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
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
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>