Rant Level: High. It’s Friday.
I was reading an ACM blog post by Judy Robertson about strutting, a tactic used by audience members at event. Robertson discusses a specific type of this behaviour, done by IT people: nerd strutting.
Garvin-Doxas and Barker (2004) refer to "strutting" as a style of interaction where people show off their knowledge by asking questions carefully designed to demonstrate that they know a lot about the topic, and quite possibly that they know more than everyone else around them. The problem with this in a learning situation is that students who lack confidence assume that they are the only person who doesn’t understand, and quickly feel even more demoralised.
The full paper is available if you’d like to read about the study these researchers did on Defensive Climate in the Computer Science Classroom.
I’m betting you’ve seen this behaviour before. In fact, I’d bet that if you attend enough events, you could name the people most likely to nerd strut before the speaker has even gotten 15 minutes into her presentation. They ask questions, often sprinkled with references to product codenames, Greek philosophers, small startups and archaic error numbers. They use highly jargonized terms. They use insider terms. They want you to feel outside the inner circle. They want you to know just how freaking smart they are. But you know what’s funny? The vast majority of the people in the room can see what they are doing and silently smirk.
I’m interested in hearing just what sorts of people fall for this bravado. Everyone else in the room talks about how insanely annoying the behaviour is, but no one wants to do anything about it. I’m not even sure what we can do about it, other than to ask audience members to stop.
Insults R Us
Another tactic that nerd strutters do is sit in the audience and stage whisper criticisms of the speaker and the topics. I find this incredibly annoying as an audience member. It doesn’t impress me, nor does it make me feel as if the strutmaster is actually convincing anyone he is superior. A variation of this is a group of people, chatting with each other and loudly snickering about the speaker or the topic.
If you are sitting in a presentation and you find it too "level 100” for your tastes, you should just get up and find a presentation more fitting for your enormous brain…or whatever body part is keeping you from learning anything.
Why it Matters
I know, some of you are saying “But Karen, just ignore the @$$#@+s that do this stuff”. I do, mostly. However, Garvin-Doxas and Barker found that the effect of many types of negative communication, even when it was not intended, has a negative impact on many students, especially women. Yes, women should suck it up and learn to play the game of competition. But we don’t do it that well. In general, women prefer a collaborative environment. We love a bit of friendly competition. But one where team members insult others in public? Not so much.
The authors point to the fact that IT work is highly collaborative. Supporting and enabling a culture of jabs, insults, mockery and distain works against that goal. I hear people constantly ranting that topic X should not be on a conference agenda because it is isn’t what *they* want learn. I say “choose another session – there are several other tracks”. When I see someone nerd strut in front of an entire audience, I want to call them out – tell them they are showing off. We can all tell when a question isn’t really a question. I don’t call people out on this, though, because no one else does.
What to Do
Robertson gives 3 tips in her blog post on dealing with nerd strutting. Go read them. I’d love to see the community deal with this in a consistent, collaborative way.
I’d like to add to them:
1. Encourage others to ask questions during presentations. One of the reasons why many nerd strutters can do what they do, often several times in the same session, is that very few people ask questions or give commentary. If enough people are asking legitimate questions, then the strutters get less show time.
2. Ask the Insult R Us people to take their conversation elsewhere. It’s annoying enough to hear anyone ramble on while you are trying to listen to the speaker. It’s not rude or unfair to ask people, no matter what they are talking about, to either be quiet or to wander somewhere else.
3. Stand up to people who insult the work of others. This one is the biggest pet peeve of mine. It’s fine for people to be proud of their own work. It’s not cool for them to insult the work of others just because they think it’s easy or low-level stuff. I don’t just draw boxes and lines all day. BI professionals don’t just draw bar charts all day. Developers don’t just type all day. We all have difficult jobs. I don’t need to step on someone else to raise myself up. I will continue to speak out to the people who need to insult others. I’m hoping you can, too.
From the paper:
Finally, when people communicate certainty in a dogmatic fashion, they also tend to communicate a low tolerance for disagreement. When defensive communication becomes habitual in a social context, it engenders a "defensive climate." Distrust of others becomes the norm, resulting in a social environment privileging competition over cooperation.
We all need to recognize that this negative behaviour hurts everyone. It poisons the community. It drives people away, especially new community members and those who want to work together to solve problems and build the community. And we all need to work together to keep people focused on making the community an inclusive, inviting environment.
Garvin-Doxas, K. and Barker, L. J. 2004. Communication in computer science classrooms: understanding defensive climates as a means of creating supportive behaviors. J. Educ. Resour. Comput. 4, 1 (Mar. 2004), 2. DOI= http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1060071.1060073
Many Toronto User Group members will be attending the PASS Summit in November in Seattle Washington, including me. If you work with SQL Server, this is the only community-driven event for SQL Server training, presentations, workshops and networking.
Would you like to join us? Use our PASS Summit Discount code / Coupon / promo code:
You can register now at http://www.sqlpass.org/summit/2014/RegisterNow.aspx and use the code to save $150 off full registrations. If you register before 27 June, you’ll get the best discount you can get right now and the Toronto User Group gets $50 to fund our meetings which start again in September. That’s right: you save some dough and our user group gets funding for our upcoming season that starts in September 2014.
If you can’t register now, no worries. You can still use our chapter code later.
Feel free to share this information with colleagues, even the discount code. The more the merrier. And the better you can love your SQL Server data.
Big data and NoSQL have led to big changes In the data environment, but are they all in the best interest of data? Are they technologies that "free us from the harsh limitations of relational databases?" as I recently blogged about at Dataversity.net?
In this month’s webinar (register now), we will be answering questions like these, plus:
- Have we managed to free organizations from having to do data modeling?
- Is there a need for a data modeler on NoSQL projects?
- If we build data models, which types will work?
- If we build data models, how will they be used?
- If we build data models, when will they be used?
- Who will use data models?
- Where does data quality happen?
- Are there NoSQL technologies for which data modeling will never apply?
Finally, we will wrap with 10 tips for data modelers in organizations incorporating NoSQL in their modern data architectures.
Join NoSQL expert extraordinaire Dan McCreary ( blog ) and others (including YOU!) as we talk about the future of data modeling and data modelers this Thursday, 26 June, at 2PM EDT.
We’ll also have some prizes to give a way, so plan on attending live.
(BTW, don’t get me started on the lame modeling styles/naming standards in stock photography. Maybe I should start making some for Getty Images?)
22 May 2014, 2PM EDT
It’s May, which sets this former Hoosier thinking of racetracks and Indy cars. I’m also a runner and that means I’m always thinking about pace and timings…and feeling guilty about not training hard enough.
This got me musing about how data modelers can speed up the data modeling process — not just during a development projects, but at all points in our work day. So let’s have a discussion about
In this month’s webinar, we’ll talk about:
- The Need for Speed
- Sprints, marathons and training
- Race cars, horses, carts, and feet
- Qualifiers and Races
- Pace cars
- Backseat drivers
- Rules, tickets and enforcement
- Fads, gadgets and automation
- Red, yellow, green and checkered flags
- How do you know when to stop racing?
Joining me in the discussion will be two wonderful panellists:
Donna Burbank, VP, Information Management Services at Enterprise Architects ( @donnaburbank )
Carol Lehn, MDM Database Designer at PepsiCo ( @lehnca )
And as usual, our attendees will have the opportunity to participate via chat and Q&A as our final panellist.
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