Analyze what you read, never assume it's the truth

A recent event which lead to the loss of ALL the data for the popular programming blog Coding Horror and Stack Overflow blog brought up an interesting discussion over at reddit. The discussion talks about whether Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky (co-founder of Stack Overflow) really are the gurus some people think they are or if they are just average people talking like they're the best. The idea behind this question is that since those two "gurus" failed to have a working backup strategy for those two blogs (Spolsky hardly has anything to do with any of that though, it's all Jeff Atwood's fault in this case) how can they be considered gurus.

If you've been reading Coding Horror for a little while, you might remember that the blog had been labeled "the world's most dangerous programming blog" by some reddit commenter (I couldn't find the link). Jeff responded by saying that you should always read critically. That's easy to say, but Jeff has the bad habit of taking one side and rejecting the alternatives, he's always black or white, he has no middle ground. This is one way of blogging and it has worked wonderfully for him, it provokes reactions all the times and he likes that.

So, is Jeff Atwood really incompetent?

I don't think so, I just think his blogging style is not understood by many. Jeff Atwood (and Joel Spolsky) are both highly experienced professionals in the programming world (though Spolsky hardly has anything to do with programming anymore) and they have something to show for it: Stack Overflow (while suffering from the programmer interface syndrome) is a wonderful web site that has helped millions of programmers already (including myself, Jeff himself and most likely you too).

So why did he experience the data loss and how can he write things that mislead fellow programmers? First of all, he's human, so he's prone to make mistakes. Secondly, as I said earlier, Jeff has no middle ground because he understands that if everyone agrees with you, you're boring and not worth reading.

Blog post after blog post, he manages to pass through the filter in his brain that stops most of us from posting, he dares post an unfinished/under-researched post. Then, his hundreds of thousands of readers analyze his post and correct him, making him learn a lot more than if he had refrained himself from posting. Both him and Joel Spolsky are really good at sharing their experiences and we all got better at our profession by reading those articles.

So don't follow blindly, always keep a critical eye open for flaws in any blogger's judgment. Take what's useful for you and forget the rest, never assume someone's right without actually thinking about what's written and why it was written.

Michel Billard's profile picture

A web developer's musings on software, product management, and other vaguely related topics.