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go ahead... be a heretic

by japhy (Canon)
on Jul 16, 2001 at 03:18 UTC ( #96917=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??


I was talking to tilly earlier this morning (really, late last night) via /msg, and I was thanking him for saying that I was a good programmer. (He mentioned this in his reply to a rather controversial node about respect in the Monastery.) I told him that it was refereshing to hear from another competent Perl programmer a compliment like "I would call him a guru".

This isn't meant to be an ego-stroker, but I'd like to relate a gripe of mine. I get compliments like that all the time. (Wow, that's great!) No, really. All the time. Specific people on IRC idolize me. They'll agree with things I say (it's terribly funny when I'm wrong, and they make excuses for me). They call me a "Perl Guru", and a "Perl God", and -- for the course of several months -- insisted that I was a "Perl bot". That was very irritating.

So do I wish I wasn't a good programmer? No. I just wish people would stop saying it. Or at least people that didn't "know better". This type of behavior has happened all throughout history. The example I'll use is actually fictional, but since I'm now obsessed with Tolkien, I'll use it anyway.

When the Elves came from the West, and met the Men of the East for the first time, many of the Men thought the Elves were gods, because they had beautiful faces and voices, and were wise and gracious. (See The Silmarillion.)
The premise is this: it's easy for a newbie (or whatever word-of-the-day we're all using is) to call a person a guru. There's not much less than a newbie, and everything above a newbie's level is "magical" and "mysterious" and "hard", so one who knows more than they must be powerful in the ways of Perl. Just because they could answer a question. Come on.

It's very tempting to sit there and bask in the rays of compliments from people who don't know the difference. They'll think you're a god because you know how to use printf(). They'll call you a guru because you fixed their regex. They'll insist you're a bot because you know about all the punctuation variables, and must have some sort of intravenous injection piping the documentation (What? Documentation exists? You must be a god if you can read and remember and understand that stuff!) into your bloodstream.

Update: changed analogy. I apologize, mothra, and I recognize the insufficiency of my "warning." It's frustrating, because it's such an ego-temptation. And it leads you to believe you're greater than you are. It's like playing with a stacked deck -- you win, with a smug look on your face, and the other players believe you're better than you really are. Of course the newbies know less than you, and so they idolize you for answering questions that puzzled them. It's a fact of life. It's just easy to let it go to your head. I'm irritated by that, is my point.

Guru-ness is determined by those that have already attained it, or that at least know what it takes. It irritates me to be given labels by people that can throw them about with impunity.


Jeff japhy Pinyan: Perl, regex, and perl hacker.
s++=END;++y(;-P)}y js++=;shajsj<++y(p-q)}?print:??;

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
by mothra (Hermit) on Jul 16, 2001 at 07:05 UTC
    With all due respect japhy, this post insults me. Not that I take it personally, but more, I find it surprising and embarassing to see content like this on Perl Monks (as if meta-conversation on the voting and experience system wasn't enough).

    If it makes you feel any better, I don't think you're a guru. :)

    I do, however, acknowledge that you do have good Perl skills (certainly far more advanced than I, but I know other languages fairly well -- they're just crappy ones that I'm too embarassed to admit to though :), but I consider "gurus" to be more along the lines of the Larry Walls, Guido Van Rossums, and Dennis Ritchies of the world (exceedingly creative people, that have significantly changed the face of computing).

    To be able to spout out answers that can pretty much always be found in the documentation suggests that the answerer has a stronger desire to learn than the questioner, but doesn't suggest that the answerer possesses any supreme ability.

    Also, your comment about "racing against people with polio" is a poor one at best. It's rude (I can't imagine how I would have reacted to seeing this if I was a person who suffered from's bad enough that the mother of a friend of mine does have this disease), and unbecoming of a decent person to talk like that. Of all the other analogies you could have made, this one was ridiculous.

    An apology would be in order.

      (note to self: brace for impact / --'s)
      To be able to spout out answers that can pretty much always be found in the documentation ... doesn't suggest that the answerer possesses any supreme ability.

      I believe this is exactly japhy's point. The only truly valuable recognition is that which comes from people whom one respects and admires, not from those who haven't even troubled themselves to read the documentation.

      Also, your comment ... is a poor one at best. It's rude ... and unbecoming of a decent person to talk like that. An apology would be in order.
      I like to pride myself (for better or worse) on usually steering clear of monestary politics. That said, can we all stop being so damn sensitive around here? There's no need for these moralizing, politically correct lynchings of harmless (yes, harmless) comments.

