Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Burnout, Part 1: Labor

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Disclaimer: Once upon a time I worked for a web development company that no longer exists. Several years of my life and career involved that company. This comic, and some more to come, will involve parts of my life during that time, and as a result involves the actions of others that worked there. I want to state clearly: these are not meant to be posts about them. They aren’t attacks. They’re posts about me, and defining moments that impacted my life, which just happen to involve them. Humans are complex shades of grey, a mixture of good and bad decisions. I’m not trying to paint anyone as a villain. Please bear that in mind.

CSSquirrel #109: Burnout, Part 1: Labor

The reasons that CSSquirrel ground to a halt over the years are legion. Like everything in life, it came from a recipe with many ingredients. But the comic above describes the nexus of those reasons. The intentional exploitation and the lack of a *single* word of thanks, never mind remuneration, hurt. It hurt so much that I have tried and failed to write about it over a dozen times in the past two years, each time deleting it for fear of “causing drama”, while simultaneously trying to dig the burning embers out of my gut. It became a logjam, standing in the way between the part of my mind that was motivated to make comics and write blog posts, and the rest of the world.

Labor Day weekend, 2013, was the single worst experience I’d ever had as an employee. It was worse than working in a call center. It was worse than having a hamburger thrown at me by an angry customer when working in fast food. It was worse than arriving for my shift at the grocery store that was my first job only to learn that more than half of the store’s employees, including myself, were laid off without notice.

In old tweets at the time I referred to the incident as my own personal road to Damascus, and to Angular (which I first learned in that fateful project) as my personal Ananias. I wasn’t converted to the faith of a framework, mind you. This is a conversation for another time, but I’ve always had an uncomfortable tension with Angular, which seems to me to enjoy complexity for its own sake. Instead my eyes were opened onto financial conflicts of interest between myself and my employers involving my career trajectory. I was pushed into a 90 hour week for the sake of making a client project easier to sell while making a profit. Worst yet, they were hoping to have me do that for them more often.

It was the first time that I thought “Maybe these people don’t have my best interests at heart”.

That loss of faith, that loss of innocence, was never recovered. It was also the key moment where my hair literally went overnight from a largely brown mass with a few silver rogues to something strongly entering the “salt and pepper” category. And with that was lost a large portion of the joy that I experienced as a developer. The joy that comes from staring at a screen for hours as I wrote code that made cool interactions and fascinating experiences that non-coders equated to magic.

I’ve been programming since I was twelve. That’s over two decades of coding, as either a hobby, or a job, or both. Other people play Frisbee golf or carve bears out of trees with chainsaws to relieve the stress of life. I would make a video game or build a website.

And then that sense of fun was gone. It was just a job. And I had to fight for respect in that job. For my self-worth. Every moment of coding became solely an exercise in self-improvement and proving my right to be in this career.

There was no place for a comic about a squirrel, or humorous quips about browser standards, when I was in that place. I still deeply cared about web development. I cared about my career. But I didn’t have the luxury of having fun with it anymore. I’d go through the motions. Quips on Twitter. I would open Photoshop and move around shapes. I would make a note of a development in the field and say “I really need to make a comic about that.” And nothing came of it.

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. It’s a stupid saying. But it does heal some. The joy of coding, the sense of fun has rejuvenated as I’ve joined new teams, had new experiences, and even been lucky enough to travel internationally for conferences related to web development. There is a renewed sense of whimsy. And I can’t think of a better balm for this oft-harsh world than whimsy.

The truth is, I miss the squirrel. The little fuzzy guy is an avatar of excited energy that represented the frenetic, irrational excitement I have about being part of this community of developers and designers. The crazy things we can do, and the esoteric disagreements we can have trying to do them, and the amazing, life-changing people I’ve met here.

And, for reasons that never fail to amaze me, there’s others out there that seem to be missing the squirrel as well.

So, clearly when put to a vote, the answer is “A world with the squirrel is better than one without one.” Who am I to argue with that?

