407: Tech Opinions Online with Edward Loveall

Episode 407 · November 21st, 2023 · 36 mins 44 secs

About this Episode

Stephanie interviews Edward Loveall, a former thoughtbotter, now software developer at Relevant Healthcare.

Part of their discussion centers around Edward's blog post on the tech industry's over-reliance on GitHub. He argues for the importance of exploring alternatives to avoid dependency on a single platform and encourages readers to make informed technological choices. The conversation broadens to include how to form opinions on technology, the balance between personal preferences and team decisions, and the importance of empathy and nuance in professional interactions. Both Stephanie and Edward highlight the value of considering various perspectives and tools in software development, advocating for a flexible, open-minded approach to technology and problem-solving in the tech industry.


STEPHANIE: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Bike Shed, a weekly podcast from your friends at thoughtbot about developing great software. I'm Stephanie Minn. And today, I'm joined by a very special guest, a friend of the pod and former thoughtboter, Edward Loveall.

EDWARD: Hello, thanks for having me.

STEPHANIE: Edward, would you share a little bit about yourself and what you're doing these days?

EDWARD: Yes, I am a software developer at a company called Relevant Healthcare. We do a lot of things, but the maybe high-level summary is we take very complicated medical data and help federally-funded health centers actually understand that data and help their population's health, which is really fun and really great.

STEPHANIE: Awesome. So, Edward, what is new in your world?

EDWARD: Let's see, this weekend...I live in a dense city. I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it's pretty dense there. And a lot of houses are very tightly packed. And delivery drivers struggle to find the numbers on the houses sometimes because A, they're old and B, there is many of them.

And so, we put up house numbers because I live in, like, a three-story kind of building, but there are two different addresses in the same three stories, which is very weird. And so [laughs], delivery drivers are like, "Where is number 10 or 15?" or whatever. And so, there's two different numbers. And so, we finally put up numbers after living here for, like, four years [chuckles]. So, now, hopefully, delivery drivers in the holiday busy season will be able to find our house [laughs].

STEPHANIE: That's great. Yeah, I have kind of a similar problem where, a lot of the times, delivery folks will think that my house is the big building next door. And the worst is those at the building next door they drop off their packages inside the little, like, entryway that is locked for people who don't live there. And so, I will see my package in the window and, you know, it has my name on it. It has, like, my address on it.

And [laughs] some strategies that I've used is leaving a note on the door [laughter] that is, like, "Please redeliver my package over there," and, like, I'll draw an arrow to the direction of my house. Or sometimes I've been that person to just, like, buzz random [laughter] units and just hope that they, like, let me in, and then I'll grab my package. And, you know, if I know the neighbors, I'll, like, try to apologize the next time I see them. But sometimes I'll just be like, I just need to get my package [laughs].

EDWARD: You're writing documentation for those people working out in the streets.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. But I'm glad you got that sorted.

EDWARD: Yeah. What about you? What's new in your world?

STEPHANIE: Well, I wanted to talk a little bit about a thing that you and I have been doing lately that I have been enjoying a lot. First of all, are you familiar with the group chat trend these days? Do you know what I'm talking about?


STEPHANIE: Okay. It's basically this idea that, like, everyone is just connecting with their friends via a group chat now as opposed to social media. But as a person who is not a big group chat person, I can't, like, keep up with [chuckles], like, chatting with multiple people [laughter] at once. I much prefer, like, one-on-one interaction.

And, like, a month ago, I asked you if you would be willing to try having a shared note, like, a shared iOS note that we have for items that we want to discuss with each other but, you know, the next time we either talk on the phone or, I don't know, things that are, like, less urgent than a text message would communicate but, like, stuff that we don't want to forget.

