* Extra super disclaimer: This episode contains a lot curse words.
00:16 – Welcome to “The Upcoming Release of the iPhone 4!” …we mean, “Greater Than Code!”
04:29 – Our Communication Skills and Curbing the Snobbery
“It’s just not good business to be a jerk.” – @jennschiffer
— Greater Than Code (@greaterthancode) July 15, 2017
11:33 – Arguing on the Internet
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16:55 – Dealing with the Jerks
psa: all of your code is ephemeral & will one day not even matter. it probably doesn’t even matter now. how you treat your peers matters 💫
— jennmoneydollars (@jennschiffer) May 18, 2015
36:28 – Reacting with Meanness and Failed Attempts at Banter
29:08 – Teaching by Example
31:52 – Practicing Restraint
37:45 – Defense Mechanisms; Empathy for Offenders and the Offended
Jessica L.: You are way more evolved and valuable if you can work with humans and write code.
Jenn: We have to actively be learning how to interact with people in the industry and people entering the industry.
Jamey: When you’re mad, approach it offline.
Jessica K.: Tell people they’re great publicly, not privately! Make it normal to tell each other we’re awesome.
Mandy: Just be f*cking nice.
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MANDY: Hello, everybody and welcome to ‘The Upcoming Release of the iPhone 4!’ My name is Mandy Moore and I am here with our new panelist, Jamey Hampton.
JAMEY: Hi, I’m Jamey but when I join this show, I thought I was joining Greater Than Code. Is that wrong?
MANDY: Oh, yeah. It’s Greater Than Code. I’m sorry. I did make you that promise. I’m sorry.
JAMEY: Okay, I feel better now. I’m here today also with Jessica Kerr.
JESSICA K: Thank you, Jamie. I’m really excited that you’ve joined us as a panelist. I’m also excited that today, we have two fabulous guests. The first one is Jenn Schiffer. Jenn works at Fog Creek as the Community Engineer on Glitch.com. She’s also an artist and she’s extremely strong on the internet. Jenn, welcome.
JENN: Hi, thanks for having me again. I’m going to introduce your second guest, a dear friend of mine, who’s in my apartment but in another room and that’s Jessica Lord. Jess is a Node.JS engineer, recently joined at MongoDB. She loves scented papers and burning wood that smells nice. She also loves open source and she built a lot of it. Welcome, Jess.
JESSICA L: Thank you.
JESSICA K: Awesome. We invited you both to the show because there was an interesting tweet storm the other day and in this tweet storm, Jenn credited Jess with the statement that the way we communicate on Twitter influences the way new developers communicate. Was that right?
JENN: Well, actually I was talking at Jess over a [inaudible] and it wasn’t enough to just talk at her. I figure I tweet at everyone about this topic. I have recently spoken at a conference in Seattle called Deconstruct Conf, which is really cool. It’s like a polyglot conference. I gave a sort of satirical talk on how to be a real web developer —
JESSICA K: Only ‘sort of satirical’?
JESSICA K: It’s a what?
JESSICA K: Snobbery and bread making. That’s so hipster.
JAMEY: There’s going to be snobbery in everything. That’s what I’ve learned from [inaudible].
JESSICA K: So how do we change that because we’re all part of everybody?
JENN: I did this yesterday: someone said something annoying to me at Instagram and I was like, “Go fuck yourself,” which I feel was warranted but that was, in retrospect, what they said was but a mild annoyance. They actually reach out to me and apologize and I said, “Apology accepted. Sorry, I was so cross in return,” and we had a good conversation about it.
JESSICA K: That was in private, right?
JENN: That was private. That conversation wasn’t public so I’ll probably tweet later that the person apologized. When I get angry on the internet and I lashed out like that, it’s in response to somebody being mean to me. If someone’s tweeting about a product I’m working on or something like that and they’re like, “I don’t get it. I don’t get it.” I’m not like, “What do you mean, you don’t get it?” Like I try to empathize at them and learn what they don’t get.