Snow, Blood and Cookies

Friday, December 9th, 2011
CSSquirrel #90: Snow, Blood and Cookies

Today’s comic features Opera’s viking doing some nasty, brutal stuff. Because if a public community representative of Opera acts out of line, and the company doesn’t call them on it, they might as well be endorsing it. Luke Wroblewski also stars as the stand-in for well-meaning folk who are trying make peace at the expense of correcting bad behavior.

Buckle up.

I’m going to throw myself on the grenade and be the curmudgeon.

You don’t have to like what I’m about to say, but I think you need to read it.

We are, as a community, allowing ourselves to be abused. We’re Kevin Bacon in Animal House, bent over in our underwear and thanking someone for beating us. And, like any sadist with a free pass, they’re continuing to hit us again, and again, and again.

I get it. It’s the holidays. We’re stressed out by end-of-year deadlines, driving on icy roads and getting our Christmas shopping completed and hoping that at the end of the day we can kick back an egg-nog and just be merry. We don’t want the stress of confronting and condemning bad behavior, so we’re trying our damnedest to shrug it off.

Additionally, most of us want to be liked. And we want our friends to like each other. Whether it’s in our neighborhoods, in our Facebook profiles, or in our professional circles we just want people to be friendly and think highly of one another, but especially us. So when a flare-up starts between two peers we’d rather put our fingers in our ears and hum the Benny Hill theme song than owe up to the fact that there’s a problem.

But I’m here to be the bearer of bad news: there is a problem. Not only that, we’re responsible for it.

When I was growing up, my mother made it clear that certain behavior was not acceptable. Among other rules of childhood, I couldn’t go about tossing insults at people. Not my parents. Not my siblings and not friends. Heck, I was expected to maintain at least some decorum around the kids I disliked.

Going outside the bounds of socially acceptable behavior carried with it a penalty. Maybe soap in the mouth, or a spanking, or being grounded in my room, or at the bare minimum no desert after dinner. It was unpleasant. I was a pretty big crybaby, so any sort of punishment or chastising resulted in a waterfall of tears and a sniffling cry that would last for hours. I guarantee my mother hated having to deal with it. She probably would have enjoyed her evenings much more pretending I didn’t doing anything wrong, instead of listening to me cry and sniffle in my room as she desperately tried to read a book in peace.

But she did it anyway. As a result, I learned the difference between right and wrong and stopped doing the bad behavior. It didn’t mean that I stopped thinking ill of kids I disliked, or devising a choice insult for my brother when he provoked my ire. But it did mean I knew it was unacceptable to act on those thoughts, and it made me consider my words before I said them. If, after a good hard think I decided it was worth provoking my mother’s wrath, I’d still take the risk of insulting someone.

I did, however, think first.

In a pattern that goes back probably for quite some time but for certain seems to have flared up this week we’ve been permitting ourselves to be subject to bad behavior. We’d rather read our books in peace, so we are ignoring the misdeeds of an entitled few in the hopes that it will all go away.

And it’s not going away.

There’s literally thousands of amazing, talented developers and designers currently involved in making the Web a better place. A whole lot of them are like me, working hard for a very modest living in a small design firm that doesn’t get awards or fancy big-name clients. A great many also work as embedded Web people in a large corporation or other entity, thanklessly fighting the ignorance or misinformation of their bosses and co-workers while trying to apply their awesome skills to making their corporate site a better, slicker place to visit.

Then there’s the superstars, Web folk that work as community representatives and star developers for the big Web companies that take leadership roles (by fiat or by standards) in developing and proselytizing the advancement of the very technologies we use to make awesome Web stuff.

These people don’t just speak at conferences, they speak at dozens of conferences. They don’t just make cool web projects. They make amazing, cutting-edge projects that push forward the meaning of “good Web design”. They talk a lot about community participation and self-learning and being involved.

They’re intelligent, creative and successful people.

Sometimes, they can be utter dicks.

