Thou Shalt Not Commit Treason

Don’t Do This.  And Don’t Stand for it Either.

The Greatest Treason?

Today I want to go off-topic just a little bit, but in a way that I think is relevant to many of us as professionals.  And then bring it home, so to speak, specifically at the intersection of Analytics and Databases.

To me, there are few treasons greater than spending time on the receiving end of abuse, learning firsthand what that abuse feels like, and then subsequently becoming one who abuses others in a similar fashion.  I doubt that is a controversial position.  If you know what it’s like to be hurt, you have the least excuse for hurting others.  Duh.

And yet I’ve seen entirely too much of this in my adult life.  How many times did I watch a Microsoft executive (or manager) badger, insult, and demean someone in a large meeting?  (Too many to count).  How many times was it clear that said manager grew up suffering at the hands of the “jocks” and “cool kids” in school?  (Virtually 100% of the time – and trust me, I know what we look like, cuz I grew up that way, too).

Bullies are Bad.  Nerds-Turned-Bullies are Worse.

So here’s the crux of today’s post:  if you grew up as a nerd and suffered the inevitable abuse that goes with it, you have ZERO excuse for abusing others.  You have no excuse for harassing, insulting, or demeaning others, because you have experienced that pain yourself.  You cannot claim ignorance with any credibility.  You do not have the benefit of the doubt.  You are, quite simply, compensating for your historically-instilled feelings of inferiority (an adolescent fate that I shared) by raining pain and abuse on others, and that is the wrong way to fix yourself.

Nerd Bullies, You SuckNerds-Turned-Bullies, or Nerd Bullies for short, are some of my least favorite people.  I saw them at Microsoft.  I see them every time I step into the online gaming community.  And I see them today in our tech communities.  This blog post has been on my List for a very long time.

Nerd Bullies suffered at the hands of the mob, and now they lead mobs (of other former sufferers!) against victims in their own communities – people who grew up just like them, in most cases, only to become the target of this new breed of traitor.  Yes, traitor – that word was practically invented for Nerd Bullies.

Some of us grew up as nerds…

Power of Data = The Power of People.One of the things I love about working in the business data domain is how it brings so many different kinds of people together.  The data gene, as I am fond of calling it, cuts across ALL demographics equally – gender, race, religion, age, political affiliation, you name it.

And yes, it also brings the “Nerd” and “Non-Nerd” camps together as well.
I define those camps by how they were perceived in middle school, not by how they are perceived today, for the awesome reason that, most of the time, those differences have evaporated in adult life, particularly in our profession.  If you were a “cool kid” in high school and love data today, you now proudly call yourself a nerd from time to time.  And middle school nerds, in turn, have found a place where their “nerdism” is now valued and accepted.  It’s a bright, happy, warm vibe all the way around, and I love it.

Ah, but there are some people who inevitably want to spoil this party.

Brogrammers:  A Close Relative of Nerd Bullies

Have you heard this term, “Brogrammer?”  Urban Dictionary defines it as “a programmer who breaks the usual expectations of quiet nerdiness and opts instead for the usual trappings of a frat-boy: popped collars, bad beer, and calling everybody “bro”. Despised by everyone, especially other programmers.”

(Of course, in some sense all of us are “programmers” of a sort, whether we sling DAX, SQL, traditional Excel, or Java…  it’s all programming under a different guise.  So ideally we’d expand the Brogrammer definition to include those jobs too.)

But is a Brogrammer merely a Cool Kid who learned tech?  I think not, because that alone would not earn a negative image and connotation.  My wife and I were watching Season 1 of Silicon Valley recently, and in the scene pictured below, our beloved protagonist was subject to humiliation at the hands of the resident Brogrammers:

Brogrammers from Silicon Valley Season One

Brogrammers:  Abusive, Dismissive, and Exclusive Toward Others
(Do NOT Be these People)

There is NOTHING wrong with being a male “techie” who happened to be popular in school.  We wouldn’t have needed to coin the term “brogrammer” if that were the whole story.  But there IS something wrong with being a jerk.  And it’s somehow even WORSE (for nerds anyway) to have this bullying element now invading our supposed safe places, like tech fields.  Furthermore, now that there are more women working in tech, I hear a lot of stories about hyper-misogynistic behavior as well from this element.  Yay.

(In fact, for some of the worst-possible examples of Nerd Bullies, check out the whole “Gamergate” saga, in which of bunch of computer game nerds threaten female gamers with murder and rape, for crying out loud.)

