I didn’t pick all the setup (the phones, the mixing table, the laptop etc) right after I finished my talk at JSConf.BP. To make the conference happen more smoothly, I just disconnected my laptop from the projector and left everything else there so the next speaker could do his duties without me being in their way. I rushed outside and essentially BREATHED a big sigh of relief.
There was a guy serving cold brew coffee on the lobby, and Karolina was waxing lyrical about how great it was, but I didn’t want to drink any before the talk because otherwise I get super HYPER and speak too fast. And at last… I could drink that coffee!
Allow me to reiterate that I was outside the main room, enjoying the coffee and talking to Karolina and to anyone who asked me things about my talk or just discussed parts of it, and so I wasn’t listening to the next speaker.
A little bit before he finished, Karolina went in, because her MC duties called for it. I decided to get inside again, and stood on the right side of the room, leaning against the wall and waiting for the speaker to finish. He tried to play some video but he was getting no sound out of it. Each time he pressed the volume button, he got the “forbidden” sign. I guessed why: HDMI devices report an output sound device which doesn’t actually accept volume changes, and he wanted to use the audio jack output which is the internal sound card, so he should either have changed devices or the conference should have connected the HDMI output to the sound system, but I expected he would find out. Or the technician would show up out from nowhere, as they always do, and fix it.
Either way, I was leaning on the wall, enjoying this semianonymity, and didn’t want to start yelling out of nowhere: CHANGE YOUR OUTPUT DEVICEEEEE!!!, because that’s quite rude.
Eventually he played the video, but without audio. Well!
When he finished I went up the stage to pick all my abundance of hardware. He was discussing with one of the organisers that he hadn’t got the audio to work or something, something, something. I joked that I knew what was the issue, as it happens all the time in our office when we have meetups, but I didn’t want to correct them in public because it was such a jerk move. And then I just went and picked my stuff and packed it all into my suitcase-backpack. Szabolcs guided me to where I could leave my belongings safely and out of the way, and that was it. I WAS DONEEEE and I could also now listen to the rest of the talks without worrying about my belongings being scattered around the stage! Yay!
Fast forward to Friday night, when I attended the after party where I essentially distributed stickers and had a good time talking to people I hadn’t had time to talk to before.
It was all great! until at some point someone said they wanted to discuss something privately with me… I was intrigued. What could this be?
So they told me that the speaker after me had dismissed our work and said that whatever we were working on, they were already doing at his company, and when they heard him say so, “they felt so bad because it really sounded so out of place!”.
And this was all news to me! Because, as I mentioned before, I wasn’t in the cinema when this happened! And so I told him, and I couldn’t really comment anything else without hearing it myself first.
As it happens, the conference was live streamed via ustream. Which was then archived. And so yesterday I decided to watch it out of pure curiosity (was that guy really being that out of place? or was it just the perception from the audience?).
But they were right. The next speaker had decided that even if my talk was “awesome”, if people cared about security they should look at his project which “already works”, “doesn’t need any of that master device” things and is “also open source”. Then he dictated the github url of said project.
This is probably the biggest well actually-ed I have ever been, and I wasn’t even there! So it’s like NEXT LEVEL WELL ACTUALLY. Congratulations… not!
You see, when you’re up in the stage you’re granted special powers. Everyone is going to listen to you for ~20 minutes, and that is an immense privilege that you need to use wisely. What you say during that time might have profound impact on the audience. You need to be very careful and work hard on being a good example, because they’re here to listen to and learn from you, and so if you behave poorly, they might think it’s OK to behave poorly as well.
And so when you chose to well-actually me, when I wasn’t present, and dismissing the work me and Mozilla are doing, well, that wasn’t classy. You’re telling people that it’s OK to not to be classy.
This is unacceptable. I expect way more from you.
You know what would have been lovely? You find me after your talk is done, and we have a coffee and you tell me about your amazing project. I would have looked at it, probably learnt incredible things from it, and I might even be writing about it right now, instead of this letter.
You could also have asked me why I am building this project the way I am building it, instead of dismissing the master-client structure. I could have told you that when you play music, you normally have a single, unique global clock. Have you ever seen an orchestra with multiple conductors? I bet you haven’t. This is the same.
Trust me, I can understand your terrible urge to be RIGHT above everything and everybody else and correct them on the spot. I used to be an insufferable know-it-all too, but that was when I was a teenager and didn’t know any better. Time has taught me that instacorrecting people in public tends to come back like a deadly boomerang—they end up finding the most embarrassing errors either in my reasoning or understanding, turns out the corrector is the one who’s wrong here, and I want to hide and blush to death under the table.
My advice? Don’t instacorrect. Make a note to investigate that thing that is making you twist in your chair, and think more about it before you even open your mouth or get to the twitters. Did you really understand it? Is the other person THAT WRONG? And even if they are, what are you here for—your talk or correcting other people?
There is a fine line between humility and self-deprecation. I know my project is not perfect (for god’s sake, didn’t you see the todo list already?), and our implementation is not perfect, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive on its own. And people find that it inspires and makes them happy.
You should know better.