Christian Heilmann

[geek-anger-management] Your “but” hurts, in case you didn’t know.

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

I was very unhappy with my job in the last few weeks. This might come as a surprise, seeing the amount of things I have released. The reason is that I am like Brian of Spaced – if I am annoyed, bored or angry I do some work to use that energy. There are a few reasons for this and I am tackling all of them and I am already feeling much better. However, I found that some of the things that annoyed me are beyond my reach and are caused actually by the developer community itself.

I am sure that people are not aware of how much impact some of things we say in public have, and I think it is time to talk about them. So over time, I will point out some of the things that makes me angry, just to let you know.

Here’s the first: The big issue “but” comment. The pattern is always the same:

“Oh wow, this is so cool, but I don’t know if I will use that because of {insert unrelated, non-verified and non-researched truism of some news site or tech blog or TechCrunch here}.”

You know what? This but hurts. It doesn’t hurt because of the “reason” stated (yes most of the time it is about shutting down GeoCities in my case). It hurts because it does two things:

  • It diminishes what I have done – “it is lovely and great stuff but what about the real important thing here”
  • It leaves me with a feeling of having wasted my time. In 99.9999999987% of the cases I have no way to have any influence in the decision that lead to the “other thing”. In many cases I learnt about it from the press. This is just how big “big” companies are. I have no influence and can not change the other thing – at all. So if that is what people want to get excited about, so much that they think they have to tell me on my blog or some comment on an article I published, then I am concentrating on the wrong thing.

I can change and influence and make a good example in the company and to the outside world with what I do. What I do I give out for free – most of the time before asking my employer if that is OK (much faster this way).

Giving things out for free is anathema to most companies (unless it is plastic things with the logo on it) – especially when these things meant that one of the company experts spent time on it. That is a fact and a very short-sighted attitude we need to change.

I am happy that I am in a company that values what I do. This does not mean that I don’t need to explain myself and show what value giving things out for free brings to the company. It is a pretty challenging and interesting position as I am not marketing or PR. I can easily transform to these roles and have a more ordered life (probably more boring,too) but I don’t want to.

I want companies to realise that there is a massive potential in opening your systems and allowing people to use your data. Your but keeps me and all my colleagues in other companies (Microsoft, Adobe, Google, Facebook, Sun…) from concentrating on that. Complain where things can be changed, get annoyed and make your voice heard where it makes a difference and don’t blow things out of proportion. I can understand the reasons for but comments:

  • Lack of interest to research the matter – it is much easier to repeat a strongly worded “argument” than to read up what happened. This is what a lot of people do with politics, too.
  • Cutting down to size – “OK, makes sense, but hey, you also do bad things” – Duh, really?
  • Competition – questioning things is great, but please follow your complain up with a better version (it is open source). Or at least admit that you question for sake of questioning. The devil has a massive amount of advocates these days.

In conclusion: I love comments and reports that contain a but and show a real problem that needs fixing. I am sick and tired of those that are off-topic and give the impression that you cannot use anything a big company does because something completely different happened to it. Get off my back and let me do my job. Large companies have the manpower, infrastructure and money to help a lot of developers out there have a much easier life. If the developer community feedback shows there is not much interest but it is more important to complain, why should they bother?

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