EDWARD: Yeah. You're, like, putting a little message in my inbox and vice versa. And yeah, we get to just kind of, whenever we want, respond to it, or think about it, or use it as a topic for a conversation later.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. And I think it is kind of a playbook from, like, a one-on-one with a manager. I know that that's, like, a strategy that some folks use. But I think it works well in the context of our friendship because it's just gotten, like, richer over time. You know, maybe in the beginning, we're like, oh, like, I don't know, here are some random things that I've thought about. But now we're having, like, whole discussions in the note [laughter]. Like, we will respond to each other, like, with sub-bullets [laughs]. And then we end up not even needing to talk about it on the phone because we've already had a whole conversation about it in the note.

EDWARD: Which is good because neither of us are particularly brief when talking on the phone. And [laughs] we only dedicate, like, half an hour every two weeks. It sort of helps clear the decks a little.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, yeah. So, that's what I recommend. Try a shared note for [laughs] your next friendship hangout.

EDWARD: Yeah, it's great. I heartily recommend it.

STEPHANIE: So, one of the things that we end up talking about a lot is various things that we've been reading about tech on the web [laughs]. And we share with each other a lot of, like, blog posts, or articles, various links, and recently, something of yours kind of resurfaced. You wrote a blog post about GitHub a little while ago about how, you know, as an industry, we should make sure that GitHub doesn't become our only option.

EDWARD: Yeah, this was a post I wrote, I think, back in May, or at least earlier this year, and it got a bunch of traction. And it's a somewhat, I would say, controversial article or take. GitHub just had their developer conference, and it resurfaced again.

And I don't have a habit of writing particularly controversial articles, I don't think. Most of my writing history has been technical posts like tutorials. Like, I wrote a whole tutorial on how to write SQL, or I did write one about how to communicate online. But I wasn't, like, so much responding to, like, a particular person's communication or a company's communication.

And this is the first big post I've written that has been a lot more very heavily opinionated, very, like, targeted at a particular thing or entity, I guess you'd say. It's been received well, I think, mostly, and I'm proud of it. But it's a different little world for me, and it's a little scary, honestly.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I hear that, having an opinion [laughs], a very strong and maybe, like, a less popular opinion, and publishing that for the world. Could you recap what the thesis of it is for our listeners?

EDWARD: Yeah, and I think you did a great job of it, too. I see GitHub or really any singular piece of technology that we have in...I'll say our stack with air quotes, but it's, you know, all the tools that we use and all the things that we use. It's a risk if you only have one of those things, let's say GitHub. Like, if the only way you know how to contribute to a code repository with, you know, 17 people all committing to that repository, if the only way you know how to do that is a pull request and GitHub goes away, and you don't have pull requests anymore, how are you going to contribute to code?

It's not that you couldn't figure it out, or there aren't multiple ways or even other pull request equivalents on other sites. But it is a risk to rely on one company to provide all of the things that you potentially need, or even many of the things that you potentially need, without any alternatives.

So, I wanted to try to lay out A: those risks, and B: encourage people to try alternatives, to say that GitHub is not necessarily bad, although they may not actually fit what you need for various reasons, or someone else for various reasons. But you should have an alternative in your back pocket so that in case something changes, or you get locked out, or they go away, or they decide to cancel that feature, or any number of other scenarios, you have greatly diminished that risk. So, that's the main thrust of the post.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, I really appreciated it because, you know, I think a lot of us probably take GitHub for granted [laughs]. And, you know, every new thing that they kind of add to the platform is like, oh, like, cool, like, I can now do this. In the post, you kind of lay out all of the different features that GitHub has rolled out over the last, you know, couple of years. And when you see it all like that, you know, like, in addition to being, like, a code repository, you now have, like, GitHub Actions for CI/CD, you know, you can deploy static pages with it.

It now has, like, an in-browser editor, and then, you know, Copilot, which, like, the more things that they [laughs] roll out, the more it's becoming, like, the one-stop shop, right? That, like, do all of your work here. And I appreciated kind of, like, seeing that and being like, oh, like, is this what I want?

EDWARD: Right. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And you mentioned a bunch. There's also issues and discussions. You mentioned their in-browser editor. But so many people use VS Code, which, while it was technically made by Microsoft, it's based on Electron, which was developed at GitHub. And GitHub even, like, took away their other Electron-based editor, Atom. And then now officially recommends VS Code.

