On unapologetic enthusiasm

Posted by Katie McLaughlin on February 8, 2018

Content warning: mental health, mild descriptions of abuse

Over the course of the last day of linux.conf.au 2018, I saw “unapologetic enthusiasm” a few times. Jess Frazzelle’s keynote. Emma’s lightning talk.

I love to geek out in talks, and while I might lose people, I know that some people are right there along with me, thinking “Yes! This is absolutely cool and fascinating!”

And it got me thinking a bunch of things about how there aren’t many spaces where it’s safe to do such things.

Twitter is not one of them. In the past few minutes of writing this post, I deleted a thread where I was trying to explain that I’d very recently learnt how there’s differences in invoking scripts in shell. I was immediately flooded with helpful, and not so helpful comments.

I’ll admit I don’t know everything, even through I’ve allegedly been working with Linux systems for a good few years now. But there’s still bits that give me epiphanies when a bunch of things all finally click together.

But trying to describe such things in a forum with limited characters is only inviting the wellactually brigade to fly in and tell me things I already know, but didn’t articulate in the one tweet.

I want to be able to learn such things without it seeming like I’m dumb or stupid or junior for not already knowing. I want to be able to ask the questions about the terms for things that will help me in searching more about it. Without knowing what a hashbang/shebang is, it’s really hard to Google for punctuation.

I want to be able to be enthused to learn and where more information is handed to me with love and care and not in a tone that could be implied to be condescending.

And on a more private note: I’ve recently gotten out of a personal relationship where any excess enthusiasm was met with comments about being ‘hyperactive’ and having to ‘calm down’. Where being excited about learning was seen as being ‘unladylike’, and ‘not befitting’. Once these thoughts are screwed into your mind it’s hard not to recall them any time you start thinking about geeking out. Immediately feeling self-conscious about standing out and being noticed for making scene.

I hate having to censor myself when all I want to do is learn and grow and get better at my job. I hate immediately seeing any response to my communications about such things as negative. I want to learn in an environment where we all lift each other and help each other grow.

I’m never going to feel confident enough to call myself an SRE or a Linux sysadmin when I can’t admit when I don’t know something.

But I’ll be damned if I won’t help lift those who and enthusiastic without apology. To go “Yes! This is great! I’d love to learn more / help you learn more if you want!” instead of going “Well that X minutes of talk was moot because of this one small stumble”. (Yes, I’ve had this. More than once.)

Assuming the best intentions is hard when you’ve been burnt so many times before.

[0] Having a job title include the word ‘Engineer’ without having an accredited engineering degree is a subject for another discussion.