Remembering The Human
I talk a lot. I ask a lot of questions. It’s just what I do. I want to be involved, and engaged with people, even though I want to do it separated by a computer screen most of the time. Being a Software Engineer, we’re known for being rather reclusive — as everyone is in the IT industry. We all know the stereotype; “The computer guy” who you’ve never seen give a smile, who groans at every request, someone who has better things to do than answer another dumb question that could have been answered by Google, hacking away at a keyboard in silence.
I hate that stereotype. I hate it because in many ways, it’s true. There are a lot of people in IT that seem to operate with scorn and elitism. They hate dealing with inane questions, and actively discourage them with things like http://www.lmgtfy.com (its a fun joke, but is sometimes used as a swipe at people for the cardinal sin of asking questions). I’m sure we all get annoyed as well at “dumb questions”, but we seem to enjoy poking fun at others and saying “look at this noob! What an idiot! They don’t even know how to google things themselves! Haha!”, and sometimes even more, “How dare they come here and ruin the sanctity of our enclave with their ignorance and stupidity”
I, of all people, am staunchly against thought-policing. I do believe that everyone should do their best to keep a stiff upper lip, and no matter what we do, we will always run into terrible people and be put down by them. However, I think we sometimes need to remind ourselves to try not be assholes, because it’s just better for everyone that way, and maybe it will prompt us to look at ourselves again and try to be better people.
When someone asks you something, they’re not necessarily looking for you to be their Google proxy. Often times, they are looking to you as an expert at vetting trustworthy information, or to clarify things in simpler words. They’re putting their trust in you and your knowledge as the signal in the overwhelming ocean of noise. Sometimes they’re also just looking for some human interaction, some conversation, and to better themselves and their knowledge through that. We need to stop treating everyone else as being lesser-than, or malicious, or nosy, simply by default, because they asked.
I think we’ve made a lot of progress towards openness and approachability as a community, but I still constantly and regularly run into people treating me — a long time member of this community of IT professionals — as an outsider, because I don’t know this or that, or am not familiar with the specialities of things, or because I didn’t google my question immediately and ended up wasting everyone’s time. If this is something I feel, I can only imagine what real outsiders must feel when trying to get their foot in the door, but end up in “the wrong area”.
“This is not a help forum” — Sometimes people post things where they don’t really belong. We should redirect people to the relevant places, but with kindness and humility.
“Are you seriously asking x?” — You’ve had a long day, someone wanders in and asks “Hey, so my screen is blank. Why?”, clearly not the right question. Why not point them to a resource, send them on their way?
“You could’ve just googled this, it’s literally the very first result” — You might be misinterpreting the purpose of their question. Why not check?
You might prefer to be blunt, but what you see as just saying it plainly, sometimes can be humiliating to the other person. Words are such a small part of communication, and all of that information is lost in text. This is why some people talk in emoji, we’re just trying to show people we mean no harm. That’s a good thing.
I’m just a human being, too. Words hurt, they do. Especially to new learners, which I often am. It’s a position of vulnerability. We should stop looking at people as idiots, and maybe wonder if what they’re really doing is brave. Brave for coming out and saying they don’t know, brave for asking for help, brave for making it public, and smart for looking for information they can trust instead of just winging it.
I’ve received so much of this in my life, but I’ve also given some out. Sometimes behind backs, sometimes directly. For a brief moment, I even thought, “well, I’ve had to take this stuff for so long, and now I’ve reached the next level it’s my right to give it to others! They should just learn!” I’m very glad I snapped out of that very quickly, but the reason being that I discovered that once you reach the goal you were striving for, you look around and people still go on with their lives. You’re not automatically better than others, or worthy of reverence and worship. You’re just continuing the cycle, and putting people down, and adding more hurt to the world that’s already got more than enough. Not to mention the fact that even when you’re up here, it doesn’t stop others from being awful towards you. You’ll still get it just as much as ever.
I have to make a conscious, consistent effort to remember the human. It’s so easy to fall into frustration and anger at others — just look at a youtube comment section anywhere, and you’ll find examples. We have to ask ourselves, how does that benefit anyone? Isn’t it always better when people treat us nicely?
Just be kind. That’s all.