Don’t Do This. And Don’t Stand for it Either.
The Greatest Treason?
Today I want to go off-topic just a little bit, but in a way that I think is relevant to many of us as professionals. And then bring it home, so to speak, specifically at the intersection of Analytics and Databases.
To me, there are few treasons greater than spending time on the receiving end of abuse, learning firsthand what that abuse feels like, and then subsequently becoming one who abuses others in a similar fashion. I doubt that is a controversial position. If you know what it’s like to be hurt, you have the least excuse for hurting others. Duh.
And yet I’ve seen entirely too much of this in my adult life. How many times did I watch a Microsoft executive (or manager) badger, insult, and demean someone in a large meeting? (Too many to count). How many times was it clear that said manager grew up suffering at the hands of the “jocks” and “cool kids” in school? (Virtually 100% of the time – and trust me, I know what we look like, cuz I grew up that way, too).
Bullies are Bad. Nerds-Turned-Bullies are Worse.
So here’s the crux of today’s post: if you grew up as a nerd and suffered the inevitable abuse that goes with it, you have ZERO excuse for abusing others. You have no excuse for harassing, insulting, or demeaning others, because you have experienced that pain yourself. You cannot claim ignorance with any credibility. You do not have the benefit of the doubt. You are, quite simply, compensating for your historically-instilled feelings of inferiority (an adolescent fate that I shared) by raining pain and abuse on others, and that is the wrong way to fix yourself.
Nerds-Turned-Bullies, or Nerd Bullies for short, are some of my least favorite people. I saw them at Microsoft. I see them every time I step into the online gaming community. And I see them today in our tech communities. This blog post has been on my List for a very long time.
Nerd Bullies suffered at the hands of the mob, and now they lead mobs (of other former sufferers!) against victims in their own communities – people who grew up just like them, in most cases, only to become the target of this new breed of traitor. Yes, traitor – that word was practically invented for Nerd Bullies.
Some of us grew up as nerds…
One of the things I love about working in the business data domain is how it brings so many different kinds of people together. The data gene, as I am fond of calling it, cuts across ALL demographics equally – gender, race, religion, age, political affiliation, you name it.
And yes, it also brings the “Nerd” and “Non-Nerd” camps together as well.
I define those camps by how they were perceived in middle school, not by how they are perceived today, for the awesome reason that, most of the time, those differences have evaporated in adult life, particularly in our profession. If you were a “cool kid” in high school and love data today, you now proudly call yourself a nerd from time to time. And middle school nerds, in turn, have found a place where their “nerdism” is now valued and accepted. It’s a bright, happy, warm vibe all the way around, and I love it.
Ah, but there are some people who inevitably want to spoil this party.
Brogrammers: A Close Relative of Nerd Bullies
Have you heard this term, “Brogrammer?” Urban Dictionary defines it as “a programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.”
(Of course, in some sense all of us are “programmers” of a sort, whether we sling DAX, SQL, traditional Excel, or Java… it’s all programming under a different guise. So ideally we’d expand the Brogrammer definition to include those jobs too.)
But is a Brogrammer merely a Cool Kid who learned tech? I think not, because that alone would not earn a negative image and connotation. My wife and I were watching Season 1 of Silicon Valley recently, and in the scene pictured below, our beloved protagonist was subject to humiliation at the hands of the resident Brogrammers:
Brogrammers: Abusive, Dismissive, and Exclusive Toward Others
(Do NOT Be these People)
There is NOTHING wrong with being a male “techie” who happened to be popular in school. We wouldn’t have needed to coin the term “brogrammer” if that were the whole story. But there IS something wrong with being a jerk. And it’s somehow even WORSE (for nerds anyway) to have this bullying element now invading our supposed safe places, like tech fields. Furthermore, now that there are more women working in tech, I hear a lot of stories about hyper-misogynistic behavior as well from this element. Yay.
(In fact, for some of the worst-possible examples of Nerd Bullies, check out the whole “Gamergate” saga, in which of bunch of computer game nerds threaten female gamers with murder and rape, for crying out loud.)
The Icosahedron Test
Here’s how I spot people who grew up as nerds: I ask myself, can I imagine them rolling a 20-sided die? As in, can I imagine them playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid?
If the answer is a Definite Yes or Definite No, this “Nerddar” has proven to be incredibly reliable over the years (I verify by asking the subjects afterward).
And it doesn’t matter whether you actually PLAYED the game of D&D or not. If the answer is a Strong Yes, and you didn’t play, inevitably you express regret that you didn’t play. And I’ve never had a Strong No tell me Yes, nor have I ever heard them express regret, except perhaps politely.
