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Cover image for Are we pretentious and arrogant?

Are we pretentious and arrogant?

lucagrandicelli profile image Luca Grandicelli ・2 min read

The other day i had this conversation on a Facebook group with another developer who claimed that you can ignore HTTPS if your website doesn't handle any data transfer.

I replied that, even if "technically" this might be true, it just isn't, due to infinite reasons. Primarily the fact that Google just penalizes websites not on SSL.

At this point this guy kept on arguing with a very annoying/aggressive behaviour, claiming that he did hundreds of migrations from HTTP to HTTPS, that i was probably one of those fools who believed security is only a matter of SSL and so on...

Eventually other people joined the discussion and stood by my side. Didn't need that, but i apprieciated it.

Then a simple thought.

That wasn't the first time that, when discussing IT stuff with other developers, things started to heat up, turning out on an aggressive, i-know-everything tone.

It seems like many devs out there just can't wait the moment to pretentiously show their knowledge, without even trying to understand if there's some bug in theirs.

The only thing i know, after many years in this industry, is that i know nothing...

Did you ever found yourself in a situation like this?
Do you think that we, as developers, have a slighly tendency to become quite selfish because of our so specific-skills?

Let me know, DEV people. Let me know.


This article was written while listening to La Casa Elettrica #01.

Cover image by Tomasz Mrozkiewicz

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Luca Grandicelli

@lucagrandicelli

Full Stack Developer. My body is 99.9% made of code. Rest is God's prototype.

Discussion

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This phenomenon is why I avoid ever asking questions on Stack Overflow.. I have found it to be very toxic with people attacking the person asking questions and their intelligence. My strategy has been to just avoid those people as much as possible

 

I have been wrestling with bad code and started to wonder if the toxicity of our business has a lot to do with code that has lots of technical debt. Lot of us are working with code that acts like abusive partner. You don't understand why it behaves like it behaves. Your life is like walking on eggshells because it might explode for tiniest of reasons. It is uncommunicative and cannot be reasoned with. That is bound to have an effect on you that you then take on other people. If you spend lot of time fighting with code, no wonder all your conversations turn into arguments.

 

Yeah when I have worked in companies that have terrible code I get a lot more frustrated, but I also do not take it out on random strangers on the internet. I guess I can see how dealing with bad code can make a developer feel insecure so they go online to pick on other peoples code in order to make themselves feel like they still "got skills." Still I think its more of an ego problem than anything else.

 

I agree. And also i've seen so many good discussions becoming toxic just because everybody was intentionally trying to impose their beliefs on others, disrespecting people who was just trying to ask questions. Very sad.

 

Me in a remote meeting two days ago, one guy explaining to me what an exception is. Wtf I can't even believe today that he talked my team and me that way. Even with everything I am very proud of our behavior, we kept calm and focused on the technical problems that thrown the meeting in first place.

 

You should give chance sometime. Not every person is same , Positive answering is also rewarded well in Stackoverflow , sometime developers are in stack not only to help other dev's but also to enhance their problem solving skills.

 

Agree for Stackoverflow :)

 

Removed account on SO because of those people. I even avoid reading as answers on it when I Google stuff.

 

I've been trying to come up with an answer to this, but it's complicated. So, here are some of my scatterbrained thoughts as a list:

  • Pretentiousness is likely a very vocal minority
  • There's a lot of pride in being able to create the platforms that we communicate on, therefore critiques can feel insulting
  • Communication skills aren't always valued in tech, thus pretentiousness
  • Pretentiousness exists in every discipline that is valued (engineering is no different)
  • Internet anonymity allows for trolling and a lack of accountability
  • There are very few universal truths in tech, so topics are often contentious
  • There's a precedent for arrogance on major platforms like Stack Overflow
  • Tech moves fast and things get easier, therefore you get arrogance from people who had to do things the hard way in the past
 

// ,

Pretentiousness exists in every discipline that is valued (engineering is no different)

I like that you mention this, given my interactions with engineers from Automotive companies.

I'd argue that, given how new the Computer Science field is compared to others, that we actually have less pretentiousness, since the "established truths" & patterns of the field are still in flux.

