Negativity in Talks

I was at a meetup recently, and one of the organizers was giving a talk. They come across some PHP in the demo they are doing, and crack a joke about how bad PHP is. The crowd laughs and cheers along with the joke. This isn’t an isolated incident, it happens during talks or discussions all the time. That doesn’t mean it is acceptable.

When I broke into the industry, my first gig was writing Perl, Java, and PHP. All of these languages have stigmas around them these days. Perl has its magic and the fact that only neckbeard sysadmins write it. Java is the ‘I just hit tab in my IDE and the code writes itself!’ and other comments on how ugly it is. PHP, possibly the most made fun of language, doesn’t even get a reason most of the time. It is just ‘lulz php is bad, right gaise?’

Imagine a developer who is just getting started. They are ultra proud of their first gig, which happens to be working on a Drupal site in PHP. They come to a user group for a different language they’ve read about and think sounds neat. They then hear speakers that people appear to respect making jokes about the job they are proud of, the crowd joining in on this negativity. This is not inspiring to them, it just reinforces the impostor syndrome most of us felt as we started into tech.

So what do we do about this? If you are a group organizer, you already have all the power you need to make the changes. Talk with your speakers when they volunteer or are asked to speak. Let them know you want to promote a positive environment regardless of background. Consider writing up guidelines for your speakers to agree to.

How about as just an attendee? The best bet is probably speaking to one of the organizers. Bring it to their attention that their speakers are alienating a portion of their audience with the language trash talking. Approach it as a problem to be fixed in the future, not as if they intended to insult.

Keep in mind I’m not opposed to direct comparison between languages. “I enjoy the lack of type inference because it makes the truth table much easier to understand than, for instance, PHP’s.” This isn’t insulting the whole language, it isn’t turning it into a joke. It is just illustrating a difference that the speaker values.

Much like other negativity in our community, this will be something that will take some time to fix. Keep in mind this isn’t just having to do with user group or conference talks. Discussions around a table suffer from this as well. The first place one should address this problem is within themselves. We are all better than this pandering, we can build ourselves up without having to push others down. Let’s go out and make our community much more positive.