Anyway, if you are a Yes on the Icosahedron Test, and you are a bully, well, you need to examine your life closely. Or at bare minimum make sure you don’t do that crap anywhere around me, because few people have verbal knives as sharp as mine, and I save mine FOR YOU SPECIFICALLY. You bring out the vigilante in me. Why hurt others when you of all people are best-equipped for sympathy and understanding? You are wasting your superpower AND embracing the Dark Side at the same time.
Don’t do that.
Analytics and SQL People – How Can This Be Controversial???
Changing gears, let’s talk about whether a SQL professional’s career is enhanced by learning analytics. Seems pretty non-controversial really: the answer is “yes, of course it benefits,” but the answer is ALSO “but if you don’t want to learn analytics, fine, carry on and you will still prosper.” Nothing to get excited about – the benefits can be taken or left.
So you may be surprised to hear that this has been a topic of high friction in certain corners of the SQL community. Certain people have gone to great efforts to help the community widen their perspective, and a vocal handful have been virulently opposed to it. Weird huh? It’s so simple: “Hey, there’s a new conference on the agenda. Don’t want to go? OK!” It’s been strange to watch these folks railing like it’s some personal affront, and campaigning to undermine others’ progress.
Remember, it’s almost always more noble to create than destroy. You all have seen THIS quote going around right?
It is not the critic who counts; not the [one] who points out how the [other] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; …if [he/she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
Teddy Roosevelt a bit too “old school” for you? Try Tim Minchin, another personal favorite:
If you don’t subscribe to that philosophy, fine, I’m not going to try to convince you, but you and I will never know common ground. You are missing something beautiful. (Yes we talk a lot here at P3 Adaptive about tearing down the Old Way, but only because we are replacing it with the New Way. We’ve seen the New Way is Better – both in financial and emotional terms – for everyone involved. Destruction for its own sake would not hold our attention.)
Why Do I Even Bother With This?
Well, the vigilante in me is dying to rip into the nerd bullies who’ve been running this “storage only, we never want to analyze data” campaign, not because of their opposition to analytics (I mean heck, more opportunity for us Analytics Types!), but because they are just jerks about many things. (Actually there is one primary jerk in particular, and a gaggle of followers – catching crumbs of hollow validation like remoras on a shark… don’t be those people either – cut your own path through the water – CREATE it). You can oppose something rationally and politely, after all, and I’ve seen some cogent arguments from others. Anyway, the bullies are the minority. Why cater to them?
Instead, I want to encourage others in SQL-land to not be influenced by the bullies. If you’re interested in expanding horizons, well, we are happy to have you join in on our reindeer games. As a Bond villain once said (and Austin Powers later lampooned), “we’re not so different, you and I.” We all love data, and some of our best work is done when the storage and transport folks cooperate with the analytics folks.
And seriously, why oppose Analytics? Best case scenario, working in the storage world, is that no one ever notices you. You’re a cost center, rather than a weapon that can be used to competitive advantage, and this is why executives (and developers) seem to be so dismissive of database concerns. Not that they SHOULD be dismissive, but they are – just like my first few years at Microsoft, when I worked on software installation technology, in which leadership continually failed to notice our positive contributions and exaggerated our failures. (One executive even referred to our software as “installing yesterday’s applications tomorrow.” That was clever and funny, but it was also mean and counterproductive, and ultimately incorrect, because twenty years later, you’re still installing MSI files aren’t you? Boom!)
“Only noticed when we fail” is an unfun place to be, as a professional, and given that you’ve already mastered some of the most difficult stuff (the storage stuff is WAY harder than anyone gives it credit), why not diversify into places where suddenly the C-level knows your name in a positive light? How can that be bad? Or worth fighting viciously against?
I have a talk that I’ve given a couple times at SQL user groups lately, in which I explain Why You Should Care About Analytics, and it really only has four themes: more money, more recognition/appreciation, now is a good time to start, and your existing skills are a complement to it (as opposed to something you replace). It’s been well received, and I plan to keep giving it.
But hey, the world needs specialists too, so it’s none of my business what YOU do, but maybe don’t sh*t on real career growth opportunities for others ok?
Full Disclosure About the Author
Rob Collie grew up as an undersized, perpetually-bullied nerd before a late growth spurt and modicum of athletic talent provided him with camouflage as a high schooler, allowing him to “liaise” between the nerd and non-nerd worlds. He is forever grateful for that “gift of camo” and tries to never forget where he came from. He has rolled many icosahedrons/d20’s, and continues to do so with his kids today. (OK and with other adults too sometimes).