Written in Ink

I sometimes put on movies in the background. I pick fun ones with great soundtracks. My favorite for this purpose is the concert film masterpiece “Stop Making Sense”. My second favorite - “The Social Network”. I love the combination of David Fincher’s masterful directing, Aaron Sorkin’s snappy dialogue and the dark ambiance of the soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

I’ve watched or had “The Social Network” in the background for more than a dozen times. It contains many quotable scenes. I remembered one of them when reading about the recent controversial James Gunn situation.

It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.

James Gunn is a filmmaker, most famous for directing “Guardians of the Galaxy” and its sequel. Three weeks ago he was fired by Disney after offensive tweets were uncovered. The whole situation is not simple - the tweets are quite old, and Gunn has apologized for the poor taste of those tweets in the past. Many celebrities have come to his defense, saying that those tweets don’t match the person they know now.

Reading about James Gunn made me think of my own past. I work at Vinted, and I’ve been there for 6 years now. I’m a different person and a different colleague than I was when I’ve started.

As a developer, I’ve loved to review code written by others. On GitHub, the software development platform we continue to use at Vinted, that’s usually done when a developer opens a pull request. These are actual sentences from comments I’ve made on pull requests in 2013, five years ago:

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This comment was followed by 20 other quite similar remarks on the same pull request. Annoying? Yes. The only good thing - it led to me eventually writing Pronto.

Interesting indentation.

It sounds passive-aggressive because it is.

Screw this, I’m reviewing only pull-requests from my team from now on.

This particular proclamation lasted a couple of weeks. For my current colleagues interested in what prompted this - it’s pull request number 1233 in the core repository. I only look worse after you read the whole thing.

My goal was better code. Yet I didn’t understand how irritating my behavior was. My saving grace - I was less obnoxious in real life. My co-workers saw good in me. They gave feedback and eventually directly confronted me about my behavior. I understood, and I’ve changed my conduct.

What would happen if someone would view those pull requests today? They could judge me an asshole. The effect would be amplified by the fact that I’m now Head of Engineering at Vinted. They could be dismayed finding out that someone who made the “screw this” comment went on to lead. I would understand how they came to that conclusion. I would also find it unfair.

I’ve changed. I also believe in other people’s ability to change. I wrote in A User Guide to Me that I think most people to be good and have positive intentions. Those intentions are not always expressed in the best way though. The solution is to give feedback instead of a verdict.

We live in a different world today than we did just twenty years ago. More than 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years.

The Internet is written in ink, not in pencil. We have to adjust our judgment. Not just by how we create content. But also by how we gauge it.