Bikeshedding

bike shed
Credit: Pixabay / Unsplash

One of my friends sent me a grammatical suggestion on something I had written. I assumed he was right, made the edit, but then that looked wrong too, so I looked it up. Discovered they were both fine, but the way I had it was slightly preferred. Sent him the link, without that explanation, because it seemed redundant.

Offended him, because I had inadvertently played into the thing that we do in tech, the petty one-upmanship, and the assumed superiority. Realised, as soon as he called me on it. But was shocked, because I had no concept that dudes do that to each other, too.

I realise, how blinkered that sounds. But as I work so hard to balance my own environment, even if the wider one is completely out of whack, I see and hear these things happening to other women, as they happen to me, and miss them happening to dudes.

Added factor, with dudes it’s less likely to induce massive stereotype threat, so maybe they don’t feel the need to mention it.

How much time do we spend arguing about stupid shit? The Heartbleed vulnerability was checked into an Open Source project in December 2011, and to name one example, how many examples of huge arguments about de-gendering Open Source Project language have I seen in that time? Instead of, ooh, I don’t know, a unit test?

(Note: I’m not saying the change to de-gender language is stupid, but the argument about it is. OSS competes for the rarest commodity – time – alienating large segments of the population can hardly help with that. These arguments typically centre around rejecting a patch.)

Or, variable naming, file structure, ordering of cases in if statements. All these things that it’s so easy to have an opinion on, because above some low bar it doesn’t matter.

Bikeshedding. Trivial arguments and intellectual pissing contests. Why, if every minor decision needs to be justified to half a dozen people, do we even bother having multiple people on a project? More time spent arguing over trivialities than actually getting shit done. At best tangentially relevant information is introduced, not because it might be interesting, or helpful but to demonstrate the towering intellect of the author.

Except, does it? How is it smart to waste time on this stupid shit? I’ve never understood arguments about style guides for example, or the benefit of 80 vs 100 character line lengths. The whole point, I thought, is to not have to think, or worse, debate this stuff. Pick something. Stick with it. It’s fine. It doesn’t really matter.

I’m pretty sure no-one ever encountered an argument on file structure that was so utterly brilliant, they thought, “wow s/he must be an amazing programmer!”.

There are many things that I find tiresome about the tech industry, but this must be… ooh, top five.

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