The Particular Finest

Presented by aurynn shaw

Joke Accounts and the BOFH are Garbage

You might be familiar with tech joke accounts on Twitter, stuff like PHP CEO and I Am Devloper. These are accounts meant to poke fun at specific stereotypes of people in the tech community, in these cases an ignorant CEO and an incompetent developer, by posting concepts that echo strongly within the experiences of people within tech.

And I came across a tweet on my timeline today, from the I Am Devloper account: https://twitter.com/iamdevloper/status/869931002076028930 and my first (and continued) response has been 😡, because this sort of thing is not okay.

Normalisation

I speak a lot about contempt culture because it’s such an important construct, talking about how we build zones of exclusion within our culture, but I’ve not talked as much about propagation and normalisation of contempt culture.

This is one of the ways it propagates and normalises.

So, a tweet like this from an account like this is about being funny. But how tweet works is (and how the BOFH works) is that it positions this attitude and belief as what we’re all already thinking, the thing that we’re just not admitting to. It’s funny because it’s true!

And we think it’s true because our broader culture has primed us to a belief that frontend as a discipline isn’t real programming, which is easily visible in the number of non-Javascript communities spending considerable effort trashing Javascript patterns, code, and technologies, but backend programming is real programming”. We see it intensely in oh, there’s 3 new frameworks per second in Javascript”, as though trying to find and explore best practises in a field is something to be derided and contemptuous of.

Of course, frontend can’t win there, because if they weren’t looking for best practises they’d end up with the PHP narrative of look how bad they are, lol” that has infested the industry for the last 20 years.

The end result is that making fun of PHP, or Javascript, or whatever today’s hated technology is normalises that elitism is how we bond, how we show that oh yeah we’ll get along with each other just fine”.

Infection

The worst part of this is when it comes to newcomers. People enter our industry and communities and see us acting like this. They don’t necessarily see that we’ve laughing at this as a haha-only-serious” sort of irony”1 that underlies our jokes”.

As a result, they internalise this as what they should believe, what ought to be true. This is reinforced by how we already use it as a bonding mechanism. At least we’re not PHP developers!” we laugh. At least we don’t use Java!”, or JavaScript.

At least we aren’t like those lesser people who aren’t even real programmers. We joke like this and newcomers treat it as serious, treat it as intentional and real opinions and pass them onwards.

We carry who we are through every space we enter and these ideas propagate as we get new jobs and join new communities, as we continue to heap scorn upon entire disciplines (like design, or user experience).

I carried the ideas of the BOFH for years, thought that thinly veiled contempt was how we were supposed to think and behave. I carried this forward as the wish fulfilment of being taught to think I was better than users, smarter and more capable. The world around me reinforced this (Wow, you know computers? You must be so smart!), and other people in tech referencing it. Wishing for the LART. Wishing they could tell users what they really thought.

Wishing that it was real.

It wasn’t treated as a joke, it was treated as real, as the real emotions and thoughts and attitude that I should be carrying.

And jokes like I Am Devloper’s do the same. It teaches that we should hold frontend in contempt, that we should carry that self into new spaces, that we should treat people with those skills as not real programmers, not competent like we are, not capable or intelligent or able to build good software. That they, unlike us, do not belong.

And this made me realise that that is all these accounts do by pushing us to empathise with our own exclusivity and superiority, that instead of a culture where we are aiming for actual conversations and collaboration with skillsets that are not our own. That all these accounts do is teach newcomers that they should act like this, should act with hostility, with contempt, with malice towards outsiders.

And that, is, garbage.


  1. Hint: Ironic contempt is still contempt