Curb your need to be right

by Andy Lester

In the well-connected world of Hollywood, as shown in the TV series "Curb Your Enthusiasm", what you say can have far-reaching effects. It's a lesson techies should learn.

The HBO comedy series stars
Larry David as a talented, loud-mouthed TV writer in Los Angeles. Whenever
he feels wronged, he always retaliates against his perceived opressor.
Unfortunately, in Hollywood, everyone knows
everyone else, and his big mouth, easily-bruised pride and huge ego come
back to haunt him.
In one episode, Larry berates a woman at a movie theater over a relatively minor slight.
He feels safe in arguing with and belittling her because she was a stranger, and he seems to enjoy it. He makes little jokes and snipes, since he's a pretty clever guy.
It wasn't until after the movie that Larry sees his nemesis talking
about him to the wife of someone with whom Larry is to make a business
deal with the next day. The meeting quickly goes south, of course.

Whenever I see "Curb" using this plot device (about as often as Mr. Roper
misunderstands something he overhears on
"Three's Company"),
I think of the parallels to the perils of the modern loudmouthed geek,
willing to disparage anyone and anything to anyone who will listen,
with no thought to the consequences. Losing a job like Larry isn't just TV.
I've discarded resumes of potentially capable job candidates because of
what I've seen on mailing lists. It's a very small world we're in.

It's surprising since sites like
Flickr and
are all about
making connections between people. If you mention to Person A something
disparaging about Company X, it's only a few quick jumps to Person
D who works at Company X, and shows it to someone in HR, or a future
hiring manager. You might not even have directed it to Person A, who
was merely a reader of the message forum you post to, as in the case
with my summarily-ignored job applicants.

Your comments don't even have to be actively passed on. Google knows all.
You should expect everything you've ever written as a blog entry, or commented on someone else's
blog, should be expected to show up on Google. Most mailing lists are
archived somewhere. People log IRC channel traffic, even if the rules
of the IRC network say that it's not allowed.

The most damaging situations, however, are still those where people know
each other, and pass on their impression of you to someone else. "Hey,
Andy, I've got this resume from this guy named Steve Grumpo. Says he
knows Perl. Ever heard of him?" "Grumpo, Grumpo... Yeah, doesn't he
work at FooCo? He sent this pissy email to the perl5-porters list a
couple of years ago griping about how the bug queue was getting handled.
Even when it was explained to him how things are, he wouldn't shut up.
Here, let me find the archived thread for you..." I've had many
conversations along those lines in the past few years.

The problem comes from two sources. First, in our roles as techs
and geeks, we pride ourselves in being intelligent and always right.
When challenged, we feel that we must preserve our honor. Second, and even worse,
we forget that the people typing at the other end of the network is a
person with feelings of his or her own. If you want to be completely
logical about it, forget the other person's feelings, and just think
of how well connected he or she is.

All of this can be easier said than done. I know I've pissed off a
few people in my life, and keeping my tongue in check is something I
struggle with whenever I feel slighted, whether in IRC or a mailing list.
Next time you feel a need to flame someone, or disparage anything, take a
minute to think about it and curb your enthusiasm for revenge, for your future's sake.

What have you said that's come back to bite you?