Anyone can be a jerk. From the drug-addled homeless man currently shooting up in the alley down the street from my office to the richest men in the world. Every person is capable of forgetting those lessons in basic decency that their parents (hopefully) taught them as children and slip up from time to time.

When it happens, it’s usually considered acceptable to say “Dude. No.”

The worse the bad behavior, usually the more stringent the chastisement should be. Action. Consequence. It’s a no-brainer, right?

But what happens when thought leaders, community representatives of important companies in the industry, and superstar talents start to repeatedly engage in or endorse bad behavior? It usually goes something like this.

  1. The superstar does something socially unacceptable. Like refer to a recent article by the owner of a small design firm as drug-enduced bullshit. (original was deleted, here’s a retweet).
  2. Individuals call the superstar on the behavior, noting how unacceptable an action it is. Especially for a community representative of a major player in our industry (although, really, it’s just unacceptable period).
  3. The superstar sort of apologizes. Usually in the vein of “I’m sorry for using strong language” or “I’m sorry you got upset”.
  4. The individuals (rightfully) insist that’s not an acceptable response, and demand a genuine, public apology.
  5. The superstar does so.
  6. Supporters of the superstar retaliate by calling the original individuals the curmudgeons in this situation. They in essence defend the bad behavior by shaming them for “bullying” the superstar, say the “crap” they’re saying is undeserved.
  7. The rest of the community, straining to retain a smile, do everything in their power to bury the “firestorm” under a (likely well meant) pile of hugs and cookies universally handed out to everyone involved, including those that defended the bad action and the superstar that did it in the first place. All are pardoned, nobody is wrong.
  8. The superstar states how tired they are of the drama… seemingly ignoring the fact that it was their own behavior that caused it.

This is all sorts of messed up. Nobody’s learned a lesson, because as a community we’re too concerned about “drama” that we’ll do anything to quash it instead of uniting as a community to call down the person who started the drama with their attack in the first place. We’re sending such a mixed message of supporting the peace or the person without collectively condemning the behavior.

Anyone who ever raised a kid or was a kid knows exactly where that will lead. To more bad behavior.

I’m not calling for punishment. But the launch of a pro-community “make the web better” website (which I will not be linking or mentioning by name for reasons I’ll make clear below) should have been a source of joy in the holiday season. Instead, two individuals tied to that effort have engaged in either passive/aggressive sniping or outright insulting of individuals and their efforts in this week alone. And according to people in the know, this isn’t the first time for some of those involved. And what kills me, what hurts me is how highly I thought of these people prior to now. But how can I promote the work of people who engage in socially abusive bad behavior?

I can’t. No matter how much I agree with the message of their product, I cannot in good conscience promote their goods and services when they’re behaving in a fashion that I know to be wrong. And as near as I can tell, they’re not sorry for how they’ve behaved. They’re simply sorry they were called on it.

The only way we’re going to improve as a community is to grow up and realize we can’t hide everything under soothing hugs and cookies. People messed up. Worse yet, people who are well known and respected representing companies with power or social clout messed up. If they are protected for their behavior, they will continue to abuse us, the community. And many of us will, over time, mimic that behavior in a misguided attempt to become as successful as they are.

Shame on you, Divya. Shame on you, Paul. You’re grown adults. You know better.

Next time you want to blame the drama, stop for a moment and think about who actually started it.

And to the rest of you, I’m sorry. I don’t want a cookie. I want it made clear that this behavior should never have happened, and can’t be allowed to keep occurring.

Happy holidays.

Surrender Monkey

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Gruber says: “It’s not that Google is worse on net neutrality than other companies with a stake in the mobile phone game. It’s that they made such a show of being better, of being on the side of the public interest — before they had a big stake in the game.”

Word.

This is in reference to this piece by Ryan Singel on Wired, entitled Why Google Became A Carrier-Humping, Net Neutrality Surrender Monkey.

Gruber’s response is short, sweet and quotable. Ryan’s piece is worth the read. Both manage to say, eloquently, reasons that Google’s behavior is poor behavior.