      All I'm saying is, relax, and remember we're here to learn and have fun, not to niggle over imaginary or hypothetical slights.

                     s aamecha.s a..a\u$&owag.print
      I've changed the node, and apologized. I also ++'ed this node, at which point I found it's reputation to be 0. That puzzles me.

      mothra's node was honest, and it was rather proper. I do feel like a bastard for using a polio reference in the node, and I understand the point made. I don't see why such a post would be downvoted.

      I rarely post about node reputation, but this is an exception. I don't understand why this node deserves negative reaction.

      Jeff japhy Pinyan: Perl, regex, and perl hacker.
      s++=END;++y(;-P)}y js++=;shajsj<++y(p-q)}?print:??;

      I would have to disagree with you on the guru definition, I would define a guru as someone who has reached a plateau of understanding somthing greater than typical use of something permits... If gurus were only those at the very top of the chain of your particular interest, then where would the poor pilgrims of perl go for enlightenment... Larry is far too busy to help them all :) I would almost say that guru comes at a point when it becomes easier to give answers than to find them, or at least to guide than be guided. I would say that Japhy is a guru... and you need not know all of perl to be a guru... he certainly knows his regexps... I don't know about the other stuff he does, but that is enough for me.

      But this is just my opinion. It just seems to fit into the Genuine Indian Guru (Dr. Hook, Cover of the Rolling Stone) sense of the word... not that it is really important :)

                      - Ant

Re (tilly) 1:
by tilly (Archbishop) on Jul 16, 2001 at 09:04 UTC
    This is a general phenomena.

    Very few of us like to compare ourselves to people who we consider better than ourselves. One common solution is to put the person we don't want to compare ourselves with on a pedestal. If they are a guru/deity/whatever then it makes no sense to compare them with mere mortals like ourselves. The other reaction is to try to cut them down so that we can feel more comfortable comparing ourselves to them. Often you see both reactions in the same person.

    You appear to get both responses. On the one hand you get called a guru. On the other hand you get accused of having a bot at hand. In both cases I believe that the best thing for you to do is to stay aware of the fact that what the other people are trying to do is not to specifically boost your ego or cut it down to size, instead it is a self-defence mechanism for protecting their own egos.

    With that insight you should be able to see the process at work in other situations. For instance I think that it is a large part of the reaction that merlyn gets. The treatment of "geeks" and "nerds" by the general public. The way our society reacts to fame of any sort. If you look around you will have no problem accumulating specific examples.

    In fact this twin reaction is closely related to the general phenomena of dominance hierarchies. The two ways of handling an individual you see as above you in the pecking order are to either prostrate yourself or mount a challenge. And no matter how inappropriate this reaction may be to industrialized civilization, the reaction is wired into us as a species.

    If you want to understand exactly how deeply it is wired into us, and what some of the consequences are, then I can highly recommend Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. (If, for instance, you don't understand why a certain four-letter word is used in the ways that it is, this book should give you some perspective on the connections between sex and dominance in primates.)

by HyperZonk (Friar) on Jul 16, 2001 at 03:36 UTC
    With no desire to further shower you with adulation, I would say that your statement that you aren't necessarily a perlguru is probably only further evidence that you are a perlguru.

    The Buddha said:
      The fool who knows he is a fool
      Is that much wiser.
      The fool who thinks he is wise
      Is a fool indeed.
      BRIAN I'm not the messiah, would you please listen! I'm not the messiah, do you understand? Honestly! MOUSE Only the true messiah denies his divinity. BRIAN What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right, I AM the messiah. FOLLOWERS He IS! He IS the messiah! --[They prostrate themselves in front of him.] BRIAN Now fuck off! --[longish pause]

      -Monty Python, Life of Brian
      Sorry. I'm not discounting your post at all japhy, but I couldn't resist this one. I guess the point is that folks WANT to be lead, and create their own idols. Seems like you're dealing with it healthily, though.

      Update: Please vote for other, more worthy posts in this thread.

      You know the saying "Those who think they know everything annoy those of us who really do"?? That must explain why I annoy some people :-)
by lemming (Priest) on Jul 16, 2001 at 05:02 UTC

    People tend to put the title guru on those that

  • Know more than they
  • Do so in a humble manner
  • Teach.

