Thursday, May 14, 2009

What It's Like Being A Ruby Rock Star

There's nothing more ridiculous than job ads requesting a Ruby rock star. First because nobody really wants a dude with metal hair and a pierced tongue showing up at your office and throwing your 30" display out the window. Yeah! Rock and roll! Second because these job ads usually define a Ruby rock star as "minimum 1 year Ruby on Rails." However, I can't make fun of this phenomenon too much. I'd get in trouble at work. A few weekends ago, the founder of the company I work for got together with the CEO and this Python guy and shot a music video for their band.

Like it or not, rock star programmers is what we are. It weighs heavily on us. Sometimes we have to stop and take a minute to ponder our own awesomeness.

I'm a cowboy / On a steel horse I ride

Unfortunately, while my co-workers and bosses have busied themselves being awesome and pondering the awesome responsibility of their own awesomeness, I've been dicking around getting into meaningless flame wars left and right. I've been swearing at people, telling them their ideas are bullshit, and generally foaming at the mouth from one end of the Internet to the other. There were even threads about my balls on both Reddit and Hacker News.

It's interesting to see the reactions my posts and blog comments get.

I'm sure an oh so self consciously smart guy like yourself can now see the actual point of my comment: many ruby programmers are pompous buffoons who deserve mocking at every turn. Judging from your strange hostility and concern with intelligence so far displayed, that certainly includes you.

It's not just all over Twitter. It's not just all over Reddit and Hacker News, either. There has not been a recent Ruby flame war that failed to turn into a discussion about me to at least some extent. Obie Fernandez wrote a post about me in the first of several flame wars over his RMM idea. The discussion on Uncle Bob's post about his keynote contains 17 comments about me (21 if you also count comments by me). Matt Aimonetti's post apologizing for his sexism only contains one or two comments about me but I'm still in there. There are also plenty of comments and posts that might be about me.

These are great, because it means people are talking about me without me actually having to do anything to to make it happen. It's kind of like passive income. I can go to sleep and wake up in the morning to find that new people are saying new things about me. And these circuitous, possibly-implying-something, maybe-about-Giles posts are actually much more fun than the obviously-about-Giles posts.

Obie Fernandez awarding me a certificate from Strawman University is over in seconds. You agree or you disagree. You laugh or you scowl. It's a fleeting thrill. Rich Kilmer and Chris Wanstrath mmmmmaaaaaaybe dissing me is like an episode of Lost. It's got mystery. It's got intrigue. You can hatch theories. "You know something, I saw them talking at this conference, and they seemed to get along just fine." "Noooo! Look. Don't you know? The most important part of reading is reading between the lines!" The suspense gives it more oomph. You can even see us hanging out together having a good time after the post goes up and everybody reads it, and wonder in the back of your mind: is Locke really the Smoke Monster? No, wait. Is this a real peace in the community? Or is it just a truce?

It amazes me to see so many people say so many different things about me. I'm a superhero! I'm a douchebag! Giles is wrong! Giles is right! Giles needs to shut up! We need to have a conversation about what Giles is saying! We need to have a conversation about how we don't need to have a conversation about Giles! And then there's the people who are like, "well, maybe. I think before we have a conversation about how we don't need to have a conversation about Giles, we should first have a conversation about whether or not to have that conversation in the first place." I love those people.

What none of these people talking about me ever brings up is that they're talking about me because I decided they would. In 2001 I left the tech industry to live in a forest wilderness and take art classes. In 2004 I came back, and I was disgusted. You spend art classes coming up with ideas. You spend a career in technology becoming an expert in implementation. But no matter how good your ideas are, most people just want you to churn out some bullshit that they can sell to whoever is one step higher up the food chain. The market for ideas is different from the market for using Language X efficiently, and it's hard to get into. If you want to sell your ideas, you first need people to know that you have them. There is absolutely no value in a great skill set or a great idea if you can't turn it into something real.

So I made sure people knew I had ideas. I made damn sure. I read Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside! and My Job Went To India, now reissued as The Passionate Programmer, which is fitting, because I am the most excessively passionate programmer around, and everybody knows it. I became the greatest troll the Ruby community will ever see, and also the greatest threadjacker. A troll hijacks a conversation and makes it worse. A threadjacker hijacks the conversation and makes it better. They're the same thing, which is why it's easy to be the best ever at both of them - and make no mistake, I am. The best Ruby will ever see, at least. I am the Michael Jordan of threadjacking (in Ruby).

