Characteristics of Entrepreneurs – Stop Calling Yourself a Rockstar

Characteristics of entrepreneurs- I understand that you kickass at Guitar Hero and you play a ninja in World of Warcraft, but seriously… can you stop calling yourself a rockstar and a ninja in real life? These hacker terms for “awesome coder” have gotten way out of control.

[UPDATE: Thanks to everyone for pointing out that WoW has no ninja class. Sorry…I’m a Starcraft guy. 🙁   ]

Rockstars suck!

A rockstar is an heroin addicted egotistical maniac who rakes up enormous hotel bills by throwing TVs out the window and has clauses in their employment contract like “my poodle requires a foot massage by a 6’2″ Russian model.”

You want to know why your favorite band broke up? ’cause one of the band members suddenly noticed “I’m a rockstar” and they didn’t need anyone else.

Why would you want to hire one in your company let alone choose one as a co-founder?

Know who I want in my company? Tony Levin.

That guy doesn’t play one more note than necessary and he ROCKS. He’s what I’d call a lean bass player of the highest caliber.

Check out his discography if you don’t believe me or just take Peter Gabriel’s word for it. Listen to the bass line on Sledgehammer.

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Do you want him in your garage band? You can’t afford him.


Let’s see, why wouldn’t I want to hire a ninja?

The functions of the ninja included espionagesabotageinfiltration, and assassination.

Wow…that sounds awesome!

Let's hire a backstabbing assassin for our company! Click To Tweet

Wait…is he assassinating us or infiltrating us?

The ninja, using covert methods of waging war, were contrasted with the samurai, who had strict rules about honor and combat

Even better! I can start a company with someone who has no sense of honor! That should be great when it comes to protecting our intellectual property!

[UPDATE: John Metta has the best picture showing how overused the word ninja is here. Also embedded on the right.]

Seriously guys…I’m sure we can think of some ego flattering terms for a good programmer that don’t immediately imply that hiring them would be an act of blatant stupidity. I’m open to suggestions.

[UPDATE: As many have correctly pointed out, I had to hurriedly strip out these terms from our own site! Yes, this was a tongue in cheek late night post, but that is how ubiquitous these terms are. I actually annoyed myself while trying to write a web site copy without using them. It will take dedication to kill off these evil evil memes.]

Summary of Lessons Learned

A company is a team. Click To Tweet Teams are built from strong individuals Click To Tweet 'Strong individual' is not a synonym for 'raging egomaniac'. Click To Tweet When looking for a co-founder look for a partner, not a rockstar Click To Tweet

Discussion (41 comments)

  1. Alex Bowles says:

    How about ‘maverick’, as in “a team of mavericks”?

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      I think I would like that term if I didn’t think of John McCain every time I heard the term now. Nothing about his philosophy or politics…he just doesn’t seem very agile to me.

    2. Alex Hagan says:

      “A team of mavericks”. Love it, a good example of how ridiculous some of these terms are.

  2. Daniel Levine says:

    Dude there is no such thing as a ninja class in WoW. Closest thing would be a rogue. n00b :).

  3. LongMan says:

    Do not stop calling yourself a rockstart and a ninja!

    It is the way people can be filtered! If you stop – how can i understand that you are silly guy?

  4. Alex C says:

    You can’t play a ninja in World of Warcraft. Article invalidated.
    /disappears in a puff of ninja-smoke.

  5. datapimp says:

    Listen, you’re just going to have to deal with the fact that Americans have a fascination with outlaws and that they use words like Gangster, Pimp, Ninja, Rockstar, and a slew of other words with their non-literal meanings to describe people who are outliers in any way whatsoever. Most likely my friends call me a gangster because I typically get what I want in ways which are not always optimal if my aim was to conform to situational social expectations for being timid, passive, and indirect. That or the fact that I am always stacking cash from multiple sources. Most likely they call me a pimp because I sleep with a lot of girls and that it comes natural. I highly doubt they call me these things with even the smallest intention of being literal.

    Also consider how, for example, I would call your post retarded. It isn’t that I am literally describing the post as mentally handicapped. Or if I call it gay. I’m not literally saying this post likes penis. These are just figures of speech that have been around for decades, which Americans NEED in our repertoire.

    Deal with it. I mean, your ‘About The Author’ says you slay jabberwockes in your spare time. Do we really want to be taking startup advice from a killer?

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      lol….excellent point. In my defense. I actually did slay a Jabberwocke in our middle school rendition of the Jabberwocke. “One two one two and through and through…”

  6. Mark says:

    Welcome to the Internet, Tristan!

    FYI (that’s short “For Your Information”), for people in the know ;-).

    Oh, and that thing on the end of the last line, is called a smiley, or an emoticon. It shows human emotion using just punctuation. Turn your head sideways to see it. Cool, huh?

    About the Rockstar and Ninja stuff now. Tristan, you see, actually programmers don’t use those terms. The terms are used by wannabe programmers who don’t get it, but have some of daddy’s money for starting a company, and they want to hire someone who can do all the stuff they can’t, and all the stuff their previous lousy, poorly screened hire couldn’t.

    You’ll never, ever see someone use these words to describe themselves.

    Oh, unless that someone is mentally ill. I have met one such person. They told me they were working on a program to defeat Skynet. Oh, if you haven’t seen it, once you’re old enough, check out the movie series Terminator, which is where the term Skynet comes from.

