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(OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb

by Ovid (Cardinal)
on May 28, 2003 at 16:24 UTC ( #261354=perlmeditation: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??

Despite appearances, this train of thought was actually started by a post I saw elsewhere. However, it also applies here and it's something I've been thinking about lately.

For some reason, I started thinking about my childhood. One of my more annoying traits was my honesty. People would ask for help with homework or ask my opinion of something and I would tell them. If they were wrong, I said they were wrong. Few people appreciate such bluntness. I took me a long time to realize that my bluntness was merely a sign of very poor social skills.

Years later, I worked with a guy I called the Cherry Bomb because of how quick he was to explode (some of you have heard this story, but bear with me). His customers were comprised of accountants two floors below us. They would call and complain that they didn't get a particular report. He would look into it, see that the customer had messed up again and call them back and start yelling at them.

To the Cherry Bomb, these were stupid people. He would tell them, over and over again, that they screwed up. Naturally, the stupid people would hear him getting upset and "defensive mode" would kick in. It was his system and and it's supposed to just work. These "stupid" people were very intelligent and I knew quite a few of them. The Cherry Bomb knew as little about what they did as they knew about what he did.

While the Cherry Bomb was technically correct about his customers doing things he yelled at them not to do (anyone see the problem there?), the simple fact remains that not everyone handles brutal honesty well. The Cherry Bomb was more brutal than others. He would turn to me after these pleasant phone calls and start ranting over the cubicle wall about how stupid these people were. I would respond by hitting "Alt-tab", which would take me to an Excel spreadsheet. Embedded on this spreadsheet was an icon of a Cherry Bomb that I made. I would click it and it would sent a Netware plea out to coworkers who would then call me and ask me to come over to their desk to help out with a "problem". The Cherry Bomb never figured it out.

At this point, not only did the "stupid" person not get their work done on time, but the Cherry Bomb wasted much of his time, he wasted my time and I wound up wasting the time of some of my coworkers because I was a brand-new employee and I wasn't about to talk to the Cherry Bomb about his problem.

Which is a roundabout way of bringing me back to the issue that I can never quite figure out. Why are so many IT people mean? Some are just blunt and say "the code you wrote is stupid!" Others are even worse and say "you were stupid!" What does that gain us? Do we get to feel superior in some way? If someone codes well or not, that doesn't reflect on their worth as a person. If how they code bugs you, why is so difficult to take a few extra seconds to be nice about it?

Now, I'm not claiming to be perfect in this department. I've lost my temper before, but I try not to. At times I've had to apologize for my behavior and at other times, I have simply been an ass. In short, I'm not saint (if you take my meaning) and I still blow it from time to time.

Particularly here at Perlmonks, I think it's fair to say that if you're going to say something mean or rude, you don't have to say anything because if something is incorrect about something you see, someone else will usually be happy to come along and nicely point out the issue.

I think the major objections that I hear to this point of view are fairly predictable:

I don't care what people think.
Then why did you take the trouble to even say that?
I need to be brutally honest so they learn.
People have been using that excuse for decades and people never learn. Why haven't you learned this?
I wasn't mean.
These are the ones I really feel sorry for. If they don't realize they're being mean, they probably have far worse problems than flames they receive for their behavior.

In other words, be a good person.

Cheers,
Ovid

New address of my CGI Course.
Silence is Evil (feel free to copy and distribute widely - note copyright text)

Comment on (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by VSarkiss (Monsignor) on May 28, 2003 at 16:54 UTC

    Short version: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

    Just imagine Cherry Bomb having a problem with his books, and having the tables turned on him. "You idiot, didn't I tell you not to put accruals on line 2?"

    Personally, sure, I've had bad days like everyone else (No, none of them are written up in the monastery. :-p) The question I've asked myself after an episode like that was, "Why did I spend so much energy belittling the questioner?" It would have been easier to give a simple answer or just ignore the question altogether.

    BTW, I don't think "honesty" is the right word for this kind of behavior. It's just an excuse for cruel speech.

        jdporter wrote:

        The problem is the premise: it works if we all want the same thing. But we don't. We all want different things. So if you want to be nice to someone, don't treat them the way you would want to be treated; treat them the way they want to be treated.

        Don't say it Ovid ... don't say it ... don't say it!

        Crap, I'm gonna say it. :)

        I like this attitude, but I have to confess that I was startled because of the person who first explained this to me: he was a Satanist. He explained that from his religion's viewpoint, "treat others as you want to be treated" was pretty damned (ha!) selfish. The Satanic version of the rule "treat others as they want to be treated" was a matter of being respectful of others. (note that I don't know anything about this religion and am just repeating what he explained to me).

        Regardless of the source, I found I was forced to agree. It just goes to show that truth can be found anywhere, if we drop our preconceptions.

        Cheers,
        Ovid

        New address of my CGI Course.
        Silence is Evil (feel free to copy and distribute widely - note copyright text)

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by hardburn (Abbot) on May 28, 2003 at 16:55 UTC

    Personally, I think its the result of dealing with a purely logical system. It doesn't matter to a computer how you put things, so long as everything in between follows some kind of logic. Therefore, the shortest, most consise way of telling the computer what to do is usually the best (with cavets--I'm not suggesting obfu belongs in production code). Anything more is just fluff.