Cat’s out of the bag, Google. No more free passes for being the “people’s champion”.

Average Users Aren’t Idiots (We Don’t Live In Narnia and Your Friends Aren’t Talking Otters)

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Ok, the iPad.

Whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

I’m annoyed by all the defense of the device’s failures by my peers who are justifying the shortcomings as features that only mega-geeks want; they say that the mythical ‘average user’, like some strange breed of lobotomized unicorn, is not interested in these issues. (*cough* Jeff Croft’s iPad Thoughts and Jason Beaird’s iPad: It’s not for us are two stellar examples of this ‘average user’ argument *cough*)

Really? Are you patting yourself on the back that much about how awesome you are that you think it’s still 1999 and we’re logging onto the Internet via a series of loud angry screeches? (Oh dialup modems, how I don’t miss you.) Virtually everyone (in America, at least) uses browsers on a very regular basis. Over 350 million people use Facebook. There’s been these little instant messaging programs with names like MSN or gTalk  for a long, long time now. My friend’s grandparents use Skype to talk to their friends in other countries.

What these people lack isn’t a taste for the features we geeks have been talking about. What they lack is the terminology for it. My mom isn’t going to say she wants “multitasking.” She is, however, going to want to have her browser open to look at websites while having access to her IM program to chat with family and friends.

That basic pair of tasks: browsing + chat, does not exist on the iPad. That is a single example that fits the everyday life of millions of people. To tell me that some sort of mythical upper class are the only ones who want to do that is to live a magical life in Narnia, where your friends are mostly talking animals; the majority of which lack opposable thumbs.

One last thing: the App Store. You want to run a program on the iPad? Better hope that Apple wants you to have it. Have fun surfing the Internet without Flash. For better or worse, a good part of the web still runs on it. Apple seems to be pushing farther towards a closed ecosystem, which is the complete opposite of what most of us standardistas believe in. You can’t pretend the device is the replacement to a netbook when it doesn’t have the same breadth and variety of software. Some people celebrate it, claiming the closed ecosystem of the App Store makes it somehow better, filled only with quality software.

Like iFart, which for a time was the #1 app in the store.

The iPad does have a lot going for it (however, the name is killing me.) But let’s not pretend that we’re some rare breed of horse, and that these shortcomings only impact 1% of users. Because that’s clearly a fantasy, and the average person lives in the real world, just like us.

The Squirrel in Crisp Audio! SitePoint podcast “HTML5 is a beautiful mess”

Friday, January 15th, 2010

On Wednesday I had the honor and pleasure of participating in a podcast recording session with HTML5 Doctor Bruce Lawson, Beginning Web Design author Ian Lloyd, and SitePoint’s Kevin Yank in a discussion about HTML5, and whether it’s just exploded over all our face.

The end product, “HTML5 is a beautiful mess” is now up at SitePoint. I’d be tickled pink if you took the time to listen.

As you may recall, I discussed ranted about this subject on Monday with the strip The HTML5 Show (AKA a Mess) and the related post.

Mostly, HTML5′s a mess in the political sense. The organizations behind it (W3C and WHATWG) are increasingly in conflict with one another. Additionally, in my opinion, Ian Hickson is increasingly disregarding any attempt at a legitimate process and simply putting what he pleases in the spec, as he pleases.

The podcast touches on that matter, and spins out to the state of the actual implementation of HTML5 itself, whether there’s a challenge in getting designers and developers to start using it, the issues of accessibility in <canvas>, and how delightful it’d be to move past plugins.

If I have one beef with the whole podcast, it’s the fact that I’m talking with a pair of Brits. Which, as every movie-going American knows, instantly sound more clever due to their crisp accents. Also, if the transcript is any guide, my sentences tend to roll off the rail quite a bit, inflicting casualties to adherents to the English language.

So, if you have the time, please go have a listen, and then please come on back here and post any thoughts you had at my butchery of verbs, the points that the participants brought up (or even better, the points we didn’t) and how lovely Bruce Lawson’s voice is.