to keep us from accidentally discouraging other people from doing the things they need to do to learn

… you tried to solve a small programming problem over the internet, and the main point was not “How good are you as a programmer?” It’s “How well do you deal with frustration, and do you turn into a jerk when you’re trying to solve a problem with someone else or teach someone something?” ‘Cause it’s kind of hard to really keep the jerkitude inside, I think, when you’re, like, a little bit frustrated and you’re trying to work with somebody for that. And those people got rejected.

Also, to keep us from accidentally discouraging other people from doing the things they need to do to learn, at Hacker School there are four social rules. These are social rules to help everyone feel okay with failure and ignorance. No feigned surprise. No well-actuallys. No back-seat driving. And no sexism, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Feigning surprise. When someone says “I don’t know what X is”, you don’t say “You don’t know what X is?!” or “I can’t believe you don’t know what X is!” Because that’s just a dominance display. That’s grandstanding. That makes the other person feel a little bit bad and makes them less likely to show you vulnerability in the future. It makes them more likely to go off and surround themselves in a protective shell of seeming knowledge before ever contacting you again.

Well-actuallys. That’s the pedantic corrections that don’t make a difference to the conversation that’s happening. Sometimes it’s better to err on the side of clarity rather than precision. Well-actuallys are breaking that. You sometimes see, when people actually start trying to take this rule in, that in a conversation, if they have a correction, they struggle and think about it. Is it worth making? Is this actually important enough to break the flow of what other people are learning and getting out of this conversation.

– Exertpted from Hospitality, Jerks, and What I Learned by Sumana Harihareswara.