The Icosahedron Test

The Icosahedron Test is a Sensitive Detector IndeedHere’s how I spot people who grew up as nerds:  I ask myself, can I imagine them rolling a 20-sided die?  As in, can I imagine them playing Dungeons and Dragons as a kid?

If the answer is a Definite Yes or Definite No, this “Nerddar” has proven to be incredibly reliable over the years (I verify by asking the subjects afterward).

And it doesn’t matter whether you actually PLAYED the game of D&D or not.  If the answer is a Strong Yes, and you didn’t play, inevitably you express regret that you didn’t play.  And I’ve never had a Strong No tell me Yes, nor have I ever heard them express regret, except perhaps politely.

Anyway, if you are a Yes on the Icosahedron Test, and you are a bully, well, you need to examine your life closely.  Or at bare minimum make sure you don’t do that crap anywhere around me, because few people have verbal knives as sharp as mine, and I save mine FOR YOU SPECIFICALLY.  You bring out the vigilante in me.  Why hurt others when you of all people are best-equipped for sympathy and understanding?  You are wasting your superpower AND embracing the Dark Side at the same time.

Don’t do that.

Analytics and SQL People – How Can This Be Controversial???

Changing gears, let’s talk about whether a SQL professional’s career is enhanced by learning analytics.  Seems pretty non-controversial really:  the answer is “yes, of course it benefits,” but the answer is ALSO “but if you don’t want to learn analytics, fine, carry on and you will still prosper.”  Nothing to get excited about – the benefits can be taken or left.

So you may be surprised to hear that this has been a topic of high friction in certain corners of the SQL community.  Certain people have gone to great efforts to help the community widen their perspective, and a vocal handful have been virulently opposed to it.  Weird huh?  It’s so simple:  “Hey, there’s a new conference on the agenda.  Don’t want to go?  OK!”  It’s been strange to watch these folks railing like it’s some personal affront, and campaigning to undermine others’ progress.

Remember, it’s almost always more noble to create than destroy.  You all have seen THIS quote going around right?

It is not the critic who counts; not the [one] who points out how the [other] stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the [one] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; …if [he/she] fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Teddy Roosevelt

Teddy Roosevelt a bit too “old school” for you?  Try Tim Minchin, another personal favorite:

If you don’t subscribe to that philosophy, fine, I’m not going to try to convince you, but you and I will never know common ground.  You are missing something beautiful.  (Yes we talk a lot here at PowerPivotPro about tearing down the Old Way, but only because we are replacing it with the New Way.  We’ve seen the New Way is Better – both in financial and emotional terms – for everyone involved.  Destruction for its own sake would not hold our attention.)

Why Do I Even Bother With This?

Well, the vigilante in me is dying to rip into the nerd bullies who’ve been running this “storage only, we never want to analyze data” campaign, not because of their opposition to analytics (I mean heck, more opportunity for us Analytics Types!), but because they are just jerks about many things.  (Actually there is one primary jerk in particular, and a gaggle of followers – catching crumbs of hollow validation like remoras on a shark… don’t be those people either – cut your own path through the water – CREATE it).  You can oppose something rationally and politely, after all, and I’ve seen some cogent arguments from others.  Anyway, the bullies are the minority.  Why cater to them?

Instead, I want to encourage others in SQL-land to not be influenced by the bullies.  If you’re interested in expanding horizons, well, we are happy to have you join in on our reindeer games.  As a Bond villain once said (and Austin Powers later lampooned), “we’re not so different, you and I.”  We all love data, and some of our best work is done when the storage and transport folks cooperate with the analytics folks.

Power BI Only Offers Us Recognition, Money, Happiness... Yeah I Wouldn't Learn ItAnd seriously, why oppose Analytics?  Best case scenario, working in the storage world, is that no one ever notices you.  You’re a cost center, rather than a weapon that can be used to competitive advantage, and this is why executives (and developers) seem to be so dismissive of database concerns.  Not that they SHOULD be dismissive, but they are – just like my first few years at Microsoft, when I worked on software installation technology, in which leadership continually failed to notice our positive contributions and exaggerated our failures.  (One executive even referred to our software as “installing yesterday’s applications tomorrow.”  That was clever and funny, but it was also mean and counterproductive, and ultimately incorrect, because twenty years later, you’re still installing MSI files aren’t you?  Boom!)

“Only noticed when we fail” is an unfun place to be, as a professional, and given that you’ve already mastered some of the most difficult stuff (the storage stuff is WAY harder than anyone gives it credit), why not diversify into places where suddenly the C-level knows your name in a positive light?  How can that be bad?  Or worth fighting viciously against?

