More Muc Than You Can Handle

Dealing With Contempt Culture in the Software World

A few years ago I left ThoughtWorks and was considering leaving IT altogether.

Though I’m listing things related to ThoughtWorks, a lot of my weariness is more
from IT in general. It could be an age thing, but I’ve been around long enough to
see a lot of terrible things going on in this industry. No one seems to care about
security, and the innovation that is making billions in the stock market are consumer
products that mean almost nothing to me. It’s hard to be optimistic after Edward
Snowden revealed the NSA privacy issues.

After a long break and working at a couple more companies I am able to pinpoint some specific behaviours of individuals that have an affect on my work ethic and general work happiness.

Contempt Culture (in software)

Recently I read an excellent post about Contempt Culture. What resonated so much with me was that I remember being that way when I first started my career. I was impressionable and looked up to the veterans that I met at conferences that appeared to me as people that knew everything. They’ve seen it all. They would speak with such authority on all the things and I bought it all. I didn’t question, nor probe for reasons.

Nowadays I feel like my attitude is much better (friends, please correct me if I’m wrong), but I still have a lot of room for improvement. But… I’m now one of those so called veterans I looked up to. I can see how much BS they were spouting and how overconfident they were. I don’t believe I’m a bad developer, in fact I think I have a fairly strong skillset, but I definitely don’t know as much as I perceived those veterans to know.

Reading the quote from my previous blog post reveals the contempt that I was feeling. Do I still feel the same? Sort of, but my energy is more focused on delivering value. It feels like a weight off my shoulders.

Part of me feels that bike shedding and the narcissism of small (code) differences are linked in some way. I don’t have any evidence whatsoever, just something to ponder. It’s easier to mock something that differs in a trivial way. Anecdotally, I’ve heard more criticism fired at Python because of the significance of whitespace more than any other parts of the language.

Please watch this discussion titled Why So Mean from the Alt.NET Seattle 2009 open space conversation. It does show many of the different personalities and perspectives.

How it Affects Me (and how I deal with it)

What I’ve learnt is that this attitude can suck the energy out of me. When I meet an individual that exhibits these behaviours I then have contempt for them! This is just as toxic and I’m struggling to deal with it. I rarely engage with these people because of the energy it takes out of me. Here are some thoughts that come to my head when I hear dismissive comments:

  • My friend made that! I saw what was there before and they have improved it so much!
  • If it’s so easy why don’t you do it?
  • You’re wasting energy, can we focus on the problem in front of us?
  • You’re too stupid to understand the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve.
  • If everyone did things the way you think they ought to be done, you think the world would be better?

Not so healthy huh? I don’t like having these thoughts. They drain me and dampen my motivation. What’s worse is that I find myself absorbing a bit of their attitude and will potentially mimic it. I don’t know why but I get the feeling my reaction to this is stronger than others. I wish I could ignore it, but if I could, I clearly wouldn’t be writing this post.

Strategies for Handling Contemptuous Individuals

Aurynn’s post has a lot of good strategies to handle your own personal contempt, but what I need are ways to handle other individuals. If I don’t, I could see myself getting overly frustrated with the industry again.

This response not only summarizes with a good list on how to deal with your own contempt but also brought up an interesting observation about identity. The language, tool, framework becomes an identity of sorts. However, that does bring up the point categorizing the individual is not healthy. Placing someone in a bucket doesn’t move things forward at all.

  • Assume the person is experiencing imposter syndrome and is mimicing others in the field.
  • Ask why they have such a strong reaction. Try and find the root cause of the reaction.
  • Redirect the focus to the outcomes. Yes, language X has problems, but look how it is helping Y.

A recent EconTalk episode titled “What if We’re Wrong” discusses in the first 10 minutes around the utility around strong statements. Understanding the individual may better lead to why they feel the need to voice their disdain so loudly.

Also that contempt culture can take many forms. This year has been full of unhealthy thoughts, but this post is intended to speak specifically about the programming industry.

Clearly I need some assistance with this. Please leave a comment with your strategies. Or, if this doesn’t bother you much, I would love to hear why.

This post took 10 pomodoros to complete