Developing a Thick Skin for Tech Work

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Participating in the open-source community can prove invaluable for your career. Collaborating with like-minded folks on interesting projects used by thousands of people is the kind of thing that plays well on a resume. So what’s preventing some new tech pros from participating in open source?

In a word, kindness—or lack thereof.

In a recent blog posting, Scott Hanselman, a programmer and speaker, decried what he perceives as a lack of courtesy among developers. “There are folks in open source—successful folks—that think that all this talk of ‘niceness’ is overrated,” he wrote. “There are many folks out there with skills and knowledge that are not joining open source because their initial attempts to [contribute] were rebuffed.”

The debate over civility among programmers has gone on for years, of course. In a somewhat-notable Google+ posting from late 2014, open-source developer Lennart Poettering described his community as “sick.” (To be fair, other developers and columnists pushed back at his assertion, attempting to reposition the community as more balanced.) It doesn’t help that some of the leading lights among developers, such as Linus Torvalds, are infamous for their (sometimes hilarious) smackdowns of colleagues and software, which potentially contributes to an aggressive culture.

If you’re a newbie to software development, it can prove difficult to develop the thick skin necessary for online discussion. Here are some tips for doing so:

Focus on Your Goals

Don’t let nasty feedback distract you from your core mission. You have something you want to do with your career, and a time frame to do it in; the longer you keep pushing forward, the further in the past you’ll leave a particularly nasty comment.

Step Away (for a Minute)

If the online criticism and trash-talk becomes too much, take a break. Get some fresh perspective by stepping away from your screen and doing something totally unrelated to software. When you come back, chances are good that whatever upset you before will seem small and petty in retrospect.

Find the Positive People

The good folks are out there. Once you find people devoted to politeness and constructive criticism, stick with them—if they’re experienced, they could also become excellent mentors.

Image Credit: Smit/Shutterstock.com

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