Improving online tech discussions

Last weekend I found myself lying in bed scrolling my highly filtered Twitter timeline. Just before shutting my eyes, I read a tweet in which someone showed support to Sara Soueidan against some internet hate. Being an imperfect human, I decided sleep could wait and spent an hour reading blog posts and tweets to reconstruct the events of that day.

What happened?

A short recap:

  1. Brian Boyko publishes TailwindCSS: Adds complexity, does nothing, an opinion piece about Tailwind.
  2. Sara shares the article on Twitter. She later deleted the tweet.
  3. Adam Wathan, the author of Tailwind, replies with: “Thanks for choosing to use your platform to ruin my day 🥰” (link to tweet)
  4. Observers are upset and harass people.

Some posts followed after the events. Cher Scarlett calls out the toxicity of the Tailwind community in her post Sexism, Racism, Toxic Positivity, and TailwindCSS, Hidde de Vries wrote about the value of criticism in his post Criticism pushes the web forward, and Mykolas Mankevicius replies to the original Tailwind criticism in Tailwind is bad because I don't like it. There are probably more posts and dozens of tweets, but frankly, I’ve read enough.

The double standards of online and offline tech discussions

I recently explained to a family member that a software engineer rarely just writes code all day. It involves an immense amount of teamwork. We discuss, negotiate, and compromise all the time. Elementary communication and empathy is a necessity that is too often overlooked. Skills we use too little in online discord.

If we’d treat our team members the same as some folk on Twitter treat their tech peers, we’d either had to sit down with HR and make amends or get fired for toxic behaviour. Why do we tolerate this online?

Would you tell the hard work of a team member is useless and compare it to a fart? Would you be angry with a teammate that shares an opinionated blog post you disagree with? Would you harass members if you saw any of the above happen? Why do people think such behaviour is justified? Are these people this toxic in real life? If so, why would someone hire them?

None of it is productive. In fact, much of it is awful and counterproductive. Instead of convincing people to use Tailwind, those who harassed Sara over this probably achieved the opposite.

I know this problem is greater than the tech community, but we have to start realising that every thought expressed as a tweet came from a human being, and our thoughts are sent back to them.

Good discord requires understanding

In my experience, few opinions are unfounded, but people take little time to understand them. Tailwind does strike me as inline styles on steroids, but I’d love to hear how it works for people!

In 2017 I wrote a (poor quality) blog post about tech discussions. It’s the same thing all over again: people are harassed by others with a different opinion. Twitter isn’t the best platform to talk about context. If I need to understand why people like Tailwind, I need to understand a great deal of the projects it’s used in and the team(s) that work on them. Odds are people use it to tackle problems I don’t realise I have or might even never face.

If we write a review or critique piece about a tool, we have to not only thoroughly understand the topic, but also the context in which others use it. We can’t try it for five minutes to confirm our biases for our blog post.

If we want to educate others, “[tech] is the best and the rest suxxx” or any combination of 180 characters just won’t cut it. We have to explain what problems tools try to solve and in which contexts they could be useful.

Instead of harassing folk and repeating the same shit a couple of others already tweeted, write or share the kind of blog post that is actually respectful and helpful. Take away the doubts through arguments and example, not by blatantly telling people they’re wrong.

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