    Programmers screw up when they expect humans to act the same way. In general, I don't think most programmers are jerks such as your Cherry Bomb example (certainly there are some), but they will tend to be brutaly honest.

    ----
    I wanted to explore how Perl's closures can be manipulated, and ended up creating an object system by accident.
    -- Schemer

    Note: All code is untested, unless otherwise stated

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by dws (Chancellor) on May 28, 2003 at 17:08 UTC
    Why are so many IT people mean?

    It's very rare to have both an analytical mindset and a mindset suited for psychotherapy, yet IT seems to require both. IT folks are confronted on one hand with a vast array of exacting rules and requirements (not all well documented), and on the other with a horde of frustrated workers who are often afraid of and angry at the mysterious technology they need (NOW, dammit) to get their jobs done.

    It's not a position I'd like to be in.

    When angry, frustrated people are blaming me (because it's no fun to blame software if it doesn't react to being blamed), I tend to blame back unless I'm well centered. Empathy starts after the first cup of coffee, but ends somewhere after the third.

      I'd just like to thank you for my new email signature ... :-)

      It's very rare to have both an analytical mindset and a mindset suited for psychotherapy, yet IT seems to require both.

       

      perl -le 'print+unpack"N",pack"B32","00000000000000000000001001100000"'

      I was reading System Performance Tuning, 2nd ed earlier. Your post reminds me of the following section:

      The most powerful tool available to you in order to control the workloads on your systems is user education. Enforcing strict CPU time or disk quotas, while effective, often adds to a "resentment of the mystery" phenomenon. This leaves users feeling rather like medieval serfs: there are certain things they just can't do, like encourage the rain in a dry season, and all they can do is go and beg some rather mysterious people who usually live in caves to try and fix the problem for them. The end result is that the users get very frustrated.

      A much better solution is to explain the problem to your users, how their actions induce it, and the solution to the problem. Many times, this sort of forthright discussion will produce the results you'd like, with much less of a headache.

      I thought that summed it up rather nicely. Educate your users/customers and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble and improve the arrangement for all involved parties. Consider their position/mindset before you react.

      The book also contains lots of excellent information on (you guessed it!) System Performance Tuning :).

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by phydeauxarff (Priest) on May 28, 2003 at 17:26 UTC
    There is a reason why "IT Folks" are good with computers, on average they spent more of their time developing technical skills rather than people skills.

    Additionally, technical people tend to approach issues as problems with solutions.

    Non-technical folks tend to see things as more open to interpretation and often would rather not hear that they have a 'problem' ;-)

      There is a reason why "IT Folks" are good with computers, on average they spent more of their time developing technical skills rather than people skills.

      And why is that true? Because they were inclined to spend more of their time developing technical skills. People tend to focus on those things that they are already good at. We would all be better off if we learned to focus more on our weaknesses.

      -sauoq
      "My two cents aren't worth a dime.";
      
        I think the real answer is that people tend to focus on the things they enjoy or find easy to accomplish and these are what they become good at.

        I agree a certain awarness of the areas where one can improve is extremely beneficial.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by theorbtwo (Prior) on May 28, 2003 at 17:57 UTC

    I think the reason that computer people tend to be mean to non-computer-people is quite simple: It's so easy for us that we forget how hard it is for them. Moreover, they have the impression (sometimes false, sometimes true) that just trying things can cause lots of damage. Sometimes, we yell at them for not doing what would be obvious to us. Somtimes, we yell at them for doing what was obvious to them, and causing damage.

    The other day, for example, my aunt had my cousin call me with a computer problem. She needed to take a test online, and it said not to use AOL's browser. She had AOL, and always used their browser, and didn't know what to do... so called me. Now, my aunt is a mainframe programmer. What was obvious to me (just run IE; it will just work) wasn't obvious to her. Moreover, she didn't want to experment, she wanted somthing that worked before the deadline was up (around 24 hours hence; mainframe programmers also have a longer sense of time because they're used to processing huge batches).

    Now, consider somebody who doesn't know computers at all, and who has been yelled at before for continuing to run their computer when it stopped being so loud (because, unknown to them, it meant that the fan died). Whenever somthing goes wrong, they aren't going to try doing somthing -- last time they did that, they were told they were stupid and it would be much more to repair it. Instead, they're going to call you for everything.

    Like so much, it's all about double-standards, an the subconcious expectation people have that other people are like them.


    Warning: Unless otherwise stated, code is untested. Do not use without understanding. Code is posted in the hopes it is useful, but without warranty. All copyrights are relinquished into the public domain unless otherwise stated. I am not an angel. I am capable of error, and err on a fairly regular basis. If I made a mistake, please let me know (such as by replying to this node).

