How I used Twitter as a developer (and why I left it)
UPDATE #2: Here is an amazing article describing the effects of leaving social media.
UPDATE: It’s been a few months since my last tweet, and I returned to Twitter on a healthier schedule. This article is still relevant, because without abandoning Twitter for a good while, I would not have seen how productive I can be without it.
It’s not clear when, but I’ve become addicted to a certain way of living online, and I’ve also realized this particular approach of leveraging the web may have stunted my growth as a developer. I dubbed it the Twitter way, since Twitter is the central platform around which most (but not all!) of my troubles came about. If you’re reading this article, you may be wondering what this silly “Twitter way” is, and why at the end of my epiphany I deleted my account with alacrity.
Before I go on, let me emphasize I’m describing a personal problem, and I’m not claiming most developers face it. I also regard Twitter as an incredible networking platform in general (ignoring how it might employ Ad Tech, though it seems Facebook is more perverse.) My decision to abandon the Twitter way doesn’t mean we should all delete our accounts — even though I did. You may very well be someone who doesn’t identify with any of the symptoms I’m about to discuss, and you should stick to Twitter to keep track of all your strong, meaningful connections there...
At the very least, the reader may appreciate the other steps I’ve taken to be more productive online.
The Twitter Way
There were three specific patterns of behavior I saw myself acting out, and it eventually became something I did routinely and on a daily basis.
1. Lose myself in debate threads between two or more developers
The reason this was bad has to do with losing an unjustifiably large amount of time seeking thrills from debates.
If I’m honest with myself, the topic at hand wasn’t relevant to me. As long as it involved spicy language, and some of my favorite programmers were involved, all the better! In addition, I always felt remorse for not taking the time to instead read the programmer’s blog posts on my own time to actually learn from them. Why did I come to admire these developers in the first place? Why do I feel a need to look at their rants so often, when that’s not what motivated me to want to be like them? Over time, I had exactly zero hours to do any research online and learn new things about programming… because by the time I closed the Twitter app, it was time for bed.
2. Confuse @ mentions with a sense of duty
Whenever your name is mentioned somewhere on the Internet, and you get notified by it, there’s a rush to it that makes you believe you are loved and respected. Even if the comments are negative, who cares! They’re paying attention! And when a large enough number of people are following you, and the rate of notifications increase, you tell yourself people admire you.You start to believe it as a hard fact, and you justify spending time on birdsite because you have a duty to your fans.
I call bull.
First, the rate of @ mentions say nothing meaningful about what people actually think. There are forces beyond your control that may determine why people react to your online persona: hype; a trending topic; your reddit comment becoming a meme, and so on. However, let’s pretend we somehow became hugely influential — that doesn’t mean we have any responsibility to regularly keep people informed on our lives. You may believe you need to tweet all the time, but if you’re a programmer who’s not in charge of some official marketing campaign (i.e. you’re not a company and you’re not a full-time indie), there isn’t any meaningful need. In fact, I claim if you’re a good enough programmer, people will find the means to keep up-to-date with you. I can count with just one hand the programmers that’ll seriously make me go out of my way to find out what they’re up to. This revelation gave me pause about my own inflated ego.
3. Dropping the ball on e-mail
What started off as putting off e-mails for tomorrow (in favor of Twitter thread replies) became putting off dozens of important and delayed mail responses per week. That is insane. Let’s think about this for a second: I gave priority to answering simple tweets from randos instead of sitting down and having long-form conversations with programmers who cared enough to compose an e-mail for me. If that’s not a serious lapse in judgement I don’t know what is. This was the third and final pattern of behavior that made me realize I have a problem.
What’s your new way?
Let’s recap on the essentials:
- I fooled myself into thinking that being with other devs on Twitter meant I was productive.
- The above behaviors I described are not representative of developers who actually want to have real personal growth outside of their job.
- I called it the Twitter way because I have other close friends who had had similar patterns of behavior until they came to similar conclusions.
Now that I saw the error of my ways, how do I plan to spend my free time online, network with programmers, and actually improve myself?
Fight for a Cause: Online Privacy
I think we should all actively engage in some online cause. Mine is privacy, and developers are in a great position to understand morally iffy trackings of user data. Here are a few links to recent discussions which reflect my views on the matter:
You Are the Product — The most interesting critical analysis I’ve read on Facebook’s business model. It’s a long essay but enlightening and potentially worth your time.
It’s time to break up Google — A poignant but accurate video by privacy advocate Bryan Lunduke.
How to Live Without Google — This article came out at the time of writing! In this post, DuckDuckGo (DDG) recommends ways an individual can reclaim their privacy.
Of course, taking back your privacy involves some annoying effort. As much as I love DDG, and although their search results have improved significantly, they’re still not Google. It’s a hit I decided to take, though, and the developers are open to examples of where to improve. I’ve deleted Facebook; I’m slowly phasing out Gmail in favor of ProtonMail; I’ve installed the EFF’s Privacy Badger and I’m getting my news through Feedly. That last one is an extra measure to avoid my temptation in being a spectator to outrage and flame wars.
Engaging in a valuable Networking Platform
I deleted a ton of online accounts and I’m letting my personal domain expire—many devs don’t need a website — in favor of focusing on platforms that actually encourage me to have long useful discussions. So far, Medium and Twitch (and of course, Handmade Network!) are my top choices. I’m at a new apartment and I still need to buy furniture and proper equipment before I stream again, but it’s definitely a worthwhile investment for serious programmers looking for real-time moderated feedback.
Reading Source Code
I’ll reveal two programmers that I would go out of my way to see what they’re up to: Fabien and Fabian. From what we know about them, what do they owe a lot of their success to? Reading. Metric Tons. Of Source Sauce.
This has not been easy for me to do, but I’m slowly getting used to it, and there are indeed treasure troves to be found even in the most obscure of codebases. If you’re interested in this kind of hobby, I highly recommend you start your journey with Wolfenstein 3D. Fabien’s latest book may make your foray into this code much easier to muddle through— and you’ll develop your skills measurably faster than any Tweet thread ever will.
I’ll miss the bird, but I’m excited about my commitments. Send me an e-mail, maybe this time I’ll reply!
Abner Coimbre (left) was Kennedy Space Center’s Intern of the Year in 2015 and was named to Kennedy’s 2016 Top 10 Innovators . He currently lives in Seattle working for Thekla, Inc.