was dire, but I was speaking his language. He didn’t think of me as the pleb I was, because I was interacting with him in a neutral place, in the tone of a peer. That’s how to create opportunities to move up… if that’s your goal.

The secret of being a code monkey is to pretend you aren’t one. Use that wasted brain power to learn and grow, and expand your network, with an eye the future, and to your goals.

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