      There's some truth there. See, I'm in QA. I write perl scripts for automating tests, but I don't know C or Java. Furthermore, while I have a college degree, it's in Film, not Computer Science. Recently, I had to write a script to chart server response times to see how they changed over time and if the amount of large latencies were statistically significant. Wow, that's a mouthful. While discussing the problem, the PhD assigning the task tried to simplify by drawing a Sigma on my dry erase board to illustrate the problem. To him, it was simplifying, but to me, it was a weird symbol I half-remember from the calculus class I got a D in 15 years ago. I had to ask him to take it down a notch. After some discussion in layman's terms, I got a bead on the task and set to work.

      By the same token, I often have to deal with a co-worker who refuses to learn new things or try anything new. I have stopped helping her because she won't learn. I find it monsterously frustrating. When she had to install some perl modules on a server, she asked me to do it. I referred her to the README, which she didn't read. Then I pointed her to the step-by-step instructions I'd written for installing perl modules, which she also didn't read. Finally, I offered to watch her do the install and guide her through it. Again, a negative. Eventually, I had to do the installs myself. I'm still courteous, but throw me a bone. At least TRY to solve the problem on your own.

      See, I don't mind teaching someone to do something, and I don't mind helping, but if they have to ask for help on the same issue over and over without ever trying to learn the how to do it on their own...forget it. I pride myself that if I go to a developer with an issue, I can say "I've tried A, B, C, and just in case, I backed up the config file before trying D. I'm out of ideas." I've found that demonstrating that I've exercised my brain and made a stab at it on my own gets me more and better help than simply saying "It's broken."

      -Logan
      "What do I want? I'm an American. I want more."

        Oh, and now, consider that when sombody who doesn't have a friend to call calls the tech support line, if they tried to fix it themselves... doesn't matter. If they seem intelegent... doesn't matter. If they know exactly what the problem is, and what steps should be taken to fix it... doesn't matter. The guy (or girl) on the other end of the phone knows what's wrong too... doesn't matter. They have a script to follow.

        In other words, there's no help in narrowing down the problem in such a situation; unless you can /fix/ it yourself, time spent knowing what you're talking about is time wasted.


        Warning: Unless otherwise stated, code is untested. Do not use without understanding. Code is posted in the hopes it is useful, but without warranty. All copyrights are relinquished into the public domain unless otherwise stated. I am not an angel. I am capable of error, and err on a fairly regular basis. If I made a mistake, please let me know (such as by replying to this node).

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Anonymous Monk on May 28, 2003 at 18:16 UTC
    the simple fact remains that not everyone handles brutal honesty well.
    You call that brutal honesty? It's certainly brutal, and it's some kind of honesty,

    I tell my boss all the time that I explained such'n'such already and that she should write things down, then I usually forward her an email of me explaining it to her the first time. I am brutally honest. I do not yell. I do not call her names or make faces at her. She does not yell at me. It's called being civilized.

    In other words, be a good person.
    No. Please stop already with this OT stuff, it's inexcusable already. If you wanna preach, start a church.

      (I deleted the rest as distracting fluff)

      Regarding your "preaching" comment: that's what I'm talking about. You could easily have justified your assertion that my post is OT. Instead, you chose to use inflammatory language. What purpose did that serve? Rather than back up your assertion, you went on the attack, stating that the "OT stuff" was inexcusable. If you want to break it down logically, you have to make a case that my post is OT, then you have to define inexcusable and how that definition applies to my post.

      Cheers,
      Ovid

      New address of my CGI Course.
      Silence is Evil (feel free to copy and distribute widely - note copyright text)

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by adrianh (Chancellor) on May 28, 2003 at 18:34 UTC
    Some are just blunt and say "the code you wrote is stupid!" Others are even worse and say "you were stupid!" What does that gain us?

    For me that's the dividing line for what I will consider acceptable behaviour. I can take (if not enjoy) the former. The latter I get cross about. Online and offline.

    I also think that there is an easy line to draw between blunt and abusive.

    If how they code bugs you, why is so difficult to take a few extra seconds to be nice about it?

    Time is an issue. It can sometimes take more than a few seconds to rephrase something in a less confrontational manner. It can sometimes take several minutes, sometimes longer. For those with busy lives the choice is to be somewhat curt, or not provide input. Personally I prefer that somebody be blunt with me than not get the input.

    (People may find this Wiki entry on Brutal Sarcasm of tangental interest.)

    Actually, I feel somewhat two-faced about writing this since I do try to take the time to be non-confrontational and don't answer if I don't have that time (not that I always succeed) .

    Unfortunatly, I do it for purely selfish reasons!

    I've found that some people judge my personal approach to work by what I write online so I take the extra time to be pleasant so people will hire me.

    I'm far nastier in real life than I am online :-)

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by John M. Dlugosz (Monsignor) on May 28, 2003 at 19:50 UTC
    Some IT departments would be so happy if they didn't have customers to worry about. They are missing the point that they are here to support our work. If the process doesn't suit our needs, it's wrong by definition.
Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by artist (Parson) on May 28, 2003 at 20:21 UTC
    I also like to draw attention towards number of errors or problem faced by an IT person on daily base. which are far more than an average person faces in non-IT world.

    What is a common-sense issue from the IT perspective may not be the same from non-IT perspective. Majority of the problems in IT which are user related are quickly solvable with little IT knowledge.

