There was a saying once that every historian rewrites Thucydides, mainly because on his books every possible example of a political or military incident had been recoded, so all subsequent ones can look like a rewrite. In that case the father of IT history, in my opinion, would definitely be Robert X. Cringely and his “Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date.”

I’m currently reading the chapters that I missed, but for me he is the first author that pointed out the personalities in IT companies on his chapter “On the beach” (available here from the author: empires-chapter-12-on-the-beach/). With this post, I will try to reflect and expand a little bit on the original.

Why are you writing this?

Good question for the following reasons: In my CV there is lots of so-called “hopping”, I have never stayed in a place for more than 1.5 years and I am now almost 35. That’s a big problem. A recruiter told me while on my last startup “Dimitry, if you ever need to get back to a conventional job role, you need to have a good story or excuse about your hopping.” — Yes I do.

In my next role, I will probably be responsible for hiring either by suggesting people to hire, or by providing feedback on applicants, I needed a guide.

Being a tutor and always with a desire to have the future generations in a better position than the current one, I want to potentially protect people from making wrong decisions. It will be a huge victory if I could benefit at least one, so if you think this is the case for you please communicate that to me.

Commandos (First wave personalities)

We start with the most scarce one: A commando is a person that (2) has a breadth of skills and relative depth of skills. He is the type of person that will start coding an application in “AngularJS with a Django backend with Postgres and Mongo for deployment on an amazon instance”, without ever having written a line of code in “Angular” or “Django” or “deployed on an Amazon instance”.

For commandos their occupation is an integral part of their identity. They love it, invest in it with lots of their free time, expand their skill set and keep it up to date. Sometimes on the IT, they also believe that they can change the world.

Motivation originates from giving them a God (concept/mission) or a War (abstract difficult tasks) to fight for. This explains ad posts like: “We want to disrupt the coffee business saving people from the monopoly of Starbucks (and bringing their money to us in the process)”

Infantry (Second wave)

Their skill set is specific but they have depth of knowledge and capability. I would say that they are the people that would have “5 years of solid J2EE experience”, “Photoshop and illustrator expertise for more than three years”, etc.

They seek a career, so their occupation identifies them but it is not such an integral part of their personality as in the commando’s case. They need a career path that they can follow, communicate and build upon their accumulated skill-set and knowledge. Challenges are welcome, as long as they are within the constraints of their occupation and do not divert them from their objectives.

Police (Third wave)

For them it’s just a job. They have a very narrow set of skills, without much depth. Definitely more than 50% of people fall in this category. Their occupation is what feeds themselves and their families, while it’s what they do for a living, having other interests and pursuits. They seek a “good job” in an “established” firm which will have minimum stress and surprises. They aim to see how “things work here”, adapt and take it as long as possible.

Academical or other qualifications, such as degrees, certifications do not identify if someone or not belongs to this category. It is very common to see people with MSc degrees that they got just because they pushed themselves to do so. MSc or BSc does not mean a love for the subject or academical pursuit, it is a ticket or passage necessary to distinguish from other people so that they will be more attractive to HR departments.

Company types

On of the biggest Cringely’s contributions to my line of thought is to map these attributes not only to people but also to whole companies, based on the people there or what is the management’s culture and approach. A good example is the consultancies of the world such as Accenture, DeLoitte and IBM, typical third-wave places. One day before starting this post, a friend asked my why one of the above almost always fail to deliver their delivery of a new system, say for example a new retail brand’s ERP and website.

Answer from the “Accidental empires: “The third­ wave managers of the parent company trust only other third­wave managers to run the start­up, but such managers don’t know how to attract or keep commandos, so the enterprise generally has little hope of succeeding.”

So what will happen is that always a third wave manager will be appointed (they don’t have anyone else), to run the show, he will mostly have third-wave employees, all of them having grown up and get promoted on projects that were running for ten to twenty years. Of course they don’t know how to start- up a project, of course they will screw up big, until somehow after a year or two, the system will somehow start to look like a third-wave one, with specific rules that a police type person can follow, etc.

There are two reasons while other companies hire them: Having a second or third wave wave management, can only understand similar structures. Alternatively they care about the long term, nobody will remember the 2013 Christmas shopping screw up or people working weekends and 11 hours per day in 2023.

Depressed commando memoir

Based on the above research I found the origins of my tragedy. I am a first wave person who having a wrong approach with things was ending up on third wave companies.

Responsibility was mine because I was not doing good searching and due diligence to the company before hand. In the interviews I was only checking if I could fill up the position’s shoes and not on what the career opportunities would be, or the mentality of the company. So for most of my times in software houses was a reflection of Russell Ovans’ “programmer life-cycle” (3). An extract:

_“The programmer life cycle is comprised of six stages:

  1. Euphoric
  2. Productive
  3. Irreplaceable 4. Resentful
  4. Bored,and
  5. Unproductive_

While this particular life cycle model is perhaps most likely to apply to highly productive individuals (so­ called star programmers) working in the 24/7 world of web development and e­commerce, it is my belief that there are fundamental truths in its structure that render it applicable to many software development situations and domains.”

In my case, starting with “Euphoric”, happy for the new place with the nice people that is not as the gloomy one that I just left. Second stage, “Productive”. Initially starts with peaks of stress and panic attacks, usually the infrastructure has taken many ad hoc decisions, things seem difficult to comprehend, and there is not enough documentation or clean code or architecture (remember it’s usually a third wave company so people just talk to each other). Feeling of being useless and stupid, trying hard to comprehend as much as possible. Doing stuff as good as possible and getting positive feedback. Third stage: “Irreplaceable”. Very short one for me I grokked how the company works and produces software, I feel obliged to prove that I can do it better before I can start actually contributing with my experience and love for the subject.

Then we fast forward to the “Resentful” stage very fast. My suggestions are turned down by the management without even trying them (third wave company — maintain status quo). Moreover some times I have been mocked, threatened or even targeted with verbal violence. This is where I get to the “Bored” stage, like reading hacker news while working or answering stack exchange questions. Most of my points in these sites originate from posts that I wrote while on the bored stage.

It ends being “Unproductive”: At the end of the unproductive stage, I usually feel trapped. Last time it happened, I had a series of panic attacks and parts of my hair turned grey. Usually liberation came from moving to somewhere else, where the cycle kicked off again. The solution was not to hop among third wave companies, but to give some time to understand myself and realise that I should only apply to places where there would be a match.

Red flags — things to watch out for on job descriptions

Not being good on giving advice and from the material above, a small rule of thumb on how to spot what’s the company about from the job post.

Signs of a first wave place: Description on the company’s mission and where you’d fit. Technologies and frameworks might be there but not the epicenter of the post.

Second wave: “2 years of Java experience”, “5 years on administering linux servers”, “knowledge of the petroleum industry”. Signs of having the desciption edited from an HR department, but with a technical person being in charge.

Third wave: Tons of vague jargon talk: “… we ensure an optimum result for our customers by utilising our partner network and our talent base…”, usually something that does not point to a specific role or responsibilities, because it shouldn’t matter, you just want the job and we’re “established”.


  1. Some concepts have been brought over from a series of posts I was writing in Greek, mostly this:
  2. Very detailed analysis and statistical data:“The Founder’s Dilemmas”, Noam Wasserman, chapter 8.
  3. Russell Ovans,“Theprogrammerlife-cycle”.Pdf:, post: Updated March 10, 2014 Recruitment & Selection Recruitment, Hiring, Staffing, Headhunting, Selection