When I was on the podcast last, my job was a secret. I think we called it my secret lizard job and then a week later, it was announced that I was working at Fog Creek and I work on Glitch so now my job that is partly dev role, I have to learn about our user or our potential users and empathize with the issues that they have that’s related to the product. I won’t say put on a better face about those things because I feel like my online presence was already doing that but I think that a lot of people can work on, I guess, improving the rhetoric around speaking. Jess can probably speak to this. She formally working at GitHub about GitHub users and issues and how people speak and reply to projects.
JESSICA L: There is a ton of work all of us can do in thinking about our communication skills and how we communicate and understanding who are we communicating with and trying to possibly over-communicate just for the other person’s benefit. It sounds really lame but I think a lot of this goes back to just the benefit of being nice. We get on Twitter and when we’re jerks to each other and when we’re really tribal and defensive about our language or if we use semicolons or not, we are creating these communities that aren’t welcoming. That does a disservice in whole because everything we do will be better if we have more people and more different perspectives working on it so being jerks, not only this cycle where we teach all the new people to be jerks but we’re also losing the people who don’t want to come in to a crappy environment and we need them.
JESSICA K: Yeah or we need the nice ones to stay and not be driven out because that makes us, in aggregate, jerkier.
JAMEY: When we’re talking about like teaching people how to communicate, I think people may get this idea that it’s cool to be a jerk about this issue, like you mentioned, semicolons or it’s cool to post mean jokes about it and then people will think I’m funny or whatever. I think that’s a perception that we give to people.
I think that everyone’s getting along better and the rhetoric is getting better but I still hear about people who are like, “Oh, I don’t use this because those people are jerks.” They were online three years ago but it’s a lot better now but when you are looking at something new and your first impression are the contributors to a project alienating others, being rude to people on Twitter, I feel like a lot of people are left out to want to be involved in that community because why would you want to spend your time outside of work or even in work in a toxic space. To me, I don’t understand why people would want to do that. I think that the rhetoric is not only better just for new developers but also for yourself, from a PR standpoint, if you’re working on a product. It’s just not a good business to be a jerk.
JESSICA K: So true. Last week, we had Scott Hanselman on the show and he talked about how it takes a lifetime of being kind on the internet to get a reputation for that and just one mean comment and people can remember it forever. But he has the amazing distinction of being known for a kind comment on Twitter. We talked about that last weekend. There was a civil discussion and people were like, “Oh, my God. This is the most civil discussion I’ve ever seen in hundreds of thousands of retweets.”
JENN: I know the bar is so low. I’ve never met Scott but I follow him online and he seems like a really nice, chilled guy. I was going to say about the bar is so low but the more people like him that can have civil discussion with people who are usually not civil, especially with women, the better. We all can be like our male allies. A lot of that is getting involved in discussions that are normally uncomfortable for them and bringing it back down a notch so that everybody can be at the same level and discuss these issues together.
It sucks that if I have a discussion with somebody and they’ll argue with me and a guy comes in and explains to them and they’re like, “Oh, okay…” It sucks that has to happen but at the same time, I appreciate it because I can argue until I’m blue in the face and it won’t go anywhere. I just have better things to do with my time.
JESSICA K: Yeah, true. We have some family members that when I disagree with them, like to my husband, “Eric you talk to him because you’re a man and he’ll listen.”
JENN: Yeah, you got to choose your battles. In this landscape of tech, there’s so many battles and [inaudible] shutting going on. Sometimes, I’ll just say, “This conversation is unproductive. Let’s move on,” and it comes off very terse and bitchy if I’m like, “I’m very busy. We’ll figured it out.”
JESSICA K: Yeah, that’s the least bitchy thing you can say right there.
JAMEY: I think arguing on the internet is really hard because you’re not seeing the person that you’re arguing with and I think that tends to dry out into these long things where people get really mean, where maybe they wouldn’t in real life. I have a really hard time disengaging from that. I’ve been finding that like I just have to be like, “Someone said something mean and I just have to let it go. I don’t have to have the last word because my emotional health is more important than having the last word with some stranger.” But I still find that really hard to do in practice, even though I know that’s what I need to do logically. I’m wondering how you all deal with that and making that decision to be like, “I’m not going to spend my time engaging with this.”
