I work on a medium sized software engineering team. I have been generally not a good person to work with lately, there has been feedback from team members as feedback directed at the team, but its obvious its in reference to my specific behaviors. There is definite tension and friction that is affecting the team.

Google for toxic senior software engineer, I have some of those traits, (cowboy coding, egotistical, overly concerned with premature optimization, passive aggressive, dismissive, ignoring coding conventions, bad pull request etiquette, complains, i take it personally my solutions and suggestions are not used, etc).

I am not like this all the time (mental health issues contribute but i'm working on it). However, this is general pattern for me (been fired before). As I have grown older though, I am generally more self aware, I eventually realize i'm the source of issues, and try to amend, apologize, and address feedback. I'm very senior on the technical side, and am at times, a high performer. I lack a lot of soft skills you would expect someone with a senior title to have.

I haven't been approached by my manager yet, but the writing's on the wall. I'm addressing specific issues with coworkers directly, and apologizing for specific behavior. I want to make an effort to hear and address my coworkers feedback directly before I involve my manager.

However, I am not quite sure how to approach my manager. He is in general very hands off so he may not be entirely aware of what is going on.

At this point, I'd rather be proactive but I don't know what kind of liability there is to approach my manager and say "hey i'm a bad employee that is negatively impacting the team." I generally like where I work, and I am well compensated, and have interesting projects to work on, I also would like to not get fired, but my reputation is also likely compromised.

  • 6
    Can you tell us what traits you are specifically showing? Our Google results might come up differently from yours, and I doubt the entire list applies to you. But good work admitting that you are the problem. Mar 17, 2019 at 0:55
  • 6
    When you say that you have "mental health issues" that you are working on, does that imply that you're working with a mental health professional? If not, that would likely be helpful particularly if that professional could help you identify ways to prevent/ interrupt bad behavior. It's probably better for you if the conversation with the boss includes things like "cognitive behavioral therapy that I'm undergoing has me doing x when y happens which has had z good effect" rather than "I'm working on it" Mar 17, 2019 at 1:42
  • 13
    Congratulations for perceiving and admitting problems, and for trying to make amendments. It is a huge step. Mar 17, 2019 at 11:14
  • 1
    Upvoted because it takes a lot of courage ti recognize this and to ask for help. Also, there are probably a lot if people struggling with this.
    – Damila
    Mar 17, 2019 at 18:40
  • 1
    Does your employer have any sort of formal goal setting or professional development process in place?
    – dwizum
    Mar 18, 2019 at 12:57

6 Answers 6


It sounds like you recognise the problems with your behaviour but can't stop yourself at the time, for example you know you are ignoring a coding convention but do it anyway. What you could do is open up to your team, apologise, and ask them to give you input such as early, informal reviews.

As far as being passive-aggressive, dismissive etc. are concerned, it's obviously something you regret after the fact. You need to get at that later perspective view while it is happening. Your co-workers can help here because they are the ones taking a beating. Give them permission to stop you, to say "you're doing that thing" and work on stepping back when they say that.

I wouldn't approach your manager just yet, but make it clear to everyone that you are aware of the problem and are trying to fix it. Asking for help is a good thing and is more likely to get them on your side

+1 million for recognising this in yourself! Most people don't like to face up to this sort of thing and prefer denial to self awareness

  • 8
    great answer. I would add to start with baby steps, perhaps talking first in a 1-to-1 with people you feel more at easy and ask for help like @Dave had suggested. to avoid being overwhelmed, maybe ask them what one thing they would like you to change, then ask what would be the behavior they would prefer. and, as Dave has said, +1 million for you. Mar 17, 2019 at 11:21
  • Peer reviewing the cowboy code may be a very efficient way of stopping it early. Jul 13, 2019 at 14:51

I think it's great that you're getting on the front foot here.

Personally, I would avoid raising it with management unless you've done something big which is going to cross their radar. In those cases, it's generally better that they hear it from you first. But if things have not gotten worse lately, I wouldn't bother.

However, if you do have diagnosed mental health issues, and you trust you manager, this is something that you can raise with them, if you think you need their support.

