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“Toxic experts” by @nedbat

Ned Batchelder: Toxic experts.

Toxic experts care more about making distinctions between people to elevate themselves than they do about helping people. Beware: they are everywhere you look in the tech world. It’s easy to run into them when you are trying to learn. Ignore them. They don’t know you, and they don’t know what you can do.

Toxic experts will latch onto a particular skill and decide that it is essential. For them, that skill is a marker dividing Those-Who-Know from Those-Who-Don’t.

…toxic experts are bemoaning the state of the industry because of missing knowledge, they are highlighting the main skill gap the tech industry needs to fix: empathy.

When I first met Ladyada, she was on a forum site called AVR Freaks that ATMEL had, there were kind experts, but that drowned out the jerks that made fun of whatever Limor was doing. Arduino had just started and it was ridiculed along with Limor.

So much so, I wrote the article on MAKE “Why Arduino won and why it’s here to stay.”

“Arduino: baby-talk programming for pothead” – ArnoldB, AVRfreaks.net

A funny side note, Limor and I were at an event and an “expert” VC dude was quoting incorrect stats about Arduino. We politely offered the accurate numbers and he ridiculed us in front of the group and told us we didn’t know what we were talking about, and he referred to his source, it was an article I wrote with some marketshare stats from Arduino (directly from Arduino, and Limor) he was reading the wrong numbers off to a large group of people.

Later, I wrote this, 6 years ago, to the day (2011) “Zen and the Art of Making.” Here’s a bit of it.

When you start out making something, you usually don’t end up where you thought you would. It’s usually some place better. A beginner can imagine more than an expert because a beginner doesn’t see constraints yet. Kids are the same way — they approach things with an open mind because they haven’t been told “you can’t do that” yet. Beginners aren’t billing someone for their time — it’s not a job, and time doesn’t matter. Beginners (and kids) usually have more time than money. Beginners aren’t collecting trophies (yet) — they’re exploring. If you don’t know the boundaries of something, for a brief time your ideas are boundless.

Maybe becoming experts in things is just in our destiny — we all specialize, growing old is unavoidable — but retaining things from our childhood is possible; it’s just a struggle sometimes. This is why a lot of us have safe places, like a workshop or an electronics bench, where we can protect them. If you’re a self-proclaimed expert in something, you’ll end up defending your work from other experts. The internet is an amplifier of this phenomenon. I think it’s important to have places where beginners can help each other, and the experts are there to not only share information, but share how they discovered things (sometimes the howis more important than the what). The best experts I know open the door, but you enter yourself.

Experts stay still; beginners are constantly moving. An expert can point out the difficulty in every project, while the beginner can only see possibilities (and later many ways to make mistakes). The reward for beginners is not the stuff they make, it’s the person they become because of the stuff they make and share. Beginners need to practice a lot; experts need to talk more than practice usually. Beginners do very simple things before they understand what they are doing, but they are simplistic. Experts struggle to make things simple because they want to put everything they know in something, to demonstrate their expertise.

Once and awhile I go back to old articles to see if I’ve changed, or the article was too out there, there has been a lot of progress making safe places for beginners, but we still have a lot of work to do. If companies and projects are run by jerks, and we celebrate jerks, we are what we celebrate, jerks. There isn’t enough time for jerk therapy, there are too many jerks. But, they’re getting old and/or many of us are not tolerating it from the start – progress one funeral at a time.

Alice came to a fork in the road.  “Which road do I take?” she asked.
“Where do you want to go?” responded the Cheshire cat.
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it doesn’t matter.”
– Alice in Wonderland

Join the Adafruit Discord community, it’s the latest experiment in making a place where experts help beginners, it’s working: http://adafru.it/discord It’s been called the “24/7 hackerspace you can bring your granddaughter to”, that was heartwarming to hear.


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