Challenging Technical Debates

Having a business partner who is super-experienced in a very niche area of computer science, while coding a product within that area of expertise, has been an eye-opening experience in many ways. I've been learning a whole lot of deep information about technology that most programmers don't get to learn about! It's been awesome, and fascinating.

The other day I was at a meeting for a pre-order of our product. We were talking about different compression options that are out there and what his product needs in terms of feature support. It was just me and this potential customer, grabbing some coffee and chatting compression.

He tells me that his team has done thorough comparisons of all options and their current compression solution is by far the best. I asked what his current solution was, and he told me a solution that was most definitely not optimal in many ways. When I pointed this out very politely, things suddenly shifted and I saw a flinch of anger. He started grilling me on basic compression knowledge. He started pointing to the expertise of his team. He took the fact that not many people are using his solution and spun it in a good way-- his team had found an optimal, niche solution and they were so smart and no one else could realize this.

Fortunately, I know what I'm talking about. I presented him with data to show him his solution was not optimal, and he then switched stances to saying compression does not matter anyway and what they have is good enough.

I bring it up because this is a beautiful illustration of how many technology debates go. And being more knowledgeable about this niche field than most has made me just sit back and raise an eyebrow at it all. I realize just how many technical debates are mostly power plays, people who don't really know what they're discussing, elitism-in-action, and trying to push others out of the way psychologically.

The other week after another conversation like this I posted: "The deeper I get into coding, the more I realize the confident coders who intimidated me are often wrong. Always question & be open minded."

If someone comes out with an absolutist statement without any qualifiers, red flag. If someone doesn't name any downsides or alternate options, red flag. If someone is being rude (even jokingly) while making a point, red flag. If someone is using terms that are hard to understand without explanations, red flag. If someone won't welcome a beginner into the discussion, red flag.

In the past, these kinds of technical debates were terrifying. I often felt so stupid, and put down. But now I look at these people and think "Well buddy, I guess your ego is more important than your game's quality," nice people get the best compression, and it's pretty satisfying. :)

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