Why being nice isn't always great


I heard a lot about kindness lately. Everyone is talking about how everyone else should just always be "nice" to one another. In fact, I've found it entertaining how preoccupied so many people seem to be with how other people should be acting. In any event, it's almost like we just want no challenges at times... We want to wake up when we want, have what we want for breakfast, slowly mozy into work, grab a beverage and have a chat, have everything go our way all day, then go home and relax.

There's nothing wrong with that. But, life is full of challenges and I happen to feel most fulfilled when I overcome a challenge. Think of it like this: If I have no challenge, I don't have much reason to be proud, and I don't understand how difficult life can be, so I begin to be unsettled with almost anything that isn't perfectly going my way.

The jerk

Today I'm going to tell a true story. This is a story that contradicts a lot of what is out there in today's society, but you know what? I'm ok with that because it's my truth. Years ago before I got into software professionally, I was, to put it bluntly, studying and coding my ass off. I would spend anywhere from 8 to 14 hours per day reading coding books, working through coding labs, and writing programs. I became 100% obsessed with coding. In fact, many nights I would drink caffeine all night and I would not go to bed until 7 AM!

During this escapade, I also listened to podcasts, watched YouTube videos, took CS courses, and was a member of several web forums where I would get help from the more experienced.

I signed up and posted a C# question on one forum in particular that I will not name... And no, it was not StackOverflow. One particularly blunt and rude very senior member answered my question with a long, drawn out rant about how I was not cut out to code, I was probably dumb as a doorknob, I didn't have what it took, I should go back to whatever I was doing before, etc...

I replied to him once and I basically told him that he misjudged me - that I actually was putting in a lot of work. His next reply still wasn't friendly, but he said one thing "If you tell the truth, then you will ignore my comments, fix your mistakes, and become as good as you think you will and prove me wrong. But you better be right, otherwise you will fail."

I'll be honest, for a few minutes I was pretty upset with this guy and a bit worried even... I knew I wanted to go into software professionally and I knew it was my true passion, but I had a professional claiming I wouldn't make it and questioning my intelligence out of no where when I needed help.

But I soon realized that this actually helped me... This man gave me a challenge and I accepted it. I was already trying hard to learn, but thanks to him, I tried even harder and spent even more hours to make 100% certain to myself that he was wrong.

It turns out, he was wrong, and I was right. Shortly thereafter, I entered the field of software and have had a great career so far.

That being said, I found myself in a rather interesting position today - as a senior member of a tech chat where I belong, a particular newbie has been slamming the chat with questions... Question after question after question after question after question about where he should start, what he should learn, who he should talk to, where he should go, what computer he needs, etc... Over the course of weeks we've provided him great answers - answers I wish I had back then, and the questions just keep coming without any code to show.

Anything but actually get to work and start coding. So today I remembered that little nudge that mr. rude gave me that may have helped me get into this career and I gave our dear newbie a little nudge myself.

I'm the type of person who always holds the door open for others, who is constantly aware of my surroundings, and I frequently smile and greet people I walk past. These things are all forms of respect and courtesy.

However, being "nice" or "kind" by allowing lackluster, lazy, and ultimately self-destructive behavior to go undisciplined is not actually being nice... It's being weak and it's actually damaging. It does no good if I string somebody on thinking that software development is all about IQ and nothing about actually getting to work and getting shit done... They will never last at a job and they will just irritate everyone/

By that same token, in my personal story, I learned a valid lesson - Go that extra mile to research the subject matter before asking a question for my own good... Break the problem down into smaller pieces and often it solves itself... The moral of the story was that I had asked a low-effort question and got called out about it. Today, one of the strengths that puts me far beyond the competition is my ability to exercise what I learned in that lesson.

Sandeep Panda's photo

I totally agree with you Todd! Everyone should be friendly and nice -- however if you don't convey the real problem to your juniors you aren't doing your job. A little nudge has a great impact on most people and makes them get better if they take it in the right spirit. I have been on the both sides of this and totally understand you.

Thanks for the story!

Raghavan alias Saravanan Muthu's photo

A good article Todd. I do understand and agree with the quote

Anything but actually get to work and start coding

That is the mantra, Until then no matter what you keep reading, listening, nothing to avail until we get our hands dirty! A years old proverb for the same -> Practice makes a man perfect! :)

Thanks for sharing. I am sure it would inspire and ignite all the readers!

maxdevjs's photo

"is not actually being nice... It's being weak and it's actually damaging" another option is that is synonymous of not to care about. Perhaps most of Messrs. rude out there are not just jerks...