Contempt in Developer Culture

Vesha’s answer to the first question in ‘What Does “Open Source” Even Mean’ hits home for me. Like Vesha, I completed a computer science degree, worked as a developer for years. I use open source projects on a daily basis but I don’t contribute. Partially, I don’t know how to start, but I know that is a minor issue, because I can easily learn how to do that. The bigger problem is I suffer from impostor syndrome as a developer. When I unpack that and explain more precisely, the impostor syndrome emerged because I feel my work would not be considered good enough to be valued or used.

That opinion is not something I dreamed up; I heard harsh comments in real life from coworkers. I invite constructive criticism, but there is a difference between correcting someone’s mistake and using someone’s mistake as an in to belittle their contribution. I had discussions with other developers about the culture norm within the community - how we treat and value other as developers and people. My personal experience is fairly common. When I read “Inessential Weirdness”, the story on Contempt Culture pinpoints the emotion that is most problematic. It calls out this behavior of showing contempt as a currency. A lot of developers I know use contempt as a signal to others they are a part of the serious developers club.

A reality check on the current developer community: here is the reaction post on hacker news to Contempt Culture. The top voted comment is solely focused on the merit of the programming language, PHP. Somehow, it misses the larger point of being insensitive to the people who use and like the language. In fact, it does not even enter the discussion. It is all about this idea of objectivity, so only talking about technology, like people are not involved in this whole process. The elitism is also very apparent with usage of terms like “technical superiority” and “superior technologies”, when there is no clear standard for what it means to be considered “superior”.

I would say this Contempt Culture shows up in all aspects of group dynamics. It does not stop at hating on a language or an operating system. It manifests as a general attitude. This culture gives permission for everyone in it to openly put others down. And this is a factor for so many developers having impostor syndrome. The current developer community is ruthless. If you use the “wrong” language you will be judge harshly for it, let alone not be seen as “competent”.

Despite this, I still want to be a developer. I enjoy problem solving. It is fun and rewarding. I also believe this culture can and will improve. I will do my best to create a kinder environment for myself and others who want to be build things.

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