IT Archetypes: What Type of Programmer Are You?

This is a guest post by Dimitrios Mistriotis. He has written a book called IT Archetypes, which I found very interesting. He divides programmers into 3 types:

1 Commandos who want to try new and exciting stuff, programming is their passion.

2 Infantry who are more practical and see programming as a means

3 Police for whom this is “just a job”.

I found this a very novel approach, and it explains so many of the debates and troll wars in the IT world. I invited him to write a short introduction. The link to his book (currently free) is below.

The origins of IT Archetypes started about five years before when I was an employee of a company which for the needs of this article I will call MegaCorp.

MegaCorp had a technology stack which was essentially pinned down to a specific design and approach that had fully matured at some point in the late 90s. How and why I ended up there is a different story, but my initial reaction was to be frustrated even sometimes angry with my colleagues there: What is wrong with them? was the initial thought, How can these people live in today while at work pretend we all are still in the 90s? After six months my emotional pendulum had shifted into believing there was something wrong with me: Why I cannot enjoy life and I am attracted so much to modern technologies?, was I suffering from some form of Hacker News addiction? Some months afterwards, frustrated again handling my resignation, I had a my final perspective: I was not a good fit for MegaCorp. Having an aptitude for theory and research as well as wanting to investigate why I felt like that also for the place I was before MegaCorp, I started looking for answers and documenting my findings. The main product of this research is the “IT Archetypes” book.


IT Archetypes’ target audience consists of two overlapping categories. The first one is people that are working within the IT industry: developers, administrators, various designers, line managers, CTOs, QA engineers, and so forth. For them the content aims to assist in the “Know thyself” processes that happen internally and are expressed externally many times in a way that seems random to a potential third observer. An example would be a person who believes his skills are becoming rusty, he wants to advance his career and suddenly asks to write the next application the company wants to implement using go-lang or micro-services (whether it should or should not happen).

The other audience category are people whose professional life evolves around the IT industry and its crowd which is more or less the first category and would like to “know thy friends” better: people in HR, sales, people that act as domain experts helping a technical team or organisation digitize their knowledge or create applications for them, and last but not least those poor managers without technical background that found themselves having to manage technical teams.

Say for example that you advertise a position that requires according to some decision process 4 years of experience in a specific platform. Then a guy shows up who claims that although he has only 6 months of experience, he can reach the capabilities of someone with 4 years after another 6 months (totally a year) tops. He looks confident and certain, should you believe him? A possible answer after checking out parts of IT Archetypes is that you should believe him but ask some more questions to verify his capabilities and future intentions: “have you done this before?”, but more important “What will happen once you master this technology, how do I know that you will not jump to the next one since a couple of years from now it would be a bit passe?”.

If IT Archetypes was a child, it would have the following two as parents: Robert Cringely’s “Accidental Empires”, especially the chapter titled “On the beach”, and Aldus Huxley’s cast system from “Brave New World”. Mixing those two, along with its other social influences, people in the IT industries are segmented into three (almost) distinct archetypes/segments:

For Commandos their occupation is their passion and also prefer that their work serves a purpose. They can wear different hats and work in many disciplines, say development/systems administration/architecture. They are also self motivated while following a scientific approach they tend to want to do what is “right” in each given situation. They could also do what they do as a hobby. From my experience and anecdotal evidence they consist approximately 5% to at most 10% of the workforce. This percentage is even lower in other occupations. Commando would be the kid in the 90s that would experiment with a Linux distribution or in the late 00s would try to create a mobile application to see how this new Android or iPhone thing works. At work it would be the person that checks Hacker News at lunch time and asks if some of the things he/she read there could be applied on the existing codebase.

The Infantry: For them work equals Career. They follow a more formal approach with their expertise being concentrated around specific technologies and methodologies: This is where your Oracle DB administrator and the certified SC(R)UMM master fit in. They are both self motivated but also respond to external motivation. They are characterised by realism and would chose in contrast with the Commandos not what is “right” all the time, but what is more feasible and/or would advance their career. They consist approximately 10% to 15% of IT’s workforce.

The Police: (note: not the band). For Police type employes work is only a “job”, a means to an end. They follow orders and do as they are told. This gives them some capabilities to specific technologies and methodologies always within limits and to some extent. Their motivation is external and they are very pragmatic. They want to be told what to do, when in question their favourite question would be “How do we do it here?“. They consist the majority of the workforce in each occupation and also in IT.

Having established the narrative about these three archetypes in the first chapters of the book (which are publicly available on it’s web site), similar to the individuals, when we view these archetypes to a macroscopic level, we have a similar alignment with stages with companies life cycles. Some archetypes are more suited to different stages of a company’s life. For example a Police person when the company is new and the infrastructure is not there, would probably have negative impact as they would wait for someone to tell them what to do while at that stage they would need to decide what is the correct course of action and then implement it. Similarly a career oriented Infantry would feel sad in a place where nothing seems to evolve with technologies obsolete where he can get no skill to put in the CV for the next professional appointment.

Then some other concepts that derive from the above are taken into account: how would for example a Commando or a Police guy feel and react to a typical workday or when there are challenges in a company where most people have a Police mentality? How would they see and interact with that different individual? When do we have a hiring mismatch? When a company decides that it does not longer need it’s Commandos and how they are usually taken out of the picture? Can this happen to Police as well, and how? (spoiler: “yes“)

Similarly some companies boast that they hire and keep “the best” talented/employees around? How do they do it? Can it happen in your organisation? If not why? Why some organisations chose to change their approach and keep up with the current developments (say Cloud, Big Data, Lean) while others slip slowly into stagnation and irrelevance?

These are what the remaining chapters are about, they will be released in the subsequent weeks only to people that have enlisted to the mailing list of the book . Once everything is released to the mailing list IT Archetypes will try to become a printed and an e-book.