    So, in short Tristan, you’ve committed a newbie mistake, assuming that the person being labeled has applied that label to themselves. It’s OK, we all were Internet newbies once. There’s this great web site called Google ( (click on the underlined part to follow the link) where you can find more info on newbie FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) and all kinds of other stuff, Tristan.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      Excellent advice… all I really need now though is to figure out what the irony and sarcasm emoticons looks like. 😉

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      Nice…my favorite line re: Ninjas: “It’s either an assassin or a stupid 14 year old jumping out of a dumpster brandishing a medieval sword.”

  7. James says:

    Ninjas require skill, rockstars require balls, good hacking/debugging require both 😉

    We all need to give our geek ego a bit of a boost sometimes; as long as the titles are partially tongue-in-cheek and we worship code not coders.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      I like that definition. That’s the best response I’ve heard. 🙂 If I adopt a title, I’m going to call myself a kensai.

    1. Omar Qureshi says:

      nice find!

      1. Tristan Kromer says:

        I know, it’s driving me nuts. That’s actually what inspired the post. I’m changing it today!

      2. Tristan Kromer says:

        This also reminds me…I need to post a job description for a copywriter / editor. Anyone out there want to write me headers? I am *terrible* at it.

  8. Jourdy288 says:

    Em, Tristan? As has been pointed out, there is no ninja class in WoW. And what kind of dweeb would call himself a rockstar/ninja IRL? What kind of people do you know?!
    On another note, the samurai weren’t quite so innocent, either. They’d harm innocents defending their ‘honor’. Bushido isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
    On another note, both ninjas and samurai would get a job done so long as they were being paid. Thus…

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      You would be surprised how many people think of (and call) themselves as rockstars.

      Admittedly, I haven’t seen too many people call themselves ninjas to my face. I have however seen people stealthily pilfering an extra slice of pizza from the queue.

  9. Nonja says:

    I think declaration of Ninja-ness immediately disqualifies one as a ninja given what the core skill of a ninja is supposed to be. Think about it.

  10. TechNinja42 says:

    I… I don’t know what to say… I’m stunned!

    I think I’ll go silently murder an entire field of endangered pandas to make myself feel better! .. Oh wait, no.. I’m just a coder/video engineer. Perhaps I can stealthily demolish a project with haste!

    I was given the moniker at a previous job and it stuck. I don’t consider it terribly useful or even making sense, but it sure gets you noticed at the top of a resume.

    Rockstar on the other hand, seems like a pretty poor addendum to anyone’s tally sheet. I usually only see it for hiring. You’ve got to be pretty full of yourself to call yourself a rockstar to anyone’s face. To say you’re a ninja is far more non-sequitor and funny than representative of actual talents.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      lol..sorry. I don’t know who I offended more…the WoW people or the coders.

      For the record, I think if someone else gives you a nickname you can keep it without shame. Or if you’ve dubbed yourself “El Vez”, because that guy is just awesome.

  11. mike says:

    Yep; can see where you’re coming from. Hate it when people analogise themselves and go beyond the confines of convention.

    “I’m an entrepreneur and I slay Jabberwockes in my spare time.”

    The defence rests.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      Fair point! I’ve now added a clarification. Perhaps I should just write that I play the banjo. That would put me as far from a rockstar as possible. 🙂

  12. Lindsey Sparks says:

    I see both of those terms used all of the time by marketing agencies and freelancers. I find it annoying and find it hard to believe companies actually hire these people, more because it just seems immature and unprofessional instead of the creative and fun I think they’re going for than for the definitions behind the words. Some of the people I see doing it are clearly successful, but it just annoys me. You can show creativity and fun and an edge in other ways.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      Yes, you’re right. It’s one of those things that was cool when it started and now is just excessive. When I returned to the US after five years abroad I applied for a job that said “rockstar product manager” because I thought it sounded fun (and I thought it would be funny after my career as a musician). Now I just shake my head when I see the term.

      I’m hoping “giga-mufti” becomes the next cool term. 🙂

  13. Robert Scoble says:

    Great post. One funny thing. Last year at Davos I ran into Peter Gabriel. I didn’t recognize HIM until I saw his name tag. Age made him quite different than the guy I saw in concert. There’s a lesson there too. One day you’ll be a rock star. The next day you could be something else. Or dead.

    I try to remember that.

    By the way, you guys ARE stars! Keep on changing the world.

  14. Tristan Kromer says:

    Ha! Nice. Thanks. That makes up for the flack from not knowing that WoW doesn’t have ninjas.

    Funny thing is I quit playing live music to go into business. Go figure. Never wanted to be a rockstar though. Would rather play jazz. 🙂

  15. Dmbosstone says:

    Last year I wrote a post like this ( and I agree- you can say you are a superstar but most likely it’ll get you into situations where you have to work with other Rockstars/Ninjas.

    Teamwork is a more valuable skill that absolution expertise.

    1. Tristan Kromer says:

      I kind of like the idea that others have posted here. That saying you’re a rockstar or a ninja is absolute proof that you aren’t one. Sort of linguistic screening mechanism for jokers and egoists.

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  18. John Maloney says:

    “…that we are using the word ‘guru’ only because ‘charlatan’ is too long to fit into the headline.” – Peter Drucker

  19. Gunaranjam Pemmaraja says:

    All this advice comign from a guy who has never build a successful company. Sigh.

  20. Pete Mechales says:

    You are spot on! So sick of hearing people use this d-bag term to describe employees or recruits. Get over yourself , you work in an office at a computer.

  21. Adam McFadyen says:

    What if I am an amateur-musician and enjoy practicing Japanese JuJitsu & Iado?

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