On Critique In Tech

Posted on

It seems that the wider tech community is very prone to having heated arguments regarding a particular piece of technology. Hybrid vs Native, Tailwind vs CSS, Web Components vs Framework Components. They normally start off with a valid piece of criticism, but inevitably become a pissing contest. If some sort of argument doesn’t happen on Twitter, it can feel like a quiet week!

Tribalism in Tech

People in tech often feel passionate about their tools. Whether these are tools they use or tools they make. When someone from outside the “tribe” comments on a tool that people are passionate about, it’s taken as an attack against the whole tribe. Look at any comment (valid or not) against web components. Even if the point being made is a legit concern, web component proponents will take this as an attack on web standards or projects involved with web components. The same can be said for arguments amongst frontend frameworks and tailwind fans.

People build their identity on the tools they use, for better or worse. Giving these tools an almost cult like community. I’m no exception to this as I’ve gotten into arguments about Angular vs React in the past.

Art Critiques

Before tech, I went to school for graphic design. As part of my education, I had to take courses with people who were focused on sculpture, painting, photography. What was typically considered “real art” by my college. Graphic Design students took these courses and were subjected to the same critiques as everyone else. Now, I’m not here to argue about if design should be considered real art or not, but to talk about how studio critiques work.

After 5 weeks or so of work on a particular project, everyone presents what they worked on, their thought process, and you discuss the piece. At first, critiques suck. It seems like people are attacking your work without any consideration for you or your feelings. Tribalism sets in as it’s you vs everyone else. The next person goes up and it’s time to dish out the same hurt on to them as they did to you.

Except…that’s not the point. Studio critiques are not about people attacking you, it’s about evaluating something. The piece you made, by the time critiques come around, needs to be disassociated from the artist. Critiques judge a piece (it’s context, it’s construction, and it’s impact) without judging the maker. This way, critiques become a constructive conversation between other makers.

If everything was taken as an attack against what was made, there would be no improvements. Just arguing with random people.

Just like tech twitter sometimes.

Critiques are meant to be constructive. If someone says “I don’t like tailwind because I find it verbose and complex to maintain”, they are not stirring up drama. They are providing feedback. If someone says “I don’t like tailwind because it removes the need to understand CSS”, that’s not an attack. It’s feedback.

If someone says “I don’t like tailwind because it’s stupid and you’re stupid for using it”, that’s not feedback. That’s an attack.

Learning to hear feedback and different opinions is something I’ve learned at school. I wish other concentrations were able to participate, maybe there would be less arguments around tech tribes on twitter.

Thanks to Josh VanAllen for reviewing