Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Being Nicely Archived

My friend Nelson will not write anything bad about anyone or anything in email. He may deny this, but I know it is true; he will always express himself in the politest of terms in e-mail. That's because it is so traceable. There really is no such thing as as e-mail that disappears in the noise, especially in business litigation. E-mail is forever.

I mention this because, in certain aspects, I am the same way. Except not in e-mail. I am terrible at burning bridges in person, telling people I don't like why I want to stay the fuck away from them. I'll tell people what I don't like about them when I like them, but really the only venue where I have said negative things to people personally would be on soc.motss, and, even though I hold the Most Judgmental Person Emeritus title there, in the last two years I didn't even attack people personally, but just decried their statements or reported actions as "not so smart", "ill informed", "stupid", "seemingly homohating". Never the people themselves.

(Of course, nobody really noticed. I kept waiting before anyone noticed I hadn't written a sentence like "You are stupid | an idiot | a homohater" in quite some time. Instead people kept reacting as if I was saying really nasty things about their personality. 'Frothing at the mouth'. There is a lesson for me there somewhere, but I am still not sure what.)

I'm a horrid gossiper, though. If you cheese me off, I'll tell everyone else why I am cheesed off. But I will not burn a bridge. When I was at Children's and we all saw that I needed to switch jobs soon, my boss suggested I work for someone who was leading some company in our sphere of connection. I told him it was impossible since I could not go to work for someone I didn't respect. All the person in question ever got from me to hir face were some negative vibes, if that. I never told hir what a conceited misogynist jack-ass I thought s/he was.

There's a person whom I once worked with for whom I had -- and still have when I think back to the time -- utter contempt. He is still one of the worst professionals I have ever met. He put my hubris to shame. I would come in and find his feet -- in street shoes -- resting on my chair. He was a crap programmer whose projects were always in trouble, and his UIs, untrained as he was to make them, were nightmares, for which he would take no advice. He had a bunch of personal habits that set my teeth on edge. I still Google for him to make sure I know where he works so I can avoid him. And I never let him know. I complained to my boss, who transferred him out. But to the person I remained civil and smiling. I later heard he had loud screaming matches with another developer at his new place, and I was so jealous of that other developer. I'd be great at loud screaming matches if I had the gumption.

The best I do is walk out of a meeting when I truly can't stand it. I have taken my personal investment out of any project I am involved in, no matter how hard I have worked on it. I react to any egregious change that makes me hurl to any of my designs with a "I wouldn't recommend that, and that's because..." They can take any of my projects away from me right now, I have divested myself, and I think I will be smart enough to never invest myself personally in any work again. Caring too much about group-efforts leads nowhere. You need to be able to deal with the fact you don't really have control.

The reason this all comes up is because today's Slashdot -- no I am not linking to it -- had a story about another Slahsdot story about a arsDigita. And all the reactions that were negative towards the people who had created aD were all posted anonymously. Because nobody wanted to burn bridges in industry. Are they cowards? Are they smart? Is it bad to be Googleable as saying Phil G., one of the founders, took the settlement and ran, leaving his co-founders holding nothing -- if that's your opinion? I can't say whether it is true, I have no idea who got any of what settlement, but it was a good enough settlement for people to drop lawsuits and for Phil, quite the outspoken man, to remove his blog-like story of what happened at aD. How awful is it as an ex-aD'er to mention the personality conflicts that happen when you have strong personalities? Will you never work in this town again? I mean, seriously?

Eve A., an ex-VP of aD and Phil G.'s girlfriend, laments that Richard B. was a bad manager because he was unable to inspire his underlings to work more than 40 hours a week. Gawd. All the ways to dissect that statement leave me speechless. But will a proper dissection of it here, in ways that expose exactly what I, as an ex-60-hour-a-week worker (and I didn't even have shares at the place where I worked so hard) think about that statement, stop me from getting new employment? I won't know until I do, now will I?

Thing is, being outspoken gets you fabulous initial name-recognition. People think they know where they stand with you. If you have the opinions that make people feel good, they will take note and like you. In some cases, they will give you money and have you lead a company. Or, for example, the open source world is littered with people who will react in the most caustic terms to people and contributions they deem bullshit -- yet stay maintainers of their projects.

At such a consensus-driven company as Nokia it would have the impact of a small nuclear bomb, even in this American branch, if I ever said during a meeting "I want you to know that I think your contributions on my area so stupid and worthless that I have essentially stopped listening to you. I could tell you why, but I think it a complete waste of my time. I suggest you stick to your own area, which you barely seem competent in anyway." Instead I make soothing noises about taking that suggestion into consideration when all I think is "Shut up. Just shut up."

Does blandness actually get your farther? I think it may get you stuck in that worker - middle manager sphere, where everyone swallows mission-statements and listens to H.R. telling us to always keep your personality out of the work. Do the business-bland actually ever get catapulted into the stratosphere of visibility, or even richess? Larry Ellison, Scott McNealy, Bill Gates, Theo de Raadt, Linus Torvalds, ESR, RMS -- none of them are nice. Why am I wasting my energy being nice?