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On what Marcus said

This post is a response to Why so serious? over at Cocoa is my Girlfriend. Read that.

Welcome back. OK, so firstly let’s talk about that damned carousel. Kudos to the developer who wrote a nice smoothly scrolling layer-backed image pager, but as Marcus says, that’s not the same as doing a nice smoothly scrolling carousel. Believe me, I’ve taken around one hundred Instruments traces of the carousel. Swirling images around an iPad screen is the least of its concerns.

Now, let’s start looking at the state of the community thing. It’s like an iceberg, or a duck. Or maybe a duck with the proportions of an iceberg. The point is that what you see is a bunch of developers being flown around the world to talk at conferences, plugging their books (the evil capitalist bastards). What you get is a bunch of people who have put their jobs and careers into the background for a while because they learned something cool and want to share it with the class. The 7/8ths of the duck kicking frantically below the ice is people not getting paid to help everyone else do their job as well as they can.

I can’t speak for Marcus’s experience, but I can describe my own. That security book? The one that I’m already planning to replace because there’ll be so much more stuff to talk about after Monday? The one where I know you read chapter one then put it on the shelf until such time as one of the other chapters describes a problem you have? Around nine months of research, study, and staring blankly at an OpenOffice window. During that time, almost all of my coding was either learning about or preparing samples for the content of the book. I got a warm feeling when I saw it in print, but they don’t pay rent.

The same, but in smaller writing, for conference talks (one to two weeks of preparation each) and even blog posts (half to two days of preparation each). That’s why I love reading posts from CIMGF, TheoCacao, Mike Ash and others: each new post represents time someone else has taken to make me a better programmer: time they could have billed to a client. By the way I don’t know whether this is commonly known, but there’s no pay for doing technical talks at iOS developer conferences. The keynote speakers sometimes get paid, the content speakers do not.

Ok, so that’s me on my high horse, but we were supposed to be talking about snarking in the community. That happens. My favourite recent example was the one piece of negative feedback I got from a recent conference talk: a page-long missive describing how I’d wasted the person’s time by talking about the subject of my talk rather than the topic they wanted to hear about.

Thing is, there’s a lesson in there. I could have done a better job at either describing the importance of my subject to that attendee, or getting them to leave the room early on in the talk. Could have, but didn’t. Next time, I will. And so that’s great, this commenter told me something I didn’t know before, something I can use to change the way I work.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, you look for the lesson and there isn’t one. The tweeter just doesn’t like you. The best way to get past this is to realise that the exchange has been neutral: you got nothing from their feedback, but in return because they chose to ignore you, you gave them nothing too. Maybe that guy does know the topic better than you. Maybe he’s just a blowhard. Either way, you gave nothing, you got nothing: it’s not a loss, it’s a no-score draw.

But then there are the other times. You know what I mean, the dark times. When your amygdala or whatever weird bit of your brain it is responds before your cortex does (I’m no neuroscientist, and I don’t even play one in my armchair), and you get the visceral rage before you get a chance to rationally respond.

There’s one common case that still turns me into a big green hulk of fury, even though I should have got over it years ago. It’s the times when a commentator or talk attendee decides that my entire argument is broken because that person either disagrees with my choice of terminology, or can think of an edge case where my solution can’t be rubber-stamped in.

On the one hand, as software engineers we are used to finding edge cases where the requirements don’t quite seem to fit. On the other hand, as software engineers it is our job to solve these problems and edge cases. If you find a situation at work where a particular set of circumstances causes your app to fail, I’m willing to bet that you consider that a bug and try to find a way to fix that app, then you give the bug fix to your users. I doubt you pull the app from the store and smugly proclaim that your users were idiots for thinking it could solve their problems in the first place.

So apply that same thinking to solutions other people are showing you. If you have to drill down to an edge case to find the problem, then what you’re saying is not that the solution is wrong, but that it’s almost right. Provide not a repudiation but an enhancement, a bug fix if you will. Make the solution better and we’ve all learned something.

Conclusion

Of course, don’t be a dick. Your twitter-wang is not the most important thing in your career, knowledge is. You’re a knowledge worker. The person who got up on that stage, or wrote that post or that book, did it because they found something cool and wanted everyone to benefit. They didn’t make you pay some percentage of your app revenue to use that knowledge, or withhold the knowledge, or supply it exclusively to your competition. They told you something they thought would help.

If it didn’t help, maybe that’s because you know something about the topic that they didn’t. That’s fine, but don’t stop at saying that they’re wrong. That doesn’t help you or them, or anyone else who listened. Understand their position, understand how your knowledge provides a different perspective, then combine the two to make the super-mega-awesome KnowledgeZoid. And now start sharing that.

But don’t expect that just because you’re not being a dick, everyone else will not be a dick. Just try to avoid taking it personally: which is hard, I certainly can’t do it all the time. You took a risk in raising your head above the parapet and trying to get us engineers to change the way we work: the reward for that far outweighs the cost of dealing with detractors.

One more thing

There’s another group of developers, of course. Bigger than the sharers, bigger than the detractors. That’s the group of developers who silently get on with building great things. Please, if you’re in that group, consider heading over to the dev forums or to stack overflow and answering one question. Or adding a paragraph to the cocoadev wiki (or just removing decade-old conversations from the content). We’re all eager to learn from you.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Bruno Godbout | June 5, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    I have only recently joined this community and I must say that so far I have been impressed with the level of collaboration. After reading Marcus’s and Graham’s post I can see why.

    It is refreshing to see such commitment to knowledge sharing by a considerable number of experienced developers. It sets the tone and encourages newcomers to do the same. I intend to do my part as I gain experience with the iOS platform.

    What I’ve gleaned so far from my twitter feed and the blog posts that I’ve read is that this is a friendly community that welcomes open discussion and criticism. Developers cheering for each other’s successes and banding together when one of theirs is unjustifyingly attacked.

    As I said, I am new here so I haven’t seen the trend that Marcus is referring to, but I am glad to see him speak up and remind those who may have forgotten of the importance of maintaining the positive tone that has been nurtured over so many years.