Monday, May 26, 2003

Culture Clash

Like many programmers, I subscribe to a handful of fairly active mailing
lists. After a while, you start to recognize names, since something like 90% of the
traffic on a list comes from the same 5% of the membership. Read a little longer,
and you can even sort of get to know people you’ve never met in person.

One guy I recognize from various lists is Thomas Tomiczek. He clearly
has substantial technical knowledge, but I’d always written him off as, well,
a jerk. He tends to write things like this:

Well, frankly - a very
ignorant attitude.

I myself generally try never to use words like “ignorant”
when replying to people in a public forum, and seeing these types of comments from
Thomas over and over again really colored my opinion of him, to the point where I
found myself reluctant to contribute when he had
questions. A recent conversation I had put the whole thing into a different light.

My wife started her career at a company that has a very high percentage
of international employees. Many of these people are now in her (and by extension,
my) social circle. It’s a rare gathering where I’m not the
only white American male present. Unsurprisingly, the conversation occasionally turns
to the differences between American culture and others.

One comment in particular caught my attention. A French friend of mine
was talking about how it was very difficult to get accustomed to American workplace
attitudes towards criticism. In his experience, Americans are unabashed cheerleaders
of each other. This contrasted sharply with his experience in France. For example,
in France his manager would have no hesitation over calling him on even relatively
small errors. Even grudging compliments were high praise. In contrast, he was taken
aback when – in the US – he performed some routine task adequately and
got a hearty “Good job!” from his supervisor.

From Thomas’s emails, I can tell that English isn’t his
first language. So it makes me view his emails in a new light: rather than being unnecessarily
harsh, I can see where he might view them as being simply unabashedly honest.

I don’t have to tell anyone reading this that email is an inexact
medium for expressing information with intent. Even the emoticon-laden messages that
I find myself occasionally embarrassed to be the author of can only convey so much
out-of-band information.

I’m not sure I care to actually make a point out of these observations,
but having a blog means never having to say you’re sorry. <emoticon mode="gratiuitous">:)</emoticon>


  1. This past week I wrote to Thomas off-list in response to a post he made on DOTNET-CLR. I characterized his response as being of a "personal" nature, and let him know that I thought it was inappropriate. However, I had not considered any potential cultural disconnects when interpreting his writing or when responding to it. Maybe I'll consider that next time as well, although I think that decorum and respect for the opinions of others ought to trascend cultural boundaries. There needs to be a balance.

  2. Point well taken, I agree randy.

  3. Yeah, I didn't call it out in the post, but there's a real possibility that Thomas is *also* a jerk. :) But I think I would have a hard time agreeing with the claim that there's any sort of objective standard for respect - read "How to ask Questions the Smart Way" ( sometime to see an alternate take on how gruffness is a form of respect.

    Now I certainly *would* agree that the community (say the OT list) is going to form its own culture, and that if someone repeatedly steps outside the boundaries set by that culture - regardless of how it measures up to their own background - they shouldn't be too surprised if no one wants to talk to them any more.

  4. He is a jerk. You were right to write him off. How did he ever become an MVP?

  5. Craig, I agree that there isn't a subjective standard for respect. It is subjective, and is best "defined" in the context of communities and their standards, as you suggested using the OT list as an example. Like the old reference to pornography goes though, "I know it when I see it."

  6. I think craig's point is valid. I have been a passive observer of developmentor mailing lists since the heady COM/ATL days. There are quite a few people who because of their cultural disconnects end up saying things that they don't really mean. Now there is more than even possibility Thomas Tomiczek is a real jerk (recently even Mike Gunderloy got frustrated with him for calling the posters "Boys"), but when you don't know somebody intimately its better to give him the benefit of doubt.

  7. He is a jerk. How he became an MVP blows my mind.

  8. I've seen Thomas' interaction with others on the DevelopMentor group and on Microsoft's newsgroups. I'm afraid it's not a "culture thing". The man is simply rude and dismissive, especially to newbies. Someone really needs to educate him on the concept of "there are no dumb questions." I have often wondered how many people avoid asking questions (and thereby lose the opportunity to learn) simply because they don't want to get flamed by someone like Thomas for trying to understand.

    This is a common failing amongst the geek community; for some reason, several of us seem to have used the brain-space normally reserved for courtesy to store code snippets.

  9. In response to Andy's post, my question is this:

    Is 'there are no dumb questions' truly a universal?

