Thoughtbot Ruby Survey 2009

Written on January 01 2010 at 16:16

I wasn’t hugely into the Thoughtbot 2009 Survey, because (and as they noted), the questions were very poorly constructed:

There are questions that are too narrow or too broad. There are questions that are missing options. There are questions that assume too much about an “either/or” scenario, when people really behave differently depending on context. There are questions which insult people’s core beliefs, I guess. Fortunately for all of us, the results of this survey aren’t being used to decide anything too important.

However, I’m still not sure they get it:

Maybe most encouragingly, when asked about whether the types of questions in the survey mattered or were a huge waste of time, nearly 90% chose the “I think it’s worth caring about your craft, and these questions are professionally relevant” option.

Here are the choices people were given in the survey:

  1. I think it’s worth caring about your craft, and these questions are professionally relevant.
  2. This is a huge waste of time, you guys are a bunch of psychos, just get back to coding.
  3. It sure is, and I’m not capable of or willing to work on a team with anyone who disagrees with my correct answers.

Obviously people want to agree with

I think it’s worth caring about your craft

but in doing so, we are also saddled with agreement to

these questions are professionally relevant

The fact that lots of people did choose answer one unfortunately doesn’t support whether or not the questions were a “huge waste of time” or not. Any to be fair, even if the questions are relevant, the available answers were not. This means that any data derived from this survey is fundamentally worthless. It’s a shame, really, but that’s the truth of it.

I’m not taking this seriously - it would be crazy to, naturally, and clearly it’s been composed with humour and good intentions. That said I can’t help feeling it’s a bad omen. Despite it’s lack of rigor, we are presented with some conclusions - for example:

A solid 75% of people always use parentheses on method definition — maybe enough to justify criticizing people who don’t?

There is value in consistency, and this does apply to a community’s behaviours as well as those of a team, or indeed of an individual, but consistency is only secondary to consideration. Blindly criticising behaviour because it doesn’t match a poorly-derived norm feels sufficiently similar to our earlier readiness to declare things as evil without much research or understanding to make me take notice.

The most important sentence in this whole thing is

the results of this survey aren’t being used to decide anything too important.

Lets make sure that’s true. Trying to define best practices using only the results of the Thoughtbot 2009 Survey would be a sad step back in the direction of cargo-culting.

If the Ruby community is trying to more clearly define itself and reach an adulthood of sorts, perhaps we should stop paying attention to these effectively-meaningless yes-me-too manifestos and start actually changing the way real people experience our work.


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