Don’t be rude

I have an online stalker. This is nothing unusual in the age of the Internet. I had a stalker back in the late 1990s as well.

The first one was someone who fell madly in love with me through IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and devised extremely weird ideas on how we could be together, despite living in different countries and his having parents who would kill him if they found out he was attracted to guys.

It was unsettling, but I asked him nicely to stop being creepy, and he eventually went away.

This new one is interesting. He found me on a site frequented by the SQL Server community, and I don’t know how to ask him to go away.

I have a lot going on in my life, many irons in the fire. Surprising no one who actually knows me, I don’t spend all of my time working on SQL Server. Depending on the time of day and who’s asking, my answer to “what do you do?” will be different.

My IT consulting company specialises in SQL Server consulting, but is not limited to that. In the past I helped move equipment to a new server cabinet and even removed viruses off computers full time.

I write software in several languages and have a web hosting company, which requires regular ongoing maintenance on a lot of WordPress sites.

I am on the boards of five organizations, some of which are IT businesses, some are volunteer-based.

I am also an actor, director, producer, writer, author (not the same thing), and frequent traveller.

IT consulting takes up maybe 15% – 20% of my time, and that includes writing a technical blog post every week.

I can say with confidence that I am NOT an expert in any one thing. My interests range from cheesy films and television to the technical structure of a sitcom, from quantum mechanics to scriptwriting, from the Windows network stack and the internals of SQL Server data pages to a mathematical formula I created for solving magic squares. I even wrote a word puzzle game to find an efficient way to store all the words in the English dictionary.

I’m constantly learning because all kinds of things interest me. I am not an expert in any one thing. I have almost no idea what I am doing.

My journey in life seems to be about making people happy, whether through problem-solving, writing, telling stories, donating money, or sharing knowledge. Even though I am scared of change, I choose to pursue new experiences, so that I can talk to as many people as possible about the things that interest them, then somehow make that into a happy experience. People laugh when I’m around, and it makes us all feel good.

Learning new things in a positive, collaborative environment is one way I’ve found to perpetuate this sort of happiness. Not everyone seems to like learning in this way, though.

Since January of this year, I have been a Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) in the Data Platform space. The MVP is awarded to people who are involved in their respective communities, sharing knowledge and volunteering time to help evangelize Microsoft products. Let’s not beat around the bush here: I am extremely grateful for the award and the benefits that go with it. It helps my profile immensely. But I am not an expert in Data Platform. I don’t even know what half the things are. I speak at events because I’m passionate about technology and helping people discover new ways of doing things, but I don’t claim to be an expert. I specialize in performance tuning and disaster recovery best practices, but I’m not an all-around expert.

Part of my expected community involvement, to retain the MVP status, is that I contribute to forums and Q&A websites, like TechNet, StackExchange, and SQLServerCentral.

I don’t have a lot of time to spare to answer forum posts, and I find TechNet incredibly frustrating to use, but I do dip my toe into the DBA StackExchange site (DBA.SE) if there’s a question I think I can answer. I’m not there for the status or the points; I’m there to try and help someone solve a problem. I look for obscure questions, but there are simple ones too.

I went back to DBA.SE only because it is expected of me, and that’s where my stalker found me.

For some reason, he (because isn’t it always a he?) has desperately tried to make me look bad, either by commenting or voting me down, or a combination of the two, on practically every post I’ve made in the last few months.

Given that I need absolutely no help to embarrass myself (I achieved lifelong embarrassment thanks to my British heritage) and that I have no shame, my stalker’s antics didn’t really bother me until this week. I had been fairly vocal on Twitter about “SnarkExchange”, but I decided to be fine with his behavior because it seems to be indicative of a larger problem in the tech sector, where some people (mostly white men) have to prove how clever they are at the expense of others (mostly women, but others too). I would overlook it for the sake of sharing with my community.

Then something happened on LinkedIn last week, and now I’ve had enough.

Two weeks ago, after musing for some time about the future of database administration being automated away by monitoring tools, analytics and machine learning, I posed a question on LinkedIn, asking my followers what tools they use for running multiple scripts against many database instances. For a small set of servers, this is almost trivial, but for thousands of servers, I wanted to know what people are using to keep track of issues in those systems in a smart way.

One person who happened to comment on the thread (in my third-level network, so someone connected to someone who is connected to someone who is connected to me) was rude from the outset, and eventually, through a series of exchanges, decided that I didn’t know what I was talking about and didn’t deserve to be called a technologist because I wouldn’t immediately do the thing he said I should do, and that’s fine because it’s probably true.

But the whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth after I tried engaging with him (isn’t it always a him?) to discuss his misgivings about Microsoft SQL Server. I wanted to hear why he didn’t like it, so that I could get a fresh perspective. He declined, so I blocked him.

Then last night, I unwittingly tried posting something helpful on DBA.SE, even though I’m so worried about being called out by my stalker that I don’t want to contribute to the community at all. As it turns out, what I wrote was wrong, and that’s also fine. How can I learn if I’m always right? My stalker replied to my answer, almost gleeful that it was incorrect. So I corrected my answer and thanked him for his feedback. I have even scheduled a technical blog post to explain why I was wrong and why assumptions are bad. That’s how I learn, through trial and error.

But now I want to close my StackExchange account again because I dread seeing his name. I dread the shitty feeling in my stomach when I see a notification from the app on my phone. I dread the tone of the comment he will have made, on almost everything I write, because his responses are engineered to gloat, to show how clever he is and how stupid I am.

I’ve been a school teacher. I direct films. I speak at community events. Whenever I do these things, I tell the people in the room that I’m not perfect, that I make mistakes, and learning is a collaborative thing.

Every one of us starts out knowing nothing. I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to be courteous.

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