    I mean, clearly, we need to draw the line somewhere. Questions like, "How do I send email?" are noise in a forum like one of the DM lists. I personally wouldn't call someone out for asking a question like that once, but what if they did it twenty times? A hundred? Three?

    What I'm saying is that if there's a line, everyone would likely draw it in a different place, and that where you draw it is influenced by your culture. Is it ever influenced strongly enough that 'flaming' someone (another subjective term) is justified after one post? Again, *I* would say no, but is that just my culture talking?

    I honestly don't know the answer - I just like to think about the question when I'm tempted to write someone off. Of course, ultimately, some people still need to be written off. :)

  10. I thought a bit about this before I decided to post, so here it goes. At first I too was taken back from the way Tomas would reply, I then started to think that it may be a culture thing but now decided against that as well, only for the reason that Tomas isn't the only person on the list whose mother tongue is not English but seem to be the one (or one in a very small list) who reply the way he does. Maybe this is the way he just is, some people are happy people, some people are just angry in nature, Tomas is just being Tomas I guess.

  11. Yeah, so I've found out a few things that lead me to believe that he's a actually a jerk, not just culturally biased. The strongest argument being that other Europeans have zero problem contributing constructively - Ingo Rammer is one that comes to mind, but there are tons of others.

    I still stand by my original observation, namely that cultural differences should be considered when trying to understand people you've never met. But it looks like in his particular case, it's deeper than just where he grew up.

  12. I know this is an old thread, but I was googling for some sql support and accidently came across this post Thomas participated in:

    I never heard of Thomas before, but I was angered by the way Thomas acted towards this programmer and decided to Google him. You can see the way Thomas berates him all through this post. I really just wanted to smack this guy. Thankfully this thread allowed me to blow off some steam knowing I wasn't the only one who felt that way. :-)

    Check out these quotes:

    > I can't understand you...

    Thomas: But you know how to read documentation?

    Thomas: Reading some good books is a

    way more efficient way to get knowledge than running around and asking questions for which you actually don't have the knowledge to understand the answer.

    Thomas: Hm - you know how to click the hyperlinks, right? Just wondering.

    Thomas is not smart. Knowledgable maybe, but not smart. Smart people don't act this way.

  13. Anyone else think that the new Thomas Tomiczek is a guy by the name of John Elliot (

  14. So, late but not invain I wanna tell you, that Mr. Tomiczek isn't an apropriated representant of german culture. I would call him a well known idiot. I know all his postings written on - in this discussion forum he showed a very arrogant image of himself.

    Fortunately his company went to insolvency. I hope this guy has disappeared 4ever from the stage of german IT-business! He always was a bad example of german behavior. Therefore I wouldn't take his statements towards craig and other foreign programmers, because he cannot be a measure for a well behaved and well educated german citizen. In Germany we call such person "Unterschicht" translated to english that means the underclass.

    I wish you Merry X-mas and a happy new year 2008! Greetings from Germany >:-)

  15. It's very nice of you to consider culture clash as a rationalization of TT's attitude. However, I still would rather interact with a person who has something constructive to say instead of being a complete condescending jerk. It's much less effort to be a complete jerk and tell someone how much of an idiot they are than actually taking the time to teach that someone something in a constructive way.

  16. Here's a comment about Thomas that I think even Thomas could perhaps understand given cultural differences and his grasp of the English vernacular. Thomas is a dick. He likes thinking of himself as superior and he trolls groups and posts just to show off his technical acumen but also, in turn, shows off his technical frailties, of which there are many (as there are in all of us, please). How dare he put down good ideas that don't jive with his own as ignorant. That just speaks volumes about his own insecurities. I can just imagine him on the playground as some skinny little boy who's too smart for everybody else and never gets any play, so he lashes out.

    PS - I've never interacted with him, and I never plan to. Microsoft should revoke his MVP status for his lack of international decorum.

  17. Ha ha, just listened to him on Polymorphic Podcast. This guy is incredibly arrogant. Puffing, wheezing, desperate to shout out why 95% of developers are crap (his words). What a jerk!

  18. He's an arrogant .net nazi. I would walk a 100 miles to piss in that guy's coffee..

  19. Unfortunately I know this guy personally. That is true it's an arrogant jerk, culturally biased, maybe because he is half German half Italian. When sb don;t know sth he immediately sends him to google and says "dont ask such stupid questions, or his favourite sentence "use your brain before you ask me such question".
    As he usually says that" 95% of people are idiots".That is his ideology. God no comment.