In some of the responses to my earlier post, I felt that people misunderstood what I meant by “unprofessional”.
Many people jumped on this as something stuffy, that keeps us from being expressive and creative (the complaint was often expressed as a desire to be able to say “fuck”). I was surprised, because that’s not what I meant at all. I start my working day in my pajamas, and listen to whatever music I like. I click on NSFW links if I want to, because my officemates are a pair of cats. I’m involved in a ton of extracurricular tech activities, and we drink at our planning meetings ’cause we’re adults and we can.
When I say professionalism, I mean the social practices that permit each of us and our colleagues to earn a living. All of the things I’ve described above don’t affect my ability to get a paycheck, nor does it impede anyone else. What does have that effect is exclusionary behavior, and technical communities that allow said behavior to persist, even when called on it.
This is not just a club. Rails is how I earn my living. My call for professional behavior isn’t a call for us to button up our collars and be sure we keep our language clean. I’m asking that we make sure the events and activities where we learn the tools of our trade are open to everyone.
On its own, this doesn’t dictate any particular standard of content (“edgy” or not). You have to pay attention to your colleagues, listen when they say, “that makes me feel unwelcome”, and negotiate a respectful solution.
In my professional life, I work for a distributed company with people in other cities. We talk about code and share links to interesting things in Campfire. Text-based chat makes it easy to skim when people are talking about something I’m not interested in, and tune in again when they are.
I go to user group meetings that start with code and move on to drinking at the pub afterward. The meetings provide an opportunity to share what we know, and learn from others’ experiences. The pub gives us a chance to talk about the recurring frustrations in our work, and get to know each other better. Some of the people I’ve met through user groups have become good friends, while others remain acquaintances.
I post to Twitter and Flickr and my blog, and trust that people I work with will subscribe or ignore based on their own interests. I combine my personal and professional interests when I write online. It’s okay if you like my code but not the cat stories, or vice versa.
I use this mixing of personal and professional life to build relationships that turn into other project opportunities. It gave me a pool of people to go to when I wanted to address Portland’s need for a tech community calendar. It manifests as sessions on knitting at BarCamp and ambitious plans for open source world domination.
I get to do my work in an environment that is, on the whole, flexible and engaging, and has positive effects on other areas of my life. That’s why I feel so strongly about building that environment in the Ruby/Rails community as a whole. We should all be able to share and experience this.