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 do 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
Today’s SQL Server 2012 Anniversary question is:
I thought the image I created above might inspire you.
Follow @SQLServer on Twitter and answer their daily questions to win fame and prizes.
NoSQL started out as meaning “No SQL” as in “No Relational Databases”. It represented a movement to replace RDMBSs like SQL Server, DB2, Oracle, MySQL and Sybase. Over time, the more adept architects realized that there’s a place for both relational and non-relational technologies. However, NoSQL was a brand at this point, so like KFC, they redefined this as meaning “Not Only SQL”. This has been a nice turn of events, but it’s still a branding issue.
I believe the NoSQL community needs a new name – a new brand – to say what the community stands for. In fact, I was on a closing panel at NoSQL Now! that discussed this need. We didn’t really come up with an answer, but the general consensus was saying you aren’t isn’t nearly as helpful as saying what you are.
So what are those solutions that aren’t relational? DocBlobGraphEVA?
Because everyone needs more moustache in their lives, right?
I can’t wait to visit with Commander Hadfield via the International Space Station this Thursday at the Canadian Space Agency Day in the Life of Chris Hadfield CSATweetup. There’s even a phone call with William Shatner. We’ll also hear from CSA scientists and investigators and Astronaut Jeremy Hansen (@astro_jeremy)
There may be photos and tweets. Set your filters to stun.
Subscribe via E-mail
- My links of the week – December 8, 2013 | R4 on 10 Tips for the Minimalist DBA
- Doing It Right: Performance Monitoring and Troubleshooting - SQL Server - SQL Server - Toad World on 10 Tips for the Minimalist DBA
- Doing It Right: Performance Monitoring and Troubleshooting - SQLRockstar - Thomas LaRock on 10 Tips for the Minimalist DBA
- Robert L Davis on Trolling the #24HoP
- Cindy Gross on Strutting: We all Know When You are Doing It. So Stop.
- December 2013 (1)
- November 2013 (1)
- October 2013 (3)
- September 2013 (3)
- August 2013 (2)
- July 2013 (4)
- June 2013 (5)
- May 2013 (7)
- April 2013 (5)
- March 2013 (4)
- February 2013 (7)
- January 2013 (12)
- December 2012 (2)
- November 2012 (3)
- October 2012 (3)
- September 2012 (13)
- August 2012 (5)
- July 2012 (17)
- June 2012 (2)
- May 2012 (4)
- April 2012 (4)
- March 2012 (8)
- February 2012 (11)
- January 2012 (3)
- December 2011 (10)
- November 2011 (8)
- October 2011 (5)
- September 2011 (3)
- August 2011 (9)
- July 2011 (5)
- June 2011 (5)
- May 2011 (5)
- April 2011 (9)
- March 2011 (4)
- February 2011 (9)
- January 2011 (8)
- December 2010 (15)
- November 2010 (27)
- September 2010 (2)
- August 2010 (1)
- July 2010 (4)