did I overreact to my argument with a coworker?

A reader writes:

I have a question about a situation I encountered in my previous job. I am a software engineer. Like many tech companies, my previous office made heavy use of Slack, including several automated notifications, aka bots (for example, if an error showed up in the logs, we might get a notification from ”LogErrorBot”).

One time I got in a spat with a coworker, Fergus, about a new bot he set up. This bot would post a message whenever someone pushed new code, indicating whether it passed or failed our automated tests. I had no problem with the bot’s behavior – it was quite useful, actually – but Fergus had named it “Shamebot,” which rubbed me the wrong way. Since it posted messages any time we pushed code, it seemed like the implication was we should be ashamed of doing our jobs.

Obviously I didn’t think Fergus actually intended anything of the sort. It was just a silly name that was a play on our internal status webpage, which was nicknamed “The Board of Shame,” because it called attention to failed test suits. (This felt subtly different from the bot, which sent messages for *any* new code, not just failures.) But since the bot’s name was not a big deal and changing it was easy, I asked Fergus to please do so.

Well, it quickly turned into a big deal! I’d asked in a public Slack channel, and the request got a surprising amount of pushback, especially from Fergus and another coworker, Frederick. (I think a few other people chimed in as well, but I don’t remember.) Frederick insisted that the bot’s name could not possibly be offensive, and that I was wildly overreacting. I kept saying things like, “I know it’s not a big deal, but because it isn’t, why don’t we just change it to something everyone is comfortable with?” There had recently been some discussions about improving our office culture, which was often insensitive and required thick skin; I pointed out that this was exactly the sort of small issue that contributed to the broader pattern. Frederick and Fergus both scoffed at this, responding with things like, “It’s just a name, why are you getting so worked up?” and “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities.” Things continued in this vein intermittently for a few hours as we checked Slack.

At this point, the naming question had gathered much more drama than I’d intended. In hindsight, I think I was spending way too much capital on it, but I didn’t want to just back down and suck it up. Fergus and Frederick were clearly being ridiculous by continuing to push back. I felt like if we ever wanted to make progress towards a more welcoming, empathetic workplace, someone would have to draw a line somewhere — and since no one else seemed willing to stick their neck out, it might as well be me, and here. (While the debate was raging in Slack, I got several private messages of support from other coworkers, although no one else spoke up publicly.)

We ended up deadlocked, so I let it lie for a day and asked my manager for advice in our scheduled 1-on-1 the next day. He commended me for sticking up for more empathy, but didn’t have any practical suggestions. He didn’t want to “get in the middle” of the argument, and encouraged me to “keep thinking of ways to communicate productively with [my] coworkers.” This struck me as spectacularly unhelpful— I’d only gone to my manager because I’d exhausted every avenue I could think of! (I tried just renaming the bot myself early on, but Fergus switched it back and then changed the permissions so no one else could edit it. A casual poll with all the suggested names except “Shamebot” failed as well.)

The issue was abruptly resolved later that day, when my grandboss — who was also active on Slack, and for whom the whole office had great respect — stepped in and simply said, “We cannot name the bot Shamebot. Pick a different name,” and Fergus complied. Ever since then, though, I’ve wondered about the incident. Was I overreacting? Could I have handled it differently? Was my manager being too hands-off?

It’s worth noting that (a) this was my first job out of college, though I’d interned there previously, and (b) I was the only woman on the team.

Yeah, Fergus and Frederick were being asses, but I think you’re right that you got too invested and you should have dropped it before it reached the point it did.

Calling the bot “Shamebot” wasn’t a great idea, and your grandboss was right to shut it down. Workplaces shouldn’t signal that mistakes are shameful, even in a jokey way. That said, it’s not so egregiously offensive or so clearly unacceptable that it warranted you investing in the argument as intensely as you did. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think the problem was that the bot posted even when code wasn’t flawed. It seems pretty clearly a play on the possibility of shame, not implying that any work you did was shameful. It’s all moot, of course, since mistakes aren’t shameful anyway.)

And again, Fergus and Frederick were being asses. When someone tells you a jokey name rubs them the wrong way, you change it — you don’t tell them to just relax. That’s especially true in an office that’s been having discussions about being more sensitive, and especially true when the only person of Demographic X in your entire office is the one raising the concern.

Then there’s the irony of Fergus spending hours saying things like “Why are you getting so worked up?” and “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities,” when he could have taken his own advice. it sounds like he was enjoying needling you or was making some kind of self-satisfied point.

But once it became clear they were digging in their heels, at a minimum you should have taken it off Slack. That’s not a medium for a heated discussion (just like email isn’t), and it’s definitely not a discussion that needed to play out with all your coworkers as a silent audience.

Whether you should have pursued it in some other avenue after that … well, it’s really up to you and how bothered you were. Personally, I’d argue it wasn’t worth the capital to pursue (and I’d bet your office had plenty of other problems that capital could be saved for). But I suspect this wasn’t really about “Shamebot” for you — I’d bet it had started to represent a broader pattern in the culture, and that’s what you were reacting to. But when you argue hard against Small Thing X because it’s part of Big Pattern Y, it can end up looking like a strange over-investment if other people don’t realize that’s happening. That’s especially true when you’re in your first job out of school; people are more likely to write it off as you having questionable judgment rather than looking at the broader context you’re responding to.

In any case, your manager’s advice was crap. If he didn’t agree the name was a problem and wasn’t willing to shut it down, then so be it — but he needed to own that decision, not say he didn’t want to get in the middle. That’s an abdication of managerial responsibility — either he thought it was a problem, in which case he should have acted, or he didn’t, in which case he should have owned that to you. And telling you to “keep thinking of ways to communicate productively with your coworkers” is particularly BS. What does that even mean in this context? He might as well have just said, “I don’t feel comfortable having any role here. Please go away.” He sucks.

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. revueller*

    I’m sorry that this happened in your first job out of college. I really sympathize because I’ve been there in situations close to this. Unfortunately, learning when to back down or speak up is a skill that new employees need to learn right away. I agree with Alison’s advice, and it sounds like you did the right amount of self-reflection about this.

    Even more importantly, you learned a LOT about your manager. Don’t forget it.

  2. A Poster Has No Name*

    Also, the coworkers who supported you privately but didn’t speak up? Are part of the problem. How hard would it have been to say “Yeah, FWIW, I wouldn’t mind Shamebot going away” or something that was actually helpful?

    I suspect Fergus & Frederick are office bullies, though, and the whole place would be better off without them.

    1. revueller*

      Unfortunately, that kind of hedging behavior is pretty common in a toxic culture. And like you said, they’re bullies — making yourself a target for one is hard.

      1. tangerineRose*

        The coworkers who supported you privately are probably afraid to speak up publicly.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            If I were a coworker in that situation, I would been fine with changing the name to something other than shamebot, but I would not waste capital/energy on trying to make it happen. I wouldn’t speak up in support of either position not because I was scared but just because it seems like such a small issue to get worked up about. If I saw that, I would think that Fergus , Fredrick were definitely overreacting , but I would also think that OP overreacted a bit too.