    An IT person on an average has definitely different mind-set compared to non-IT person when IT things matter. While that's true for any field, the IT person works solo and with constant interactiveness, it makes the difference. The interactiveness with computer is applied at the social level and that's where it fails.

    Hitting a backspace key or delete key is a simple thing while applied to computer but not in social context all the time. Consider it with typing fast, hitting the keyboard, completing the command from history etc... Many of the computer-possible things have no social cousins. Person who spends 8-10 hours a day on computer tend to use computer equivalent social skills, (So that the computer skills can be used and transferred) and is not always successful.

    What has become necessary is the course work:
    Title: Social Skills for Programmers/Developers/IT Person 101.

    Subject Material:

    1. Common person phrase for tech-problems.
    2. Computer errors and human being
    3. Levels of Users and their thinking
    4. etc...
    BTW, to answer Ovid's Question, I think the meanness comes from the putting pressure on individual with the idea that computer can solve anyting applied proper input and then being/becoming desperate to prove it. Having considered image of computer as 'smart', others contineously look stupid.

    artist

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by crenz (Priest) on May 28, 2003 at 21:08 UTC

    I interpret this as a call for IT people to develop social skills, so thanks for starting such an interesting discussion. Yes, it seems to be OT since it doesn't discuss cool Perl syntax tricks, but I for one find it nice to read nodes here that deal not only with source code, but also with the environment we operate in -- at least from time to time.

    Being able to handle people is something no serious developer can do without, especially since we're often dealing with complicated problems that are mostly opaque to outsiders. I've been working with a lot of designers the last few years, and I found it a good opportunity to learn to communicate problems and solutions on a not too technical level. Remember: The better people understand you, the better they can help you get what you want ;). It sounds selfish, but it is true:

    • A manager that understands the technical side better will give you more appropriate resources/deadlines/...
    • A customer that understands you better will ask less stupid questions, wasting less of your time.
    • Working on the same project with non-technical workers will be a lot easier when they understand your position.

    Of course, this is true of the reverse also: As a developer, you will have to learn to some extent how a manager/client/designer/controller/marketer/... thinks. It will help to avoid a lot of misunderstandings.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Abigail-II (Bishop) on May 28, 2003 at 21:25 UTC
    Some are just blunt and say "the code you wrote is stupid!" Others are even worse and say "you were stupid!" What does that gain us?

    Bugfixes? If the code is stupid, and I say "Oh, you brilliant mind, what a wonderful code you've written", there's little chance the code will ever be fixed.

    Sorry, I fail to see what's wrong with a bit of honesty. If I say code is wrong when it is wrong, and I praise code when it's good, it's easy to know when I make a compliment, and when I think the code can be improved. From someone who's always nicey-nicey, you'd never know.

    Yeah, I know, your article has been directed to people like me. Some (many?) people find me blunt and "mean". I don't really care - anyone is free to ignore me. Granted, many forums are better suited to ignore someone (most Usenet and many email readers know killfiles) than perlmonks, but still. Although I rather be judged by my techical skills.

    As for "don't do to others ...", I'm not doing to others that I wouldn't do to myself. If I write stupid code, please say so. Cut the nicey-nicey crap, go straight to the heart of the matter, point out what's wrong, and preferably, tell me what's better. Life is short - be to the point. And don't forget: this is a technical forum, it's not kindergarten.

    If you can't stand the heat - stay out of the kitchen.

    Abigail

      Abigail-II wrote:

      Bugfixes? If the code is stupid, and I say "Oh, you brilliant mind, what a wonderful code you've written", there's little chance the code will ever be fixed.

      Horns of a false dilemma: it's not the case that the choices are either being blunt or lying. There is nothing wrong with honesty, but if my intent is really to communicate with someone, then that intent is not served by potentially raising barriers to communication by putting them on the defensive.

      Consider "that code is awful and you shouldn't be doing it that way." versus "here's a better way to do this." If someone really wants to learn, they will learn either way. If someone is likely to get defensive, the first way will inhibit learning. Thus, if I really want to help someone, I don't start out by potentially making them mad.

      Cheers,
      Ovid

      New address of my CGI Course.
      Silence is Evil (feel free to copy and distribute widely - note copyright text)

        Consider "that code is awful and you shouldn't be doing it that way." versus "here's a better way to do this."

        Now you are assuming that that is either or. Many of my posts that are considered blunt (of course, tons of people consider anything I write to be blunt anyway) will also either show a better way, or have a pointer to it.

        Thus, if I really want to help someone, I don't start out by potentially making them mad.

        You do it your way, I do it my way. My advice on this and other forums is free, and people are free to ignore it. I'm willing to help people (but I'm not willing to spoonfeed them); I don't charge; I don't expect anything in return. But I will do it my way.

        Abigail


      Reason: chromatic (delete) honesty ain't being mean, sweetie

      For more information on this node visit: this

      There's a difference between adressing problems of the code and addressing the problems of the coder. Which is I think what Ovid was referring to.