JESSICA L: There’s so many layers to this. There’s ‘how do people argue on the internet’ but then I think still the root of that initial conversation that Jenn and I were having, was about why the state of affair is that it’s so cool to talk shit about the tools that you don’t use and the frameworks that you don’t use and the languages that you don’t use, that in of itself, is cool to be that way. We’re teaching people, not even how to argue, we’re teaching people to get online and just be jerks about things that are different, which isn’t that the stupid, fundamental human flaw.
We’re all scared of things that are different. We all want to belong and feel like we’re the same as the people in our community. Our community is teaching people to fear languages and tools that aren’t yours and that it’s cool to mock them. It’s just so exhausting.
JAMEY: When you’re talking about things that are different and how I scared of them and I think that’s very true, I got the impression that we’re talking about languages but I think people that are different is very scary for people. I think there’s two types of being mean. There’s being mean about code stuff and languages and the things we do for work. Then there’s also being mean about each other as people and those feel different for me.
JESSICA K: Oh, yeah because earlier, Jenn was talking about how people being mean about frameworks drove other people out of these frameworks and they still don’t use them because historically, there was that meanness. As opposed to, if you get mean to someone personally, you can drive them out of the industry or Twitter entirely.
JENN: Can you drive them out? I feel that because the bar is so low, that a lot of people get to stay in and I think that’s contributing to this vicious cycle.
JESSICA K: Are you talking about driving out the people who are mean or the people who are not mean?
JENN: Driving out the people that are mean. You meant driving out the people that are not mean, the innocents. I think that in tech, it’s cool to be cruel, as opposed to cool to be kind. I see it getting better. Speaking of your earlier question about when do you know to disengage from rudeness, I involve my core group of friends in discussions that I have online. If somebody tweets at me on something I don’t like or whatever, I have a core group of local pals that I’ll send them a screenshot and I rant about it in there and keep the rant offline because I don’t need other people to see that I’m upset all the time because I don’t want the perception that people have of me to be, “Oh, she’s upset all the time,” because I think that’s detrimental to my career.
That might be stifling the problem in tech but that’s just how I feel that I can better handle my business. I think I’m also publicly angry at things enough for people to know that I don’t take much shit from others. But I’d say something in our group chat and I’ll see what their reaction is. If they’re like, “Whatever. Just move on.” I trust them to tell me, whether I should escalate or not. I think that’s very important.
Of course, I happen to have a very awesome expansive core group of friends in the same industry but if you’re the only developer of your friends, it might be hard for them to empathize with us, as a woman, the concept of micro-aggressions that come with existing period, let alone in tech. but just finding a support system where you can be like, “Look what this jerk posted. Whatever, man.” I know, that sort of how I go about things.
That also applies to conversations outside of tech but I don’t get nearly as much shit from people outside of the industry as I do inside but that’s also because most of my life is this industry at the moment.
JESSICA K: If you’re looking for a community like that, a group of friends who can support you, you might try our Greater Than Code Slack, which if you donate any amount on Patreon, even a dollar once, you get an invitation to a community Slack and people there are really nice.
JENN: I agree. I’ve been in the Slack and everyone there is very nice and they ask really good questions so it’s Jenn-approved.
JESSICA L: To the point earlier about if we were referring to driving out jerks or driving out the nice people who see that everyone’s a jerk, I also think there’s something to be discussed around the hero worship around individual contributors and thinking that smart people who contribute a lot but are jerks are people we still have to find a way to deal with. I really truly believe that if you’re not nice to people, then you can’t be smart and we don’t need you. Being good to people is smart.
It’s a different issue than just culturally us teaching people to be jerks about coding but still sort of within that world about what do we do with individuals who are just jerks all the time but we feel that they contribute a lot of code. I feel like, “So what? If you’re not nice, then you’re not smart.”
JENN: Actually, this is a really great topic, I think to discuss because we’ve seen a lot in the past, people invited to conferences who are known in the whisper networks to be predatory, homophobic, racist, transphobic and not good people and you hear from some of them like, “This is about code. It should be about code,” and everyone is like, “It’s about code, not about other feelings. Focus on their work.” While everyone is forgetting that programming is a human thing, we are solving human problems using code. We’re not solving problems for a sentient robot that has nothing to do with society. We’re solving society’s problems. Therefore, allowing people who are bad to society to build so-called solutions, to solve those problems, sounds extremely problematic and illogical to me.
