[FoRK] Arrogance - online, technical, interviews, in general

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Thu Sep 22 02:28:31 PDT 2011

>     Definition of /ARROGANCE/
> *:* an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/overbearing> manner or 
> in presumptuous <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/presumptuous> claims or assumptions

> *:* overstepping due bounds (as of propriety <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/propriety> or courtesy) *:* taking 
> liberties 

When is someone being arrogant?  Certainly if they are being condescending, especially if they don't know you and haven't been 
rudely challenged.  (Condescending may be reasonable as a response to mistaken condescending.)  Or making favorable-to-them 
comparisons or judgment calls without immediately listing objective evidence.

The ancient (30+ years or so) online style of conversation, baked to perfection on Usenet, IETF, etc., is direct and assertive 
but, IMHO, not perceived arrogant typically except by the hypersensitive or uninitiated.  Which is not to say that some are not 
arrogant: Of course that happens.  But perhaps more often a newbie gets a well-weathered (through many similar conversations) 
reply and assumes arrogance.  No?

And there are those who have never had a fast-paced, evidence based but opinion-summarized discussion.  Is a "religious" war 
debate on Emacs vs. VI or Linux vs. Windows or C++ vs. Java vs. .Net arrogant?  Seems like a fairly neutral debate on complex 
fuzzy weighting of features to me.  Plenty of preference, acquired-skill bias, etc., but arrogance?

At one point, perhaps many might have felt it was arrogant to post something for others to read.  Usenet mostly resolved that, 
and blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have made any similar thought a distant memory it seems.  Now, given the illustrious 
history (!) of FoRK and the apparent lurkage degree (Rohit?), perhaps that might apply here.

I've been told that Finns, for example, are culturally unable to directly counter a colleague.  "Hmm, I see.  That is a very 
respectable opinion.  ..." etc.  Is that better?  A Russian-naturalized-to-US-citizen, when building my understanding of our 
Russian out-source development team and Russian culture in general, said: "Americans are soft on the outside, but tough on the 
inside.  Russians tend to be hard on the outside, but soft on the inside."  I don't take that in a derogatory way in any sense, 
but just the emotional / communication combination: Gruffness and acceptance barriers [1] on the outside protects a personality 
that is easily offended or threatened, perhaps precisely because it has been protected too well.

[1] Apparently, a team typically won't fully accept a member or liaison unless everyone gets thoroughly drunk together.  I might 
have expected that with Japanese-based teams also, but not the case at all apparently.

In an interview, especially a deeply technical one, what is arrogant and not?  Like writing a resume or a bio, self-aggrandizing 
is a required part of the task, isn't it?  You want to be self-deprecating about things you're not the strongest in.  However if 
you're self-deprecating about everything, you're not typically going to be competitive against those with confidence they can 
accomplish something.  Recognize your strengths, successes, failures, goals, limitations (temporary and more persistent) as 
factually as possible is pretty much the definition of a resume and interview.  So what would clearly be arrogant in an interview?

Is false modesty, being publicly and effusively or studiously self-deprecating and docile, more truthful or admirable or 
appropriate?  When?  Perhaps when receiving an award or similar, but in the work environment or an interview or marketing in 
What about humility?
> Definition of Humility Humility
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> The state or quality of being humble; freedom from pride and arrogance; lowliness of mind; a modest estimate of one's own 
> worth; a sense of one's own unworthiness through imperfection and sinfulness; self-abasement; humbleness.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> An act of submission or courtesy.

Doesn't seem too compatible with "take pride in your work" or "go confidently in the direction of your dreams" or any similar 
aphorism, motto, or constructive work principle.  Although this guy seems to think it is the key to success in everything:

> 'I am a firm believer, as is John Dickson, that people with humility don't think less of themselves; they just think of 
> themselves less.

Hmm.  Think of themselves less?  When I'm in flow, problem solving, I only think of myself as a tool.  If I'm not the right tool 
for the job, I go use another tool (Google, friend, a coworker, etc.) to solve the problem at hand.  I have a feeling that book 
applies to people who never get in flow on anything, especially not serious problem solving, and are off spinning in social 
mental loops or something.  From the 3 sentence description, I'd say he's dancing around the concept of flow [2] without getting it.

[2] http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi/dp/0061339202 Flow: The Psychology of Optimal 

Now, in general, hubris is another thing, a word often confused with arrogance I think.  It seems that a lot labeled "hubris" 
may be simple optimism.  In any case, it is easy to be right (I can build X in Y time) and still be thought to be displaying  
hubris in someone else's opinion.  For a recent example: SpaceX says they can boost to orbit for $X per pound.  China says 
that's impossible: we can't do it that cheap.  SpaceX says we're already doing it, here's the audit to prove it.  Hubris?  
Arrogant?  Or just fact?

Long ago, I did lead a contract team once that (briefly I think) was considered arrogant by the 2 existing in-house developers.  
I quipped at the time, privately, and almost completely as a joke: "Don't confuse arrogance with chronic correctness."  Perhaps 
something was said by someone that seemed condescending.  Or perhaps it was just that we departed from the existing code to 
something more sophisticated specifically to address the maintainability problems killing the project, abandoning their code 
which they told us was failing in a sense to begin with.  We built our design, which worked well, was deployed, and became the 
basis for years to come for that project.  Were we actually arrogant?  Displaying hubris?  Or were we retroactively displaying 
hubris if we had failed?  What if 9 out of 10 projects by a team or lead succeed and 1 fails?

Which political party / politicians are arrogant or hubritical (display hubris)?  Opinion or fact based backup?

There's one guy that I worked with who seemed deeply, chronically arrogant.  But very seldom have I felt that way.  Perhaps few 
others were as arrogant as I was / we were?  Rather, to me, it seems that I tend to give people wide latitude and benefit of the 
doubt before going negative.

Why do I bring this up?  I'll say later after info gathering.  It has nothing to do with FoRK.


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