And everything from deploying all the way down to, like, thinking about and prioritizing features and editing the code and all of that pretty much could happen on GitHub. I think maybe the only thing they don't currently do is host non-static sites, maybe [laughs]. That's maybe about it. And who knows? Maybe they're working on that; as far as I know, they are, so...

STEPHANIE: Yeah, absolutely. You also mentioned one thing that I really liked about the content in the post was that you talked about alternatives to GitHub, even, like, alternatives to all of the different features that we mentioned. I guess I'm wondering, like, what were you hoping that a reader from your blog post, like, what they would get out of reading and, like, what they would take away from kind of sharing your opinion?

EDWARD: I wanted to try to meet people where I think they might be because I think a lot of people do use GitHub, and they do take it for granted. And they do sort of see it as this thing that they must use, or they want to use even, and that's fine. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I want them to see those alternatives and have at least some idea that there is something else out there, that GitHub doesn't become just not only the default, but, like, the only thing.

I mean, to just [chuckles] re-paraphrase the title of the post, I want to make sure GitHub does not become the only option, right? I want people to realize that there are other options out there and be encouraged to try them. And I have found, for me, at least, the better way to do that is not to only focus on, like, hey, don't use GitHub. Like, I hope people did not come away with only that message or even that message at all. But that it is more, hey, maybe try something else out and to encourage you to try something out.

I'm going to A: share the risks with you and B: give you some actual things to try. So, I talk about the things I'm using and some other platforms and different paradigms to think about and use. So, I hope they take those. We'll see what happens in the next, you know, months or years. And I'll probably never know if it was actually just from me or from many other conversations, and thoughts, and articles, and all that kind of stuff. But that's what it takes, so...

STEPHANIE: Yeah. I think the other fun thing about kind of the, like, meta-conversation we're having about having an opinion and, like, sharing it with the world is that you don't even really say like, "This is better than GitHub," or, like, kind of make a statement about, like, you shouldn't use...you don't even say, "You shouldn't use GitHub," right? The message is, like, here are some options: try it out, and, like, decide for yourself.

EDWARD: Yeah, exactly. I want to empower people to do that. I don't think it would have been useful if I'd just go and say, "Hey, don't do this." It's very frustrating to me to see posts that are only negatives. And, honestly, I've probably written those posts, like, I'm not above them necessarily.

But I have found that trying to help people do what you want them to do, as silly and maybe obvious as that sounds, is a more effective way to get them to do what you want them to do [laughs], as opposed to say, "Hey, stop doing the thing I don't want you to do," or attack their identity, or their job, or some other aspect of their life. Human behavior does not respond well to that generally, at least in my experience.

Like, having your identity tied up in a tool or a platform is, unfortunately, pretty common in, like, a tech space. Like, oh, like, Ruby on Rails is the best piece of software or something like that. And it's like, well, you might like it, and that might be the best thing for you. And personally, I really like Ruby on Rails. I think it does a great job of what it does. But as an example, I would not use Ruby on Rails to maybe build an iOS app. I could; I think that's possible, but I don't think that's maybe the best tool for that job. And so, trying to, again, meet people where they are.

STEPHANIE: I guess it kind of goes back to what you're saying. It's like, you want to help people do what they are trying to do.

EDWARD: Yeah. Maybe there's a little paternalistic thinking, too, of, like, what's good for the industry, even if it feels bad for you right now. I don't love that sort of paternalistic thinking. But if it's a real risk, it seems worth at least addressing or pointing out and letting people make that decision for themselves.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, absolutely. I am actually kind of curious about how do you, like, decide something for yourself? You know, like, how do you form your own opinion about technology? I think, yeah, like, a lot of people take GitHub for granted. They use it because that's just what's used, and that may or may not be a good reason for doing so.

But that was a position I was in for a long time, right? You know, especially when you're newer to the industry, you're like, oh, well, this is what the company uses, or this is what, like, the industry uses. But, like, how do you start to figure out for yourself, like, do I actually like this? Does this help me meet my goals and needs? Is it doing what I want it to be doing? Do you have any thoughts about that?

