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Lighten up, you’re having fun

There are a number of reasons I use the nom de guerre that I do. Primarily, it’s because I like being self-deprecating. Hard to bruise egos when the one you’re mocking is yourself. But it also adds some levity to what appears to be an increasingly somber industry.

The software industry has a tendency to take itself too seriously. Holy wars range from operating systems to programming languages to development platforms to frameworks to implementations of patterns. People take potshots at others for jumping on bandwagons, for being hypocritical, for being a "slave to tools", for their choice of text editor, for wearing white socks with shorts (hey, my feet sweat in Crocs, okay? It’s a documented condition!).

That’s not to say we aren’t valuable. Software can do some amazing things. And I’m not talking about carte blanche to be outright negligent in your work. It’s good to be passionate about what you do and to foster that passion in others. But let’s not imagine you are more important than you really are.holier_than_thounuts

I’ll teIl a small anecdote that involves JP Boodhoo, not because he falls into this category but because I consider him a pretty well-known person in our circles. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know him better than you know me and "holier than thou" is not generally a phrase you’ll hear used to describe his attitude toward his work. At the South Florida Code Camp, I mentioned some technique I learned from him. I asked the crowd of about twenty to thirty if anyone had heard of him. No response. Granted some people may just not have put up their hands but I’ll ignore them because they run counter to my argument.

On this blog, I usually talk with more confidence than I feel. The reason being: there are better ways to do pretty much everything. And the reason for that: there are plenty of people who are smarter than I am. You’re probably one of them. Or at least I like to assume that and have you prove me wrong.

I’m far from an expert on anything (except Text Twist of which I AM LORD MASTER OF ALL!!!). But as a group, we often have a tendency to assume we know what’s best for the client and even for each other. I’ve heard stories of shouting matches for something like how to implement "Print this page" functionality. And you could make a drinking game out of the number of snarky, condescending comments I read in blogs and discussion groups. You could get drunk by noon if you just limited it to variations on these:

  • No offense but…
  • You (totally) missed the point of…
  • I don’t mean to be rude but…
  • I don’t understand how you people… or I don’t understand you people who… or basically any comment with the phrase "you people".

(Sidebar: The last one actually makes me laugh whenever I read it. There’s a running joke that’s been in our family for years. When someone is being mocked mercilessly but good-naturedly (and believe me, this happens *VERY* often), the mockee responds with "I hate you people" prompting a hearty renewed round of laughter. We include it as a default response in all the reader polls in our all-but-defunct family newsrag and have even had t-shirts done up with the phrase on it accompanied by a family photo.)

When it comes right down to it, I am paid to do what I’m told. Many clients will defer to my (or the team’s) expertise for a good many decisions and in varying degrees. And I do make suggestions based on past experience and on professional opinion. But in the end, if the client says they don’t have time to write unit tests, that is their decision to make and all I can do is give it the ol’ college try and continue on under protest, but good-natured protest.

And I’m fine with that. To borrow a line from Bill Cosby, "I’ve seen the boss’s job. And I don’t want it." Although the danger here is if you are held accountable for decisions that you didn’t make. What can I say? People will do that. Best you can do is document your concerns and hope you don’t go down with the ship. Maybe I’ve been lucky in my career but this hasn’t ever been a concern for me.

I’ll close with some facts about you, personally. Apologies if I’m shattering egos. I’m a hillbilly. I deal in reality**:

  • You are not in charge
  • You don’t decide what the application does
  • You don’t decide when the application can be released
  • You don’t get to hold back on demo’ing the application because "it isn’t ready" (and in fact, it was in talking with someone about this very idea that prompted this post).

Passion is good. Good-natured ribbing is nigh on the most entertaining form of communication known to developerkind. But condescension and self-importance are a major turn-off to this hillbilly.

Kyle the Nihilist

** Hillbillies also deal in generalities. I’m well aware that there are exceptions. But still, you’re not one of them.

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  • http://www.flux88.com Ben Scheirman

    @Derik — epic. well played, sir.

    @Kyle – you really have a good point here. All of the altdotnet mess from a few months back and some more recent flames in regards to asp.net mvc vs. monorail just remind me that people will argue about anything, and 99% of the time it *doesn’t fucking matter* anyway.

    “We believes in nossing Lebowski, nossing!”

  • http://graysmatter.codivation.com Justice~!

    You, myself, and Rod working together to make this the best comment thread in recorded history has restored my faith in humanity.

    Thanks Kyle! All is forgiven!

  • Kyle Baley

    @Justice: Evoking Rod Stewart was a low blow. I have no choice but to concede. For if I listened long enough to you, I’d find a way to believe that it’s all true.

  • http://ww.bluespire.com/blogs Christopher Bennage

    @Derik LOL

  • http://graysmatter.codivation.com Justice~!

    This above comment saddens me. Up until today I viewed you as a man with integrity. But now…knowing that you lied, straight-faced, while I cried!

    Still I look to find a reason…to believe!

  • Kyle Baley

    @Justice: Yes, we are brothers in all except blood. So don’t take this the wrong way but what part of LORD MASTER OF ALL is ambiguous to you?

    Which reminds me: “Don’t take this the wrong way” and “what part of XXXX don’t you understand?” should be in my list above

  • http://graysmatter.codivation.com Justice~!

    Okay, you and I are hombres but I feel it’s important to set you straight on something: I could *BEAT YOU TO DEATH* in TextTwist. I’m sorry, but there’s no competition.

  • http://mobiusdev.blogspot.com/ Kevin Radcliffe

    Great post!
    /me runs off to start a flame war about the virtues of not taking oneself too seriously 😉

  • http://weblogs.asp.net/bsimser Bil Simser

    I like cake.

  • http://www.leftend.com leftend

    @Derik

    Hilarious comment… I counted your usage of the “key phrases” to about 4 – with a few tasty insults thrown in for good measure. Well done.

  • http://www.peterritchie.com/blog Peter Ritchie

    I’ve seen so many projects fail because the devs don’t recognize they’re not in charge, they don’t decide what the application does, etc. DDD kind of instills a methodology of recognizing that and ensuring you communicate with the people that do make those decisions.

  • http://devlicio.us Derik Whittaker

    No offense, but I don’t mean to be rude. I think you totally missed the point of how the community interacts with each other. I just don’t understand how some people are so dumb. This is pretty basic stuff. We are NOT up tight, you just don’t get us.

    Sad, sooo, sooo sad.