      For example, if I make a simple mistake in my code and you tell me it's because I need a haircut and a shave -- is that productive? Would it be better if you insult my intelligence or my education? I can, however, understand criticizing someone for not trying, and I can understand criticizing code for a multitude of reasons.

      I can tell you (this is a general "you", by the way) that you're wrong without being arrogant or abusive about it. But if you can't do the same for me then I don't think it's me that needs to grow up.

      I disagree with the basic premise that your note seems to be implying: it's a technical forum, so it's OK to treat people disrespectfully. That logic is used by bullies in many different contexts: It's music class, so it's OK to yell at the students. Or, "It's football, dammit. It's supposed to hurt." No context makes shoddy treatment of people OK.

      As to "I'm not doing to others....", the tone of your writeup contradicts the notion that you take criticism well. "If I write stupid code, please say so", but we should not say anything about using an obnoxious tone? According to your note, it would be OK for me to put you down and insult you because I disagree with what you wrote. It would be easy, but it would still be wrong.

      It's your choice how to treat people, but please don't try to justify it by saying, "It's Perl, being thoughtful of others doesn't enter the equation." When human beings interact, mutual respect is always important, regardless of the topic being discussed.

      Bugfixes? If the code is stupid, and I say "Oh, you brilliant mind, what a wonderful code you've written", there's little chance the code will ever be fixed.

      Sorry, I fail to see what's wrong with a bit of honesty. If I say code is wrong when it is wrong, and I praise code when it's good, it's easy to know when I make a compliment, and when I think the code can be improved. From someone who's always nicey-nicey, you'd never know.

      Code is not stupid, stupid is an insult that applies directly to person you are addressing. Saying "This code is stupid" is most often heard as "You are stupid". Too often people think they are being "brutally honest" while in fact they are simply poor communicators, or to be "brutally honest", they are being stupid.

      Better ways to communicate:
      "This code doesn't meet the requirements."
      "The way this code is written is difficult for me to read."

      --------

      Nothing is too wonderful to be true -- Michael Faraday

        <pedantic>

        Code is not stupid, stupid is an insult that applies directly to person you are addressing.

        It's perfectly good English to refer to a thing as stupid without implying anything about the things author. Webster's has "Resulting from, or evincing, stupidity; formed without skill or genius; dull; heavy; -- said of things." as one of the definitions.

        Saying "This code is stupid" is most often heard as "You are stupid".

        All too true - but the problem may not be with the author. I can (and do :-) write stupid code on occasion, that doesn't imply that I am stupid.

        Too often people think they are being "brutally honest" while in fact they are simply poor communicators, or to be "brutally honest", they are being stupid.

        They might be poor communicators. They might not be stupid.

        </pedantic>

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Aristotle (Chancellor) on May 28, 2003 at 23:10 UTC

    You are confusing two different qualities here. Honesty is not negotiable; it is an absolute necessity. If you use a better term for "being mean" you'll immediately recognize what the other axis is - and that term is "disrespect".

    Did you notice something? I just honestly told you I believe you to be wrong. Was I disrespectful? I would hope it didn't seem so, cause it certainly wasn't meant to be.

    Yes, some people's tone bugs me. I feel Abigail could be more verbose on occasion; Dominus' attitude can be irritating; merlyn is overly harsh but insufficiently verbose every so often. (Obviously I appreciate their contributions anyway; this goes without saying.)

    Does that mean I'm in favour of imperturbable friendliness? No. I'm in favour of imperturbable respect.

    I'll never tell anyone they are stupid. (At least not on the grounds of how they write code; other criteria are another subject altogether.) I'll occasionally tell them their code is stupid. And I'll never hesitate to tell them their code is wrong. You'll also very rarely see me saying any of these without explaining why or how I came to that conclusion.

    Just the way, I hope, I did in this post.

    Be brief and to the point. Be respectful. Don't waste your time, and don't waste the other's either.

    Makeshifts last the longest.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by logan (Curate) on May 28, 2003 at 23:29 UTC
    I've had to deal with this from several angles. At one job, my manager was the master of the artificial crisis. Everything was a crisis of biblical proportions. If he wanted to talk to you, he'd post a laser-printed note on official stationary on your office door for all to see. Every issue was an opportunity to threaten you with firing. He never saw how this made it difficult to set priorities and judge what was a real problem and what was pure ego.

    At another job, I had a manager who could only communicate by yelling. His attitude was that his direct reports were morons who were actively trying to undermine him by doing their jobs badly. Over time, motivation to do good work devolved into an effort to minimize getting yelled at. He only realized there was a problem when four people from a team of eleven quit in one month. In his mind, however, the problem wasn't how to treat his people, but how to cover up his behavior towards these disloyal insects who were trying to destroy his career.

    At the next job, I had a manager everyone loved, but she refused to crack the whip for fear of offending. This made it difficult to gauge how well you were doing because she'd never tell you if there was a problem. I still regard her as a friend, but as a manager she needed a backbone.

    Over the course of my career, I've seen a simple truth borne out: You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Case in point: last year, my manager asked me to write a simple tool to parse netstat, log the data, and loop. I made a mistake in the loop such that the guts of the code would only execute once. Silly mistake.