EDWARD: Yeah. I imagine most people listening to this have tried lots of different pieces of software and found them great, or terrible, or somewhere in between. And I don't think there's necessarily one way to do this. But I think my way has been to try lots of things, unsurprisingly, and evaluate them based on the thing that I'm trying to do.

Sometimes I'll go into a new field, or a new area, or a new product, or whatever, and you just sort of use what's there, or what people have told you about, or what you heard about last, and that's fine. That's a great place to start, right? And then you start seeing maybe where it falls down, or where it is frustrating or doesn't quite meet those needs. And it takes a bit of stepping back.

Again, I don't think I'm, like, going to blow anyone's mind here by this amazing secretive technique that I have for, like, discovering good software. But it's, like, sitting there and going through this iterative loop of try it, evaluate it. Be honest with, is it meeting or not meeting some particular needs? And then try something else. Or now you have a little more info to arm yourself to get to the next piece that is potentially good.

As you go on in your career and you've tried many, many, many pieces of things, you start to see patterns, right? And you know, like, oh, it's not like, oh, this is how I make websites. It's like, ah, I understand that websites are made with a combination of HTML, and CSS, and JavaScript and sometimes use frameworks. And there's a database layer with an ORM. And you start to understand all the different parts. And now that you have those keywords and those pieces a little more under your control or you have more experience with them, you can use all that experience to then seek out particular pieces.

I'm looking for an ORM that's built with Rust because that's the thing I need to do it for; that's the platform I need to work with. And I needed to make sure that it supports MySQL and Postgres, right? Like, it's a very targeted thing that you wouldn't know when you're starting out. But over years of experience, you understand the difference and the reasons why you might need something like that.

And sometimes it's about kind of evaluating options and maybe making little test projects to play around with those things or side projects. That's why something like investment time or 20% time is so helpful and useful for that if you're the kind of person who, you know, enjoys programming on your own in your own free time like I am. And that's also a great time to do it, although it's certainly not required. And so, that's kind of how I go through and evaluate whatever tool it is that I need.

For something maybe more professional or higher stakes, there's a little more evaluation upfront, right? You want to make sure you make the right choice before you spend thousands of hours using it and potentially regretting [laughs] it and having to roll it back, causing even more thousands of hours of time. So, there's obviously some scrutiny there. But, again, that also takes experience and understanding the kind of need that you have.

So, yeah, it's kind of a trade-off of, like, your time, and your energy, and your experience, and your interest. You will have many different inputs from colleagues, from websites, from posts on the internet, from Twitter, or fediverse-type kind of blogging and everything in between, right? So, you take all that in, and you try a bunch of stuff, and you come out on the other side, and then you do it again.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, it sounds like you really like to just experiment, and I think that's really great. And I actually have to say that I am not someone who likes to do that [laughs]. Like, it's not where I focus a lot of my time. And it's why I'm, like, glad I'm friends with you, first of all.

EDWARD: [laughs]

STEPHANIE: But also, I've realized I'm much more of, like, a gatherer in terms of information and opinions. Like, I like hearing about other people's experience to then, like, help inform an opinion that I might develop myself. And, you know, it's not to say that, like, I am, like, oh yeah, like, so and so said this, and so, therefore, yeah, I completely believe what they have to say.

But as someone who does not particularly want to spend a ton of my time trying out things, it is really helpful to know people who do like to do that, know people who I do trust, right? And then kind of like you had mentioned, just, like, having all these different inputs.

And one thing that has changed for me with more experience is, previously, a lot of, like, the basis of what I thought was the quote, unquote, "right way" to develop software was, like, asking, like, other people and, you know, their opinions becoming my own. And, you know, at some point, though, that, like, has shifted, right? Where it's like, oh, like, you know, I remember learning this from so and so, and, like, actually, I think I disagree now.

Or maybe it's like, I will take one part of it and be like, yeah, I really like test-driven development in this particular way that I have figured out how I do it, but it is different still from, like, who I learned it from. And even though, like, that was kind of what I thought previously as, like, oh yeah, like, this is the way that I've adopted without room for adjustment.