Some companies also have Employee Assistance Programs, which are managed via the HR department, and not through your reporting stream. These programs are often confidential to the point where even sometimes the company doesn't even know you're using them. They can often have programs to assist people that need assistance in overcoming certain behavioural issues.

The good news is that's you're not exactly unique. There are many brilliant people that are a little bit lacking on the social side. The fact that you are paid well, given interesting work and presumably respected for your work means the company isn't going to jettison you on the first instance of what you would classify as toxic behaviour.

I think as your proceed, it will get easier and easier for you. You're probably feeling a little bit of stress over this, which is probably compounding your mental health issues.

I'm sure improvements in behaviour will be noticed by your coworkers, and appreciated. Even if they don't say anything to you about it.

Good luck.

  • For anybody, take seriously the comment about Employee Assistance Programs as a way to get some counseling. If you are at a competitive company in the US you should be able to get 10-25 sessions annual, for free. They are typically goal oriented and will really try to ensure forward progress. Jul 7, 2019 at 4:41

The best way to deal with social issues and inability to integrate quietly into a team yet still do well is to go into business for yourself. Many successful businesses are run by people like you.

Assuming you have the self confidence in your ability to produce you don't really need to get on. Sometimes it's more a matter of having trouble with authority figures which then extends to everyone else. Once you are the authority figure and you're making the critical decisions personality conflicts become of lesser importance.


It is good to acknowledge a fault with yourself, but bringing yourself down about it all the time will not help you. You say you enjoy the job due to the projects available and so on - but the problem you seem to have is the people.

Not as in the people are bad, but more like you don't feel the connection required to treat them in a more positive manner. It probably also harms your pride to be apologetic, and to be constantly addressing previous behaviours. It doesn't actually help your morale, and is likely to feel forced on your coworkers, just like you probably feel forced about it but just don't know how to confront it.

I'd say you should challenge your perception of the people you work with. Try not to see them only as colleagues, or this person which done this and it annoyed me. Try to lead casual conversations during free time to find out more about them, so you don't only see their failure to provide you with something, or failure to apply your suggestions. It is much harder to act negatively to a person you know well then it is for someone that you consider a stranger, which will mean you're less likely to act in unprecedented manner.

I would also say, that your behaviour may come out of how passionate you feel about your work, so what may help is if you have other things to focus on and take you away out of your work zone. Try to take up interest in something else - or if you also program after work you could try to put your focus on your own project.

I think that taking your head out of work and bringing it into relationships and interests may help you to take yourself out of that frustrating situation.


I fully understand that you are reluctant to bring it up with management and that the way this is presented is important in how it is percieved. My view is that even though you think this is a personal issue, for the company this is a problem with the team.

I would there suggest that you do not make an exceptional effort but instead look into the existing evaluation mechanism of your team. Your team probably have to do reports or oral presentations etc. This can then include something along the lines of "We have identified the underlying reasons for our lower performance these X months, and we have started to address them."

This naturally means that you discuss this thoroughly with your team and that you all agree upon how to do it.

Regarding code quality, look into peer review (which most modern version control webguis make easy to start with). Github is a good place to start, and if you cannot go there, look into having a simple internal setup. For this to work it - again - must be a team effort.


If you're going to bring this up with management, which is a bad idea, I would suggest having some interviews scheduled because you will be changing jobs sooner or later. The fact is that not everything you listed as "toxic" actually is toxic or even negative. Some of them are signs of a passionate developer, something the industry could use more of. Without actually seeing any of your code, though, I can't tell if you're entitled to push back. Regardless, management is going to take the easy way out, like it always does, and blame you.

Full disclosure, I look at and speak of this from personal experience. I've worked with some very mediocre, thin-skinned "developers" that would probably leap at the opportunity to call me toxic. When you produce better output, these types will do anything to pull you down. They'll inflict a "standard" they don't follow, load you up with busywork, "forget" to include you in meetings, bitch about you behind your back, anything it takes to neutralize what they see as a threat. If your work is quality, you don't need to put up with such people or the type of organization that enables them.

You must log in to answer this question.