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Re: Belittling Beginners

by ELISHEVA (Prior)
on Jul 22, 2009 at 19:03 UTC ( #782411=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Belittling Beginners

I have been debating whether or not to add anything to this thread - my own opinions about that post have already been expressed on the thread to which ig refers. However, I think the various reactions to Golf: Improve this guy's fail . . . please! - both at the time and then again in hindsight a few weeks later - point to an issue that goes well beyond a particular post.

In any community there are competing needs and values. Sometimes these values come in conflict and sometimes one value gets focused on to the exclusion of others. This tension is illustrated nicely in the back and forth between Argel and Nkuvu just above this reply. YourMother's observation that Golf: Improve this guy's fail . . . please! showed a wide range of responses also hints at this issue.

What makes this community powerful is that *most of the time* we find a healthy balance between potentially opposing values. However, we do this so well *most of the time* that sometimes we forget that the things we value are in tension with each other. When we do that we can mess things up badly.

On one hand, we have:

  • We value kindness, tact, and politeness.
  • We like to teach and mentor. We strive to excel at acting with insight and patience towards newcomers.

On the other hand we have

  • We defend the honor of Perl by trying to improve the quality of code written in Perl.
  • We enjoy this community as an opportunity to strut our stuff in an environment where people respect our skill rather than being threatened by it.

To avoid messing up we need to (a) be conscious of when values conflict (b) choose our priorities. Posts like the one by ig above help us with the first part of this issue: becoming conscious. However, I think we still need to express out in the open our feelings about the second: "where are our priorities?"

The fact that we have done this before many times is not enough. Many (most) of the participants in that thread were old old timers with huge amounts of XP. They are also people who in my brief interaction here seem to espouse all of the above values. These are the very people who helped create these values. This suggests to me that the keeping clear on priorities is not a one time thing. As human beings we need to be reminded of them. Without on-going discussion, we may also start seeing them as purely individual ideals that others might not cherish the way we do. Conversely we might think that our own priorities are the same as everyone else's when they are not.

Repeat discussion also serves a second purpose. The community is not static. Groups change over time. Once active members disappear. New members take their place. Continued discussion insures continuity as each new generation of users grows into active participation in the community. If we do not discuss our values, then all newcomers have to see are our actions. If those actions seem in conflict with our values they may get the wrong message. No one lives their values all the time. The function of dialog is to help us know what we'd like to be, even if we aren't there yet.

In A Group is its Own Worst Enemy, Clay Shirky discusses the thought of Wilfred Bion, one of the pioneers in group dynamics. A key component of Shirky's thought is that a group is more than just its members. All groups develop norms as well as formal and informal structures to communicate them. Our values as individuals are shaped by the groups we identify with. Conversely, the groups with which we identify derive their values from the interests and passions of their core members. Thus as members come and go there is a continual need to reflect on and retune the group's vision and priorities.

Best, beth

Update: expanded on reasons for continued dialog (paragraph about old timers/actions vs. ideals).

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re^2: Belittling Beginners
by Your Mother (Bishop) on Jul 22, 2009 at 19:24 UTC

    You are extremely thoughtful and considerate as usual. In the list "On the other hand we have" I'd add:

    • We deal with awful beginner and legacy code at work where it is even held up as ideal because the manager wrote it so it's impossible to say how we really feel about it; then when presented with similar code in personal life it's easy and psychologically healthy to want rail it.

    I don't act on it but at times in the past I have definitely wanted to. And while I admire this place, it's really on a per monk basis. I have a great deal of distaste for groups as units of persons. I like you, I like lots of monks. I don't like Perl Monks as a unit. I realize there are good reasons to explore community issues like you're doing. It's entirely uninteresting to me personally. I can't buy Perl Monks a beer or an espresso. If you, or any number of monks here I've come to admire and enjoy, were in my home town I'd gladly do so.

      There's the PerlMonks community, then the larger Perl community. What's not clear to me is how much you can separate them. It's easy to say you don't think of PerlMonks as a unit, and I definitely agree that the people are what make the community. But every group of friends needs a place to hang out. PerlMonks could feel like a large corporation, in which case it would die quickly. Ditto if an elitist attitude prevailed. To me it feels more like hitting the student center to get some studying in with classmates and friends back when I was in college. And I think the Monastery motif serves the community well. While it's fun to play off of the motif, I think it does help set a certain tone. And even though the titles are from Western Religion I have personally always felt PerlMonks has had an Eastern feel to it.

      I get your point that PerlMonks isn't the site, but it also isn't just the people. It's the combination. Even the software we are using lends a certain flavor to the site. It's possible that Larry Wall's greatest achievement was in creating a language that for some unknown reason encouraged communities to form up around it in ways that other languages can only be envious of.

      Elda Taluta; Sarks Sark; Ark Arks

        It's possible that Larry Wall's greatest achievement was in creating a language that for some unknown reason encouraged communities to form up around it in ways that other languages can only be envious of.

        I was thinking about that a while ago. Imagine going to a site like PerlMonks but for Java or C. Programming in Perl creates communities because talking about programming in Perl is interesting. A newbie question in Perl can easily lead to deep discussions about trade-offs of different ways of doing something basic. Try to imagine an interesting discussion centering around "How do I loop over two arrays at the same time?" in C.

        Perl programming isn't just about "get it done" or even the usual questions of CPU- and memory-efficiency. The language encourages thinking about things like "how clearly does this express my intention?". The depth of the language gives just about everybody room for continued discovery. And the quirkiness of the languages gives us lots of "gotchas" (small and large) to bat around. The language isn't even "finished" so we get to talk about changes to it, both evolutionary and revolutionary.

        Most languages are like stackoverflow: I have a question, I want the best answer. Perl is like PerlMonks: I have a doubt, I want to read an interesting discussion about it that is likely to go on a tangent. q-:

        - tye        

        I was thinking about this idea after the thread calmed down. I don't think PerlMonks has any intrinsic success factor other than Perl itself. I like what tye just said about it. I think there is another dimension to it as well. It's not only that discussing Perl is interesting, it's that Perl attracts interesting personalities which makes agglutination natural.

        On a Perl list, I once made a rather strange inside joke on a completely obscure 40 year-old pop-culture reference from another country. Two well-known Perl hackers got the reference and even extended it. I was struck by how bizarre but entirely Perl-ish the exchange was. I wondered if the same exchange would even be possible, let alone likely, on a list for any other language.

        And even though the titles are from Western Religion I have personally always felt PerlMonks has had an Eastern feel to it.

        The titles are only words. Borrowed from the christian religions, but only words. Even Perl itself has borrowed from there: bless, and perhaps crypt and study. I think this are traces of Larry.

        The Perl community could have choosen a very different theme: bind, chomp, chop, die, kill, lock, no, tie, tied, truncate all sound like coming from a dark BDSM dungeon ... ;-)


        Today I will gladly share my knowledge and experience, for there are no sweeter words than "I told you so". ;-)

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