JESSICA K: The code is not central to what we do. It’s a material that we work with in our problem solving. If you were building a skyscraper, would you be like, “It’s all about the metal. I don’t care what the shape of it is. If the metal is pure, that’s all we care about.”
JENN: Right and if someone designs a building that looks like it’s not going to hold enough people, this building isn’t being built for people. When you have a humane perspective on things and you care about people, you solve a problem that involves all people. Otherwise, we have so many buildings, at least in New York that are old, that are not handicapped-accessible because the people who build those things don’t think like, “What about wheelchairs?”
In 2017, now we have laws that require people to think about that but it kind of boggles the mind that people have been using wheelchair for a really long time and we’ve been ignoring them. The same thing is going on the web. There are people who have been hard of sight or blind, hard of hearing or deaf, not able to use keyboards or can only use keyboards. Because many developers are abled and they just don’t think of those things, we’ve been building a really shitty world wide web for a large populations of people.
Of course, you need to have empathy in order to be a good engineer because what we’re doing now is not cutting it. When there are people who are like, “It’s just about the code,” and the code is inherently about people, you’re right. Why are you arguing against me? Stop inviting racist and sexual predators to your conference.
JESSICA K: Yeah, conferences are not about code. Conferences are all people.
JESSICA L: I completely agree. There’s an old tweet of Jenn’s where she just said, “Your code doesn’t matter,” and I love when it makes people mad but it’s absolutely true. Your code doesn’t matter. I can get real worked up on this but we’ve been able to do all what we’ve been able to do because unlike many other species, we can communicate with each other. I believe that all that we can accomplish comes down to how well we can communicate with each other so your code doesn’t matter.
If you can communicate, if you can be nice, that’s what matters and that’s what’s going to enable us to have nicer and better things. It’s easy to not let racists and sexual predators into your conference and it’s easy to not let jerks be a part of your project because the better your spaces are, the better your communities are, the better people you’re going to get in them and the better contributions you’re going to get in the long run.
JESSICA K: Let’s face it. Somebody else can write that code.
JAMEY: Yeah, I think it’s a total fallacy to be like, “This person contributes a lot so we can’t lose them. We need them,” because if someone is contributing a lot but their meanness or their bigotry is keeping 10 other people away, then those 10 people would be contributing more than that one person is anyway.
JESSICA K: This contrasts productivity and generativity. Generativity, I define as the difference between the team’s output with you and the team’s output without you. There are plenty of people who are personally incredibly productive and yet, their contribution to the team or the community is a net negative.
JAMEY: That’s a really interesting way to think about that.
JESSICA K: Jenn, I want to get back to your original story about somebody said something mean and you reacted with meanness. You reacted with, “Fuck off, dude.” That wound up being constructive because in this case, clearly it wasn’t like a serial offender. It was someone who actually did give a shit.
JENN: Yeah. He messaged me and he was, “I’m a fan of your work. I’m sorry. I was annoying.”
JESSICA K: But it’s also productive in some ways at a community level because when we see people reacting to meanness with rejection, then we understand that meanness is rejected. This is the tolerance as a peace treaty thing. Part of enforcing tolerance is being intolerant of intolerance.
JENN: True. He made a comment that said, “Don’t mean to mansplain but,” then he continued to mansplaining and that was the ‘go fuck yourself’ response because it was like, you knew what you were doing and you did it and then you ended it with a smiley face emoji which drives me fucking bananas. Whatever a guy replies to something in a snarky or annoying way and ends it with the winky face emoji, I’m like, “You know what you’re doing.”
JESSICA K: That’s like, “But I can get away with it because I’m a white dude face.”
JENN: Right. On what planet do you think I find that charming? I think a lot of that has to do it, again the perception that people have of me and all of us online. I feel like a lot of the guys knew how my close friends and I, who we’re all in the same community and they want to be in that community, how we banter with each other. They’ll see it like my best friend, Brian. I messed with Brian once when I walk into a room. He’s like, “Here comes this bitch,” and it’s a joke. This is just how we talk but then it’s my meet up. One of the attendees was like, “Hey, come over.” I guess he brought some friends and he want to introduce me and he’s like, “Look at this bitch,” and I was like, “Excuse me? You don’t get to say that to me,” and he apologize but I was like, “Do you understand that if you heard that from a close friend of mine, you don’t address me that way because we have different relationships.”