            1. Puggles*

              The thing is that they sent a PM showing support. If you truly supported the LW then you need to support publicly. Don’t leave her out to hang by herself. Private messages in this case are just words without substance or backbone.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              Getting worked up about the bot name is in fact not worth it. However, once Fergus and Frederick got worked up about the simple request to rename it, in a way that was 100 times more obnoxious than the naming itself, it is time to stand up for the culture you want.

              Look how the grand-boss shut it down – that’s the kind of attitude (“of course we can’t do this – what are you thinking??”) you want modeled here.

          2. Lavender Menace*

            That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are part of the problem.

            For anything in the workplace, but especially anything related to diversity and inclusion – one must pick their battles and one must conserve their energy between battles they select. For all we know, some of those coworkers had just wrapped up (or were currently fighting!) some other battle on a similar topic, and either didn’t have the energy or needed to refill their bank of capital before starting a new one. Or perhaps they are brand new to the workplace and need to build a reputation in the first place, before they feel comfortable speaking up.

            I’m well-known in my org for fighting for diversity and a more inclusive workplace – to the point that I speak about it publicly on behalf of my company. But sometimes, I am just exhausted, and sometimes, the battle being fought isn’t the right one for me to step into. A private message of support can bolster someone up during theirs.

        1. Mary*

          >> I was the only woman on the team.

          Heavily side-eyeing every man in an nearly all-male team who privately supports a young woman trying to pushback on a bullying culture but lets her take the public fallout. Don’t be that guy. Step tf up.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Oooh, I missed that part. In which case, yes – I was going to cut a lot more slack to the coworkers because I understand how it is to want to support something but know you’ll face consequences you can’t handle for doing so publicly, but the calculus changes when you’re talking about the only woman on a team and the rest of the men who could’ve spoken up publicly and chose not to.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              Count me in as a member of Team Side-Eyeing Those Lily-Livered Men.

              I actually kind of wish OP had mentioned the gender situation earlier in, because it put the whole thing in a completely different perspective. Reading the letter again with that knowledge was just … wow. Sometimes context really is everything!

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreed. It drives me absolutely batty when people don’t speak up about things they agree/disagree with.

      1. SweetestCin*

        I speak up more now than I did when I was younger and less experienced. I used to ignore buffoonish behavior. I’m not very likely to call it out on the carpet when I see it, usually in a manner where the buffoon is asked to explain why something is funny because I just can’t quite get the joke. There have been the times where even that is too subtle and I’ll refer to them as an alternate name for a donkey, because it applies. And they need to quit it because they’re insulting to donkeys.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I’ve come to like using the term ‘donkey’ itself, and not its alternate name. As in: “He is just being a whole donkey about this Shamebot thing.”

        2. SweetestCin*

          And that should really say “now very likely to call it out on the carpet” not “not”!

          And I’m now hearing Gordon Ramsey telling someone to quit it because they’re insulting to donkeys and its hilarious! Thank you for the mental image :-)

        1. LunaLena*

          I totally understand that and I understand not wanting to be a target, but it’s still enabling. As a POC and a woman, I can’t count the number of times I’ve spoken up about something like this and been told “Well NO ONE ELSE is complaining, you’re just too sensitive!” I bring up being a POC because I see this most often with race issues – “[people of other races or people in other countries] aren’t complaining, so why are you so invested in this?” Or “my [nationality or race] friend is okay with it, so why aren’t you? Obviously you’re the one who’s too sensitive.” It’s nice, in those circumstances, when someone else unexpectedly stands up to be your ally.

          Frankly, I’m used to being a target – sometimes merely for existing and being a minority – so I don’t mind speaking up. And I get it’s scary to be a target if you’ve never been one before. But it is kind of ironic that people who do so are then told that they’re sensitive snowflakes who are running amok with PC culture…

          1. kt*

            Yes, this!! esp the last part:

            “Frankly, I’m used to being a target – sometimes merely for existing and being a minority – so I don’t mind speaking up. And I get it’s scary to be a target if you’ve never been one before. But it is kind of ironic that people who do so are then told that they’re sensitive snowflakes who are running amok with PC culture…”

            1. Quill*

              Yeah, when it comes to being a target…

              Did the entire being bullied thing throughout school, I might pick and choose my battles based on whether or not I feel like taking the fallout, but if you get me started, I have zero brakes so on your own head be it.

          2. RussianInTexas*

            I am a woman and a very dubious (the moment I open my mouth) immigrant and a Jew. I get it. I didn’t “understand” jokes, and “why can’t you just ignore” and “it was a compliment!”.
            One of the results of it, I use my ability to stand up for myself and others very selectively. I am sorry. But I just do. I need a job. That’s it and end of story for me.

              1. A Teacher*

                Ha! I liked it. I am a very dubious immigrant because physically I appear to be from here, and I have picked up enough of the local accent that I miiiiiiight be from a certain part of the capital city, but probably not, but maaaayyyyybe.

          3. Tidewater 4-1009*

            I speak up because no one else does. As a white woman the situations I encounter are rarely racial or obvious chauvinism. They’re more likely to be situation that’s unfair to everyone or management doing something profoundly stupid.
            But I usually am doing this outside of work. In my last job I had a good boss and I shared my thoughts with him and very occasionally with a colleague. I try to speak up only when it might actually help, not just venting.
            I kept quiet with corporate because I knew they wouldn’t appreciate it.
            As I’ve gotten older it’s easier to speak up partly because I got over the issues that were stopping me, and mainly because I’ve seen enough to be sure of what I’m doing.

          4. Loolooloo*

            Agreed! I worked in a toxic office where I was the only one speaking up. Everyone came to thank me or vent in agreement with me afterwards, but management just thought I was the only person who was critical, so nothing ever changed. They turned over almost every non-white employee in the 3 years I worked there and had no clue as to why they couldn’t retain them because no one besides me would publicly question any of the shitty management or ethical issues.

          5. Lavender Menace*

            I am a woman of color as well, and I still get it. I usually try to stand up for others publicly, but occasionally, it’s not the right time – either for the fight itself or for me, mentally and emotionally.

            I’m also used to being a target. That’s why I am occasionally selective about when I want to be one or not.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it especially bothers me if she’s the only woman on the team and Fergus is trying to paint her as “too sensitive.” Those guys supporting in private but not in public really should have stepped up.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I’m also a woman in Tech. Maybe this is bad of me (?), but I really like the idea of turning the “women are too sensitive/emotional” stereotype back on them and watching them squirm.

        Has anyone ever done something like this, and if so, do you recommend it?

        “Well gee Fergus, I’m actually not worked up at all. All I did was make a small, reasonable request. But based on your unusually defensive response, you seem pretty worked up about it yourself – is this a sensitive topic for you? All I need is for you to change the bot name, it’s really not a big deal. Can you take care of this by end of day?”

        If more pushback- “You seem pretty emotional about this. Let’s circle back when you’ve had a chance to calm down”

        1. StaceyIzMe*

          I think that turning the tables is a fine idea and it’s easily done by remarking that the other party is the one that seems worked up. But- “All I need is for you to…” is a phrase best left to management. I don’t think that a colleague has the standing to use quite that tone, even if they feel provoked.

    4. prismo*

      1000%. That stuck out to me as well. I had this happen to me in an office once–I was a just-out-of-college female intern arguing about sexism (it was a work-related conversation, not just an abstract discussion) with a 30something male colleague. At least one person emailed me during the discussion to say I was right but no one intervened out loud, and eventually I just stopped arguing because I was embarrassed and afraid I was going to cry. This was 10 years ago and I still wish that colleague had spoken up for me.

