The Grinder

As teams grow and specialize, I’ve noticed people tend to take on characters that I see over and over. Archetypes that seem to go beyond one project and apply to each team I work on over time. Today I want to talk about one of those archetypes: the Grinder.

The Grinder isn’t the smartest or most skilled guy on your team. They don’t write the prettiest code, they aren’t up-to-date on the state of the art, and the way they use tools can seem simplistic. Often, The Grinder doesn’t even push working code; there are often tiny bugs lurking, or even syntax errors. They push or deploy this code perhaps dozens of times a day. At first glance, The Grinder is a Terrifying Problem.

What sets The Grinder apart from your garden variety mediocre developer is that The Grinder is an expert at making progress. They move rapidly, they upset things, and then they get it working. The Grinder is an indispensable part of your team because they’re a bit cutthroat. They’re not worrying about the coolest new tech or design approaches the intelligensia are raving about. They’re just thinking, “how do I get this into production, get feedback, and get on with the next thing?”

The Grinder is an indispensable part of your team because they balance out the thinkers and worriers. While they’re asking “can we?” and “should we?” the Grinder is just getting it done. Grinders expand the realm of possibility by taking a journey of a thousand steps. They don’t invent a jetpack or hoverboard first; they just go with what they have.

The Grinders I’ve known are typically humble, kind people. They know how to operate their tools to get stuff done, and that’s mostly good enough for them. They’re not opposed to hearing about new techniques, but they want to know how it’s going to help them push code out faster. They are not particularly phased by brainy tech that appeals to novelty.

Pair a Grinder with a thinker who values how their skills complement each other and you can make a ton of progress without making a huge mess. A team of all Grinders would eventually burn itself out. Grinders stop when the feature is done, not when the day is over or their brain is out of gas. Grinders need thinkers to encourage them to regulate their work pace and to help them understand how to make rapid progress without coding themselves into a corner.

It’s not hard to recognize the Grinder on your team; it’s likely even the non-technical people in the company know who they are and recognize their strengths. If you’re a thinker who is a little flabberghasted that the Grinder approach works, take some inspiration from how they do what they do and ship some stuff with them.

If it’s late or the Grinder has been working long hours, tap them on the shoulder and tell them they do good work. Send them home so they can sustain it over weeks and months without running themselves down. A well-rested, excited Grinder is one of your team’s best assets.