When I started out in this industry (and I'm in my fourth decade of being paid to program) there was a definite culture of rudeness within it. Smart people weren't just allowed to be rude to not-so-smart people, it was expected. Being rude to others was how you proved you were smart, whether it was with a cutting insult thought up on your feet, or with a cruel proof of just where they had gone wrong. As a group we were especially fond of insulting those who weren't developers with brilliantly disguised insults they couldn't understand, or so the theory went. Who hasn't heard someone refer to "error codes" like PEBCAK or ID-ten-T?
But over the last generation or so I've noticed a switch. I hear the chair, keyboard thing still, but only self-referentially. That is after someone has asked for help, perhaps with a starting position of "I have found a bug in Windows", and then sorted it all out and realized they were doing something wrong, they may say "well it turns out the problem was between the chair and the keyboard after all, eh?". When I interview developers for a job at my firm, I ask about working with non developers (testers, technical writers, users, project managers) and I need to see (not just be told about) respect and interest for those people and those jobs.
Now not everyone feels that way. Meredith Levinson
asks if there is a still a place for the "I'm smart, I don't need soft skills" geek pride of old. Commenters point out that speaking truth to power is important, and those who won't be rude sometimes don't do it. David Starr
talks about how to tell someone that a thoughtless habit, like always coming late to meetings, is bothering you. I would skip the praise sandwich
, but I support the idea of pointing out the consequences of something another person may have thought had none. Interestingly, Susanne Biro
points out how people who are actively interested in learning soft or social skills can still be blundering about doing very rude things, apparently unaware.
I think in the end it's not that our industry has changed much. It's that people who are just starting out in it are often a bit rude. OK, sometimes they're very rude. But as they gain technical skill, many of them also gain the ability to take others into account and to work in teams. Those people get promoted. So now, hanging out with decision makers, with people who are allowed to represent their companies in public, with people who get paid to help other people get better, I mostly meet polite and interesting geeks. The rude ones probably still exist -- I just don't run into them very often. Which group would you rather be in?