  3. Retail not Retail*

    Is there an effective way to use capital to say please exempt me from the teasing?

    It’s exhausting when everyone is just negative – in the same tone when joking or serious.

    1. winter*

      I’ve sometimes found it helpful to just answer earnestly each time. If you “don’t get the joke” and they feel like they need to explain it every time, for some people it stops being fun.
      also this way you are not spending capital, you just become “x we can’t joke around with because she won’t get it” which doesn’t have to be bad.

      Alternative: Never smile/react jokingly yourself. This might get you labeled as no fun as well, but there’s a good chance it’ll come along with some unspoken respect.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I wish I had know years ago one strategy:
        M: “Hey, come on, it’s just a joke”
        F: “Could you please explain what’s funny about it? I don’t get it.”

  4. RUKiddingMe*

    “Calm down little girl. Don’t be so emotional. No need for all the drama. It’s just a joke…”

    ad infinitum.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Yeah, once OP said she’s the only woman on the team, I got that impression from the two F’s as well :(

      1. kt*

        As a woman in STEM, that’s definitely part of the dynamic. Especially when it comes to sticking up for empathy. Sorry, OP. Classic tale.

    2. Susie Q*

      I hate that so freaking much. As a woman in STEM, I hate feeling belittled for speaking up against bullying behavior or sexist behavior. Last year I had a baby and that compounded things. I discovered sexist policies that you wouldn’t know until you had a baby:

      1) Breast pumps are not covered by insurance. Our insurance plan was grandfathered in under ACA and did not have to cover a pump. I complained to some of my coworkers and was told to chill out.
      2) Every year our company does profit sharing. It’s a percent of your total earnings. So if you make 100,000 and the percent is 5%, you get 5,000 put into your 401K. However my company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave beyond short term disability (5 weeks) which doesn’t count as salary by the company. So my annual salary was a lot less than normal since I had 18 unpaid weeks which meant my profit sharing was a lot less. When I mentioned this to my dad (who works there as well), he told me I should be grateful that I get any profit sharing and that I should also be grateful that I got all 12 weeks of fmla plus another 6 weeks of unpaid leave…

      This is why inequality will continue to compound between men and women. Especially when I’m called a Karen for speaking up about any of this. It’s so effing frustrating.

  5. calonkat*

    On the plus side, you now have evidence of some of the people who aren’t buying into the “we need to change the culture” idea.

  6. Oranges*

    I knew two paragraphs into this that OP was a woman. I hate the Fergus and Fredericks of the world.

    1. bleh*

      Of course. They were not advocating for keeping the name, they were torturing the only woman on the team for having the temerity to question their [ahem] ideas and their [again ahem] dominance.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        yep. The words they used are red flags for bullying / dominance.

        OP, you were right to question it. I think you got invested in it because you were picking up on the gender issue, and using this as a proxy, just as they were.

        Your manager sucked, your grandboss did not.

    2. Well Then*

      Same. And I agree with Alison’s advice that OP engaged too long over Slack, but I really commend OP – a new grad and the only woman in the office! – for sticking to her guns and trying to create a better experience for everyone, even when it became clear she was fighting alone. That takes grit and integrity, which her coworkers and manager lacked.

      1. Lilyp*

        Yes OP, a couple years out of college I would definitely have been too intimidated to speak up at all, so good for you sticking to your guns. I hate hate hate when being more willing to stick to a ridiculous argument longer means you win. Why isn’t Fergus stressing about how much capital he’s spending defending a ridiculous name? Ugh ugh ugh! I’m glad you’ve moved on, there definitely are tech jobs out there that don’t require a “thick skin” (but only for women, men get to throw as many tantrums as they want without being judged for it!)

        1. Paulina*

          Bullies often aren’t putting that much thought and energy into it; it becomes reflexive for them, using stock BS belittling phrases, hitting whatever weak points they see, and such. All they had to do was sneer at the OP, and refuse to change. 100% they also knew the manager wouldn’t want to get involved and their other coworkers wouldn’t speak up. And once they were shut down, unless the grandboss also went after them for their behaviour: they’ve had their fun, the OP expended a lot of energy, and there really wasn’t much culture change.

          I’ve been told I’m “getting too emotional” when I haven’t been emotional at all. This type of response requires no thought, can be done by a bot, and sadly sometimes is.

    3. Nina Bee*

      I didn’t realise but was thinking this is classic gaslighting that women experience all the time – “take it like a joke” type stuff. So wasn’t surprised to learn OP was female. Good on her for standing up, if only more people spoke up instead of hiding!

    4. nom de plume*

      Yes, this dynamic is so gendered, it made me want to punch my computer. And for that reason, I don;t love Alison’s reaction either, which is also in line with the “why are you making such a bid deal out of it?” playbook.

  7. mcfizzle*

    Was she over-reacting? I don’t think so. The phrase “straw that broke the camel’s back” keeps coming to mind.

    Thank you for standing up for what is right (even if it may seem like low-stakes).

    1. Knitting Cat Lady*

      This. So much.

      The constant drip drip drip of slights and digs typical in such toxic cultures is so wearing.

  8. Purt's Peas*

    One BIG item here is to take things off Slack as soon as you can. It’s really hard to read tone when you’re messaging someone, and having this conversation occur asynchronously and over five hours will make it seem like a huge conversation, huger than it would be in person.

    A possible opener would be: “hey Fergus, I dropped by because I realized we’d spent ages on Slack over this little bot and that was making it a way bigger deal than it needs to be! Sorry I brought this up on a public channel since it must have seemed like I was yelling at you over a harmless joke.

    “I asked about the bot name because I want to make sure that people don’t think they should be ashamed of making mistakes; it wouldn’t help to see ShameBot shouting about your failed build. What if we call it BuildBot or something?”

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      Also, people are more likely to dig in their heels when the argument is happening in front of the entire office. That’s a lot of people to admit you’re wrong to, even if you don’t have preexisting pride issues. (I suspect Fergus has preexisting pride issues)

    2. noahwynn*

      I’ve also found that people are a lot more reasonable sometimes if you directly confront the issue in person or on the phone instead of going back and forth over email or IM. Something happens when they’re talking to another person and not just words going back and forth on a screen.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        Yeah, honestly it sounds like these boys spend a lot of time on the kind of internet troll boards where it’s normal to dig your heals in about stupid things and make other people angry just for the lulz. Sometimes that can carry over to work, but going to them in person breaks them out of their spell.

        Also, I’m sure they were doing this to torture you.

        Sorry, is my “fed up woman in tech” showing?

    3. Smithy*

      Completely agree with this.

      I think it’s far more rare in even dysfunctional places to receive a reaction like that in person, whereas over a medium like slack it can continue for a while that inevitably makes something a “bigger deal”. No way anyone would want to schedule a 3 hour meeting to discuss that, however over a chat function a discussion can get prolonged. If it was with someone where you weren’t in the same physical office (perhaps during a COVID-19 everyone remote situation…..), reaching out to schedule a 10-15 minute chat can still work wonders.

      Now certainly, there will be people who are super friendly and wonderful over the phone or face to face and then their professional actions still aren’t very collaborative. But that’s another issue all together.