I think that has been a growth, I guess, that I can point to and be like, oh yeah, like, I once was in a position where maybe opinions weren't necessarily my own. But now I spend a lot more time thinking about, like, oh, like, how do I feel about this? And I think there is, like, some amount of self-reflection required, right? A lot, honestly. Like, you try things, and then you think about, like, did I like that? [laughs] One without the other doesn't necessarily fully informed opinion make.

EDWARD: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm really glad you brought up that, like, you've heard an opinion, or a suggestion, or an idea from somebody, and you kind of adopt it as your own for a little bit. I like to think of it as trying on ideas like you try on clothing. Or something like, let me try on this jacket. Does this fit? And maybe you like it a little bit. Or maybe you look ridiculous, and it's [laughs] not quite for you. And you don't feel like it's for you. But you have to try. You have to, like, actually do it.

And that is a completely valid way to, like, kick-starting some of those opinions, getting input from friends or colleagues, or just the world around you. And, like, hearing those things and trying them is 100% valid. And I'm glad you mentioned that because if I mentioned it, I think I kind of skipped over it or went through it very quickly. So, absolutely. And you're talking about how you just take, like, one part of it maybe. That nuance, that is, I think, really critical to that whole thought, too.

Everything works differently for different people. And every tool is good for other, like, different jobs. Like, it will be like saying a hammer is the best tool, and it's, like, well, it's a good tool for the right thing. But, like, I wouldn't use a hammer to, like, I don't know, level the new house numbers I put on my house, right? But I might use them to, like, hit the nail to get them in. So, it's a silly analogy, but, like, there is always nuance and different ways to apply these different tools and opinions.

STEPHANIE: I like that analogy. I think it would be really funny if there was someone out there who claimed that the hammer is the best tool ever invented [laughs].

EDWARD: Oh, I'm sure. I'm sure there is, you know. I'm not going to use a drill to paint my house, though [laughs].

STEPHANIE: That's a fair point, and you don't have to [chuckles].

EDWARD: Thank you [laughs].

STEPHANIE: But, I guess, to extend this thought further, I completely and wholeheartedly agree that, like, yeah, everyone gets to decide for themselves what works for them. But also, we work in relation with others. And I'm very interested in the balance of having your own ideas and opinions about tooling, software practices, like, whatever, and then how to bring that back into, like, working on a team or, like, working with others.

EDWARD: Yeah. Well, I don't know if this is exactly what you're asking, but it makes me think of: you've gone off; you've discovered a whole bunch of stuff that you think works really well for you. And then you go to work, or you go to a community that is using a very different way of working, or different tools, or different technologies.

That can be a piece of friction sometimes of, like, "Oh my gosh, I love Ruby on Rails. It's the best." And someone else is like, "I really, really don't like Ruby on Rails for reasons XYZ. And we don't use it here." And that can be really tough and, honestly, sometimes even disheartening, depending on how strongly you feel about that tool and how strongly they feel about their tools.

And as a young developer many years ago, I definitely had a lot more of my identity wrapped up in the tools and technologies that I used. And that has been very useful to try to separate those two. I don't claim to be perfect at it or done with that work yet. But the more I can step away and say, you know, like, this is only a tool. It is not the tool. It is not the best tool. It is a tool that can be very effective at certain things. And I've found, at least right now, the more useful thing is to get to the root of the problem you're trying to solve and make sure you agree with everybody on that premise.

So, yes, you may have come from a world where fast iteration and a really fluent language interface like Ruby has and a really fast iteration cycle like Rails has, is, like, the most important need to be solved because other things have been solved. You understand what you're doing for your product, or maybe you need to iterate quickly on that product. You've figured out an audience. You're getting payroll. You're meeting all that as a business.

