On Humility

donaldkellett profile image Donald Sebastian Leung ・2 min read

So, I'm writing this post because of an argument that spiralled out of control in a developer community that I once loved (and still do, except ... ). And this post will be largely non-technical unlike all of my previous posts.

I have recently written a programming exercise on a competitive programming site teaching a particular topic in university-level mathematics, namely linear algebra. I'll be honest up-front: I do not claim to know everything about this topic as I've only taken an introductory course on this topic not too long ago, but I thought it would be good to share this knowledge to my developer community in the form of a programming exercise.

Anyway, another person in the developer community much more experienced than I am (and probably the most experienced developer in the entire 1+ million developer community) accused me of misleading fellow developers with the exercise due to my lack of knowledge in the subject area. While I did make a falsifiable comment alongside the exercise (specifically, I claimed that one could not define norm and dot product for polynomials and matrices but said developer gave concrete examples of how they could be defined), there was no proof that my lack of complete knowledge in the subject matter affected the exercise in any way. In other words, everything I included in said exercise, even though incomprehensive, was completely correct.

Somewhere in the heated argument between the two of us, said developer mentioned that "I should just be humble and acknowledge that I am not experienced in the subject matter" instead of defending my exercise. Obviously, I agree with his statement above since the worst thing one could do is be wrong and arrogant about something at the same time. But here is the question to ponder: just because someone is experienced or knows everything about the subject matter, does that automatically license him/her to be arrogant and boss people around with no regards to their feelings?

Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts in the comment section below 😄 I look forward to reading your views regarding this humanitarian issue.

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donaldkellett profile

Donald Sebastian Leung


A Year 2 Computer Science and Engineering undergraduate at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology


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just because someone is experienced or knows everything about the subject matter, does that automatically license him/her to be arrogant and boss people around with no regards to their feelings?

No, it doesn't. Your assertion was wrong at an utterly basic level (equivalent to "You can use a for loop to iterate over an array but not a linked list." in programming), but that does not excuse incivility.

And comment boxes are dangerous this way. You're sitting on your couch, in the safety of your home, typing away. Psychologically, you're almost talking to yourself. As you edit, you start ruminating, and the revised comment becomes more strident as the rumination spirals you into agitation.

At the same time, it takes two to tango. We don't know both sides of the discussion or how it escalated. Your own perception of this is likely not accurate (go read The Monkey Brain for a description of what tends to happen in these situations).

What is there to be salvaged from this situation? Your sense of comfort and safety in the community. I would recommend messaging your interlocutor and apologizing for letting the discussion get out of control. Ask them if they would be willing to review future linear algebra exercises for you before you post them.

Your monkey brain is probably jumping up and down and screaming when I recommend that. It wants to be right! It wants to win! Cage it. The real wins to be had here are to reclaim your sense of comfort and safety in the community and possibly acquire a mentor.


Thanks for your insightful comment and the interesting read - the article you linked to on "The Monkey Brain" is definitely going on my reading list 😄