  • I think you qualify; As long as you don't just sit back on your mountaintop and await adulation.

by jepri (Parson) on Jul 16, 2001 at 05:06 UTC
    I can remember the time I was wandering around the technical side of our building asking (in a deliberately loud voice) where the NT guru was, because I needed some advice. He was spottable because he was the one saying "I don't know much" while everyone was telling me to go talk to him.

    One of his friends wisecracked that guru stood for "General Understanding, Really Useless" or some variation.

    It goes without saying he solved my problem in under 10 secs.

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

by princepawn (Parson) on Jul 16, 2001 at 04:03 UTC
    There's not much less than a newbie, and everything above a newbie's level is "magical" and "mysterious" and "hard", so one who knows more than they must be powerful in the ways of Perl
    I dont agree with this in the least bit. In any field there are many levels of competency above world expert. Let's take your interest in guitar. Did you call anyone who could play a few more chords than you or a few more songs than you a "guru"? Probably not. Likewise, I can't accept that the people that call you an expert would do so for me for instance.

    And finally, there is no point in this post other than to vent frustration. It will hardly stem the flow of such praiseworthy, albeit undesired, communication. You are better off writing some sort of email filter or IRC filter to deal with it.

    But I guess every field has to deal with fending off the doe-eyed groupies.

by clemburg (Curate) on Jul 16, 2001 at 13:09 UTC

    The only solution to this problem appears to be not to attach too much weight to other's judgement of yourself.

    "Perl Mind - Beginner's Mind" ?

    Christian Lemburg
    Brainbench MVP for Perl

by MeowChow (Vicar) on Jul 16, 2001 at 05:24 UTC
      Hahaha... but shouldn't have have been a reply to jepri's post?

      Regardless, it's clear what this means. A guru is anyone who can answer a question in 10 seconds or less.

      Jeff japhy Pinyan: Perl, regex, and perl hacker.
      s++=END;++y(;-P)}y js++=;shajsj<++y(p-q)}?print:??;

by meonkeys (Chaplain) on Jul 16, 2001 at 06:45 UTC
    Well, I'm sure we're all guilty of this act to some other person for some reason. Isn't there a Neo for every walk of life?

    Computer programming is definitely a mysterious thing, and can seem like the uninitiated like a Black Art. But not to the monks, right? We know it's just a matter of invested time before the path to learning is found. But even then, we must desire to learn. I think this desire is a very important aspect of being a guru.

    I want to share a quick analogy: draw a tiny circle on a whiteboard or a chalkboard. Where the circle touches clean board is the edge of our understanding. The more we learn, the bigger the circle gets. The edge of the circle also grows. Not really sure where I was going with that, just that the more we know, the more we have to learn.

    So, fear not, we can never know it all. Interesting how the phrase "just another Perl guru" never caught on...

    Check out this piano player, he humbles many, I bet.
by converter (Priest) on Jul 16, 2001 at 09:45 UTC

    Some people do not wish to admit that others' accomplishments are the result of study and hard work and try to absolve their own lack of effort with the "guru delusion." It's easier to dismiss the truth than to admit that the level of effort put forth by the "guru" is what has made the difference.

    Yes, this is a generalization. No, I'm not dismissing talent and intelligence. I've seen this behavior many times, I've even been guilty of it myself in the past. Perhaps that's why I understand it.

by OzzyOsbourne (Chaplain) on Jul 16, 2001 at 17:11 UTC

    I don't like making this type of post because it goes against one of the top perlmonks, and only earns --'s, but:

    Don't take this personally. I like the side of your personality that you show in the monastary. The posts that I can understand, I enjoy more often than not.

    I hate this post.

    It not only implies that monks must qualify before imparting praise upon you, but that most of us do not qualify in your book.

    That is un-guru like as one can get...but, I guess that was your point. ;)


      That's not how I intended to come off. It's kinda like hearing my parents say I'm a great programmer, when they couldn't possibly know. Well, ok, it's different from that, because we're all programmers here.

      Jeff japhy Pinyan: Perl, regex, and perl hacker.
      s++=END;++y(;-P)}y js++=;shajsj<++y(p-q)}?print:??;

        watch the title...

        It seems that this kind of topic is something that really stirs the common monks mind. Is it worth the excitement ? Hardly. Everyone, stop calling japhy a guru, ok ?!


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