    Manager #1 would have scheduled a formal code review and told me how I needed to pay more attention to my work and that there were a thousand coders out there who would love to take my job at half the salary. Then he would have told me to fix it.

    Manager #2 would have hauled me to his office, berated my intelligence at the top of his lungs in front of my teammates, then made me stare at the code until I realized on my own what the issue was, then sent me away to fix it right !@#$ing now.

    Manager #3 would have hemmed and hawed for 10 minutes before hinting that there might be a problem with the loop.

    What my actual manager did was far better. He came into my cube, and asked me to bring up the code. He told me there was a problem with the loop and asked if I could see it. I stared for a minute, and realized what it was. When I did, he chuckled and said something like "I can see the lightbulb over your head. Simple fix, right?" Copy, paste, bug fixed. While he was there, he took a moment to show me a trick with pattern matching that made the code more efficient, smiled, and exited. It was a minor bug, easily fixed. He took the opportunity not to berate me for making a simple mistake, or to make a big deal over a minor issue, but rather to fix the problem and teach me something along the way.

    Looking back, I pity manager #1, despise #2, love #3 as a person, but not as a manager, and #4 is in my book as the best manager I ever had.

    -Logan
    "What do I want? I'm an American. I want more."

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Nuke (Scribe) on May 28, 2003 at 23:29 UTC
    I don't think this is a "new" problem. I think it's just a problem that is more common now than it was before. There is a general shortage of caring in the world now. Many people honestly do not care about the people around them, and they don't expect others to care about them either, so it suits them just fine when they're treated the same way. They know the answer, and you should too. If you don't know the answer, you're beneath them in the pecking order. If they've told you once, and you can't remember, you're unworthy of taking their time.

    I believe that we have forgotten what it means to serve. The world believes that if you are serving someone, you are somehow beneath them, or lesser. Somebody has told the world that kindness will get you nowhere fast, and that sarcasm, ridicule, and unkind behavior will save you time and get you ahead. We turn on the television and are taught that others emotional, physical, or other setbacks are to be laughed at.

    Wether we're programmers, technicians, sysadmins, or managers, we are ultimately hired to serve somebody. This somebody could be a product or project manager, a room of end users, or an entire company of barely-trained data entry clerks. It doesn't matter who they are. To truly serve someone, you must care about them and their work. You must realize that your performance is tied together. You cannot separate that. They depend on you for what you provide, and you depend on them to use it and justify their dependance on you, so it behooves you to make sure that they are able to do their job.

    If they cannot seem to remember how to do something, perhaps the process is too difficult and needs to be modified so that the typical end user can handle it. If we belittle them for not being able to do this, we take up valuable time and ultimately decrease trust, productivity, and teamwork. A short, curt, unkind attitude may seem like it is saving you time, because oftimes the subject of your response will not ask important, pertinant questions that they have because they are afraid of being yelled at and ridiculed again. Then they go do something else wrong that they wouldn't have if they had asked you the question they originally had.

    Few people enjoy being yelled at, belittled, or otherwise abused. Most people like to be treated with kindness. If kindness doesn't work with someone, then they probably don't care about you, or care less about you than the work they are doing. I still believe in the "Do unto others as you would have others do to you." thing. The argument that others want different things seems correct on the surface, but dig a little deeper and you find they want the same thing. People want to be happy. Sure, I might want Mexican, and my wife might want Chinese, but that doesn't make the Golden Rule incorrect. In this situation, the Golden Rule doesn't tell me to take my wife to Mexican because that's what *I* want. That's a selfish attitude. The Golden Rule says "You like it when you get to eat what you want, so, why not allow your wife the same privilage?". In the above "Golden Rule doesn't work" reply, I'd venture to say that it's not the Golden Rule that has backfired, but the inflexibility of our email client that won't allow us to specify how this should be done on a per-user basis. Sometimes the Golden Rule is a casualty of the systems we're forced to use.

    I'm reminded of a quote from a past movie favorite... "Be excellent to each other!"... =)
    (With apologies to all... My spellchecker is wonky and my mouth runeth over today.)

    Nuke
    nuke@nuke3d.com
    www.nuke3d.com

      I think you're overanalyzing the problem on the wrong level. There is no debate necessary (or so I hope) over the contraproductivity of belittlement. We can all agree it's a bad thing and I guess we can also reach a consensus on why. The problem at hand is that people do make mistakes, and the issue is how to break that news to them.

      I believe there is a problem when there is a widespread demand to be kind and friendly and courteous to each other all the time. To me, it is an indicator of a disturbing tendency for people to take themselves too seriously. You have to be able to accept criticism and the fact that you will invariably make mistakes if you ever want to grow as a person. You will make them over and over and over. They're your mistakes; you must be prepared to stand in for them. This sense of responsibility is what I seriously miss in society at large, much more so than a sense of caring.

      It should go without saying that truth should be delivered with respect; it may make someone a lesser programmer than you (for the moment) if they make a blatant mistake, but there is nothing ever that makes anyone a lesser person than anyone else.

      When a bug is found, the issue at hand is the bug - it is neither one programmer's superior skills, nor the inferiority of the offending programmer, nor the relationship between the two.