I have a talk that I’ve given a couple times at SQL user groups lately, in which I explain Why You Should Care About Analytics, and it really only has four themes:  more money, more recognition/appreciation, now is a good time to start, and your existing skills are a complement to it (as opposed to something you replace).  It’s been well received, and I plan to keep giving it.

But hey, the world needs specialists too, so it’s none of my business what YOU do, but maybe don’t sh*t on real career growth opportunities for others ok?

Full Disclosure About the Author

Rob Collie grew up as an undersized, perpetually-bullied nerd before a late growth spurt and modicum of athletic talent provided him with camouflage as a high schooler, allowing him to “liaise” between the nerd and non-nerd worlds.  He is forever grateful for that “gift of camo” and tries to never forget where he came from.  He has rolled many icosahedrons/d20’s, and continues to do so with his kids today.  (OK and with other adults too sometimes).

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Rob Collie

One of the founding engineers behind Power Pivot during his 14-year career at Microsoft, and creator of the world’s first cloud Power Pivot service, Rob is one of the foremost authorities on self-service business intelligence and next-generation spreadsheet technology. 

This Post Has 19 Comments

  1. If I’m understanding the article, I’m left with this question:
    why would someone not only choose to remain in a storage-only world, but also try to persuade others to stick with storage and stay the heck away from analytics?

    This sounds like the “get rid of Excel and put that data in a database” battle.

    Or, maybe I’m not understanding the article.

    1. well Oz, like I said, the world does need specialists, and it IS hard to learn new things. I mean, in fairness, *I* am a specialist (and so are you). So that part is easy to understand.

      I agree that the other part (badgering others to not learn it) is harder to understand, and it leaves you with the usual suspects of insecurity, fear, etc.

  2. Playing D&D doesn’t mean you’re going to be a whiz at programming or data analysis. I had no idea what a D20 was until at least 40 when my best buddy explained. In high school I was a cheerleader, on the gymnastics team — a cool kid, I suppose.

    I ask people: Did you build something? Tear something apart to mod or fix it? Rig up some contraption? Where you interested in puzzles or codes? Did you play a musical instrument? Knit sweaters? Build a fort? Make an insect collection? Learn another language? Did you have any passions beyond staring at a TV?

    My favorite ice-breaker question: What was your favorite Xmas or birthday present as a kid? One of my best techie girlfriends had the same answer as I did: a microscope. She’s from Japan. US gamer/scifi/superhero culture wasn’t even on her radar.

    But at EVERY SINGLE tech conference we are bombarded with references to Batman, Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, blah blah blah and if you don’t get the allusions (“This is the Kobayashi Maru of death march projects.”, “AngularJS Batarang is such a great name, isn’t it?”) then you must not be one of the cool kids of nerdville. 😉

    1. Hi Dory! I didn’t intend AT ALL to give the impression that “played D&D means excellent techie,” NOR the opposite “not having played makes you bad at tech.” Far from it in fact – that’s the whole point of the section starting with “And yes, it also brings the “Nerd” and “Non-Nerd” camps together as well.” (This is the risk of long articles, but long articles seem to be my thing).

      Like I said in that section, I *love*, for instance, that one doesn’t have to even have enjoyed math in school in order to be good at analytics. (In fact, the kind of grounded perspective one often needs to be good at biz analytics makes it harder to endure the pointless suffering that is traditional education, in many ways).

      And NO, I am not talking about you there. You may have sat next to me in Calculus, cuz there were Cool Kids there too and some of them were having fun.

      So in short, I hope this didn’t come across as an indictment of the cool kids. Cuz I love the cool kids, and aspire to be one some day 🙂

    2. Hmmm… the sci-fi references at conferences. OK, I’m guilty of that. Nothing super obscure, but yeah, Star Trek and Star Wars.

      Never intended to be divisive, but ok, from now on I’ll be more conscious about that side effect. Thanks.

      (I can’t promise to remove such references entirely, because pop culture references are a nice hook, and you can never find something that everyone intimately knows, but I will explain/give background from now on, rather than assume everyone knows it.)

      1. Teddy Roosevelt and Tim Minchin are great references, and don’t require prior knowledge to understand. Minchin is great and I’m glad you shared that video. Thanks!

        I wish I knew specifically what motivated this post because I haven’t seen the Analytics vs Storage debate. Would like to know what the argument is. (Send me backchannel I’ll check it out.) But I don’t see how being bullied by Napoleon Dynamite is worse than being bullied by George Clooney. Often, I see dogmatic beliefs about good vs bad practices, condescension & ridiculing people for using older or “wrong” technology.

