Don't Let Your Career Go Down In
Copyright (C) 2000-2001 by Steve Litt, All rights reserved. Material
provided as-is, use at your own risk.
By Steve Litt
Time was (1996) you could keep your on-line life entirely separate from
your career. Those days are gone. Today's email is used to write software,
write books, formulate business strategies, hammer out contracts, and just
about everything else that was once labeled "collaboration" or "groupware".
Any technologist ineffective in the email arena will fall hopelessly behind.
So it never fails to amaze me how some truly gifted technologists deliberately
nuke their email presence with flames, personal insults, and off topic
posts. In June 1999 I personally witnessed an excellent ~60 member Linux
User Group ripped in two by a flame war started and sustained by five,
count em five, people. Today, in July 2000, one of the LUG's appears to
be dying, and the other has just now regained the membership, success and
community involvement of the original. A years worth of progress destroyed
by five people whose only priority was to ram their opinion down everyone's
throat by outshouting all others.
I've compiled a list of short clips from that flame war that split
a LUG. These are inflamitory and in some cases use vulgar language, so
please do not click this link if such language offends you, or if you are
Short clips from the 6/27/1999-7/10/1999 ELUG
splitting flame war
Most mailing lists are archived. Almost all of the flames listed in
the preceding link can be located, and displayed in full, with an AltaVista
search, complete with author's name and email address. Try the lookup yourself,
based on the text from the clips.
These flames will hang around forever, like landmines, waiting to be
discovered years from now by the authors' business associates. Imagine
going to a job interview, only to have the interviewer say "Oh yes, you're
the *^%*&^&% that flamed so and so on the such and such mailing
list. We look for a higher level of maturity from our employees. Thanks
but no thanks".
If it were easy refrain from flaming, there wouldn't be so many flames.
Believe me, most flamers are wonderful people in person. I once witnessed
a particularly nasty and personal flamewar between two LUG members. Having
lived in Venice, California, where insults are settled in ways often requiring
hospitalization for one or both parties, I expected a fistfight at the
next LUG meeting. The two got together, laughing and joking. Some of the
nastiest flamers are the nicest people. But in the end, "but he's nice
in person" does little to blunt the career trauma caused by ill-advised
You and I are nice people, but nice people flame unless they affirmatively
guard against it. Here's how not to flame...
The preceding can pretty much prevent flame wars. But there are many smaller
issues that should be remembered:
Never get personal. Never say "you're an idiot", "you're a hypocrit", or
even "you're wrong". No matter how true the statement, it's almost guaranteed
to generate a heavy handed response that will just get you madder. Instead,
say "my experience has been that..." or "you're right, although in the
case of (whatever) I've found it helpful to...". Move the focus from people
to technology, or whatever (impersonal) subject is being discussed.
Never get sarcastic. Anyone smart enough to receive email is smart
enough to recognize sarcasm for the insult it is, but not necessarily smart
enough to keep a cool head in his or her response.
Never get emotional in a negative way. Even going on a Linux list and saying
"BILL GATES IS A CROOK WHO SHOULD BE IMPRISONED FOR LIFE" could generate
an angry reply from someone who doesn't like non-technical noise, which
in turn could be countered by a counterresponse from someone completely
different, stating that anyone who doesn't believe gates is a crook is
a total idiot...
Never threaten anyone on mailing lists. Getting shot can sidetrack your
career. So can getting sued.
Never use all caps for any more than a few words. Doing so enrages a large
portion of the online population, risking a flame war.
Never send an email when you're angry. It's almost certain to emphasize
anger over reason, leading to an even more irrational response.
Always count to 10 before sending an email you think might be negative.
Chances are you'll rethink it into something less inflammatory.
Always remember that if someone's posting inappropriate material, chances
are others are offended also, and it's likely that suggestions to the list
moderator can get the inappropriate posts, or their posters, banned.
Do not use HTML email or fonts unless you're absolutely sure all recipients
can handle it and like it. People using text only email clients can get
pretty riled at the inconvenience of HTML email, and they might just flame
you. Even if you don't flame them back, someone else might come to your
defense with a personal insult...
Never attach graphic files or other large files to your email, unless all
recipients have requested it. Imagine the response of someone on a 28.8
modem after receiving a couple megabytes worth of graphic files. If you
want to show off pictures, put them on a web site and email the URL so
those who want to see them can do so at their leisure.
When emailing, remember that many recipients receive hundreds of emails
a day. If yours requires any extra handling it will be ignored or worse.
Unsolicited attachments, no matter how small, are usually a bad idea. They
require extra work to be viewed by the recipient.
Do not email any kind of executable file or macro. Such virus transmitters
are considered extremely bad form.
Don't go on a mailing list and request that answers be emailed specifically
to you. If you don't have time to check the mailing list, you can be sure
the people doing the answering don't have time to educate one person at
Do not criticize those on a mailing list for not answering your question
the last time. Instead, evaluate your last message to ascertain why it
didn't merit an answer.
Always use a smile character :-) when kidding around. Remember the recipient
can't see you smiling when you type it, and might wrongly construe your
kidding as a serious insult.
Doing Business Through Email
Next time you're in the bookstore, check out Samba Unleashed. Then ponder
the fact that over 90% of the communication leading to the creation of
that book was done via email. Authors were found and recruited, contracts
were negociated, chapters and graphics were submitted, editor queries were
sent and returned via email. Email was used to ask and answer questions
on writing style and technical details.
For those who know how to use it, email is an ideal way of doing business.
Unlike the phone, it doesn't interrupt. Unlike a voicemail message, it's
electronically searchable and takes up little space. It's small enough
to make it practical to keep it forever. Unlike snailmail it's fast, and
it's immediately storable in the world's most efficient file cabinet, the
The very sparseness of email makes it effective for those knowing its
use. Without fonts, text attibutes and pictures you can get right down
to the task of writing. No more trying to make yourself "look like a big
corporation". Everyone, from the Fortune 500 honcho down to the guy who
cleans the floors in the 5 man business, uses text email. Oh sure, a few
people use all sorts of fonts and attributes. But these tend to be spammers.
Or raw newbies trying to impress with decorative junk. But those of us
needing fast and efficient communication for our livelihood use primarily
text email. And we always will. Because text email is much faster than
dictating the email so a secretary can format it in pretty html.
Email enables the verbally challenged to finally make the money they
deserve. Take me for example. Verbally, I'm not particularly "quick on
the uptake". After every discussion, I think of 10 "I should have said"s.
Invariably I'm left behind. I don't think as fast as others.
But often I think deeper. And more accurately. With email, I can take
the time to say it right, and often come out ahead of the fast talkers.
There are many, many more like me. With email we're finally experiencing
the success we've always been capable of.
Email can skyrocket your career, or torpedo it. The choice is entirely
yours, based on your decision whether to communicate clearly and factually,
or to criticize, whine and insult. Email is not private. It never has been,
it never will. The recipient can send it to someone else. If sent to a
mailing list or some other large entity, it's entirely likely your message
will be archived and submitted to search engines. The email you write today
very well might still be public knowledge 10 years from now.
Webmaster: Troubleshooters.Com: http://www.troubleshooters.com/troubleshooters.htm
Content Lead: Troubleshooting Professional Magazine: http://www.troubleshooters.com/tpromag/archive.htm
Webmaster: Linux Library: http://www.troubleshooters.com/linux/index.htm