Never be ashamed of where you came from!

I am frequently asked my opinion on how to encourage more people people to get into software development. My response frequently is:

“if people aren’t interested in software development, why force them to be?”

I enjoy hearing people’s various responses to my often unexpected follow-up question. All the while, I have my own answer to the question: I don’t think we want to force it, but we do want to make absolutely sure we’re not discouraging people either.

Lately, I have heard way too many people actually apologize for languages, platforms or technologies they once used. I’ve heard it in one-on-one conversations, in groups, even from a speaker addressing a local user group. Soon it struck me: YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO BE ASHAMED OF WHERE YOU CAME FROM. It’s what makes you uniquely you, it gives you the unique perspective that only you have to bring to the table. I even hear people apologize for the languages, platforms or technologies they currently use. And I also feel YOU SHOULD NEVER HAVE TO BE ASHAMED OF WHO YOU ARE.

Please, let’s make sure we’re not making people feel ashamed of who they were, and of who they are.

I think a lot of people in IT tend to be very opinionated, er, I mean very passionate about their craft. Passion is a great thing when used for good and not for evil. But on more than one occasion I’ve heard people say that they stopped attending a local user group because whenever they went, they were made to feel bad about being “the [insert technology here] guy” (the .Net guy, the Java guy, the Python guy, the PHP guy, whatever) and sometimes to the point of feeling they have to defend who and what they are. That became very tiring after awhile, and they quit attending the group. Do we want to share the Ruby love or not? We all lose if we don’t. This person is no longer learns about Ruby and Rails at their local user group every month. And that Ruby community no longer has the unique point of view that only that person could have contributed if only people would listen.

Please, let’s welcome people who are different from us, and not try to change them but embrace them.

Dave Thomas spoke in his keynote at RubyConf 2010 that we, as a community, may be unaware of what we may do or say to discourage people into joining us. I hate to say it, but I think the Ruby community not seen as the most welcoming bunch. We have good intentions of welcoming. On the surface, we are. When it comes down to it, I get a feeling that we unknowingly making people who do not use Ruby, own Macs, and have iPhones feel very out of place. That is not a good feeling. It’s not a warm feeling. It’s not a welcoming feeling. I’m not saying this kind of thing isn’t prevalent elsewhere, but the Ruby community is what I know best right now, and it’s where I see it right now.

What can we do? I encourage and challenge everyone, the Ruby community especially, to be more welcoming.

  • Next time you are talking to a fellow technologist, and you hear someone says they are a .Net or Java or whatever developer, resist the temptation to say (or even think) “ohhh, I’m sorry!” You may be joking. And it may be appropriate to joke in that way with someone you know very well who knows without a doubt you are joking. But what you may not realize is who else is listening. There may be a person over in the corner who doesn’t know anyone at the user group yet, but is within ear shot of hearing you. That’s the impression they will get of how this Ruby community welcomes n00bs and people of other technological backgrounds.
  • Lead by example. Don’t criticize or look down on someone who uses a completely different language than you, or uses a different operating system, or chooses a different editor. Don’t strong-arm someone into seeing things your way. Never TELL someone that they should love something. Show them what YOU love about it, the rest will follow. Or it may not. But that’s all you can do.
  • Next time you’re at a user group meeting, make a point of talking to someone you don’t know. Maybe it’s someone who’s been coming for awhile but you have been too busy to notice. But maybe it’s someone who’s new and will appreciate that someone went out of their way to be nice. Find out what they do, but never judge. Find out how they got interested in Ruby and encourage that. Tell them what made you get into Ruby, but make sure they never feel they have to have the same reasons as you.

Go forth and ENcourage!

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5 Responses to “Never be ashamed of where you came from!”

  1. Matt Brewer Says:

    Amen, Gayle! Great post!

  2. Joe Wirtley Says:

    I agree with the sentiment of showing people the technology you love and inviting them to take advantage of it. One thing to keep in mind when you’re doing this is that your technology choice will not be the best one for every person or scenario. I will get on my soap box when I hear the term best practice, because I don’t think they exist. I think that patterns are far more useful, since patterns have a context. The technology choice that works in your context will not be the best one for every context.

    And a nit to pick, you seem to be equating who a person is with the language they use, and that’s part of the problem. As professional developers we need to be able to separate ourselves from our technology choices. It’s perfectly reasonable to challenge technology choices when they are separated from people. We can all learn from discussions about the best technology to address a particular challenge. And nobody profits from the Ruby people versus .NET people kind of conversations.

    • Gayle Says:

      Thanks, Joe, for providing some additional examples.

      “One thing to keep in mind when you’re doing this is that your technology choice will not be the best one for every person or scenario.”

      This is another good example of exactly why getting down on someone for what technology they use is useless, I hadn’t thought of this reason in particular. Indeed, different technologies and tools are better different cases. There may or may not be one “perfect” tool for a job, but some good ideas can come out of discussing when and why one might be better than another in a situation. If done right, people on both sides of the discussion learn.

      “…you seem to be equating who a person is with the language they use, and that’s part of the problem.”

      Agreed, and the words that I wrote that illustrate this perception are not my words; these are the things I hear people say. And those things (person==language) probably shouldn’t be so tightly coupled. I’m all for mature discussions that compare and contrast technology choices, without getting personal. I don’t like seeing people put into buckets with labels in negative ways. Even just simply “oh, he’s ‘that python guy, therefore he thinks [insert some presumption here].’” Nope, he’s just a developer who happens to have an interest in python, among many other facets of technology most likely.

      And even if the person and language should not be tightly coupled, when someone takes pride in their work and is passionate about it (whatever it is) it can be tough for that person not to equate themselves with the language. It is hard seeing someone else looking down their nose at a language you use, and not feel like they’re looking down at you by association. (ref @chris_ciulla, thanks Chris, well said.)

  3. shilpa Says:

    good post. I agree that the experience I have it what makes me unique. The other side to this equation is that the people who have this unique experience should high light it and use it when needed. If you can bring a different perspective to the table that can benefit the team then its out responsibility to do so.
    Thanks for sharing your insight.

  4. Bill Barnett Says:

    Great post and on a topic that is regrettably not mentioned many other places. As a former PHP developer now largely doing Ruby development I feel for my .NET and Java brethren who have also come to embrace Ruby.

    I recall at RailsConf 2006 it was popular to write the number of years it has been since you last wrote a line of Java on your conference badge. This behavior is made more absurd given the emergence of JRuby and the doors it is opening for Ruby developers everywhere.

    Again, great post and thanks to Maggie Longshore (@MaggieLongshore) for her Twitter post reminding me to read it.


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