Sometimes pretensions and arrogance toward some parties are the right thing to do, though, especially if those parties are found to have been acting in bad faith.

 

I think the "established truths" bit is definitely true. Everyone is free to discover, explore, and create which is what makes tech great.

Paradoxically, I think the lack of "established truths" also allows people to arbitrarily decide whats true. Then, people form strong opinions about silly things like naming conventions and programming languages.

 

This is a fantastic list of reasons for this behavior

 

I couldn't agree more - and the worst part is, I use it to my disadvantage sometimes.

As the only woman on my university computing course, it's commonplace to hear snide comments this way and that. Often it is about my lack of ability or even just boys joking about their 'ball and chain'. When I ask for help, it's never given with a smile and a 'sure, I'd love to share what I know with you'. It's prefaced with a look that says, 'oh, you mean you don't know this already?'

Never is it mentioned that my grades are equal to - if not higher than - theirs, despite having studied computing for far less time than them.

And yet, when I make mistakes, as can happen to even the best programmers, I am quick to perpetuate the stereotype. I insult myself; I make light of the situation and even call myself names. It saves me the embarrassment of admitting that my talents should not have let such a mistake occur.

There's clearly a culture within computing that implies developers must know everything and apply this knowledge without fault, 24/7. It's a culture that needs to shift and quickly. I'd hate to think of young women coming into my role being met with the same hostility.

 

Exactly one of the reasons I didn't pursue computer science when at university. I took a few programming classes and while I loved it, being the only woman in my classes was intimidating and isolating. And the 'oh you don't know this already' looks were prevalent back then too. So, major props to you! Keep it up, the rewards down the road will be great.

If I could go back in time, I would have stuck with it, and push back on the differential treatment by speaking up. I do now, in work environment that are predominately male and conservative, and it's gotten me more respect along the way.

 

I'm sorry that the toxicity of the classes put you off. It's an unfortunate story around the world. I recently read a New York Times article that really delves into the gender imbalance in computing. It mentions this sort of attitude and really puts into perspective why girls are put off of the subject when we used to run this industry. It uses university studies that were done only a few years ago. Ironically enough, it's now reached a point where as many people ask me for help as I do them. It's an opportunity to turn things around by not stooping to their level, by making change from the front lines.

I wouldn't worry too much about going back in time. There's so many courses and information online that almost anybody can learn coding these days. I hope you continue to keep up with it though!

 

'oh you don't know this already'

I've gotten this all the time, and still do.

I think the only time I've given that look was when a supposed "AWS Architect" struggled to deploy a single ec2 instance, and had to suppress just such a look when a supposed "Hands-on Linux CI/CD expert" didn't know how to navigate around folders in Linux. I had to introduce the cd command.

Incompetence I can relate to, given my own mediocre abilities, but people lying to me that they're some kind of expert without even having done a web search about a topic really chaps my ass.

It's so exhausting, isn't it? Though I'll admit I'd not considered the other perspective on quite that way. I'm glad you brought it up!

 

My situation is slightly better with half of the class being girls. However, there are some people who have coded in the field for many years before. Those people always make snide comments on the beginners and how they can't code. They're the reason why I'm afraid to ever admit I can code.

 

It's nice to hear about such great diversity! The other comments, however, do prove the original point of the article. There's such a toxic culture in computing and programming. I can't wait to get stuck in and combat it from the inside-outwards. 😈

YASSSS! I'm striving to make the community more diverse!!

 

I really don't think it has anything to do with gender-related prejudice. I believe that this attitude exists to whatever degree it exists towards everyone with no discrimination.

Not saying it's a good thing, but it's totally different than thinking that the field is full of men that see women as less knowledgeable/skilled/talented. I'm pretty sure I'd know if I was surrounded by such people for the last 20 years.

 

This is where we may have to agree to disagree, I think. Certainly I do not intend to tar all people with the same brush; however, I do think there are discrete, nuanced ways in which a gender bias can occur - and in a male dominated industry, that bias can go unchecked for a long time. It can be as simple as comments about "the wife" or it can go as far as a lack of maternal support creating a female workforce defecit of up to 50%. There's a lot of research into this topic.
I'm very glad you can recognise that there's a culture issue within the industry, because frankly some people will not, but I will say that I think it's not quite as black and white as being 100% a gender issue and 100% not one at all.

