Jesse Thorn recently posted a thoughtful list called “Nine Questions to Ask Before You Criticize Creators”, which I want to share here. With a Twitter feed full of people’s hot takes and complaints about companies whose services they use, I found this article to be a very necessary dose of empathy.
Creators make themselves vulnerable every time they share their work. Just because they share something doesn’t mean they are looking for feedback (especially negative comments). Thorn’s questions are a useful guide to navigating how and when to provide criticism. If you have something negative to say about someone’s work, think carefully about what you say, how you say it, whom you say it to, and why you feel the need to share.
As a developer, I think there are a lot of lessons to take away from this piece. When reviewing another developer’s code for example, we sometimes see our colleagues take an approach we didn’t expect and perhaps don’t like. Oftentimes, this is worth having a discussion about so that the team is all on the same page and can start to circle around a set of standard practices.
But sometimes, your distaste for a piece of code is just your taste, or as Thorn asks, “Is your opinion just, like, your opinion man?” Do have a valid reason for preferring tabs to spaces or do you just like the way it looks? Once in a while these distinctions really matter, but a lot of the time we’re bikeshedding. I’ve been guilty of this more times than I care to admit.
When we approach other people’s creations with some empathy, we encourage them to try out novel approaches and take healthy risks. As developers, we can help our teammates grow and allow them to feel confident taking on more ambitious features. Thorn’s questions are something I’ll be coming back to often because I want the communities I participate in to be places people can go out of their comfort zones without being made to feel uncomfortable by others.