I was kind of worried because it was my own meet up and I’m like, “That’s not okay,” and teaching him that that’s not okay. But also understanding that this is because of how he saw me and my close friends interacting with each other so you thought it was okay. I’m like, “I’m not going to tell you to go fuck yourself because it’s my own meet up and also, I could understand why you think that’s okay but also I’m going to tell you that it’s not okay because you should know that our relationship is not the same.” It is the slippery slope that as a community organizer and a public person, I have to deal with.
JESSICA K: Exactly. It’s a slippery slope, which we can react to proportionately, which is also part of the peace treaty is proportionate response and you responded in a way that’s corrected the misconception of what was appropriate but you didn’t tell him to go fuck himself.
JAMEY: — Because how do we draw that line sometimes between failed attempts at banter and actual meanness? I feel sometimes, it’s obviously one or the other and sometimes, it’s hard to tell.
JENN: Also, the venue of that interaction provides an important distinction. This was at my meet up, which I consider work. It’s part of my work so I know I have to react a certain way and act a certain way and I have a responsibility. The guy I responded, “Go fuck yourself,” to who’s mansplaining was in my Instagram comments. Instagram is what I call my chill space. [inaudible] and I post my art and he was responding to how I made my art. That’s a different venue. It’s not work related and that key word, “Don’t mean to mansplaining but…” that is why I acted that way.
It’s hard for even me, as I’m still learning to rein it in before I make a gut reaction, especially in [inaudible] space. It wasn’t a proud moment but in my brain, I understand why I made it. Would I do it again? Maybe on Instagram because now people seen it and then it’s like, “Why are you saying that to me. You know what I’m going to say.” Again, probably one of the hardest parts of being a visible woman in the industry is learning how to interact socially with people who don’t know how to socially interact with people.
JESSICA K: Because there’s another consideration there like you talked about the venue and yeah, who’s watching? When your friend, Brian was like, “Here comes this bitch,” that had an effect on the people watching and not everyone might know that he is a really close friend of yours and they’ll get confuse and then they get the wrong signals and then you get to correct them. But correcting them is also providing information to everyone else present.
JENN: Yeah. I think the ideal situation for ‘this bitch’ introduction would be if this guy had saw that and he went up to Brian and said, “Hey, you don’t talk to women that way,” and then Brian would say, “You’re correct. Jenn and I are best friends and this is how we interact,” and I wouldn’t be like, “Yeah, it’s fine but you are correct. That is typically how you should have.” That would have been the ideal adult utopian conversation.
JESSICA K: Yes, which gets to the things that everyone can do, that every white man can do to make this community more welcoming to everyone else. When you see that comment, when you see, “Don’t want to mansplaining but…” just say that’s not cool.
JENN: Yeah. I agree.
JESSICA K: And say it publicly so that people can see that does get projected in small ways, proportionate to how dumb it was.
JAMEY: We’ve talked a lot about teaching by example in a negative way, like teaching people to be mean but I think that we’re also teaching by example in a positive way all the time, whenever we’re acting cool and reasonable. Personally, I know when I first started getting involved with tech at Twitter and following people, I was like, “I don’t want to shit post anymore because if I’m just silly and I post silly nonsense and now, I have followers and they’re going to judge me for it or whatever,” and then I saw lots of people I respected posting silly nonsense.
I follow Jenn and follow and Aaron Patterson — @tenderlove — and he just shit posts all the time and everyone thinks it’s funny and it made me, not in a mean way but just in a really silly way and it made me like, “I can still post silly things and still be a professional,” and that was a huge epiphany for me in a way. I really appreciated other people on Twitter doing that kind of thing. I think it’s important to look at the ways we’re teaching people that they can be casual and be themselves and be funny and be nice too.
JESSICA K: Do post about your bread making but don’t just other people’s bread making.
JENN: Yeah or just make bread and not post about it. It’s bread. I’m trying to keep Twitter funny and you all are posting loaves and I’m like, “Urgh!”
JESSICA K: Well, put a bread on a cat.
JENN: Yeah. Keep it interesting in that way. Put the cat in the bread like one of those spinach dip, bread bowls but for kittens.
