Don’t Be That Guy – The Betta Fish

“If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.” – Martin Blank, Grosse Pointe Blank.

Yes, yes, I know, I know…”Dave, you’ve already done a fish-based Don’t Be That Guy“.  I know I did – The Pufferfish Effect out at

Totally different species this time though…but just as dangerous.

Bettas are pretty.  Bettas are bright.  Bettas are colorful.

All of that is used to cover up a serious personality flaw though…which is why you do not want to be a betta…

I like fish.  Once upon a time I had a 110 gallon tank.  (funny story about why I don’t have it any more…ask me over a beer sometime)

They’re fascinating creatures.  Very calming and relaxing to watch.  They have their own rules, their own society, their own way of doing things.

Whenever I’m talking to someone about a job that involves building teams, I tend to say “I build great fish tanks”.

Because it takes the right hand and a watchful eye to build a successful and thriving fish tank.

If one fish gets a disease…and you aren’t paying attention…it can wipe out every fish in the community.

If you don’t regularly give your fish what they need, they will turn on each other for survival.

If you don’t regularly clean things up, it will become a filthy mess.

Sounding familiar yet?

There can be…only one.

How about when I add this?

Bettas are pretty.  Bettas are bright.  Bettas are colorful.  They can be the most awesome and beautiful fish that you have in your tank….but you can only have one.

Because if you put another one of those awesome and beautiful fish in the same tank…all hell breaks loose.

They will fight each other to the death…immediately.

There will be no peace until one of them is dead…it’s like watching some bizarre re-enactment of Highlander in a glass enclosure full of water.

One will always die…and the other may be so injured that it dies shortly thereafter.  It’s not pretty, but they can’t help it.  It’s a territorial instinct.  They must fight to protect the area that they believe to be theirs…

…even when it’s your damned tank, but there’s really no reasoning with a betta.

Now, let’s be clear – I’m not telling you that you can’t have a betta in your tank…or on your team…

…but you do have to be very careful when making your selection.

Sort of like when you hired that Windows server admin, a very pretty blue betta.  Sure, she was a bit of a prima donna during the interview process, but she really seemed to know her stuff and so you went ahead and made the offer and hired her despite your misgivings.

Things were going swimmingly (ha ha, see what I did there?  I crack me up…) for a while.  Your Exchange server never crashed out every Sunday night like it used to.  You stopped getting frantic emails from your development team about the internal servers being down…again…and so they can’t test that rushed hot fix your biggest client needs ASAP or that sneaking suspicion you have that they’re starting to look elsewhere might just come to pass.

And then you went and hired that .Net tech lead.  Also very pretty, this time red in color.  Very flashy during the interview process and really knowledgeable about everything your clients are looking to do and how to get it done.  Sure, a little arrogant…but what tech lead isn’t?  You’re pretty sure you can control things.  Definitely has the mentoring capabilities that your dev team is in desperate need of at this point because, let’s be honest, you just don’t have the time for the day to day any more now that you’re dealing with clients.  So you went ahead and made the offer, and voila, check that one off your list.  Life is good, right?


You’re screwed.

Now you’re getting pulled into meetings on a daily basis over server configurations, service packs, and software needed to actually get the stuff you’re paying them all to do to work right.  Server Admin keeps preaching “stability” and “network integrity” and how the “if the damned developers can’t make it work in a properly configured environment then they must suck“, all the while Tech Lead is railing about the inflexible jackass that’s incapable of clicking “next” three times in order to get the last widget installed on the box to get the client’s work done, and why the hell is this…overhead…trying to keep the company from making money because my god, the software is what keeps the clients happy and that’s where the money comes from and how there’s never been a crappier server admin in the history of server admins and what the fu

…can ya feel it?

That throbbing vein right there behind your right eye that’s going to burst any second now?

Yeah, you’ve got two bettas in the fishtank, Skippy.  Good luck with that.

Because here’s how this scenario plays out.  Things go from bad to worse.  Your tech lead starts sabotaging your server admin by deploying code that’s waiting on a package update that hasn’t been installed and triggers a process that spirals out of control and takes out the box.  Your server admin starts dragging their feet whenever there’s code that needs to be tested, finding miscellaneous tasks that suddenly need to get done before anything else.

It’s really nothing you can nail either of them to the wall over, but you know it’s going on, and it’s seriously starting to piss you off.

The only way this is going to end…is badly.  Either you’re going to wind up firing one of them, or one of them’s going to quit…and if you’re really unlucky, they’re both going to quit, because they’re both going to hate you for leaving them in the situation for as long as you did.

Because remember…sometimes both bettas die during the fight.

And here’s the worst part – unlike in the pet store, the wild, or even in the office, being a betta is a conscious decision.

Much like the pufferfish’s reflex to blow up, you can choose whether or not you’re going to be a betta.

And note the spelling difference of betta versus beta – you can still be the Alpha Dog all you want.  You don’t have to be a beta just because you don’t want to be a betta.

There are plenty of awesome and beautiful fish out there that you can choose to model yourself after.

Some are loners.  Some swim in packs.

But the point is…you can choose.

You don’t have to hear the theme from Mortal Kombat just because there’s someone who is also very good at what they do in the building.

Every fish in the tank has a role, serves a purpose, and brings something to the equation.

So as you’re out there looking for a job, or you’re casually starting to sniff around for your next engagement…why would you want someone to pass on you because of something like your species?  But that’s what will surely happen…especially if HR or the hiring manager has been burned once before and had to flush a pretty body down the toilet and start over.

Don’t Be That Body…so Don’t Be That Betta.

Until next time…

Make sure you check out our other Don’t Be That Guy entries…