Curse of the Cowboy Coders

Curse of the Cowboy Coders

Summary: I seem to mixing with a huge number of software engineers this week. I am at a software symposium after all, so it’s no big surprise.


I seem to mixing with a huge number of software engineers this week. I am at a software symposium after all, so it’s no big surprise. But my word, what an opinionated crowd you can run into sometimes. Actually, it’s more than just sometimes isn’t it? There’s very often a sense of the ‘prima donna’ attitude among developers where they feel that one or two individuals in a coding team or project are carrying along eight or nine other ‘cowboy coders’, who are simply there to make up the numbers.

Sounds like the classic 80:20 rule here doesn’t it?

Now this is only an opinion, but this could of course be down to the form and function of the workload types assigned across the project. Not every engineer will be responsible for front-end integration, architectural re-designs, GUIs or even requirements management. Some will be classic data crunchers and this may, just may, appear to be less creative, less maverick and less likely to be perceived as the shining light of the project.

However, we can keep those ‘prima donnas’ in check if we apply the ‘under-a-bus’ rule right? However valuable they think they are, if they went under a bus tomorrow, would the rest of team be able to pick up their work and run? Have they annotated, planned and reported at every level so that the so-called cowboys (or cow-girls) at the back of the room could move into the spotlight?

Does this mirror your working environment? Do you spy a cowboy on the horizon?

Topic: Software Development

Adrian Bridgwater

About Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater a freelance journalist specialising in cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects of software engineering and project management.

Adrian is a regular blogger with covering the application development landscape and the movers, shakers and start-ups that make the industry the vibrant place that it is.

His journalistic creed is to bring forward-thinking, impartial, technology editorial to a professional (and hobbyist) software audience around the world. His mission is to objectively inform, educate and challenge - and through this champion better coding capabilities and ultimately better software engineering.

Adrian has worked as a freelance technology journalist and public relations consultant for over fifteen years. His work has been published in various international publications including the Wall Street Journal,, The Register,, BBC World Service magazines, Web Designer magazine,, the UAE’s Khaleej Times & and SYS-CON’s Web Developer’s Journal. He has worked as technology editor for international travel & retail magazines and also produced annual technology industry review features for UK-based publishers ISC. Additionally, he has worked as a telecoms industry analyst for Business Monitor International.

In previous commercially focused roles, Adrian directed publicity work for clients including IBM, Microsoft, Compaq, Intel, Motorola, Computer Associates, Ascom, Infonet and RIM. Adrian has also conducted media training and consultancy programmes for companies including Sony-Ericsson, IBM, RIM and Kingston Technology.

He is also a published travel writer and has lived and worked abroad for 10 years in Tanzania, Australia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy and the United States.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


1 comment
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Curse of the Cowboy Coders

    What you tend to find is that it's not necessarily the outspoken developers who are the ones carrying the team. In my experience many projects are dogged by teams containing poor developers who seem to compensate for their lack of talent by attempting to deride other more talented developers work or attempting to 'run things' by 'getting in with the boss'.

    This situation comes about because of poor management and lack of good development processes, which when implemented correctly tend to weed out the cowboys pretty quickly.

    Things are getting better but there is still a lot of poor IT management out there and cowboy managers are a lot more dangerous than cowboy coders. After all cowboys tend to employ other cowboys so they don't get found out.