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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The speaker or the content

One thing that's always bugged me is the way some people assume certain other people are always correct in all things. They get this notion in their head that just because a statement came from so and so, it has to be the right way to go. This can lead to a bunch of suboptimal decisions being supported for a project.

I saw this happening with a project I worked on with a few friends many years ago. Due to the way it was set up, I was essentially the gatekeeper to the project's code base. Anyone could propose anything, but it had to get past me to get checked in. I did this more for coordination and consistency than anything else. It would keep two different people from both building functions which did the same job without realizing it. I'd spot the anomaly and would get them talking to each other.

The trouble with that arrangement is that some people came to see me as someone who was always right when making decisions about what went in and what didn't, and that obviously couldn't be the case. Nobody can do that. Everyone is going to make a mistake sooner or later.

I finally had to put forth a simple notion: just because I said it doesn't mean it's right. It just means I happened to say a given thing at a certain point in time. Now, it's entirely possible I know more about a certain component than someone else, but even then, that isn't an automatic veto. At the very least, there should be discussion on a point of contention so that even if agreement isn't reached, they understand why I have to make the choice that I did.

With a software project, that notion had to be extended a bit. Just because it's in the tree doesn't necessarily mean it's perfect and fixed in stone. It just means that right now, it's in there, and it's probably the best thing we have going for the moment. It may just be that someone sent it to me before you sent in your contribution. Whatever. It shouldn't be taken as a statement in favor of one over the over.

That kind of value assignment can only really come from a reasonable discussion about the finer points of a decision. Fortunately, I like talking about stuff and helping people better understand a field or decision I had to make, so that's usually not a problem.

I guess this should be obvious, but this applies to things I write here. I certainly hope that nobody sees a post from me and assumes it's spot-on just because it came from me. Maybe once in a while I'll come up with something really good, but it's not reasonable to think that it's all going to be gold.

There are over 800 posts in here. Some of them have to be stinkers. Assuming otherwise just doesn't make sense.

This is just another way of thanking people for their thoughtful comments both here and elsewhere. I realize it's a non-trivial amount of work to truly digest and respond to the root of something, and those opposing viewpoints have a way of broadening my horizons.

I reserve the right to change my mind if given new data. You should too.