Dealing With Criticism in Tech Blogging

Photo by The Ian on Unsplash

I wrote a blog post about HTML, and that was my first mistake — HTML is one of the most controversial things I have seen covered in tech, but to my surprise the post was met with scathing criticism who dislikes frontend frameworks and argues that people who develop frontend frameworks have no business writing HTML. He is kind of the antithesis of your average developer, treating HTML and CSS as hard science, and things like Vue and React as bulls***.

Your Kiwanis page is a stunning example of how utterly jacked up and wrong people can learn HTML, with it's endless DIV soup, endless classes for nothing, etc, etc. I mean it certainly doesn't help it's the typical train wreck of turdpress ineptitude, but just for example take everything from the body tag opening up to opending div.container. That's 7k of HTML, several dozen DIV, five or six dozen classes, and a general lack of proper semantics. It is in fact utterly devoid of semantic markup and therefor in violation of accessibility norms! A laugh since you seem to have slopped in some aria roles, though that's probably just more turdpress stupid. (so that's not your fault)To deliver a social menu that has only two links in it, an incomplete and improperly formed form, what SHOULD be the site's H1, and a main menu navigation that doesn't even have a dozen links in it.And it's not even coded to be mobile friendly.

You might think from the comment above that this rage was mostly just directed on the WordPress template I was using, arguably in a post that was not even about the Kiwanis website so much as it was including a real-world example…but you would be wrong. The above is part of a much, much longer rant about how I have no business “developing.” Follow the account closely, and you will find article after article about how frontend frameworks are created out of stupidity, as well as more than a few comments telling people (mostly less experienced developers) that they should quit.

If I could conjure this guy up right now, I imagine he would double down on his statements, then question why I am so insecure that I felt the need to write about him and his comment on not just one, but multiple accounts.

To which I would say: The subject of your scorn is a website for a nonprofit built to advertise things like a free Easter Egg Hunt, high school scholarships, and a club dedicated to helping learning-disabled adults gain life skills. It just makes me feel slighted, like maybe he would prefer if I had never made the website, not created free educational content, and not made this blog paywall-free.

But I know he is coming from his own place of perceived morality: He feels he is acting on behalf of the users. He is not just needlessly trolling — his main argument is that HTML, in its original form, was all about accessibility. Now, with our embrace of frontend frameworks, automated tools like WordPress, and a lack of proper understanding/disdain for “HTML developers,” we are simply allowing incompetent developers to create non-accessible content that is more bloated and convoluted than it would have been with just vanilla JavaScript.

Is he wrong? Well, there is quite a lot to unpack there. It would be hard to make the case for or against React.js, let alone ALL frontend web frameworks. To top it off, he has more than 40 years of experience in software development. He comments not for the benefit of developers he dislikes, but for the users he feels they are harming.

Negative Blog Criticism

Above are two famous bloggers (Flavio Copes and Hashmap, respectively) discussing negative comments on their blogs…followed by a more general post about tech elitism in general.

Here, we walk a delicate fine line — what about people in the tech industry who are kind, but not nice? “Kind” and “nice” are somewhat synonymous, but I’m thinking of various viral Medium posts about this. I have very, very mixed feelings about this viral article…on one hand, I think it is pretty insightful to say that we should prioritize being kind in actions than simply smiling along and being agreeable. On the other, I dislike how the post makes broad generalizations like how “people in the West Coast are nice, but not kind.”

Why do people have so much respect for tech figures like Linus Torvalds and Stallman? Admittedly, I do not know too much about the latter other than the memes…but I read Torvalds’ autobiography and some of his famous emails. He seems like a bit of a jerk, possibly even a HUGE jerk. Why would anyone want to work with him?

People respect Linus Torvalds for what he has done, and in fact many people find his personality refreshing. He tells things like they are. He also has justification: For example, in one of his most famous emails he is telling off a developer for disrespecting a user.

I would, however, make the controversial claim that for every one of these divisive tech figures who is kind but not nice, you could find a dozen who are kind AND nice. Are they as talented, though? Sometimes. Sometimes not. Brian Kernighan sounds like he would be fun to have at a lecture hall, but maybe everyone seems nice when your only interactions with them are hearing them speak on some podcast.

For someone who prides himself on accessibility, I think it is important that we make tech itself accessible by refraining from comments that are unnecessarily rude, cruel, and/or insulting.

Tech, Education, and Mentoring

In the end, I feel a little bit conflicted by all of this. On one hand, nothing would ever be built and problems would never be solved if everyone was so afraid of accidentally offending people that they went out of their ways to be extra smiley/nice before companies collapsed. On the other…come on. This is a person who dislikes Vue, React, JavaScript, WordPress…I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually migrated his 1000+ followers/subscribers off of Medium, eventually, considering that Medium is built on…oh, what? They likely built their own frontend framework? That’s really cool.

We deal with these kind of purists in our world, too. They are the ones who push C over C++…but that is a completely different debate with its own justifications on both sides.

In most tech companies, you will not have to venture very far before you hear people arguing about what seem to be the most petty of arguments. For better or worse, there are often very legitimate reasons these debates take place. Try walking into a meeting, yelling that they should make a change to their technology stack, and then running. You will start a religious war.

Please try to be kind AND nice

Every now and then, some tech blog will trend on Medium about how developers are all going to be obsolete. For the most part, these sorts of predictions are generally not true.

We want more people to learn to use these technologies. If we do not, more websites will be hacked. More vendors will rip more people off. And Generation Z, much like our generation, is facing massive college tuition fees, environmental/resource issues, and a plethora of other problems. Why would we deprive them of a basic resource like coding knowledge, or attempt to discourage new people from studying it, just because we are more experienced and feel superior?

Anyone with enough motivation can learn to code, but no one will want to if we keep trying to convince them that they should quit because they are using too many <div> tags. Plus, the 30 minutes you spent berating them could have been better spent actually telling them how to fix the problem. It’s one of the my biggest issues with some senior engineers — their tendency to berate you for not knowing something instead of taking the 30 seconds it would have required to explain it.

And yet, in the end…this is a blog. Maybe these kinds of commenters are the unsung heroes of tech, and I am just suffering from main character syndrome. The posts take a long time to research and write.

So does their criticism.

Closing Thoughts

In a random basement next to a computer lab, feeling like I was at the end of this whole field because I couldn’t figure out something in C, someone I met went completely out of his way to help me. He had nothing to gain. He did it as an act of kindness.

Maybe next time I feel discouraged, I should think about that…instead of the people who try to discourage me.

Because when I write, I invite criticism regardless of whether or not I am aware of it. A blogger and a few people on Reddit wrote about my misuse of the word “backend…”it was rude, but that criticism was legitimate. A couple people on Reddit tore into my hashmap story. And now this person felt the need to tell me a website I was featuring was complete garbage, a kind of HTML atrocity.

I can’t prevent this kind of criticism from taking place. Even though, someone could read this, then leave an angry comment about how I should quit right now. Stop learning. Stop polluting the web with the blog content and the new work.

And all I can think of, in moments like that, is the one in the computer lab who helped me. He didn’t say, “Oh, sorry, maybe you’re not cut out for this.” Instead he said, “Try doing it this way.”

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