    4. Nesprin*

      I disagree- sometimes having a written record of a conversation is invaluable, even more valuable than the emotional content you get with in person discussions.
      This whole discussion has reminded me how much casual sexism there is in tech (grow a thicker skin, maybe don’t make waves, maybe use the “I feel” type softeners).
      I’m willing to bet that this is not OP’s first run in with these clowns, and having a record of their conversation is probably valuable and kept further offenses such as the ever present “women are just too emotional to work in tech” and “you shouldn’t care, it’s not aimed at you” and “no one else complained, you’re just a snowflake” type comments from coming out.

    5. Foxgloves*

      I don’t disagree that this shouldn’t have been so public, but I really disagree with this phrasing. PARTICULARLY as the only woman in the team, if OP had gone and said “Oh it sounded like I was yelling at you for something harmless, I was making this a big deal”, it completely diminishes what she was trying to achieve. The grandboss stepped in, she was right. She shouldn’t have to phrase it as something softer to save Fergus’ ego.

  9. Aurion*

    This is a hard balance to walk, but ultimately, it’s hard burning this kind of social capital when as the newbie to the company (and new grad) you don’t have that much capital to spare.

    I also disagree with you trying to surreptitiously rename the bot yourself–although Fergus was wrong in the principle, there is also no way he would not read that move as the passive-aggressive/aggressive move it is, and that move escalated the tension. Ultimately, once you mentioned it to your manager (and your manager blew it off) I think you should’ve dropped it, for your sake (since you’re still being viewed under the optics of the newbie). I understand how frustrating it was but if your manager wouldn’t manage and you’ve reached the maximum amount of leverage your limited capital could wield I don’t think it was the battle to fight anymore. Fergus wouldn’t resent grandboss for backing you up and ordering him to rename; ultimately, Fergus would resent you.

    Sorry, OP, this sucks.

    1. kt*

      I don’t think trying to rename the bot was really passive-aggressive/aggressive. People make modifications in our Slack channels all the time.

      1. Aurion*

        Normally it might not be. But when it was a point of contention that had already resulted in a strong public Slack argument over the course of a few hours? I can’t imagine Fergus not noticing. And the entire point of OP trying to change it was because Fergus would not (“fine, if you won’t, I’ll do it for you”). I think it’s fair to read passive-aggressive/aggressive in that action.

        I don’t disagree with OP’s annoyance at all! But it does contribute to OP looking overly invested in this matter.

        1. Aurion*

          Fergus was also overly invested in being wrong, for the record, but Fergus isn’t the one writing in…

    2. Lilyp*

      Eh, it’s pretty normal for stuff like that to be sort of communally owned once it’s created. I suspect Fergus would also initially argue something along the lines of “it’s not worth me spending my time to change it”, in which case the OP just changing it herself would make sense. It also highlights how Fergus is really the one making a big deal of this by taking the effort to change it back (and lock down the controls!)

    3. Megan*

      Sending out a poll that includes all the other options except Shamebot is also kind of passive aggressive.

    4. Avasarala*

      I agree. Arguing with Fergus is one thing, but once he pushed back and the manager blew it off, trying to change it yourself/initiate a poll is just being pigheaded yourself. You’ve seen that you’re not getting any backup from your colleagues. Once you make that appeal to authority/decency (“isn’t this the kind of thing we should be working on”), and it doesn’t work, you need to back off before you take damage yourself. The only thing that gets these stubborn prideful dudejerks to back down is authority.

  10. Berry*

    OP I’m really sorry you had to go through that, and I think it’s also a very clear example of sexism in tech/startups! (When I got to the bottom of the letter and you said you were the only woman on the team, it made 100% more sense.) The whole people privately messaging you saying thank you especially shows that it was bad but everyone is afraid of being the one to speak up.

    While arguing at work is bad and exhausting – thank you for calling it out to the point where your grandboss could not ignore and had to do something about it. If this is one thing that Fergus and Frederick were digging their heels in over, I’m sure there were other problems they were perpetuating.

    (I’m also in an office with a heavy Slack culture, even though I’m not on the tech team, and it can be so bad. Also many pros to Slack, but a mess.)

    1. Oranges*

      I’m in the same boat as the OP (woman in tech usually the only one) but here’s how it would have gone down in a non-dysfunctional work place (pretend I can write well):

      Me: Noticed your new bot’s name. I don’t think it’s cool to shame people about mistakes. That leads to timebomb bugs. Can you change the name please?
      Fugus: No, I think it’s hilarious.
      Me: Seriously, change it please.
      Furgus: No. Stop wasting your time.
      Me to my boss: Furgus named the new bot Shamebot. I do not like because reasons.
      Boss (okay with it): It’s a joke but I’ll see what I can do. (Midwestern for it’s not gonna change)
      Boss (not okay with it): I’ll get them to change it. Thanks

      Notice that Furgus is still a bully/idiot/etc but the boss gave me clear cut (to my midwestern ears) instructions. That way I’m not spending my capital needlessly in a public forum.

  11. hummana hummana hummana*

    “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities.”

    the nerve here is amazing. to match his energy, LW should have said “i’m rubber your glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” this is something that should have been resolved with “fine i’ll change it” because it’s low stakes and meaningless. luckily grandboss ultimately realized “someone complained. not everyone is ok with it. this is childish – just freaking change it so we can focus on our actual work” hopefully it’s this attitude that has earned him that great respect

  12. Smithy*

    I’m not super familiar with a team that uses Slack or similar in a highly collaborative/very frequent way – so maybe this is missing some nuance – but I wonder if you’d gone through a more private Slack channel to reach Fergus if that might have been helpful?

    When it comes to humor at work being told that something isn’t appropriate can often trigger an immediate defensive response. Both in the justification that no harm was meant but also feelings of having to divide your work/private self as additional effort. Getting that feedback in a more public forum there can be a feeling of justifying oneself to a larger crowd – “I am not a bad person, and gee can’t we just relax a bit at work”. In private, all the same feelings can happen – but there’s not as much a fight response to save face.

    Ridiculous people will still fight ridiculous battles, but in future – calling people out in front of a larger group can increase the likelihood there will be an impulse to defend themselves.

    1. Lavender Menace*

      Yeah, I work in tech and we are all working from home now, so no option to swing by anyone’s office. I’d take this to a private message (PM). In fact, that’s where I would’ve raised it first.

  13. Perpal*

    Yeah OP clearly in the end you were correct but when someone starts pulling the “why are you so invested in this”? BS (when they are clearly just as invested or more) then it’s time to walk away. Something like this it’s best to speak up once, sit back, see what happens. Don’t keep engaging. Maybe bring it up to your boss later or at one of those meetings about “how can we make the culture better?” etc. “hey this is a small thing but for example, “shamebot”. Seems a little negative!”

    1. Myrin*

      This is where I come down as well. It’s also where Alison’s point of “it’s not so egregiously offensive or so clearly unacceptable that it warranted you investing in the argument as intensely as you did” comes into play – there are situations where it’s worth it to do more than speak up once and see how it unfolds (like if he’d called it, IDK, “DirtyWhoresBot” or some racist epithet or thelike) but this was relatively low-stakes in the grand scheme of things. That being said, it reads very much like this was just a conveniently timed situation showing the general feeling of an office being unwelcoming and unempathetic and if you’re already engrossed in an environment like that, it can be very hard to take enough steps back to evaluate neutrally which fight is worth fighting and which one isn’t.