JAMEY: I disagree. I want to see everybody’s bread. I think that’s —
JESSICA K: — is not a thing anymore. I’m so sad.
JENN: Okay, I’ll allow bread then. As order of Twitter, the website, you all can post bread but be nice.
JAMEY: In my job, we post a lot of pizza because one of my coworkers, literally wrote a book about how to make pizza dough and there’s a lot of trading of pictures of pizza happening on my Twitter. It’s really a lot better than people yelling at each other so I recommend it.
JENN: Pizza was just more interesting bread, honestly. I was telling Jess earlier that all food is a vessel for sauce so when I see people eating foods that don’t have sauce on it, I’m like, “What are you doing?” But I don’t say that because I don’t want to shit on how people live their lives but in my head I’m like, “You’re doing it wrong.”
JESSICA K: More butter.
JENN: It’s called self-restraint. Some people went for pizza but pizza is the ultimate vessel for sauce.
JESSICA K: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the different ways that you practice self-restraint because that’s not the first word that comes to mind for you, based on your satire and your Twitter.
JENN: I always have a lot of things going on in my brain that need to get out and be expressed in some way but I also do have a huge filter. People think I don’t have one but I’m like, “Oh, no…” There’s a lot of things in my head that you will never hear or see because I know that it’s not appropriate in a current context or it’s just super extra and I’m going to rein it in. I do try to not talk shit about people unless they’re themselves are more toxic than the shitting about them. I also try not to complain about other products that people are working on. I try to reach out privately if I have an issue with something, unless it’s Verizon or Chase or like flying. But even that, I try to tone down the complaining because those are just default things to complain about. Internet, phone and flights, we get it. It all sucks so why noise up? Twitter was with that.
I’m working on a product now, Glitch and we had relaunched right after the podcast I was last on with you all. You know, there are some people who’ve written blogs about it and we’re getting really great feedback. But then there was some that just say, “I don’t get it. Why do this? Blah-blah-blah.” I’m like, “It sounds like this could be a private conversation that we can have,” Or, “We could have a public conversation.” But I found that when people complain about things and who they’re complaining about reaches out and says, “I would love to get feedback,” it reminds that person that’s a human up there talking shit about and they’ll either ignore it or back pedal.
I love watching people back pedal. I love that moment where they’re just like, “Oh, no. I don’t mean it that way,” and it’s just like a satisfied moment where they’re realizing that somebody is a human being. This happened with me in Gamergate. They are investigating me for a very weird reason and I found out what was going on and I reached out to them on Twitter and I’m like, “If you have questions, ask me.” I’m trying to approach them like a human so that they would see me as a human and stop trying to find out where I live and it actually worked, which was very strange.
That experience made me learn that I should approach other things in that way because, I guess first priority is my safety. Second is my cats. If everybody can work that way, I feel like the world would be a much better place and we’ve got a lot of better code, honestly. We wouldn’t have to wait five years for the iPhone 4 to have a period tracker or something like that. There’s a lot more empathy for everybody that’s using the stuff.
JESSICA K: We talked about earlier, reaching out as a human to a human, that’s an awesome thing to do but if you don’t get a ‘to a human’ response, fuck that person and you are not obligated to continue being nice.
JENN: Yeah. That’s how I try to approach people. A lot of people say like, “You’re nicer in person that you are on the internet,” and I’m like, “I’m a very nice person but if you do say something that rubs me the wrong way, I will tell you very abruptly and upfront, I don’t like how you said that.” A lot of people, especially men are not used to being told immediately and straightforwardly that they did something wrong and that’s why their perception of people like me is, “Oh, she’s not nice.”
If you say, “I don’t mean to mansplain but why don’t you just do it this way,” and I say, “Go fuck yourself,” I’ve seen it as mean but that me saying, “Go fuck yourself,” my overpower [inaudible] person’s offense. It’s more about me being angry and explosive than that person knowing that they’re going to mansplain and then doing it and just being able to live their life, while I’m angry on Instagram on the 4th of July.
JAMEY: But I think that being straightforward and telling people when they do something on immediately is really a kindness to them. If you’re a good person, you should know when you’re coming off as a jerk right away so you can stop doing it.