        At a recent event, a speaker chastised anyone who uses underscores in column names. “Don’t ever do that!” This was a very diverse crowd full of noobs. Someone challenged him: Why?
        Because that’s how I was taught, he replied. Uh…Not very compelling. I could sense the crowd turning on him. Then he berated someone “in the last session” for still using an old version of Office. She also happened to be in THIS session and piped up, “That was me!” Uh oh. Digging a deeper hole. In the end, the person doing the shaming hurts their own reputation.

        HBO Silicon Valley SPOILER ALERT:

        In this week’s episode a programmer believes so strongly that coders should indent with tabs — not spaces! — that when his new girlfriend turns out to be a spacer not a tabber he can’t stand it, yells at her and walks out on her in a rage. She responds by loudly & repeatedly whacking the spacebar.

        1. Well, ok, there’s nothing objectively worse about the behavior when it comes from a nerd (former or current), but I actually encounter a lot MORE Nerd Bullies than Non-Nerd Bullies, and I think Nerd Bullies have flown under the radar for too long… “hey I’m a nerd, it’s impossible for me to be a bully” is a belief implicitly held by a number of people, and I think it’s time to raise awareness of this affliction.

          Also, I have this silly optimism that it’s easier to get Nerd Bullies to reflect on their own behavior given their history of being on the other end of it. I have little basis for that hope other than a hunch, but it’s worth a try.

          Tabs and Spaces, yep, saw it. And sadly that’s a realistic problem, as your “underscores” conference experience highlights.

  3. Just got this from someone who wants to remain anonymous, we’ll call him Billy.

    Great article! The more I think of it the more I realized how much I actually do see this in the real world. The main culprit? IT in general. Coming from the IT field and moving over to the business side I have seen it quite a few times their transgressions towards non IT folks. Usually you will see it when something inconveniences them (i.e. they have to answer a question/fix something). Now not everyone is like that and thankfully I know how to handle them (remind them that they are just an expense and they are a service) but the other workers who legitimately have requests and get hit with the nerd bully aren’t so lucky and I really feel sorry for them as they really don’t know how to handle it. The main issue is that the Nerd Bully knows they are at their mercy and they can treat their “customer” as they see fit.

    1. “Billy,”

      In order to be a Nerd Bully, well, you have to have been a nerd. So, it’s no surprise that we see this “species” primarily in tech circles, and that includes IT of course.

      That doesn’t mean there are more bullies OVERALL in tech (or IT) than elsewhere, but more Nerd Bullies? Sure.

      And I know plenty of IT folks who feel bullied by the Biz. So conflict flows both ways here.

      As it happens, we’re planning a bit of a new feature here on the site, going live hopefully later this week, and the initial topic is PRECISELY this interaction between biz and IT. Stay tuned.

  4. I get the nerd bully vibe more from DBA types than sql trained data analysts, but also a bit from my coworker, who likes to just respond to requests, rather than be proactive with all the available tools out there.

  5. Great Article and right on point, especially when you are talking about the new way of doing things. Keep up the good work.

  6. Great article Rob, and even more impressive (notwithstanding I’m an Australian), your reference to Tim Minchin. What an example of someone who creates and empowers. I imagine he would have had his detractors in high school (we are particularly wary of anyone who doesn’t devote themselves exclusively to the sporting field), but just look at what he has achieved and will go on to achieve. Keep up the great work. I am only on the beginning of my BI education, but I’m trying to soak it up and show everyone around me its potential.

  7. I’m a West Australian so the Tim Minchin reference is really appreciated.

    I think what you are saying is that storage versus analytics generates a fairly abusive debate. I’m not sure whether you are saying this debate – analytics versus storage could be more civil and respectful or all debates should be more civil and respectful. We live in a world where all debates seem to head south pretty quickly.

    I’m not sure you have the whole ‘you must have been bullied to be a bully’ thing down pat. Why someone is a bully is a complex mix. There is a train of thought that suggest modern corporations are more than likely to reward personalities whose behaviour includes abusive aspects i.e they lack empathy.

    My own view is we live in an age where everyone’s an expert. There’s is a little bot of research to show that over time we have got more narcissistic. That would certainly explain the kinds of behaviours we see in discourse whether face-to-face or over social media.

  8. This is why I read this blog. Not all that DAX mumbo jumbo. Bullies, D&D, Fight Club and Roller Derby. That’s the real stuff of data models.

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