      All that aside, I love the irony of grandboss coming in that very same day and basically saying “This is dumb. Change it.”. By that point, OP probably wasn’t in the mind to feel vindicated but maybe with some distance, that’s what she could take away from this.

      1. Perpal*

        I know walking away is hard especially when you know you are correct but I try to think of it as strategically making the other person look redic (if they are behaving redic). Sort of like if someone wildly blows up over something trivial you look way more cool when you just kind of say “ok” and walk off rather than blowing up back at them. If other people are watching anyway.

      2. Oranges*

        I think it very much was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I can totally understand where the OP’s coming from. You take it and you take it and you take it and then one small thing causes you to explode/break/do stupid when it wasn’t really that small thing.

        It was Furgus nit-picking and talking down during code reviews. And Fred not listening to you when you told him that the way he was coding x would cause problems later. And being the one to be cut out of conversations because of course you (as woman) wouldn’t like powertools/sports/etc. And hearing the break room go quiet and everyone looking embarrassed or angry because you interrupted their “bro convo”. And… and… and…

        Sometimes there’s no good solutions.
        If you point out the larger pattern to the higher ups you’ll get called a snowflake and hurt your career but you can’t leave *yet* because reasons and you just have to continue to eat crap.

  14. many bells down*

    My husband’s old toxic job used to have an actual TROPHY with “Broke the Build” emblazoned on it. If you checked in faulty code, you got to have it prominently displayed on your desk.

    My husband stole it when he left. The company didn’t last long after.

  15. LabTechNoMore*

    Then there’s the irony of Fergus spending hours saying things like “Why are you getting so worked up?” and “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities,” when he could have taken his own advice. it sounds like he was enjoying needling you or was making some kind of self-satisfied point.

    This is tech culture in a nutshell. Particularly when you’re a woman or person of color.

  16. Czhorat*

    This is the problem with the tech culture. THe problem is Fergus.

    It’s an attitude of “I HAVE MY RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH!!” and “DON’T BE TOO SENSITIVE” when they’re called out for somethign which is insensitive – even if marginally so.

    The easy thing to do – and the kind thing – is to take a step back and, if it is marginal, change it to something more neutral. It’s also telling that the person refusing to budge always says, “it’s just a name” or “just a joke” or “no big deal”. I’m with OP — if it’s no big deal, then it’s no big deal to change. I also applaud OP on identifying the kind of small issue that contributes to a hostile culture.

    Sorry it turned out like this, but glad that at least your grandboss is on the right side.

  17. zlionsfan*

    I’ve worked in an environment like that before, and I think you were right to push back like you did, since it sounds like the environment you were in was known to be a hostile environment, based on what you describe about Fergus, Frederick, and your manager. It gave your grandboss an opportunity to step in on an issue that was important to you and also not one that had legal implications for the company; even if your manager had been ignoring these walking, talking red flags on the team, your grandboss got a chance to see that, with an opportunity to work on fixing that culture before it became something that is a legal issue. (Note: as a cishet white guy, most of my reactions are from observation of harassment and not personal experience on the receiving end. I’ve been targeted with minor stuff in the past, but never on the scale that female and non-binary software engineers get.)

    Maybe Grandboss already knew it was a problem and just hadn’t moved to do anything yet; if so, you gave them a chance to do what they should have done long ago. If they didn’t know, even better, because they got a concrete example to work from, complete with clear-cut evidence that F&F were actually bothering people (as opposed to the dreaded “but was anyone actually bothered by the name?”). Sometimes it’s easier to get that started as a new team member, because you didn’t have to worry about being asked why you didn’t complain early (not that you should worry! It’s totally reasonable to say “it’s just reached the point where I felt we needed to do something”).

    Also, this gave you the chance to weigh the company’s response in a lower-importance situation – if Grandboss couldn’t inspire culture change, if your old manager never started managing, if F&F continued to be red flags, you’d have been able to start a job search without necessarily feeling like you had to get out immediately. If you waited until it was a real mess to push back, and you didn’t get enough support, then you’d have had to choose between legal support and getting out as quickly as possible (or both).

    1. Oranges*

      Yeah, the company’s response to little things almost always follows their response to larger things.

    2. J.B.*

      An environment like that (I don’t think would meet the legal definition of hostile, but one that only focuses on the negatives and never let’s treat our colleagues like human beings) can wear you down. I am fully on board with OP.

  18. Captain Raymond Holt*

    I’d also be concerned about the effect that this bot and the accompanying shame has on your development practices. Automated tests are there for a reason – and if the code fails the test, that can be a GOOD thing that prevents you from accidentally shipping harmful code. To avoid being shamed, I can see people working around the tests so their code appears to pass, but actually has some flaws. A worst-case scenario would be working around emissions testing like Volkswagen did.

    1. XF1013*

      Yes! I work in tech and this shaming culture frustrates me. Public shaming as a work ritual is not just obnoxious, it’s counter-productive. Timid developers are disincentivized to try anything but the safest, most basic solution to any assignment, avoiding alternatives that are more efficient or elegant or maintainable or otherwise better.

      One manager in my department used to go desk-to-desk giddily announcing when someone pushed broken code, and insisted that the author bring in fresh donuts for the team the next day. In five years at the company, that manager made plenty of technical errors too, but he always blamed someone else for semi-invented reasons.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      My last manager in OldJob loves doing this. He blames every single fault in his previous direct report, whichever that person is. On my last day I found a big wall of minified javascript he added, and I told him all minification had to be automated and for deploy purposes only. He started blaming me for everything as soon as I left.

  19. Name Required*

    If I were your grandboss, I would think you all look like clowns for spending so much time arguing about something so relatively petty. I get that it is an example of a larger culture issue, but that’s exactly why you shouldn’t have aired your issue out on Slack. You just contributed to the same issue you were trying to fight back against by blasting your coworkers in front of the whole office, which makes you look like you don’t know how to effectively problem solve.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It’s not up to OP to fix a hostile work environment, so no OP could not have effectively problem solved here because F and F were not going to reach an adult-like solution.

      And just to be clear, OP, you do not look like a clown. When people have had enough of BS, this is how they can react. Your immediate boss did not get this but your big boss did.

      1. Name Required*

        We have no idea whether Big Boss “got it” or not. We just know he thought the name was bad and asked them to change it, and brought a distracting public argument between coworkers to a halt.

        You’re right and it is exactly my point — it really isn’t up to OP to fix a hostile work environment, so treating a small problem like the name of a Slack bot as the hill to die upon, as if fixing it when F&F pushed back represented fixing all of the issues in the workplace, is a misplaced used of her time and energy.

    2. Drag0nfly*

      Harsh, but this points to a better tactic you can take in the future. Don’t air issues with an individual in a public place. You can IM Fergus and tell him in private what your objection is, if you’re unable to take the better option of talking to him face to face. Better because he can see your demeanor and tone, which can be difficult with text.

      You were worried about burning capital, well that’s something to factor into the next time you have a disagreement with someone. Rule of thumb is to do your criticisms in private, and your praise in public. Wasn’t the point of objecting to “Shamebot” that you didn’t want people publicly shamed? Live by that code in your interactions, too.

