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Ask HN: When did self-promotion become important?
20 points by bjclark on Dec 29, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 19 comments
I have noticed, in the last year, that almost everyone in my programing circle of friends and acquaintances (mostly ruby people) have become very focused and aware of self-promotion, to the point that numerous times I hear people say "[That guy] is just really good at self promotion" (usually as a thinly veiled put down).

I used to believe that most programming and open source communities were meritocracies, but it sounds like the people I'm around don't believe that anymore.

When did this start? Where did it come from? Is this unique to the Ruby community or are others saying that?

Sounds like the people you're talking about are jealous, and covering it up with insults.

Self-promotion has always been important. The degree of importance depends on your goals.

If you want fame, you have to self-promote. If you want high rates and the choicest jobs, you have to self-promote. If you want to work on interesting problems and make a living doing it, you have to self-promote.

If you just want to hack on stuff that turns you on in your spare time, then self-promotion is optional. But who doesn't like a _little_ recognition? I don't think the open source community would exist without that drive.

I think self-promotion should be grounded in merit. I would hope the people I respect that might dismissed as "just really good at self promotion" are actually good at what they do.

Sorry for the rambly answer.

I agree with your sentiment but I'm not sure I agree with your point.

The problem with taking the attitude of "its all about recognition" is it ignores the fact that (a) other people are willing to take credit for stuff you do and (b) others might take the stuff you did in a direction you don't like.

On the first point it shouldn't be news to anyone that there are people who will take credit for things they didn't do. The way those people succeed is by finding things that were done by people who "just want to hack stuff" and then claiming they did it instead.

On my second point people who have a claim to helping with your work can hijack it if you don't take your proper credit. Many problems with RSS came from the fact that Dave Winer claimed ownership of it and took it in a completely different direction from its RDF roots. I don't want to rehash that technical argument but that fact remains most of the people who followed Winer did so because they thought he "invented RSS" (or "was the Father of..."). The reason people thought that is because Ramanathan Guha didn't self promote like Winer did.

So there are consequences to self-promotion that extend beyond one's personal recognition. If you don't take the credit and leadership role due to you someone else often times will.

I completely agree with this. In fact I'll go another step.

I'm willing to bet that the people lobbing the thinly veiled insults do so because that's easier than putting their stuff out there and having it ripped to shreds by other people lobbing thinly veiled (or not so thinly-veiled) insults.

I've been to enough conferences and been in enough backchannels to see the kind of people who never get up in front of crowds and share what they know sit there are rip on the experience level or presentation skills of those that are putting themselves out there.

My feeling is that if you're not into self-promotion and you don't like the fame then that's very cool of you, but looking down on others for wanting to make a name for themselves is not cool.

Well, this is the ultimate goal: being popular without self-promotion. For most of us it's not realistic, so we're pretending a bit and doing it silently and under cover. For example: mean writing and sharing open-source is a strong form of self-promotion, but not as obvious as writing about oneself (I can write such and such code).

Self-promotion is like make-up, best is the one which doesn't stand-out.

Writing open source is good example, speaking at a conference (as long as you educate, not speak about yourself) is too. But when you add info about your availability and "contact me" call to action to your Github profile or "I'm doing consulting services at..." as the lasts presentation slide - people suddenly notice the self-promotion.

Even in school self-promotion is important. Developing a good relationship with your professors and letting them know what you're interested can help to foster good relationships. When something comes across their desk that you would be a good fit for, the best thing you can hope for is that you're the first person they think to bring it to.

A lot of people naturally want to promote themselves, whether or not it does any good. You can see this behavior at work when people are excited to be on TV even if it's a 5 second sound bite about a car wreck, or 15 years ago when everyone* posted endless streams of pictures of their cats on their home pages (see facebook).

In some cases people may look down on this behavior (see your friends), this may lead those who participate in it to justify the behavior as necessary (see actors).

In other cases it may be quite necessary for their source of income (see motivational speakers, underemployed consultants).

I suppose you'd have to decide for yourself which category these folks might belong in.

Seeing an uptick there might be the result of the heat currently in the sector. The behavior certainly did seem to peak in 99/00 with the last market bubble. Anecdotally, self promoters often seem to flock to over heated sectors - people that aren't johnny come latelies may just be getting caught up by seeing others do it.

I think your depiction of the ruby community is accurate. We definitely like to promote what we're doing, be it on our blogs, at conferences, on twitter, at meetups, etc.

Last year at LaRubyConf, Sarah Allen called the ruby community "the programming community for extroverts". I couldn't agree more.

I think your analysis of the community is more a result of that than any level of pomposity, vainness, or even simple hand-waving. Sure, those things will always occur to some extent. But I think it's really a result of positive attributes, and maybe a dash of success ;)

I also think people's attitudes towards engineers have changed markedly in more recent years. Gone are the days of nerdy dudes updating bank software in "Office Space". Who is everyone's favorite CEO these days? Steve Jobs. What was one of the biggest blockbuster hits of the year? A movie about a nerdy dude at Harvard building a web app (I know, that's not what the movie is really about). In other words, it's fucking cool to be an engineer these days, especially a software engineer.

I think ruby programmers, being extroverts (generally), have embraced this cultural shift, and dare I say capitalized on it.

I can't deny that people in the ruby community have ample opportunity to become "rockstars" in the community simply by way of self-promotion, but there are just as many of those who are popular for their prolific open source contributions, which is by no means hurt by their self-promotion prowess.

Good observation bj, and great conversation starter.

Don't hang out with people who put others down. Whether they are right or wrong is immaterial. Most of them just want to feel superior and their negativity can do you absolutely no good. If you do hang out with them, you'll become one of them before you know it.

Totally agree and I plan on focusing on this in the coming year.

I thought self promotion has always been important. If no one knows who you are then no one will promote you regardless of your merit. Most any company will promote themselves through self promotion before anyone notices them.

Around the time humans invented agriculture.

I do think the Ruby community takes it to the next level. I've commented several times about how I find the Ruby community to be the most irritating.

Is it unique to the Ruby community? Certainly not, but if you find yourself around a better class of people, you may notice that they're not Ruby developers ;-)

" if you find yourself around a better class of people, you may notice that they're not Ruby developers."

Comments like that say more about you than about Ruby developers, winking punctuation or not.

It may. But it doesn't mean its not true. I can be a jerk, and the Ruby community can be irritating. :-)

"The Ruby community" is as poorly defined a term as the "white community" or the "American community."

"I used to believe that most programming and open source communities were meritocracies ..."

People cannot judge you on your merits unless they know you exist and what you've done. Stand up and be counted.

Now, there is the case that some people assign special value to other people by virtue of their being known, and don't bother to find out why someone is known. TV is filled with people who are famous for being famous. Maybe some tech circles are like that, too.

I've had people look to hire me who mention that they were Googling for something or other and my name kept coming up, so they figured I was the person to contact. Far be it from me to to discourage such people :).

But I also know that the bottom line is you have to live up to these people's expectations.

I think you hit the nail on the head of what I'm getting at: "Famous for being famous." I guess I'm wondering if this is starting to happen in OSS and Programming in general?

Nice question, have an upvote. ;)

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