But then you go into a business that's potentially, like, let's say, much less funded. Or they have their market fit, and now they're working on, like, extreme performance optimization, or they're working on getting, like, government compliance, or something like that. And maybe Rails is still great. This is maybe a...the analogy may fall apart here. But let's pretend it isn't for some reason. You have to agree that, hey, like, yes, we've solved problem X that Rails really helps you solve. And now we're moving on to problem Y, and Rails may not help you solve that, or whatever technology you're using may not help you solve that.

And I've found it to be much more useful to stop worrying about the means, and the tools, the things in between, and worry about the ends, worry about the goal, worry about the problems you're actually trying to solve. And then you can feel really invested in trying to solve that problem together as a group, as a team, as a community. I've found that to be very helpful.

And I would also like to say it is extremely difficult to let some of that stuff go. It takes a lot of work. I see you nodding along. Like, it's really, really hard. And, like I said, I'm not totally done with it either. But that's, I think, it's something I'm really working on now and something I feel really strongly about.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. You mentioned the friction of, like, working in an environment where there are different opinions, which is, you know, I don't know, just, like, reality, I guess [laughs].

EDWARD: Human nature.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, exactly. And one thing I was thinking about recently was, like, okay, like, so someone else maybe made a decision about using a type of technology or, like, made a decision about architecture before my time or, like, above me, or whatever, right? Like, I wasn't there, and that is okay. But also, like, how do I maintain what I believe in and hold fast to, like, my opinions based on my value system, at least, without complaining? [laughs]

Because I've only seen that a little bit before, right? When it just becomes, like, venting, right? It's like, ugh, like, you know, I have seen people who are coming from maybe, like, microservices or more of a JavaScript world, and they're like, ugh, like, what is going on with Rails? Like, this sucks [laughs].

And one thing I've been trying lately is just, like, communicating when I don't agree that something's a great idea. But also, like, acknowledging that, like, yeah, but this is how it is for this team, and I'm also not in a position to change it. Or, like, I don't feel so strongly about it that I'm like, "Hey, we should totally rethink using this, like, background job [laughs] platform."

But I will be like, "Hey, like, I don't like this particular thing about it. And, you know, maybe here are some things that I did to mitigate whatever thing I'm not super into," or, like, "If I had more time, this is what I would do," and just putting it out there. Sometimes, I don't get, like, engagement on it. But it's a good practice for me to be, like, this is how I can still have opinions about things, even if I'm not, at least in this particular moment, in a position to change anything.

EDWARD: It sounds to me like you in, at least at the lowest level, like, you want to be acknowledged, and you want to, like, be heard. You want to be part of a process. And yes, it doesn't always go with Stephanie's initial thought, or even final thought, or Edward's final thought. But it is very helpful to know that you are heard and you are respected. And it isn't someone just, like, completely disregarding any feeling that you have.

As much as we like to say programming is this very, like, I don't know, value neutral, zero emotion kind of job, like, there's tons of emotion in this job. We want to do good things for the world. We want our technology to serve the people, ultimately, at least I do, and I know you do. But we sometimes disagree on the way to do that.

And so, you want to make sure you're heard. And if you can't get that at work, like, and I know you do this, but I would encourage anyone listening out there to, like, get a buddy that you can vent to or get somebody that you can express, and they will hear you. That is so valuable just as a release, in some ways, to kind of get through what you need to get through sometimes. Because it is a job, and you aren't always the person that's going to make the decisions.

And, honestly, like, you do still have one decision left, which is you can go work somewhere else if it really is that bad. And, like, it's useful to know that you are staying where you are because you appreciate the trade-offs that you have: a steady paycheck, or the colleagues that you work with, or whatever. And that's fine. That's an okay trade-off. And at some point, you might want to make a different trade-off, and that's also fine. We're getting real managery and real here. But I think it's useful. Like you said, this can be a very emotional career, and it's worth acknowledging that.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, you just, you know, raised a bunch of, like, very excellent points. Yeah, at the end of the day, like, you know, you can do your best to, like, propose changes or, like, introduce new tooling and, like, see how other people feel about it. But, like, yeah, if you fundamentally do not enjoy working with a critical tool that, you know, a lot of the foundation of the work that you're doing day to day is built off of, then maybe there is a place where, like, another company that's using tools that you do feel excited or, like, passionate or, like, are a better alignment with what you hope to be doing.

