Michael reminded me of this:
but as you can see if you go follow the ensuing twitter conversation, it’s a rant that I can go on about for way more than 140 characters. So I will.
It’s incredibly common for people in any kind of support environment, or really any kind of tech learning space, to start off a completely reasonable and intelligent question with “hey, so I’m a total n00b, but…” and end even even a perfectly successful interaction with “oh god I’m such an idiot”. And I’m pretty sure that it’s all down to one really, really bad assumption and the consequences that follow from it:
- The world is divided into two kinds of people, which for now I’ll call noobs and rockstars1.
- Since there’s nothing in between the two, there must be some kind of infinite gap.
- So a noob must obviously be a horrible thing to be.
- Therefore, ohmygodohmygod I suck.
- If I have a totally reasonable question, I need to crawl in to the channel/forum/classroom and immediately show my belly like a puppy afraid of being savaged.
And they have some very good reasons to do so. People can be real assholes, and nerd spaces have a longstanding rep for being incredibly unforgiving about any perceived stupidity. So playing submissive puppy is an understandable response: after all, why would you want to expose yourself to getting ripped apart by the pack?
It’s not just in support venues, either. If it weren’t for this kind of attitude, we wouldn’t have huge-selling book series on “… for Dummies” and “… for Complete Idiots”. (No offense to friends who have published in both series!) We certainly wouldn’t fall back on tired old tropes like “so simple your mom can do it” — aside from the nasty sexism, it assumes that there’s a whole class of non-technical people out there who are just fundamentally incapable of getting anything hard.
Meanwhile, for rockstars, the whole noob vs. rockstar thing is just as destructive (if not quite as obviously so at first: after all, they’re on the winning side of the equation). If it’s only the noobs who need to ask questions, then if I admit my ignorance on anything, I must secretly be a noob! Oh the shame! Better just not ask and admit weakness… And that way lies a nice self-defeating case of impostor syndrome, for the less confident among us; or the kind of junior dev arrogance that Garann talks about, for the otherwise inclined.
The fact is, learning doesn’t happen without a lot of painful and embarrassing bumping up against the stuff we don’t know, and it’s neither easy nor comfortable to be in that position. I’d even go so far as to say that’s why we learn: the sense of accomplishment that comes from mastering something you couldn’t handle an hour or a decade ago is a powerful driver to get through a painful process, but on an even more basic level, no longer having that awful pit-of-the-stomach feeling is even more so. Unless we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s impossible; in that case, most people just give up and avoid whatever it is that’s making them feel this way.
You’re a noob. I’m a noob. Hell, I’m a noob about all the things that people sometimes try to call me a rockstar about. We need to stop dividing up the world this way. And don’t let me catch you saying things like that about your mother.