Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Living and working amongst the wolves: Diffusing the Aggression

I'm an open-source developer and advocate.  I have been for a long time.  The business model is a Labor and Expertise model as all knowledge is free.  This is a wonderful way to work.  People helping people.  98% of the time, it is all warm fuzzies.  I would have it no other way.

But the wolves are out there.  Spreading anger and snapping at everyone.  This is exacerbated by the fact that the vast community of developers communicate through Instant message, email, blogs, and forums.  They lack face to face interactions and this leaves them less sensitive.  They displace their anger and attack the innocent.  They are aggressive and passive-aggressive.  I have seen ugly fights break out on twitter, IRC and blog posts.  It's not pretty.  The wolves think they are fighting with an individual(s) or ideal.  The are fighting online in front of the whole community and for the world to see.

The damage the wolves do is not just contained to their victims.  Those poor newbies who stumble on this behavior may believe this is standard fair in open source development.  This absolutely causes negative growth in developer numbers.  One rant will take an enormous number of pats on the back to overcome.

For the newbie who just got their head handed to them:

I'm sincerely sorry that happened to you.  Most developers are not like this.  Really!  Most of the time when people yell it is because they don't feel heard.  Like anyone, developers appreciate a show of effort.  I challenge you; instead of shrinking away, go do your homework and come back with a stronger more detailed explanation of your issue.  Spit the minutia.  This alone usually diffuses the situation.  Wolves appreciate those that are willing to fight for what they need and having all the facts so they can efficiently help you.  Wolves hate long conversations.  Think about the Wolf and what they need to help you when you are writing your question.
"Google before you Twitter" - unknown source

For the Wolves (That's you!  There is a Wolf in all of us.):

You have to learn to ignore the un-researched questions. Your time is precious, spend it helping those that have shown effort.  Sticks don't work with newbies.  Before you send that rant, ask yourself, "Am I going to feel better about myself after sending this?"  A post is permanent and lives on in many forms even after the source is deleted.  Don't forget, you need the pack (community) to be most effective.  Don't isolate yourself.  Send it to a friend first and see what they think.  Send it to me.  Basically, slow down and breathe.  Fighting is not Rolling Down Hill.

Andy Glass

Or better yet, engage the newbie.  You are so deep in it, you can never know what is like to start from the beginning ever again.  Talking to the newbie to figure out where the failure is happening may be very illuminating.  It might turn out it was actually your fault because your README.txt is not so readable.
"Think before you submit."


  1. True, or is something else the problem, like: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9064008/Is-there-a-psychopath-in-your-inbox.html
    They are a percentage of the general population. May be more of em in information technology.

    1. Thank you. Staying vigilant to the psychopath is important and the tools you point out will prove to be helpful.

      But this is not the Wolf I am speaking of...

      The Wolf is not a psycho but something simpler and much less fatal. The Wolf is analogous to road rage. Something we all have become when the Moon is full.

      In a do-ocracy it is easy for newbies to misunderstand the paradigm and expect others to help them. The fulfillment of a request by someone in this system is 'pro bono'. If the newbie understood they were asking for a favor instead of expecting entitled support the Moon would not rise unleashing the Wolf.

      Watch out for the psycho. Missing this could be fatal.

      Wolves are everywhere, even in you. Learning to diffuse them in others and yourself will make your life more pleasant. Wolf attacks in this analogue are not personally fatal but mishandled can cause much embarrassment on both sides. And particularly on behalf of the accidental Wolf who misplaced frustration.

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Be nice.