    3. Mrs. Wednesday*

      If I were the OP’s grandboss, I’d move her onto a management training/leadership development course because she’s already not only skilled enough to recognize system-level problems (a team’s work can’t progress if mistakes = shameful) but acts on them with tenacity.

      The OP is someone with character and values, which are not teachable like most job tasks are. That she was doing it while it was a low-stakes problem is a good thing, IMO.

      1. Name Required*

        Leadership in business is about promoting business objectives WITH character and value, but you don’t have good leadership without both. OP showed that she was willing to stick her neck out for something that mattered to her, but she picked a small, inconsequential issue to waste her capital on, showing that she doesn’t yet know how to evaluate when to act in order to maximize outcomes. She projected all of her frustration with the organization’s culture onto two of her coworkers — who, to be very clear, are totally in the wrong and childish — and worse than that, did it in front of the whole company. Everyone in the situation was wrong; her coworkers being more wrong by being sexist a-holes doesn’t make her behavior more professional. It’s forgivable because of the circumstances, not professional.

        1. Ariaflame*

          Interesting how you appear to be so invested in criticising OP for trying to improve the workplace. Do you believe in shaming people for not getting everything perfect?

          1. Name Required*

            No, I don’t believe in shaming people for not getting everything perfect. I just said her behavior is forgivable because of the circumstances and that her coworkers are big jerks. Farther down in the thread, I said that I thought their behavior was probably sexist and ageist. I have no idea how one could confuse my words as arguing in favor of public shaming.

            1. Moving the needle*

              That is a very unkind thing to say and not at all what Name Required is saying or implying whatsoever.

        2. Mrs. Wednesday*

          No. That’s not what leadership *is* about. It may be what it’s frequently reduced to.

          The OP acted on a systemic problem, on her own initiative, while it was still a low-stakes problem. This was smart. Resolving small culture problems means preventing big damage because you didn’t kick the problem down the road. That’s the outcome to maximize. That it wasn’t successful is not on the OP. Her colleagues who hid behind her indicate she was correct. She tried to resolve it colleague-colleague then took it to her boss, who failed her. She persevered. This took guts. Her grandboss vindicated her. This indicates her judgement was spot-on.

          She was smart, gutsy, and proven correct by the big-boss. Just because she personally felt emotion related to the problem doesn’t make it *her* problem. IMO, men are typically granted a more generous interpretation of actions they take; they’re seen as helping others even when it helps them, too.

          The only thing the OP lacks is confidence. Which is understandable given the gendered reaction to her judgement and actions.

          1. Avasarala*

            Yes OP pointed out a real problem, but being the target of sexism doesn’t absolve OP from her missteps of trying to change the name herself and doing a public poll and pushing for it publicly all day, after her boss dropped it instead of dropping it herself or taking it to a private chat.

            The flipside of “she persevered, she was gutsy” is “she was too stubborn, she was inflexible, she was brash and unsubtle.” She was right, but I still don’t think she handled it the best way.

        3. Megabeth*

          I see your point about OP having exercised less than stellar judgement, but you know, I think we can chalk some of that up to her relative inexperience. Maybe we could say the impulse to step up and improve the culture was a good one, but the execution (and investment in) was not the best. I think that by her writing in to AAM, she is demonstrating that she is at least willing to learn from this experience.

          1. Name Required*

            Totally. Too bad her grandboss is unlikely to get the context of her thinking that we see here; he will likely only see the public arguing part, since her direct boss is such a cad.

        4. Lavender Menace*

          This is how toxic cultures get perpetuated, because people minimize individual incidents that contribute to the overall culture. Toxicity isn’t just big things – it’s all the little things like this that add up to that.

          Naming a bot “Shamebot” isn’t necessarily a small, inconsequential issue. As Alison and others have pointed out, it can prevent people from checking in code, or make them delay checking it in (to less trafficked times so nobody would see the bot), or it can encourage them to find workarounds so their code isn’t flagged, even if it’s still faulty. I have an anxiety disorder and having a bot named ‘Shamebot’ comment every time I checked in my code would shut me down.

          Cultural change – in general, but in toxic cultures too – happens when people notice these big and little things that contribute to a toxic culture and refuse to let them go.

    4. J.B.*

      The constant nitpicking and humiliation can make you just snap at some point. I have been there, with a male bully who wanted to make me the villain. Sometimes you get sooo frustrated, and unfortunately some who are being awful can set the person of lower status up to look the unreasonable one.

      There is value on learning when to push back, and also value in recognizing its time to GTFO.

    5. Lavender Menace*

      I strongly disagree. If I were the grandboss, Fergus and Frederick would be problems I’d need to keep half an eye on, and I’d think the OP was right for bringing up the issue.

      It’s false equivalence to say that OP contributed to the same problem – Fergus and Frederick’s persistence on keeping this bot’s name is the problem here. OP’s insistence to fix it, while perhaps not done in the most effective way, is trying to fix that problem. This is why people often don’t speak up – their efforts to end a cultural problem are often equated with the other side’s efforts to be allowed to continue to perpetuate that problem. They are not in the same universe.

  20. Koala dreams*

    I think you are a little hard on yourself. It’s okay to ask to rename something because the joke is weird or can be misunderstood. You participated too long because you expected your co-workers to be reasonable, but you’ve learnt your lesson. Now you know to step out when those people are getting defensive over their in-jokes.

    Face to face the conversation would probably go better, if you have a culture that allows it. Not only is it quicker, but you also could judge the tone and notice when people are reasonable and when they just want to argument, and so wouldn’t waste time on people like this. There is also less of a crowd to fuel the drama llamas if you have them as co-workers.

  21. Elliot Kendall*

    They really should have named it Blamebot, anyway, after the infamous “blame” command in source control systems that lets you find out who’s responsible for a particular line of code. Some systems support the alias “praise,” probably after feedback similar to what the letter writer gave in this story.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      I’m not in that line of work, but I wonder why it’s not just something like “identify” or similar?

      1. Brett*

        There is an alias of “annotate” as well (because it doesn’t just identify, it creates a completely new file of human readable revision annotations). “blame” came first though. “annotate” and “praise” were added as aliases in 2003.

  22. MCMonkeyBean*

    OP, I just want to say that while you should probably have let it go sooner I can definitely see how you got that deep into it! When you make a perfectly reasonable request and then they respond by trying to paint you as being too sensitive or caring too much about the situation it immediately puts you more on the defensive and makes it feel like you have to explain why you care but that you don’t care *that* much, and then it starts this whole downward spiral and the more you say the more invested you look and you keep trying to say that it’s not that big a deal but you sound like the lady who doth protest too much…

    Anyway, my point is I have totally been there and it’s a terrible feeling and it’s hard to dig out of. I’m sorry your grandboss didn’t step in sooner though I’m glad he shut it down in the end.

    I wonder if Fergus would have been more responsive if you’d reached out privately? If because there was a wider audience it made him want to turn things around more? Or at least if he had still reacted badly, it’s easier to just drop the conversation if no one else is involved.

  23. Dust Bunny*

    “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities”, etc., are, for the record, classic Internet troll responses. They were very definitely enjoying getting you wrapped around your axle.

