Ben Awad, a tech Youtuber I’ve been following for a while who mocks Angular and its users as a running joke on his Youtube channel and Twitter recently released a video explaining how what he’s been doing might be harmful after receiving criticism from the React god himself.
In the video and the discussion on Twitter, the 2 ideas of making low effort jokes that get tiring over time and making harmful jokes seem to be conflated and I’ll try to address that later on.
I believe the attitude that jokes about Angular or any other technologies is harming that community is problematic for different reasons but before you agree with me, I want to preface this by saying this isn’t a political take. I’m not “tired of snowflakes” and if you agree with me because you want everyone to stop being too sensitive, you should probably stop reading now.
Over the past 2 years I’ve had the privilege of moderating a programming community on Discord that’s now grown to over 50k members as well as being a member of a couple other ones. Undoubtedly, I learned a lot about programming during the years but I also learned a lot about how people view and talk about it.
There’s unfortunately a large chunk of programmers in these communities ranging from complete beginners to seasoned veterans who view their favorite languages and frameworks not as tools designed for specific tasks, but as lifelong companions. Watching programmers argue about whether Python is a “good beginner’s language” feels more akin to listening to your dad and uncle shout at each other across the living room during a soccer tournament rather than a reasonable discussion between experts (which is why we no longer allow discussions about what language beginners should start with anymore).
We spend a lot of time around our favorite tools, setting up dotfiles to make sure we’re not separated from our preferred technologies and working on getting better at a single programming language instead of hopping between many different ones to learn more. While none of these are unreasonable, it gets us more attached to our preferences and it leads to conflict in tech communities combined with other factors like:
- Developers often become confident in their opinions, choices and preferences as they improve, sometimes becoming too confident.
- Feeling like you’re a part of a community of unique people and seeing yourself as an Angular developer feels nicer than being just any other developer who uses whatever language is fit for the job.
- People are just very impressionable in general.
That last one resonates quite a bit with me. When taking my second programming class in a community college, I would often hear people who I knew were beginners say things like “Yeah man Python’s actually a kid’s language, C++ is much harder and just better” while the people around him who’ve also never used any language other than the one we were learning in class nodded in agreement. This was after I’ve already been exposed to the same kinds of arguments online so it wasn’t much of a shock to me but still frustrated me.
Don’t fall in love with your tools
So what does any of this have to do with making fun of technologies? I think tool attachment and advocacy is a serious problem in tech communities that prevents us from improving as developers and very often leads to people being defensive about tools they like and aggressive towards ones they don’t. There’s a very interesting article by Mark-Jason Dominus that approaches the same problem through the perspective of Perl, a language that’s fallen out of favor significantly among most developers by now, 2 decades after the article was written, but still had the zealots making the same arguments at the time.
Because of this, when I see replies like
Honestly man, this is not cool. It’s been kind of depressing to see you bash anything that starts with an A. I’m not the one to tell others about low effort posting but this is just tired.— Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) July 18, 2020
I say let the kids play Dan, let’s make fun of Angular and React and anything else. Let’s show that as developers, we don’t to create an identity based around tools. Technologies come and go and we don’t need to form emotional attachments to them, a joke or criticism aimed towards the tool of your choice isn’t an insult towards who you are. You can be a proud Vue developer or a carrot farmer, it just doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, you’re a developer like me. Sure it feels good to view yourself as a member of a community of developers who use the same tools as you, but you can do that without feeling like you have to pledge an allegiance to it.
I believe that becoming more comfortable with jokes thrown around at different technologies will prevent new, impressionable developers from blindly taking sides with the ones they personally enjoy using if they see that devs make fun of the idea of a single, superior tool.
I will admit, however, that the one problem with running amok with jokes is that when making them, the fact that they’re jokes has to be communicated clearly. It’s possible that jokes like these might still devolve into circlejerks where people repeat the same old incorrect things that are no longer meant to be funny and end up having the opposite intended effect.
A rare image of a highly sophisticated discussion about languages in an online programming community.
I definitely don’t want to encourage this, but I think that if people see that other programmers don’t take themselves and their tools too seriously, this will not happen.
I’m serious. I’ve seen a variation of tweets that are all like “angular bad” over the last few days and I think this lazy attempt at humor makes our community look like jerks and creates artificial division.— Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) July 18, 2020
I can understand where Dan is coming from with this. Like I said before, jokes can get out of hand and turn into something harmful and it’s definitely a good idea to consider that. I just don’t know if artificial division is a valid concern, it’s not like joking about programming tools is the same as joking about one’s gender or race. It’s not what makes you you and there’s definitely merit in separating your feelings from your tools.
Coming back to the idea of conflating bad jokes with harmful ones. I think, yes, Ben’s Angular jokes probably got a little bit too out of hand and it ended up being more annoying than funny for some (though I personally still enjoy them sorry not sorry). Dan’s comment of
low effort posting is definitely valid criticism. I just don’t think it was necessarily harmful towards any particular group that needs protection.
So keep poking fun at different technologies and being funny. When you’re at the receiving end of these, you need to remember that at the end of the day you are who you are and not what you use. Consider everything with a critical mindset and don’t take yourself too seriously.