How IT leaders should mentor their ‘brogrammers’

While CIOs and IT managers have spent the last several years trying to talk and act more like the CEO and other members of the senior executive team, it seems their staff have been busy emulating the cast of HBO’s Entourage.

In a recent article on Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “The rise of the brogrammer,” Douglas MacMillan profiled the growing number of application developers and other IT staff members who are eschewing the traditional hip-to-be-square form of personal branding we normally associate with technology professionals. These men – and it’s definitely a male thing – don’t want to be thought of as geeks anymore. They claim to dress better, party hard and care about more traditionally manly things, like cars. (See the complete International Brohood of Standardization for more details.) The term is being bandied about in social media, as part of ongoing events and will soon, I have no doubt, become part of everyday conversation.

Much in the same way that “metrosexual” was thrown around until it became a sort of insult, the concept of a brogrammer contains some potential clues about the sociology of the current IT industry and what employers need to do to properly develop the talents of their IT teams. As the BusinessWeek article points out, brogrammers are much more likely to be found in smaller, startup firms than in large companies, at least right now. That’s probably because it’s the startup guys – particularly the founders – who have styled themselves as mavericks, using a mix of salesmanship and sex appeal to attract venture capitalists, users and, occasionally, groupies at events like TED and South by Southwest (SXSW), taking place this week in Austin. Meanwhile it’s the programmers, coding away like the Dustin Moskowitz character in The Social Network while the rest of the Facebook crew rock on around him, who continue to be treated like nothing more than socially inept worker bees. Who can blame them for wanting some of the glamour and status?

The brogrammers’ march into the mainstream comes as IT, even in large organization, is given increased attention and respect by consumers who are using ever-more sophisticated software and devices in their personal lives. Many of the most interesting IT projects I hear about right now are designed to serve the marketing department, which is often staffed with the kind of people who look somewhat similar to the brogrammer model. In fact, there is an increased need for certain parts of the IT organization to work directly with customers, in which case a slick, charming, more professional-seeming brogrammer would beat a twitchy, nerdy programmer any day.

Apart from the fact that female programmers are completely left out of this image makeover, the real problem with the brogrammer meme is that, like metrosexuals, Type-A personalities and other corporate composites, they are made up of clichés which only manifest themselves in reality by degrees. I heard a joke recently that the difference between an outgoing geek and a regular geek is that the outgoing geek “looks down at the other person’s shoes.” Would that qualify them as a brogrammer?

CIOs and IT managers will need to mentor their staff in transcending the brogrammer stereotype before it makes its way into the enterprise. They should, however, keep in mind with the more positive connotations of the term’s first three letters. In popular culture today a “bro” is the ultimate wingman: someone with whom you share the good times, overcome big challenges (like getting a girl’s number, or, possibly, rewriting mission-critical software) and to whom you remain deeply loyal. These are all qualities we should want to cultivate in all our employees. You just shouldn’t need to call them brogrammers to do it.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Shane Schick
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