    Your coworkers were being jerks and your manager was absolutely useless here. I hope your grandboss’ stepping in discourages behavior like this in the future (but I’m not holding my breath) but maybe it would help if you think of this box of complete tools with whom you have to work as Facebook comment trolls and respond accordingly by reacting as little as possible, they’ll be less inclined to do things that get under your saddle. But I wish your manager weren’t a limp fish and that your grandboss had shut it down sooner, and called Fergus on it specifically.

  24. spock*

    I’m glad this all ended up with the bot being renamed, though it’s unfortunate that it got so out of hand in the first place. These attitudes are definitely a frustrating part of working in tech. I can see how someone would think “shamebot” was a decent name when the git command to see the last editor is “git blame”, you know? It’s so enmeshed. No specific advice, but a note of solidarity at least.

  25. Stormy Weather*

    It’s just a name, why are you getting so worked up?” and “If this is where you want to spend your energy, you should probably rethink your priorities.”

    That would called gaslighting, trying to deflect their bad behavior onto you. I’m glad your grandboss stepped in. In my opinion, it was right for you to call them out for being jerks. I would have dropped it on Slack sooner because they were invested in making you be the one with the behavior problem.

    1. Perpal*

      I’m going to say, I’m a little tired of “gaslighting” creep – I think it really should be when someone’s deliberately spreading disinformation / crazymaking, not when people just disagree or project. My husband accused me of gaslighting a few days ago because I remembered a conversation differently and had a different interpretation; it felt like being accused of deliberately assaulting someone after accidentally lightly bumping into them. I had to seriously ask him if he thought I was being deliberately abusive because HELL NO I wasn’t trying to crazymake any more than he was.

      1. Stormy Weather*

        I see your point. The word is definitely getting overused, but I think it fits here. The intent and method of Fergus and Frederick’s was to make her doubt her own mind.

    2. Dasein9*

      Yes. This. I have no doubt that there are other examples of gaslighting going on in your workplace, OP.

      You may not be able to change the Ferguses but you can make sure you know their tactics, which allows you to sidestep their attempts.

  26. vdawg*

    I’m about sick of everyone saying that it would have worked if she’d only been *nicer* about it. That’s crap and additional gaslighting. It’s obvious now that she had no political capital partially because she’s new, partially because she’s a woman. Great. Her company sucks culturally and she can stop trying.

    Companies that use slack heavily encourage public conversation. It was totally reasonable, especially if things are remote now, to make the request in slack. For her own benefit, op could have let it go but she was trying to follow instructions of her upper level superiors. Those co-workers and boss are going to keep trying to undermine here. It’s bs that not having social capital bc sexism means that you have to suck it up and be offended at work.

    I’ve been through this crap multiple times now. It only gets worse over time.

    1. kt*

      Agree overall. The “if only you’d ask more politely” line is actually true when my toddler’s asking for more bananas, but out in the real world, “ask more politely” really means “ask while not being female/whatever color you are”. You just can’t exist politely enough, is the message I get.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      Exactly. Why does SHE have to be nicer while HE doesn’t? Why does SHE need to XYZ while HE doesn’t? Oh wait…

    3. Ralph Wiggum*

      Influencing people effectively is absolutely a learnable skill. Giving practical advice about how to improve is not gaslighting.

      That being said, “be nicer” isn’t particularly helpful. Instead, we should stick to the specific behaviors, which Alison did:
      “[Slack is] not a medium for a heated discussion (just like email isn’t), and it’s definitely not a discussion that needed to play out with all your coworkers as a silent audience.”

      As well as other commenters (Dragonfly):
      “Don’t air issues with an individual in a public place. You can IM Fergus and tell him in private what your objection is, if you’re unable to take the better option of talking to him face to face. Better because he can see your demeanor and tone, which can be difficult with text.”

    4. Lavender Menace*

      I am also baffled at the comments that said “she should’ve taken it off Slack.” This is probably because I’ve been working from home for a couple of weeks, but also, I work in a multinational company with multiple campuses in my region and around the world. If I’m on Slack, it’s likely the person I’m chatting with isn’t in my same building – maybe not even on my same continent. I can’t just get up and stroll into their office.

      This was low-level enough that a simple Slack conversation or PM should’ve solved it. Furthermore, because it’s such an innocent ask, OP probably had no reason to believe that Fergus would’ve been embarrassed or defensive about it. On my team, had I raised this issue in a public chat, I think 95% of people would’ve responded “oh crap good point, lemme change it” and that would’ve been the end of it.

      1. Avasarala*

        Sure, but after someone pushes back for an extended period of time, at least take it to a PM, or pick up the phone and call them. Same principle as when you’re at a party and you and one guy start getting into an argument over what kind of BBQ is better, and everyone else in the room gets quiet and awkward and you’re still publicly fighting over BBQ. Nobody looks good, even if you’re right.

  27. wkfauna*

    As a Woman in Tech ™, I’ve encountered this a bunch of times. Here’s what I’ve learned.

    1. This type of nonsense is really common and pervasive, BUT it doesn’t happen everywhere. It’s okay to not be willing to put up with BS like this in the workplace, but you’ll have to figure out how to screen for it in interviews.

    2. The best way to get stuff like this to change is to not get dragged into silly fights, but state publicly and with strong, not watered-down language what the problem is. For example, “This name is demoralizing, it would take less time for you to change it than to argue about it, and I don’t see any particular good reason to keep it.”. Once you have a few examples of this, you can take them all to the most reasonable/influential person in your office and ask for something to be done. That has tended to be effective for me.

  28. Not All*

    This is the hardest part about changing a culture. Almost everything that makes it awful is little stuff that “isn’t worth spending capital on”. It’s the cumulative effects that make it unbearable. I used to call my old supervisor the Chinese Water Torture of misogyny. Taken individually, everything he did seemed petty to complain about when taken to his supervisor/HR but added up, day in & day out, it was unbearable. Eventually I reached a point where I took every single comment and action up the chain no matter how petty it was individually. Did I burn a shitload of capital doing it? Yup. Did they FINALLY eventually grasp just how pervasive it was and start to address it. Also eventually yes. I left anyway but if I wouldn’t have been able to find a better job it was definitely improving.

    You have to start somewhere with this stuff!

  29. Ageesegoose*

    I agree that it’s definitely an example of the types of sexism that happens at tech companies! Maybe this scenario should be an interview question for companies that want to screen-out the many F&F’s of the industry. Like during their coding exercise, have a woman engineer come by and object to something, and see how they react.

  30. ASDFGHJ*

    Alison, I think your advice here is spot on, but one question: you say “But once it became clear they were digging in their heels, at a minimum you should have taken it off Slack. That’s not a medium for a heated discussion (just like email isn’t).” Presumably you’re suggesting such discussions should take place in person instead.

    As someone who tends to be pretty introverted, agreeable, and conflict-avoidant, having that kind of discussion in person would be more difficult — I’d be much more likely to just fold and drop it, even if otherwise I’d think it was worth pursuing. In a text-based discussion, I can take the time to think out what I want to say and how, and to analyze their responses. I certainly agree that the public nature of a large Slack channel makes that inappropriate in this case, but what would you suggest in general for people like me? (I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.)