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I just think there are two different things mixed in one bag that should be treated as separate:

  • Is there a common conception among men in IT that women shouldn't be picked for whatever role because they are less capable? Not in my experience. Of course in general I've met people that would value the worth of others based on their gender, religion, political beliefs, sexual identity, even favourite football club. But they are outliers -and tend to be of limited intelligence.

  • Are there circumstances that can put women to a disadvantage for certain professions or roles? Yes, definitely, but this is where it gets complicated.

Here's some examples based what I've observed (please correct me if your experience is different):

1) In all fields there are roles that involve working ridiculously long/odd hours, travelling all the time, negotiating aggressively with other parties, being 100% focused to the extent that you don't get much free time or personal life. For whatever reason, more men seem to be OK with that than women. I am not one of these men -most men aren't-, but I do see that it is more common to find men that are OK with making these sacrifices (many of which don't even consider them sacrifices -they just enjoy the rush) than women. I don't know why -it could be a biological factor, it could be a personality trait acquired by the different way men and women are raised.

Obviously people who are willing to sacrifice more for a job have (and must have) a competitive advantage, how can we possibly equalise against that factor?

2) I see that women tend to more often be inclined to settle in a job than be career savvy and actively chase opportunities -regardless of the industry. I also like to settle for whatever I have if I find it good enough. But I see that it is much more common among men to constantly be restless, on the look for maximizing the outcome of their situation -seek competitive employment offers, leverage it to ask for pay-rise, push things. Why do you think that happens? Again it could have either biological or acquirable roots -but how could someone trying to equalize the statistical split possibly deal with it?

That's why I don't think seeking a perfect representation of genders everywhere is very realistic.

Though I did like Karen's article you linked. She made some balanced, fair points and I absolutely agree that the challenges of balancing work with maternity (parenthood in general but obviously maternity is the most challenging part) should be supported as much as possible. My mother quit her academic career, taking an early retirement to raise me -and I wish that she didn't have to.

But I don't think it's realistic to expect businesses to carry that cost, the only way it could work is if it was carried by the state.

PS. Sorry, I know you were focusing on how some behaviours common in IT can alienate women -I just don't have much to say about it. I can see what you mean, I never saw it being gender-targeted but I do see that women are more troubled by it than men. It would be good if we all tried to be nice to each other and it would be good if women could have a bit thicker skin.

 

I'd like to encourage you with the observation that during my career as a dev in the Australian Public Service I saw many women enter the service as developers, and within a few years they were my superiors. I never had a female boss I disliked or could not get along with. I personally never felt the need to seek promotion, and there was definitely a lot of devs who didn't. They were all men. Perhaps they were difficult men, I can't say. But I know I didn't advance because I did not have the personality for dealing with and managing other people. It's pretty obvious that there is a certain type who love coding and dev work. I'll leave it to others to decide whether that co-incides with hostility toward females. But, my point is; if you are like my female colleagues, you won't be content to stay a dev but will want to move up. The devs you initially find yourselves with won't trouble you for long. That said, at higher levels of big organisations you definitely have to be resilient enough to deal with some difficult, and definitely pretentious and arrogant people. Don't let them stop you.

 

I should add: to address the initial question; Pretentiousness and arrogance are not distinctive marks of devs.

 

Where in the world are you based?

That toxic culture has not been something I’ve experienced outside of consulting in 13 years as a dev in Copenhagen.

I would be interesting to know how global that behavior is, or maybe there’s another factor, like I’ve heard .net culture can be pretty toxic. :)

Granted, I have no experience with official education, maybe that’s different. :/

 

UK-resident here. I'm attributing the toxicity a little to the immaturity of my classmates who are yet to benefit from the years of experience. I've also heard that some branches of tech communities can be quite toxic. 😊

 

I think there's a very particular historical reason. Originally programming was done almost entirely by women. Pair programming? Standard practice for a decade. Then, with the explosion in demand for programmers back in the 1960's, IBM created a "programming aptitude test." But they had no idea what would indicate aptitude for programming, so they built a test for who they felt a programmer should be: an awkward white male. Thus began the first great sea change in the discipline and the beginning of the idea that programmers were socially awkward.