Kind of just going back to that theme that we were talking about earlier, like, everyone gets to decide for themselves, right? Like, the tools to help them do what they want to be doing.

EDWARD: And you could even, like, reframe it for yourself, where instead of it being about the tools, maybe it's about the problem. Like, you start being more invested in, like, the problem that you're solving and, okay, maybe you don't want to use microservices or whatever, but, like, maybe you can get behind that if you realign yourself. The thing you're trying to solve is not the tool. The thing you're trying to solve is the problem. And that can be a useful, like, way to mitigate that or to, like, help yourself feel okay about the thing, whatever that is.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. Now, how do I have this conversation with everyone [laughter] who claims on the internet that X is the solution to all their problems or the silver bullet, [laughs] or whatever?

EDWARD: Yeah, that's tough because there are some very strong opinions on the internet, as I'm sure [laughs] you've observed. I don't know if I have the answer [laughs]. Once again, nuance and indecisions.

I have been currently approaching it from kind of a meta-perspective of, like, if someone says, "X is the best tool," you know, "A hammer is the best tool," right? I'm not going to go write the post that's like, "No, hammer is, in fact, not the best tool. Don't use hammers." I would maybe instead write a post that's like, "Consider what makes the best tool." I've effectively, like, raised up one level of abstraction from, we're no longer talking about is X, or Y, or Z, the best tool? We're talking about how do we even decide that? How do we even think about that?

One post...I'm now just promoting my blog posts, so get ready. But one thing I wrote was this post called And Not But. And I tried to make the case that instead of saying the word but in a sentence, so, like, yeah, yeah, we might want to use hammers, but we have to use drills or whatever. I'm trying to make the case that you can use and instead. So yeah, hammers are really good, and drills are really good in these other scenarios.

And trying to get that nuance in there, like, really, really putting that in there and getting people to, like, feel that better, I think, has been really helpful, for me, certainly to get through. And part of the best thing about writing a blog post is just getting your own thoughts...I mean, it's another way to vent, right? It's getting your own thoughts out somewhere.

And sometimes people respond to them. You'd be surprised who just reaches out and been like, "Hey, yeah, like, I really appreciated that post. That was really great." You weren't trying to reach that person, but now you have another connection. So, a side benefit for writing blog posts [inaudible 30:17] do it, or just even getting your thoughts out via a podcast, via a video, whatever. So, I've kind of addressed that.

I also wrote a post when I worked at thoughtbot called Empathy Online. And that came out of, like, frustration with seeing people being too divisive or, in my opinion, unempathetic or inconsiderate. And instead of, again, trying to just say, "Stop it, don't do that," [laughs] but trying to, like, help use what I have learned when communicating in a medium that is kind of inherently difficult to get across emotion and empathy.

And so, again, it's, in some ways, unsatisfying because what you really want to do is go talk to that person that says, "Hammer is the best tool," and say, "No, stop it [laughs]," and, like, slap them on the head or whatever, politely. But I think that probably will not get you very far. And so, if your goal, really, is to change the way people think about these things, I find it way more effective to, like, zoom out and talk about that on that sort of more meta-level and that higher level.

STEPHANIE: Yeah. I liked how you called it, like, a higher level of abstraction. And, honestly, the other thing I was thinking about as you were talking about the, like, divisiveness that opinions can create, there's also some aspect of it, as a reader, realizing that one person sharing their opinion does not take away your ability to have a differing opinion [laughs].

And sometimes it's tough when someone's like, "Tailwind sucks [laughs], and it is a backward step in, you know, how we write CSS," or whatever. Yes, like, sometimes that can be kind of, like, inflammatory. But if you, like, kind of are translating it or, like, reading between the lines, they're just writing about their perspective from the things that they value. And it is okay for you to value different things and, for that reason, have a different perspective on the same thing.