Let me give you some examples. Here, I'm an epic troll. This piece of trolling completely obliterated discussion of the matter at hand and focused conversation almost entirely on me.

Here I am making with the threadjack.

It's not the best example of a threadjack, but it got some notice. Laurent Sansonetti stopped talking about Matt Aimonetti's sexism problem to talk about me instead, and Rich Kilmer posted a comment about "people offering you ‘advice’ on what to do in this situation that I would NEVER take advice from."

Now you might wonder, am I a hero? Am I a douchebag? No. I'm neither one. There's two parts to this, and the first and most important is simple as fuck. I'm great at writing sentences. I'm good at paragraphs, I'm good at blog posts, I'm good at turns of phrase, structuring an argument, several aspects of screenwriting (but not all), and at one time in my life I was even OK at sonnets. I suck at novels, because they take too long. But I am great at writing a fucking sentence.

You can complain about the swears, but I don't give a fuck. I'm undisciplined, it's true; I use adverbs constantly, and passive voice is indulged in from time to time. But if I say some shit, you're going to react. You don't have a choice.

Try it.

Try not to react.

Most guys have only one dick. I have two dicks. Both of them can sing. One of them can speak.

It's not that I'm good. It's not that I'm evil. I'm just this guy. But when I talk, people form strong opinions. They cheer or they want to attack. I'm not a champion or a villain. Anyone who says so overcomplicates things and overlooks the simple explanation: powerful sentences are powerful. I've worked hard at my writing, and it provokes strong reactions.

My writing shocked and horrified a few people enough that they banned me from speaking at or even attending RubyConf. I could have avoided that, but it wouldn't have made me a better writer. I say controversial things because I form great sentences, and that's what great sentences are made of. There's not much else to it.

Now all this stuff about being amazing at sentences and the greatest threadjacker ever and so on and so forth completely fits the profile - "unbelievably egotistical, moderately incoherent, a certain dangerous freneticism" - which one commenter laid out as his reasons for believing I was experiencing a manic episode. But like Salvador Dali, the difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad. And that brings to me the second reason for all this incredible over-reaction.

I blog about, and talk about, my interest in acting. I've been studying acting for several years now. I've started to develop the personality type. One great acting coach in Los Angeles, named Ivana Chubbuck, makes her students focus on extracting a win from every situation they act in. Your character, even if they face defeat in the script, must win somehow. The audience must see them tackle some obstacle and triumph over it. If you dedicate your energy to this approach, it affects your personality as well as your acting. One way to interpret it: the actor must make every scene about them.

I don't study directly under Ivana Chubbuck. Ivana Chubbuck coaches stars like Charlize Theron. In her studio, I studied under a teacher for beginners, and right now I'm in a completely different studio anyway, studying a different technique. However, after a lot of time studying this approach, I now find myself waltzing into every Ruby soap opera and taking it over. I make every scene about me. If you find some ridiculous turf war or circle jerk underway in our community, you can guarantee that I'm in there, and that for some amount of time, the topic will shift from the matter at hand to the topic of me.

This doesn't make me proud. I think it's funny, though, because I only just noticed how pervasive the phenomenon is, and how unusual. It's going to work well for me as an actor, but it's a waste of time for me as a programmer. It wastes time for a lot of other people as well, but I only feel a little bit of guilt about that, because the truth is, those people were wasting their time anyway. I haven't made Rails Core about me. I haven't made GitHub about me. Taking over every circle jerk and turf war does not disadvantage anyone who was using their time well to begin with.

I'm probably going to step this down a bit. The initial problem I had, that nobody listened to my ideas, does not exist today. If anything people criticize me for only presenting ideas and never building anything permanent from them. Likewise, my fame in this tiny, tiny world serves no purpose at all for my acting goals. I can direct that energy better places.

I may shut down this blog, or scale it back. I spent 2005, 2006, and part of 2007 reading everything I could find about how to become a better programmer. I've documented most of what I learned, maybe all of it. I'm not sure about shutting down the blog, or about what I would do instead, or even about scaling it back, but I think I'm wasting a lot of energy on this drama and getting nothing valuable out of it. Something will change.

But I'm still a rock star, dammit. If you don't like it, you can lick my balls. All four of them.