Then during the microcomputer revolution, all the marketing was aimed at adolescent boys. It's kind of the same thing as we see with video games today. So we have the second great sea change where the boys who grew up thinking of themselves as the entitled center of computing on microcomputers get to a workplace where being socially inept is expected of them.

And then the Internet, where the lake of immediate social cues and cooling off periods can easily lead you into a flame war, and where the next generation of programmers grew up being mentored by the geeks of the previous generation, but this time with no in person social cues at all.

And here we are, with that historical baggage.

 

I lost best friend in political discussion and he's dev. That counts? :D
In my opinion, not people but IT industry is rotten. You have to be the smartest and the best to get a job, to keep it or to be promoted. I think that is the main reason of those behaviors. The second one is that we get our experiences in many different ways. Different schools, different jobs, costumers, different needs, or even different countries etc.
And the cure for this? "Yea, sure, whatever. You're absolutely right." Works perfectly in most cases. :D

 

I think that's a good point, especially for the promotion.

When your higher-ups don't understand IT, I guess some people feel that by having a stronger opinion on something, it could pass for knowledge or intelligence.

 

I think this could easily be one of the reasons. The IT companies have turned the community toxic, because of the continuous "best in class, rockstars, best programmer" mentality they put out when posting job offers.

I am even a part of a local (to my country) programmer group. Every. Single. Conversation there turns into a dick measurement contest. Contests which I am sadly joining sometimes, just to try to show these god forsaken know-it-alls that they are not always correct and should give space to others. It really doesn't work out or help anything, so I have kind of stopped. I don't know what to do by now. Stay here on dev.to? :P

 

It happens a lot.

I was told by a colleague in sales at work that he liked me "because I explain things without being condescending and making them feel stupid" so it's not only between developers.

I was surprised by his comments because most of the developers I talk face-to-face are quite nice but then I remember all the times I had the kind of interactions you described.

In my experience, it happens more online (site or emails).
I wonder if it's an issue of attributing a tone to the message we read and it may often be the wrong one (like perceiving the comment as an attack and reacting strongly?).

Also, you can see those kinds of comments here too ;)
Here's one for example: dev.to/_mosiatj/comment/ac94

 

And the response to that comment (dev.to/kurisutofu/comment/acae) is brilliant! Totally puts him in his place :-)

 

I used to be that guy, probably something to do with still growing up, insecurity in myself and living in an echo chamber for a while. I learned over a few awkward incidents that I did not enjoy being that guy, that I would like to keep my friends and stepped away from public conversation for a few weeks. Thankfully I read a number of excellent blogs & books about leadership and agile principles during that down time, now you get to judge if I'm better for it...

BTW, this site by Troy Hunt can help with the HTTPS argument ;)
doesmysiteneedhttps.com/

 

Wow, love that page. Instant bookmark. Thanx Phil :)

 

I've been writing about this a bit here with my Empathy in Tech Series

For me, it boils down to a lack of empathy and situational awareness. Devs may take things as "attacks" when we come into conflict or are in a situation with diversity of thought, and being shown why our thinking might be wrong. It doesn't sound like you did anything wrong in this situation and you provided legitimate reasons for your stance. The other individual didn't respect that, and instead lashed out.

 

As with so many things in life I think this reflects mostly on the gender of the participants. This quote from Dennis sums the situation up quite well:

Conversation there turns into a dick measurement contest.

Implicit in that is that the majority of the participants are male; and that they choose to turn discussions into a competition. In my experience women seem more inclined to work with you to find a solution - or come to an understanding - than to simply impose their opinion on you.

The fact that this seems a relatively common attitude amongst developers is really sad. As with all white; male-dominated environments it serves to put off others from joining in; but maybe this is deliberate? Certainly the industry is worse off because of it.

 

I don't know the reason(s) for most developers be like this.