      Just stick to the point, please.

      Makeshifts last the longest.

        Heh. I almost analyzed my analysis. I guess I'll have to accept that criticism. I analyze way too much. Still, I think the original question was not how to break the news to people, but why many people in the IT fields choose to be unkind when dealing with other's mistakes. In my defense, I think I stayed on topic fairly well.

        Nuke
        nuke@nuke3d.com
        www.nuke3d.com

      I occaisionally find myself thinking similar thoughts about lack of care in the world. I hope it's just a passing phase, but I'm too old for it to be teenage angst and too young for a mid-life crisis.

      Then I think that maybe I'm not holding my end up enough because some days I really don't care, and my behaviour improves for two, maybe three hours. It;s a start :)

      ____________________
      Jeremy
      I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by runrig (Abbot) on May 29, 2003 at 00:28 UTC
    I occasionally have to talk to customers about their problems, and when one of them gets like "Cherry Bomb", my fault or not, for some reason the phone just goes *click*

    They're almost always nicer when they call back. And so far, they've always been nicer if they have to call back yet again (You'd be amazed at how nice a Cherry Bomb can be if they really want to get their invoices posted at end-of-month).

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Anonymous Monk on May 29, 2003 at 01:49 UTC
    Manners, sensitivity, discretion and treating others with dignity seem to be bygone traits, or at least they're slipping into dim memory quickly. Much like saying "sir", and "ma'am" are long gone.

    Unfortunately, it is the lack of these traits that causes unecessarry interpersonal problems and other things, like, ultimately, wars.

    "In the old days", one didn't parade around one's personal issues, especially at the expense of others. It's like "leaving your personal problems at home", when working, and vice-versa.

    Manners came into being originally to keep from being killed by knife, sabre or Winchester. What will the future be like?

      Your post very much reminds me of the usual atmosphere in slashdot-like discussion forums (for Germans e.g. the comments at heise.de), and of course some newsgroups.

      It seems that we have developed a culture where it is of the utmost importance to convice others that you are right, and to utterly eradicate anything that seems wrong to you. I can see it in religious flamewars (x vs. y), which for me embody the very definition of "religious". I can see it in phenomenons like "...she's a flight risk.": If you don't believe it, you can just treat it as a nice story. However, many people opt to bash anyone that "believes this bullshit" and "lies to me". Why? I am shocked at how much time people are willing to spend to abuse others and to defend their own opinions. I don't get what kind of benefit this is going to give you. There is so much bullshit in the world, you can't fight all of it.

      Curiously enough, I have been tempted to jump in myself a few times when someone posted blatant bullshit and I knew the facts to be very different. But I found a trick that so far worked for me in 100% of these temptations: I go away and do something different. After five minutes, I find it's not worth posting anymore. Neither the original post, nor my reply, are going to change the world. Shutting of the computer and making pancakes will, though. Or at least they will taste nice.

        "Your post very much reminds me of the usual atmosphere in slashdot-like discussion forums ..."

        You're actually referring to the coments in the root node and not those of the reply your post is attached to?

        There is so much bullshit in the world, you can't fight all of it.

        I sometimes wonder at what point did "it's too hard" became an excuse for not trying to make the world a better place.

        Sure, you're not going to make a huge difference by posting perceived improvements on a Perl forum, but since when does that mean you shouldn't even try?

        I certainly hope that if you're criticizing such efforts, you're contributing in what you view as a more constructive manner. Sadly, statistics would indicate you aren't.

        Hope I didn't just waste 49 seconds of my time :)

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by jepri (Parson) on May 29, 2003 at 04:41 UTC
    I used to be close to what you describe as a "Cherry Bomb", but over time I've calmed down, but mainly just got a lot more tired.

    Certainly people who act like your Cherry Bomb have some problems (and before anyone mentions it, yes I do realise I'm implicating myself), but that reaction is (obviously) completely justified from their point of view. I'm curious to know if you ever got around to asking the Cherry Bomb exactly what is was about the customers that really got to him.

    I can certainly relate from my own experience - at one point in my career I was very sensitive about criticism, since I had received a few comments along the lines of "You think you know about computers, why don't you make it work? You aren't any good, are you, haha.". There's nothing like a good stab in the self confidence at 19 years of age. You can imagine my responses in that sort of situation. Not pretty, and very Cherry Bomb like.

    If, as (I think) you are saying, the customers took the line that "Your system is broken 'cause it won't do my report", I'm not suprised that the guy flipped. A statement that is in any way similar to that attacks someone on personal, professional and emotional levels all at the same time. Of course, if he wants to call himself a pro, he should flip quietly and then go and swap the sugar and salt in the break room or something relatively harmless.

    I'm reading a lot between the lines there, but I have noticed that most IT people just get irritated by stupidity. For a real explosion, someone has to mix personal attacks in as well.

    And I'm going to leave the heavily beaten issue of politeness in the monastary alone until I wrote my amazing content enhancing PerlMonks browser.

    ____________________
    Jeremy
    I didn't believe in evil until I dated it.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Marza (Vicar) on May 29, 2003 at 08:19 UTC

    You do have the answer.

