Moving Beyond Technical Elitism

Improving the quality of discourse amongst IT professionals is crucial to regaining the Respect that IT deserves.

The current debate techniques often used by varying camps are harmful to IT’s Image and Credibility and harmful to broadening the knowledge and ability of our profession.

On the one hand, Computer Science is supposedly a branch of mathematics and/or engineering, where various tradeoffs are discussed soberly and dispassionately.  On the other hand, the facts on the ground show a clear disposition towards demonizing the opposition and labeling everyone who uses an alternative technology as an ignoramus or worse.

Whether it’s Mac versus PC, Linux versus Windows, Agile versus Waterfall, Rails Versus Java, ad nauseum, the level of rhetoric and animosity between the advocates and detractors makes rational discussions of these topics nearly impossible.

Why is this considered acceptable, when it is clearly counter to our mission as Engineers, which is developing the best products possible, in the best manner possible, which means having a healthy and rational conversation about the various technologies out there and which are most applicable for a given project?

I myself am fairly neutral in a wide variety of these “debates.”

I’m willing to recommend Windows solutions when I see that as the best fit; I’m willing to advocate Linux solutions when I see that as the best fit.  I’m willing to recommend mixed systems (combination of Windows and Linux) when that makes the most sense.  Why aren’t there more people like myself out there?

I think one reason, and this is the thing that gives IT a bad name in general, is knowlegably debating is hard — knee jerk bashing is easy.

Most of the “Haters and Fanboys” out there really don’t know that much about what they are talking about. Therefore they rely on Fanboyism and Elitist behavior (“Oh, those static typing guys JUST DON’T GET IT!”) to get past arguing about the hard points they often don’t understand.

This is the only industry where one sees this type of behavior; you don’t read about people refusing to hire people that drive Honda’s; you don’t see Toyota drivers labelled as “tards”.  You don’t see workers refuse to work with others who wear Adidas sneakers, etc.

Apple’s whole “I’m a Mac” ad campaign basically translates to: You should buy a Mac because PC’s (and their users) have “Cooties”.  This is straight from the third grade, yet this is how people should feel when making a major purchase? That Toyota’s have Cooties?

The same thing can be heard from the Rails camp — Everyone who doesn’t use Rails “just doesn’t get it.” Maybe they get that other platforms have tremendously better performance, wildly better documentation, actual companies dedicated to improving the platform, or a wildly larger ecosystem of third party components.

Taking cheap shots at the opposition merely demonstrates an unwillingness to be candid about the shortcomings of the platform in question.

Our industry has tolerated this harmful and retrograde behavior for too long.

If all an Employee or Consultant has to offer to put forth their opinion is rhetoric and technical Elitism — tell them to get off the Rhetoric track and get on the Engineering track or show them the door.

The IT Industry has tolerated these rhetorical anti patterns for far too long, and it’s more than past time to nip this activity in the bud and rebuild the respect that IT deserves.

 Elitists have no place in Engineering where a higher standard of discourse has been the norm for ages


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About postagilist

Architect, Manager, Developer, Musician, Post-Agile thought leader
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3 Responses to Moving Beyond Technical Elitism

  1. Awesome post. Somehow we have driven ourselves towards the concept of better, and not focused on the concept of appropriate. Unfortunately, “better” is in the eyes of the speaker whereas “appropriate” is defined by the view of the surrounding group.

    Agile is more appropriate in the types of places I like to work, but I blend in RUP and other methodology concepts that are appropriate also. I like the concepts that Alistair Cockburn has talks about (Shu, Ha, Ri) within the Agile community. Many of us never get to a “Ri” level where we blend together many different learnings into an instinctively appropriate usage. Once you start mixing or blending different sides of the debate, you’ve already started to prove that one idea is not finitely better than another.

  2. PostAgilist says:

    Hi Kevin

    Great observation on “better” versus “appropriate”… Maybe you should make a whole blog post about that topic?

    Re: Shu Ha Ri — yeah I think it’s sort of like the tower of Babel. Rather than man cooperating, he’s balkanized into various sects that literally don’t speak the same language (C#/Java/Perl) and have built in prejudices that keep them from even attempting to learn what lies beyond their canton as well as thinking that their own canton is the one true canton…and that other cantons are inhabitated by savages and infidels (or worse — statically typed windows users).

    Then there’s the whole middle ages thing — horses and buggies are great (VI/Emacs) and were great 20 years ago… But they don’t hold a candle to Visual Studio. Don’t tell that to the horse and buggy crowd though — planes and cars are for WIMPs only 🙂

    Now, if Linux/OSX/Emacs/Rails/Perl/Smalltalk were handed down as perfect N years ago, how motivational is that? Where is the room for improvement? Improvement may not be necessary as long as the beliefs are strong enough however….certainly a time saver of sorts on the engineering front.


  3. Vishnu says:

    I like that.. Being in QA for a significant time, I can now understand..

    and yeah developers do say that QA people are QA coz they dont know how to code… 🙂

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