One thing is for sure: The average developer has the same empathy than a stone.

I meet too many of them that baffled because the 22 yo guy that started yesterday fresh from college don't understand everything that the 45 yo man with 25 years of experience knows.

 

I think as software developers, we should realize that sometimes people are not going to agree with you. What some people take for fact, other's take for opinion. And if you're in an argument just to be right, then you are just trying to serve your own ego at that point.

Winning that SSL argument isn't going to make you more valuable in the grand scheme.

"To be a good leader, you must first learn how to follow"

 

I don't think i was fighting any battle there, nor searching any particular profit to appear more valuable. It was just a matter of how-to-communicate to others, when sometimes people are not going to agree with you. Exactly what i was trying to say to that guy. :/ - I totally agree with you Joshua.

 

I was fulled by my own intelligence many times. Then I heard one man saying that the purpose of intellect is not to make you happy. An intellect is a tool that will serve your purpose and often it serves your subconscious purpose and that's exactly what you saw. Insecurities coming to surface. I of course could be wrong here.

 

Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

It's funny how people jump from argument to ad-hominem, for example, SJWs are "specialist" in this kind of attack.

Anyways, I know some people don't want to live outside of their bubble, in fact, they don't want to know what's happens outside of their walled garden.

 

Too many cooks in the kitchen. Many developers who deep dive and specialise in one thing, and they can't grasp the idea that other people might be better than them. The spirit of continuously learning and improving gets lost along the way.

 

”better than them”? I hope you mean ”understand something better”?

 

I must admit I tended to be like that guy years ago. I don't know why, maybe I needed some recognition.

Today, I think differently, each person has his own experience, crossed different paths and one have to respect that. Moreover, it is not the better way to be listened and understood if you are too rude.

This whole comment is very true. I especially like the part about dev.to being a breath of fresh air. It is my #1 goto place to read tech related stuff now, because of the toxic-less vibe.

However, sometimes I am missing more advanced or "expert" topics, but I guess that will come with time :)

 

This is the kind of Stack Overflow experience i've gone threw for years.
It's usually a gigantic waste of time to try to argue with another, simply because most of their friends and family aren't into tech and coding seems like the world's most complicated skill to them-- Of course though coding is rather tough it's not a reason to try to act like Einstein in that know-it-all way.

 

"I need that juicy reputation!"

 

It's very interesting/amusing that this article was recommended to me since I've found the Minecraft forge forums to be completely awful regarding this. I get that you think every modder is a moron, and you are sick of answering the same questions ever on over, but if your docs weren't so flimsy and you didn't drastically change things every version, maybe you wouldn't be the only ones who know how to do something using a method that might not even be mentioned

Ahem. TL;DR: Yes, we can be and I really appreciate when we stop to consider maybe there's a reason the other person thinks that way and are nicer to each other.

 

Can't understand why some people (pretty sure that this is for 90% a "male" problem) apparently need to derive their personal self-image from being aggressive pr*cks on issues which are arguably not about life or death, and not worth it. Sounds a bit like a sort of weird autistic "evil nerd" kind of thing. I've said it before (too often already) but I just say "get a life" ...

 

Heck, that's why I was booted off Stack Overflow on three separate occasions. I had the audacity to ask a question that hadn't been asked before (I had search for days before asking) and not been clear enough that I had meant 'in vanilla Javascript' when I'd said that I did not want to rely on any frameworks, libraries, or other dependencies.

I was called a troll, an idiot, and a jerk for not reading the rules for posting questions, even though I'd mentioned that I'd read the rules and conducted a multi-day search for the answer and found nothing. I was told that if I had read the rules, then I would have known to merge my question with the question they linked, which covered PHP. I was then told that there was an unofficial rule stating that new people can't ask question, merge questions, or answer questions. I was told that I violated all the rules by even thinking of posting anything in the first place. Then the interface stopped working for me all together. I opened my email to report my issues, but upon opening my email, saw that I'd already received email from SO telling me that I was banned from SO use for the next year.

I've tried 3 times and all 3 times ended in a ban. How do people even use SO if noone is allowed to use it at all until they've established a long history of using it?

