Are there Darkworkers in your department?

Estimated reading time: 4 mins

The concept of Darkworkers and Lightworkers is buzzing on a couple of blogs I favor at the moment. In essence, Darkworkers align themselves to the needs of themselves, i.e. they are selfish individuals who live only for personal gain. On the flipside, Lightworkers align themselves to the needs of humanity. It’s important at this time to say that Darkworkers are not necessarily Evil, and therefore Lightworkers are not necessarily angels either. Steve Pavlina ( discusses this in a lot of detail at the moment, so I suggest you take a look (deep link: Paul Piotrowski in his blog inspiredmoneymaker ( also discusses his alignment to being a Lightworker.

I wanted to extend this thinking into the domain of technology, in the broad sense (i.e. not just about IT matters). However as a typical IT person, I’m going to shorten the term Darkworker to DW.

Firstly, if you’ve familiarized yourself with DWs, then you’ll know that they rarely publicize their alignment to the dark side. They don’t walk amongst us like Darth Vader with pension benefits. So they’re not always easy to spot. However, DWs do exhibit certain behaviors which manifest themselves in typical ways.

DWs drain the assets (like money) from society, rather than add to them. Influential DWs in technical departments will steer decisions towards the gathering of these assets, and in my experience I’ve found this obvious in some cases, and subtle in others. DWs will appear to be making decisions for the benefit of their employer, but have a secret agenda based on self-interest. An example of blatant DW behavior was the engineering of a recruiting process to take on contractors onto a project who work for the company owned by the DW. Therefore, for every contractor recruited and retained, the DW trousered cash. In a more subtle example, a DW under-delivered a project over a period of many months to create a perception that a chosen software product was deficient and wouldn’t meet the requirements of the project, only then to enlighten project sponsors to an alternative product from a vendor in which he was a stockholder. In the latter example, this was discovered only after a number of months had passed by.

The behavior of a DW can sometimes look like it flies in the face of common sense in favor of a policy or business rule. Governance is important (as I’ve discussed here). But it’s common for DWs to use policy to stifle creativity that goes against their own agenda. The ultimate problem is when new policies emerge that at power to the DW, so you may observe many policy changes (particularly if they conflict with other recently set policies) in an organization rife with DWs. Again I’ll add the caveat that your bosses odd behavior can be explained by integrity-based reasons (as I described here). DWs will use and enforce established rules (but most likely, inconsistently) that govern technology selection, product design, recruitment, communication, governance, security, etc. if it suits themselves.

In my experience, DWs are hard workers. (Not to say all hard workers are DWs.) A work pattern I’ve observed is that DWs tend to put a lot of hours in outside core office hours, where they can work unchallenged and unobserved. You may notice emails appearing very late at night or very early in the morning went sent by a DW. It can also result in decisions being made overnight without involvement of others.

DWs expend energy into gaining power as well as assets for themselves. In technology circles, successful DWs will rise to the position of CIO, CTO, IT Manager, Chief Engineer, Chief Actuary, etc. I’ve reviewed an article recently about the ‘Bad CIO’ (see it here). Obtaining power results in influence, which can then result in the acquisition of assets as above. It can also result in the influence over the placement of other DWs into the organization in other positions of influence. DWs do not always work alone, but will affiliate whilst it is advantageous to do so. This may manifest itself as a sudden change of management style, geared towards the needs of the DW community. An example of this maybe the change towards the centralization of decision making, changes in methodologies, capability reviews out of the blue or the marginalization of individuals. DWs will often apply different rules to fellow DWs than they do to others.

Due to the esoteric nature of technology, DWs will convince non-techies to acquire assets for themselves and not others. This may look like requests for new equipment, tools and other resources in their favor. They’re likely to position these as essential to the success of others and failure to deliver means the success of others is jeopardized. As a non-techie, it’s difficult to challenge their motivation. The authorizer may ask for validation by other colleagues that the acquisition is necessary, but if the colleague is a fellow DW……..

In summary, DWs are commonplace. But I reiterate, they are not necessarily Evil. I’ll also add that just because someone exhibits one or more of the behaviors I’ve described, they’re not necessarily a DW. If you discover DWs in your workplace, then don’t fear them, but my recommendation is to always understand their motives and act accordingly.

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1 thought on “Are there Darkworkers in your department?”

  1. My Definition of an effective IT manager: A Dark worker who’s seen the light! 😉

    Interesting that you mention some DWs crafting emails at weird hours. Yes, I know a few people who’ve described instances of that where the emails where often very long, contained multiple action points, risk assessments and other CYAs.

    Now that was the version those “foot soldier” techs saw. What went to higher up decision makers was a different email altogether… makes me want to power up my light saber when I think about what happened.

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