JENN: I think that being straightforward and communicative is ideal. As someone who’s known for being straightforward and very communicative, it definitely screwed me up sometimes in job situations and relationships and stuff like that because people are just not used to it. It’s a cultural thing, I think because I have friends who are so used to that who grew up in a similar way that I have.
I can’t teach everybody in the world how to communicate better or know so I try but that’s just something that I can deal. That’s why I say that I sort of grow in this industry learning how to interact with people that don’t know how to interact with people. I’m not dumbing down or sort of decreasing my social skills in order to be at the level of some people. I’m trying to teach them but it is very exhausting. It does lead to the consequence of some people thinking that I am very hard to work with and deal with but I’ll accept that because you can’t please everybody.
JAMEY: Can I ask a weird question?
JAMEY: Because it would be like weird and silly question time. What’s the most bizarre mean thing someone ever said to you on Twitter?
JENN: The most bizarre mean thing?
JAMEY: Not the meanest thing but the weirdest mean thing.
JENN: I posted a selfie as I wanted to do and some guy responded to something and I forget what the conversation was but it ended up him saying, “Your eyes are awful like you are also awful.” I actually have it on my website, JennMoney.biz, in my bio. I have it opened now and I said, “My visual art has been described as ‘neon abstract pixel erotica’ and my tech satire has been described as ‘your eyes are awful, like you are also awful.'”
I get what he was trying to say that my eyes are asymmetrical with my eyelids and he said something like, “I look like I have crazy eyes and you must have seen some shit.” I don’t know what I responded to but it wasn’t mean and he just said, “Your eyes are awful, like you are also awful.” It was very poetic and I loved it. It was heartless to me at that point. I think that he was just uses it as a defense mechanism and just turn it into a joke.
JAMEY: I think putting it in your bio is a pretty good shield.
JENN: Yeah. I also know that my eyes aren’t awful and I’m not awful. I mean my eyesight is awful but I don’t think he was talking about my eyesight.
JAMEY: Maybe he was secretly your optometrist.
JENN: Getting a postcard in the mail and like, “It’s been a while. Your eyes are awful. You are also awful.” [inaudible] Dr Wong in the next two weeks through your checkup. Shouts out to my optometrist, Dr Wong.
JESSICA K: And Jenn you had a point there about how you can take it as hilarious because you do know you’re not awful and that’s another thing that we can do for each other in our community is to remind each other that we’re not awful because once in a while, it gets hard to remember.
JENN: Yeah and there are times that we do feel we’re awful. I have times where I feel like, maybe I am awful. If I heard that at that time, it probably we would have had a greater impact, which is why we all can do a lot better with the words that we use because you’ll never know what situation someone is going to end up in or someone is going through when they’re being mean online. Empathy is required for both the offenders and the offended, I believe.
JESSICA K: Yeah, because usually, whenever somebody says something negative to me, I try to remember that that is coming out of their context and their day and whatever the heck ran over their foot this morning, it’s usually much more about them than me. When somebody says something positive, I’m like, “That’s on me.”
JENN: Oh, yeah for sure. No one stop telling me how awesome you think I am. I mean, don’t stop.
JESSICA K: I really like it and it’s true because Ruby takes a lot of shit from people who believe in static typing.
JAMEY: This was in real life. This wasn’t on Twitter but someone was like, “Oh, what do you do?” and I was like, “I’m in tech.” Then, “What language do you have?” I said, “Ruby,” and they’re like, “Oh, so you’re not a real programmer, then.”
JESSICA K: Oh, my God and I’m sorry. Writing Ruby is way harder than writing some other languages.
JAMEY: And I was just like, “What?” And he was like, “It’s not a scripting language.” This is like a Twitter interaction happening to my face. It was so disconcerting to me that someone would say that right to my face.
JESSICA K: It’s like that display of judgment is a display of ignorance because if we really understood the purpose and context of something, then we wouldn’t see it so shallowly.
JESSICA L: If that person probably heard somebody else, insecurely joke that Ruby wasn’t a real programming language so it’s learned behavior that is just getting perpetuated.
