Thursday, December 1, 2016

Elite Worship

Yesterday I read an article called In a world..., which talked about the problem of elite worship in the iOS community. I'm an Android developer, but I see the same problems in our community as well.

Here is how I see it:

  • People who tweet, blog, speak and open source are considered elites
  • Elites are held above the rest of the community, making it unwelcome for others

Does being loud make you a better developer?

Or, flipping the question, are people who don't share their work inherently worse? No, of course not. Unfortunately, unseen work is just that: unseen. Without external evidence, there is no way to tell if a developer is good or not, so we assume they are average. Not better, not worse.

I, too, would like to believe that we live in a meritocracy where good work is automatically recognized. But how? How do people know what you are doing if you don't tell them?

This encourages people to run up a hill and yell on top of their voice. And the people who are comfortable doing that are rewarded, are seen as "better".

However, this is not automatically lead to elite worship. Yes, there will always be some people who are more visible in the community. But that does not mean it has to be a small group who are revered above all else.

What you can do

When you see good work, point it out

One problem of elite worship is that we ended up comparing ourselves with people with more Twitter followers, more mentions in the industry newsletter, more conference talks etc and feel defeated. We can counter that by pointing out the good work we see that is not enshrined on the internet.

Here is a concrete thing you can do: When you do a code review, don't just point out the things to fix. Remark on the good parts as well.

When something takes longer than expected, write it down

We need more voices in our community. Blogging is great, because there is no gatekeeper to decide who gets to publish and who doesn't. But there is still one hurdle: What to write about?

Pay attention to what you do day to day. If you spent more time figuring out how to do something than you thought you would, it is worth writing down.

Don't worry about looking stupid because others must know how to do it already. You don't have to push the boundaries of human knowledge. That's PhD theses, not blog posts.

Think of it as notes to your future self, a place to put codes and commands in monospace font so you can come back in 3 months to copy and paste them.

Just because some people share more doesn't mean there is no place for you to do it. Everyone has a different experience, and we want to hear from you.

Speak at local meetups

In the original article, the author laments that there is no diversity at conferences. Always the same faces, always the same topics. As a conference organizer, I can tell you that speaker selection is hard. There were so many people that very much deserved a speaking slot but didn't get one, because we had a very limited number. You can read more about how we try to have a balanced speaker roster at 360|AnDev.

That said, we don't have to let conferences be the only place where technical talks are given. There are numerous meetups happening all over the world on any given week. And they are always, always looking for speakers. Sure, it does not come with the prestige of conference speaking, but does that make them worthless?

If you think the local audience is too small to worth your time, record your talk and post it on the internet. I wrote a guide on how to record your screen and voice with QuickTime. Would love it if someone write one for Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)!

Give talks yourself, and encourage those around you to do it. That is how we get new voices. Don't let the conference speaking circuit dictate who gets to speak and who doesn't.

Sharing != Elite Worship

People are lazy. If we see the same name over and over, we think that person must know something. This is fundamentally what leads to elite worship. We can't change human nature, but we can spread the love. Point out each other's good work, encourage each other to make it visible. Make the elite circle so large that it is no longer elite.