    I have worked in departments that had bad reps. A couple were mean and one didn't care. My current one does.

    It is easy to get frustrated especially when you are running around in frenzy because something important crashed and people keep telling you the network is down.

    However, from these groups I noticed the attitude was also shown by the manager so the manager has a large part in the attitude of his workers.

    My current boss always hires people with people skills. As he would say "Technical abilities can be taught, you can't teach people skills." He may not get the best technical person. But a person who solves the problem and leaves the user feeling good does many things.

    As I have noticed with this manager, he rarely gets denied purchase reuqests. Even when it was not budgeted. Why? because people think he and his people are looking out for their interests so if he says we need it, we must need it.

    So there is no real need to yell at users. I know it is easier said then done and I have done it myself a couple times.

    As to being brutally honest? Well that should only be used at certain times. Most people know when they screwed up. Some people will never get it. However, I would think when you have a user lets just say engineer who knows more then you!....well that is the time to be brutally honest.

    Besides, you know you are not that way all the time. Would you ever be brutally honest to the assistent of the vice-president? The CEO? A policeman. A guy much bigger and meaner then you! ;-)

    The manager who hired the cherry bomb was to blame. If his job required interaction with people....you can tell when a person can't do that too well!

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by beamsack (Scribe) on May 30, 2003 at 02:01 UTC
    I need to learn how not to be the "Honest Cherry Bomb" with my !@#$$% managers!.
    Non-technical customers are the norm and to be expected, but non-technical managers are just infuriating.
    I probably will get fired but I am ticked that my management:
    • under schedules
    • mico-manages
    • under-staffs
    • Sacrifices quality for schedule

    My company directs technically uninclined people into management.
    I have worked for the company for 16 years.
    My manager has worked for the company for 3 years and spent those years as a CM specialist and Tester.
    Yet this guy is responsible for planning the project and tasking developers.
    It seems that his performance is totally based on schedule or the ability for our team to meet his plan.
    70 hour work weeks - only for developers, managers need thier rest.

    No time to Unit Test - no problem.
    No Integration or System Testing - no problem.
    Nothing works - well thats due to the development teams incompetence.

      So how are you going to change the situation?

      Not much use just complaining on a website, is there?

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by Anonymous Monk on Jun 01, 2003 at 21:59 UTC
    Why are so many IT people mean?

    Well, I could go into a very long, boring analysis of the type of people attracted to the IT profession, biases you may have based on the sector of IT you work in, the effect of online mediums you may be basing your conclusions on, working conditions and hours, the possibly stressful environment, etc, but that just would be, well, boring.

    So here's the deal, it's your fault. Period.

    Go out of your way to be exceptionally polite and helpful, you'll find all of a sudden there aren't any "mean" people around.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by jacques (Priest) on Jun 02, 2003 at 20:32 UTC
    Why are so many IT people mean?

    Next Fall I am taking a few programming courses at the local state college. So today I went to a campus computer lab to get an email account. Like elsewhere on campus, a part-time undergraduate is babysitting the lab. I filled out the form for an email account and gave it to the babysitter. "You will NOT get this email address because it's a reserved word! You WON'T," bellowed the undergraduate, who was assiduously reading a book on html. I said "uh, okay" and left the room.

    The undergraduate wasn't in charge of creating email accounts. He wasn't a system administrator. He was just a part-time employee with an attitude, a nobody. I remember when I was an undergraduate and babysat a computer lab on campus. I started to develop an attitude myself. People would point it out to me. So when I encountered this rude person today, I couldn't help but think of myself. "Was I that much of a dick?," I thought . . . Naaaaahhhh

    Eventually, I became a campus system administrator and having spent years in the IT field, I have to agree with you: a lot of IT people are mean. I don't know the answer to your question, but I do know that one of the nicest people I have ever met was a former boss, also a system administrator (and heavy Perl user). The human population contains a disproportional amount of jerks. I think IT is a field that tends to accentuate the disparity.

Re: (OT) The Honest Cherry Bomb
by allolex (Curate) on Jun 02, 2003 at 22:04 UTC

    It's really too bad I'm coming to this note so late, but for the record...

    Factor One

    IT people are often mean because they are always responding to requests for help. An IT person may be very pleasant and understanding by nature and have excellent social skills, but when they get overloaded, a little unpleasantness is bound to peek out. This is often exascerbated by customers/colleagues/friends/family not trying or not being able to solve their own problems.

    Automobile mechanics often feel this way.

    Factor Two

    Being good at something that few other people are good at leads to arrogance: "Well, you opinion doesn't matter to me anyway." What they don't realize is that the worth of a person is not based on their expertise in that particular subfield.

    These are the ones who really need their egos stroked by participating in public forums where their abilities really shine. The downside is that their arrogance leads them to put others down.

    Usenet is lousy with this type of person.

    Factor Three

    Anyone can have a bad day. If you're in public places a lot, everyone sees your bad days. If your 'presence' is in a public forum like the Perl Monastery, then your bad days are a matter of public record.

    This could be any one of us.

    --
    Allolex

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