For the Software developer bestiary

The Sceptic

Quote: “Tried that before. Didn’t work then. Won’t work now.”

Also known as: “The Pessimist”

Not being too impressed by new ideas and having a cautious approach to development are both good traits, but the sceptic exaggerates them to the point where he gets hard to work with. The two most common types of sceptics are the conservative sceptic, who thinks that all new ideas will fail and trying out something new is pointless, and the narrow-minded sceptic who knows one solution to all problems and can’t see the merit in trying something else.

The absolutely worst kind of sceptic is the silent sceptic. These are people who will sit at a project meeting, silently disagreeing with everything that is said, and then disregard all information and do things their own way. They don’t do this out of malice. They really think they are saving the project by solving problems the way they know, but for a project manager or architect their activities can cause any amount of problem. There is also the risk of the sceptic complaining to his colleagues, lowering the morale within the project.


The Sceptic is usually an older, experienced programmer or an expert in one area who lacks interest in matters that fall outside his area of expertise.


If you get a sceptic project manager you are in deep trouble. A sceptic with that amount of power over the project can stop the creative process entirely and if you manage to produce something at all it will most likely be very low quality or rigid and complicated. Your only chance is to get rid of the project manager or somehow make her realize that she will have to leave the technical decisions to the technical staff.

A sceptic designer or developer can be neutralized. If you know at the start of the project that one of the developers is a sceptic and you have to use him, try to make sure that he gets to work on an isolated piece of the system where his expertise applies. Don’t get him involved in the overall design of the system.

A silent sceptic is harder to deal with. If you suspect that you have one and hear rumors that one of the developers has opinions about the way the project is going, act immediately. Make sure that the sceptic get a chance to express his ideas in a meeting and discuss them thoroughly. If the sceptic still disagrees, you may have to tell him something like “Your ideas are good, but they are not what we are going to use for this project. You will have to live with that.” I he can’t live with that, chances are he’ll leave voluntarily and your probably better off.

There is a difference in my opinion between a Sceptic and a Pessimist.

A Sceptic believes things won't work out of experience of failure, he has tried or has known of it being tried before and all he has discovered is failure. Basically all he is doing is extrapolating on history, just as you do every time you go for a drive in your car you extrapolate from previous experience that when you turn your car key the engine will start (this is subjective cos some of us have more reliable cars than others, but hopefully you get my drift).

A Pessimist will not even try it, even in face of knowledge that it will work he will say it won't work this time.


A sceptic is basically someone who has seen the facts and has come to the conclusion that it won't work. And so is a rational person.

A pessimist is someone who is operating on instinct, and so is not rational (ie does not base his judgement on facts).

The Sceptic

My Father Christmas passed away
When I was barely seven.
At twenty-one, alack-a-day,
I lost my hope of heaven.

Yet not in either lies the curse:
The hell of it's because
I don't know which loss hurt the worse --
My God or Santa Claus.

by Robert W. Service
Rhymes of a Rolling Stone (1912)

Yes, it is spelled sceptic not skeptic.

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