JAMEY: And I think the more absurd someone says something to me, it’s the less likely it is to upset me. If someone comes on and says, “I think you’re a freak,” I get all mad. I’m not but if someone comes on and says, “You’re not a real programmer because you write Ruby.” I can just be like, “You don’t know anything about me, obviously.” I feel like it’s easier to be like, I don’t need this person’s approval because I don’t care about them when they’re being absurd like that. Do you experience the same thing?
JESSICA K: Yeah. It’s the awful eyes thing. I mean really, what do you know about Jenn’s eyes? Unless you are her optometrist, in which case it might actually hurt.
JENN: My eyes are in excellent health. My prescription hasn’t changed in three years. I go regularly.
JESSICA K: One tradition that we have here at Greater Than code is reflections wherein everybody in the call name something that they found particularly interesting or that they’re going to think about more or maybe a call-to-action for them. Who wants to reflect?
JESSICA L: I’ll reflect.
JESSICA K: Reflect.
JESSICA L: It’s really this reiterating this thing that keep pinging in my head about our hero worship of individual contributor and thinking their value is in the code and I just want to reiterate that it’s the only one thing you can do with code and you’re not very valuable, that you are way more evolve and valuable if you can work with humans and write code.
JENN: I guess my reflection is along those lines that we all, even myself have to not only accept that the industry means that we have to actively be learning languages, language features and frameworks and stuff like that. You have to be actively learning how to interact with people in the industry and people potentially entering the industry. It’s intense and there’s a lot to do which gives warranty to how we make so much money in doing it because it’s a very multifaceted industry and very public-facing.
We also have to recognize that there are people who are not visible online and who are engineers but there are like finance companies or something like that and they might not have the support system or the close friends in the industry that we have and I have to continually remember those people when I am, either writing talks or talking to people on Twitter and knowing that they’re watching and learning how to interact with people through me.
I forgot who said, “I never asked to be a role model.” I think it might have been Rihanna at some point. But in this industry, being a woman, you’re seen as a role model by default and also seen as the representation of all women, that’s something we can try to combat but it’s a thing that exists. Constantly thinking about that as well. It’s a lot of things to think about all at once. I think that’s why we burn out so easily.
JAMEY: I want to reflect about something a little bit smaller that got mentioned briefly, which was Jenn mentioned how she would message her friends about people who were mean to her on the internet. I think this idea of being upset offline, instead of online has something to me because if you’re upset offline, not only are you not putting your upset-ness and your negative feelings out into the void always for everyone to see forever because nothing ever gets deleted off the internet.
But also I feel having an offline in-person support network. I think it’s healthier in many ways to deal with that kind of stuff emotionally offline and in-person. I think there’s a lot of benefits to that and I’m going to try to remember that next time I get upset about something on the internet.
JESSICA K: Nice. That relates to my reflection. Coraline is not here today on the panel because this morning, she posted her story about her year working at GitHub and how that ended — tl;dr — they talk a lot of values but did not exhibit them and Coraline was like, “I have to take a day off to just deal with the blowback because I know I’m going to get a lot of blowback from that post.”
This is the kind of industry we live in, where she tells her story. She’s going to take some shit for it but there’s going to be plenty of us who say, “Coraline, you were great. Thank you for posting this. I think you were right,” and the converse of Jamey’s excellent point about when you’re mad approach it offline, I have the instinct to tell Coraline privately that I think she’s great, I agree with her post. I should tell her that publicly. Something we can all do is when you want to tell somebody, “They’re awesome,” and your instinct is to tell them that privately, posted on Twitter. Make it normal for us to tell each other that we’re awesome.
The same with responding to meanness with proportionate response, when somebody posts something that’s not cool, be like, “Dude, that’s not cool,” in public so that other people realize that it’s okay to police meanness so that we can all be nicer.
JAMEY: I think you’re all really awesome and cool.
JESSICA K: Yay!
JENN: You are all awesome.
JESSICA K: You are cool too.
JESSICA L: You are also awesome.
MANDY: I just think, everyone should just be fucking nice.
JESSICA K: Right. That’s a great reflection. Jess, Jenn, thank you so much for coming on the show today.
JESSICA L: Yeah, thank you.
JENN: Yeah, thank you for inviting us.
JAMEY: It’s really awesome getting to chat with you.
JESSICA K: Hooray for Greater Than Code #40!
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