The latest ban was for having the audacity to agree that HTML and CSS are not programming languages, but disagreeing over whether they should be considered code at all. Apparently, a lot of programmers have been taught that markup, markdown, styling, and other non-programming coding languages are actually human-spoken content and not code at all.

 

I constantly have to battle my urge to comment on things where I have nothing to add.

I tend to spend way to much time rephrasing my comments, to avoid starting unproductive discussions, still somehow end up in them.

Point being, I’m pretty flawed.

I’m pretty okay with being wrong, but the vibes I get from some people when I am wrong leaves me with a dirty taste in my mouth. Like they did not do it for me to learn, but for them to be right.

I really wish that was not the case. :/

Ps. I’m problably no better, but being aware is half the battle right?

 

Do you think that we, as developers, have a slightly tendency to become quite selfish because of our so specific-skills?

The tendency can be found in all walks of life. There is a multitude of niche skills out there. It would be odd if it did not apply to the dev world too. Perhaps having skills to deal with people like that in a way that everyone wins is the thing to crow about (not).

 

The Elite Developer issue. First, and I am sure you know this, the guy is an idiot, and wrong. In so many ways. I'd love to get into a conversation with him and tell him how wrong he is wrong. Then make fun of his height.

Oh wait...

I think we all at times get that feeling that "our way is better/right". Getting past that feeling and being able to share and accept feedback on your ideas is a great measure of self.

 

This is true when discussing any topic that people are specialized/passionate in.
You will see in in discussions about Science, Music, Cooking, etc.

The thing is to realize that these are just perspectives. You have the power to take things personally or not. If someone is saying something that you know is wrong participate in the argument (if you are up for it), when you are not just acknowledge it is just a perspective and move on.

 

It often feels to me like there is a world in which toxic interactions are the norm, a world in which they feel outrageous and out of place, and very small overlap between the two.

The good news is that for those who simply picked up bad habits by being in toxic environments, with a bit of practice and time spent in healthier environments, they can turn around 100% for the better. I've had that experience myself, and I've seen it countless times with others.

But the opposite is also true. You can get burned out and cynical if you try too hard to fix unhealthy environments.

And there are also environments in which toxic positivity is a thing. Those are sometimes the most insidious of all, and they're harder to spot. Usually you can pick up on them when everything said out in the open is friendly or kind, but there is a lot of back channel negativity, or other forms of unhealthy aggressive behavior that happen behind the scenes.

It's tough to find a perfect balance, but easy to tell when things are messed up and then search for greener pastures.

(And it's soooooo worth it.)

 

To me it seems to be largely individual, but it might also be boosted by some factors inside our industry. I think it all boils down to ego and us identifying ourselves with our own ideas and opinions, almost everyone does that to some extent. And when you see it like "your idea or opinion == YOU" every attack on the idea/opinion becomes attack on you personally. And then all of your insecurities and ego come into play.
I think it's very important to understand that ideas die or transform while opinions change. Both are to be and should be questioned if we want to grow both personally and as a society because many minds can weed out bad ideas and unfounded opinions very quickly. To do that effectively we need to be able to see our ideas and opinions as some kind of products we produced at a certain point in time with limited experience, skills etc. up to that point in time. They may stick with us to the very end, but most will get replaced with better versions as we grow with experience, skills, find new ways etc.

 

Try writing an article stating that X is cool ...

 

Not anymore than in any other profession to be honest.

 

I have to harass co-workers to be promoted, I would be leaving that company immediately.

 
 

The only thing I want to say to that kind of people is "get a life" ;-)

 

This sounds very much like the problem in this article:

tirania.org/blog/archive/2011/Feb-...

As I grew past this, I realized there is no stronger power than being sincerely humble.

 

I don't think it's about skill. I think it about incapability to communicate with other humans. Locking yourself in a room, learning stuff, and being only known for IT skills kind of boosts your ego which tries to cure emotional issues developed through out the years. That's how I feel about those poor people. We should put a board somewhere saying "being asshole doesn't make you Linus Torvalds, just an asshole"

 

Let's put that board then. I agree.