And, I don't know, that has helped me sometimes avoid getting into that, like, headspace of wanting to argue with someone [laughs] on the internet. Or they'll be like, "This is why I am right." [laughs] Now I have to write something and share it on the internet in response [laughs].

EDWARD: There's this idea of the narcissism of minor differences. And I believe the idea is this, like, you know, you're more likely to argue with someone who, like, 90% agrees with you. But you're just, like, quibbling over that last 10%. I mean, one might call it bikeshedding. I don't know if you've heard that phrase.

But the thing that I have often found, too, is that, like the GitHub post, I will get people arguing with me, like, there's the kind of stuff I expected, where it's like, "Oh, but GitHub is really good," and XYZ and that's fine. And we can have that conversation. But it's kind of surprising, and I should have expected it, that people will sometimes be like, "Hey, you didn't go far enough. You should tell people to, like, completely delete their GitHub or, like, you know, go protest in the street." And, like, maybe that's true. I'm not saying it is or isn't.

But I think one thing I try to think about is, in any post, in any trying convincing argument, like, you're potentially moving someone 1 step forward, even if there's ten steps to go. But they're never going to make those ten steps if they don't make the first 1. And so, you can kind of help them get there. And someone else's post can absolutely take them from step 5 to 6 or 6 to 7 or 7 to 8. And you won't accomplish it all at once, and it's kind of a silly thing to try, and your efforts are probably lost [laughs].

Unfortunately, it's a little bit of preaching to the choir because, like, yeah, the people that are going to respond to, like, the extreme, the end are, like, the people that already get it. And the people that you're trying to convince and move along are not going to get that thing. I do want to say that I could see this being perceived as, like, a very privileged position of, like, if there's some, like, genuine atrocity happening in the world, like, it is appropriate to go to extremes many times and sometimes, and that's fine, and people are allowed to be there. I don't want to invalidate that. It's a really tricky balance.

And I'm trying to say that if your goal is to vent, that's fine. And if your goal is to move people from step 3 to 4, you have to meet people at step 3. And all that's valid and okay to try to help people move in that way. But it is very tricky. And I don't want to invalidate someone who's extremely frustrated because they're at step 10, and no one else is seeing the harm that not everybody else being at step 10 is. Like, that's an incredibly reasonable place to be and an okay place to be.

STEPHANIE: Yeah, yeah. The other thing you just sparked, for me, is also the, like, power of, yeah, being able to say like, "Yeah, I agree with this 50%, or 60%, or, like, 90%." And also, there's this 10% that I'm like, oh, like, I wish were different, or I wish they'd gone further, or I wish they didn't say that. Or, you know, I just straight up disagree with this step 1 sentence, but the rest of the article, you know, I really related to.

And, like, teasing that apart has been very useful for me, right? Because then I'm no longer like being like, oh, was this post good or bad? Do I agree with it or don't agree with it? It's like, there's room for [laughs] all of it.

EDWARD: Yeah, that's that nuance that, you know, I liked this post, and I did not agree with these two parts of it, or whatever. It's so useful.

STEPHANIE: Well, thanks, Edward, so much for coming on the show and bringing that nuance to this conversation. I feel really excited about kind of what we talked about, and hopefully, it resonates with some of our listeners.

EDWARD: Yeah, I hope so too. I hope I can take them from step 2 to step 3 [laughs].

STEPHANIE: On that note, shall we wrap up?

EDWARD: Let's wrap up.

STEPHANIE: Show notes for this episode can be found at bikeshed.fm.

JOËL: This show has been produced and edited by Mandy Moore.

STEPHANIE: If you enjoyed listening, one really easy way to support the show is to leave us a quick rating or even a review in iTunes. It really helps other folks find the show.

JOËL: If you have any feedback for this or any of our other episodes, you can reach us @_bikeshed, or you can reach me @joelquen on Twitter.

STEPHANIE: Or reach both of us at hosts@bikeshed.fm via email.

JOËL: Thanks so much for listening to The Bike Shed, and we'll see you next week.

ALL: Byeeeeeeeee!!!!!!


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