One of the best sites on the Internet is also one of the most toxic. No, I’m not talking about Twitter, but Stack Overflow.
In previous posts I’ve referenced my own issues with the Stack network, and a few years ago I cancelled my account entirely due to the toxicity of some of its members despite having a network ranking of over 15,000 “points”.
When I became an MVP it was suggested that I rejoin the DBA site on the network and participate to improve my reach. Unsurprisingly to me anyway, this resulted in interactions with another toxic person but it was limited to a few instances and to their credit, the moderators on the DBA site comprise members of the SQL Server family (who in my experience are nicer in general), so the toxic person lost interest after a while.
Toxicity has been an ongoing problem with the tech industry, and even one of the founders called it out as a problem on this network. Nevertheless, it persisted.
This week, of all weeks (when many people celebrate Christmas all over the world), Rob Conery and Scott Hanselman announced a second book in the Imposter Syndrome series. If there are two folks in the tech industry I respect a great deal, they’re Scott and Rob.
Unfortunately for them, Jeff “Coding Horror” Atwood, self-proclaimed indoor enthusiast and co-founder of Stack Overflow, thought that it would be a good time to “correct” their spelling of the word “imposter”.
Yes Jeff, we all know that the spelling should be “Impostor”. Well done for pointing it out. This pedantry will get you adulation from your nerddom and respect from your peers.
Except it didn’t, because it doesn’t matter. The word “imposter” has been in use for two hundred years. If it’s a corrupted spelling of “impostor”, may I introduce you to the entire English language? American English is a corruption of British English, and British English stole more words from other languages than you can imagine. This isn’t a hill to die on, and I say that as a recovering grammar pedant myself.
Rob wrote in a separate thread that he already knew the spelling wasn’t “correct” and eventually decided that it was fine because that supported the premise of the book, and that it doesn’t actually matter.
At one point during the exchange between Rob, Scott, and Jeff, I wrote in response to Jeff that he was being an ass and no one was amused. See, Jeff has a history of being obtuse, like many toxic people in the tech industry on Twitter. They will make a scathing remark and lean into it, or “double down” as we say in card-playing circles.
Eventually it will always come out that Jeff is “only joking” and that people are too serious and oh my goodness shut up you toxic mediocre accidentally-famous person.
Jeff, you’re part of the reason Stack Overflow is a toxic cesspit. You’re part of the problem in tech in general, and I think you know it, but you enjoy the external validation of your peers too much to acknowledge it.
Take a page from Rob’s books. Take a page from Jon Skeet’s awakening to a world where being decent is your default position. Look at how Scott interacts with people.
And thank you for blocking me on Twitter, because it just proves my point. I had you muted already, so this just makes my life simpler.
Since we almost run in the same circles, good luck if we have an occasion to meet in person, because I’m not a sycophant. I don’t yell if I don’t have to, and I’ll tell you to your face what I think of you. Ball’s in your court. I’d start at the dictionary definition of “introspection”.