Slashdot and Harvard Business Review

I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on this blog writing about things Andrew McAfee has written. I’m not sure that this is healthy.  He  posted  yesterday about the slashdot response to his  HBR article.  He was surprised about the number of negative comments.  I wasn’t.

HBR is  aimed at manager types. The pointy headed managers in the Dilbert cartoon if you will.  It is a generalist management publication, not an academic heavy read journal.  Look at the edition in which the McAfee article appears.  I’ll be listening to the Kanter podcast on innovation next time I fly.  HBR  has been around for a while..

The Harvard Business Review has one goal: to be the source of the best new ideas for people creating, leading, and transforming business. Since its founding in 1922, HBR has had a proud tradition as the world’s preeminent management magazine, publishing cutting-edge, authoritative thinking on the key issues facing executives

Many of those who lurk at slashdot are heavy technology types.  A good number of them write code for a living.   They weren’t Andrew’s intended audience, but I suspect he enjoyed the readership spike that being slashdotted brings.  

There is something rather teenage about how software developers of a certain type react to those from outside the clique who dare stray on their turf, even unwittingly.  They are mean, cutting,  churlish, they think it is cool to be abusive and rude, but in fact, it is merely a poor guise for insecurity. I have lots of respect for people with deep technical prowess, but little respect for those that use that prowess to insult others.

They complain one minute that no one takes them seriously, or respects them, and then they get angry when anyone from outside attempts to get to know them better.  Andrew’s piece is an attempt to create a simple framework to help managers understand IT better.

I have read a number of articles in HBR that provide insight to things that I don’t know much about, like hedgefunds, or global  supply chain management. I don’t see hedgefund  mathematicians getting in a hissy fit because I’ve never done a monte carlo analysis.  I met one at a dinner party a few years ago and he explained in simple layman’s terms how he makes his living.  He enjoyed seeing the light go on in my head when I understood the difference between alpha and beta.  Judging by many of the slashdot comments on the post,  if I’d asked  want is the difference developing with Rails and Java,  I would have been cut off at the legs, or had the merlot split on my lap. This quote is from the article comments..

Dear Sweet $DIETY, I sincerely hope your head doesn’t pop-up over a cubicle wall in my building. I recently met a gentleman in a Starbucks, who started a conversation with me regarding IT after seeing my purchases from the adjoining bookstore.
          His philosophy was quite similar; “IT is by no means important, it’s just a necessary evil. A means to an end.” He then went on about how no one is even truly dependent on IT, computers, or information.
          I mentioned my point of views differ, as I have made a career of IT, and I don’t see myself as a “glorified secretary”. Then I steered the conversation towards his laptop, a rather beat-up looking Dell, with an 802.11 PCMCIA card sitting next to it. Turns out my new friend is a writer, been in my hometown for almost two weeks, and hasn’t been able to upload his work off of the laptop the whole time (PCMCIA card not working, Dial-in line for his company was always busy, etc).
          Long story short; there was an “incident” involving my recently topped-off 20oz coffee thermos, and his laptop, which was aptly on his lap at the time. Not only did the poor Dell unleash the magic smoke the instant my thermos slipped, but it’s display didn’t survive the fall off of his lap as he started hopping up and down like, well, someone who’s “valuables” were drenched with hot coffee.
          Something tells me that he spent the better part of the evening begging a physician to be gentle with him, and begging a “glorified secretary” to recover two weeks of his work off of his Almond-Morning-Expresso soaked hard drive.
P.S: Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am a bastard. Thank you.

I think it is time for those sort of software developers to grow up.  If you want to be treated as a professional then it is time to start acting like one.  Buy the FT occasionally, read HBR every now and again.  You give your industry a bad name. 

If, developer, you can’t engage in any sensible dialogue with management, in a language that management understands, then you are right to feel insecure. Job insecure. There is a polite guy in  Bulgaria who can code better than you.

Andrew, these two may amuse..



4 thoughts on “Slashdot and Harvard Business Review”

  1. Well, we are not all that bad! Don’t do the baby / bathwater thing. I did buy the ft the other day and you are right. It rocks. I might even subscribe. Love to leave a longer comment but I have a tricky PHP Class to write. 😉


  2. Nigel,
    exactly. This post is aimed at a certain type of developer. You know the ones. I’m definitely not tarnishing all devs with this brush, just the ones that behave badly.

    I have masses of respect for software developers, just not the ones that think that they have a right to be rude anyone who doesn’t follow whatever programming cult they do.

    Good luck with the PHP.

    The FT is free in frankfurt airport, I seem to be there a lot at the moment.

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