    1. Uhtceare*

      I think sometimes you have to choose the communication strategy that’s most likely to work, regardless of your preferences. People are really incredibly bad at tone in text form, both in terms of conveying what they intend and of picking up what other people intend. (Also, if one person is analyzing and assumes the other is as well, but the other is just writing down whatever pops into their head, things get twisted fast.) Extra time to think often leads to over-thinking, and “face-to-face” and “confrontational” don’t have to be synonymous.

      So I would say that speaking to people, especially about delicate issues, is a skill that’s worth cultivating. Maybe that means that you won’t speak up about things as often, if you want to only speak up about ones that meet your ‘merits a personal conversation’ threshold, or maybe that means a phone call instead of physically being in the same room.

      Maybe it means that you plan exactly what you’re going to say and practice it. Try war-gaming an awkward conversation before you have it (‘if I say X, they could say Y or Z… A good response to Y is A, and to Z is B’). That worked for me, and my work personality has been described as ‘soothing’, even when I’m really seething. (It also really helped me to realize that most people feel awkward most of the time.)

    2. Lavender Menace*

      I work in tech and use Slack every day. Personally, I would suggest the private messages you can send on Slack. I’d personally go there before going to them in person – because I agree, interacting over this in person would’ve been more difficult.

  31. CodeAndCoffee*

    Not trying to be a jerk here, but yeah, you were out of line. I’m a woman in IT, and *I* would have rolled my eyes had somebody objected to a GitBot being named “ShameBot”, especially with this being your first job out of college, you did yourself no favors by showing you have an exceptionally thin skin. If somebody personally attacks you? Absolutely stand up for yourself and fight back, but I’ve been in IT for a long time, and IT arose from engineering, and this culture (rightly or wrongly, IMO rightly) rewards those who simply “get the job done”, and are not overly sensitive. This is not a male/female thing…like I said, I’m a woman, and I would have thought it abjectly silly had a junior dev made a stink about the name of a freaking code bot named “ShameBot”. Honestly, if you’re going to last in IT? You are going to need a thicker skin, and a better sense of where to invest your political capital.

    1. TechWorker*

      I’m also a woman in tech (hi!) and I disagree. Not all companies are the same and although I can def imagine a bot being called ‘shamebot’ I also think it would be changed pretty quickly if someone complained. It’s just not professional so *shrugs*.

      I’m lasting ok so far :)

    2. Name Required*

      I agree. I think there was probably an element of sexism and ageism in the the dogged push back from F&F, but OP, you were being overly sensitive about the issue. At least, for an IT environment, you’re being overly sensitive. If seeing a bot called Shamebot leads to you being ashamed of your work … well, you’re taking it a bit too personally.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        Yep. I think CodeAndCoffee is either a sock puppet male or has a major case of Stockholm Syndrome.

        @ CodeAndCoffee:
        The question is not how thick your skin is. The question is whether or not the culture at your org sucks. The culture at LW’s org sucks, which is why there is an ongoing effort to change it and why grandboss came in and squashed this.

        this culture (rightly or wrongly, IMO rightly) rewards those who simply “get the job done”, and are not overly sensitive

        First, you’ve equated people who “get the job done” with people who “are not overly sensitive”. This is a false analogy. And “overly sensitive” is highly subjective.

        Second, people who “simply get the job done” should not be rewarded for doing this, which is a bare minimum. Lots of people just get the job done, but these jobs don’t happen in a vacuum. I’ve not hired a lot of people who tick the boxes on our minimum requirements because they can get the job done, but they don’t really give a shit about anything else. I want to hire people who give a damn about doing a great job and contributing to a great culture, because when the shit hits the fan, these are the people who are going to do what it takes to fix it, and not just “get the job done”.

        you did yourself no favors by showing you have an exceptionally thin skin

        IMnsHO, LW didn’t show that she had a thin skin, but that she wasn’t willing to be bullied by a couple of assholes. In my org, she would be doing herself a tremendous favor by calling these guys out, and I would have followed up and done what her grandboss did. My hat is officially off to LW. The world needs more people like her. And it needs a lotta buncha less people like F&F. (And fewer enablers like yourself. Mirror time!)

        It’s the IT world that needs to change, not LW. IT is a cesspool of sexism and white bro-culture, which is precisely why there is such a push to get women and POC involved. (Because, duh, there is strength in diversity.) If you’re in this world, you can be part of the solution, or you can continue to be part of the problem. Your choice.

        1. Mary Connell*

          Thank you, Jedi Squirrel.

          Diversity is important for many reasons. And white women can be some of the greatest supporters of male, white supremacist power, especially when they feel they directly benefit, whether or not they actually do.

        2. Elena Vasquez*

          Jedi Squirrel
          Almost every IT shop I worked at in the past 15 years had over half of its employees of south indian extraction, with a strong representation of East Asians. The field is actually quite diverse in POC. To say that it’s all a white bro culture is not quite accurate. It would be great to get more women but that necessitates getting more women to study CS.

          I once saw a list of college majors by gender. Highest female representation was in psychology, social work and nursing. Medicine and law broke about 50/50. Vet schools are now majority female. At the bottom were the male dominated professions like engineering and the hard sciences. These came in at about 15% female, about the same as the percent of men in nursing.

          It is an absolute problem if sexism is keeping women away from IT but it is quite different if women would rather be DVMs and accountants instead of mechanical engineers. In the past most professions were majority male. Society must eliminate sexism everywhere but also be aware that some professions will never be 50/50 because of different preferences.

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            I’m not quite sure what point you are trying to make here.

            IT has a lot of immigrants in it because it can’t find enough domestic workers. And the IT field is traditionally strongly white male dominated before the tech explosion of the late 70s and early 80s. (Also, just because a certain field attracts a lot of immigrants from a particular geographic region does not mean that it is “diverse in POC”.)

            My point still stands. The culture sucks. And it needs to change.

            1. Elena Vasquez*

              Jedi Squirrel

              POC are common in the industry TODAY, not 30 or 40 years ago. White men are not the large majority anymore. They just aren’t.

              And I agree that sexism needs to be done away with.

              1. Jedi Squirrel*

                A particular group of POC (immigrant Asian men) is common. This is not diversity. Where are the African-American, Mexican-American, LGBTQ, female IT employees? (Hint: they’re not working in IT.)

                1. Avasarala*

                  Where are the non-immigrant Asians and Asian women? It really is a certain sliver of the population that is OK with the current IT culture–that is not diversity.

              2. Lavender Menace*

                It is possible to have a “white bro culture,” and mostly white male domination of a workplace, without white men being in the numerical majority.

                I mean, you can look at our country as a whole as an example. White men aren’t a majority of U.S. citizens or residents, not by a long shot. Recent estimates are about 31%. Yet they still make up the vast majority of our Congress. Thirty-nine out of 50 state governors (78%) are white men. We have only had a single U.S. president that wasn’t a white man, and no vice presidents.

                This is mirrored in tech. There may be a lot of workers of Asian descent in certain sectors of tech, but they largely are not moving into the leadership positions; leadership in tech (CEOs and other executives, as well as venture capitalists) are positively dominated by white men. They’re largely the ones creating and running the companies, and largely the ones setting the culture at these companies.

      2. CodeAndCoffee*

        This isn’t about sexism. This wasn’t a bot named “FatChickBot”. This was about a VERY junior new dev taking offense at something that is not remotely offensive, and investing a great deal of political capitlal so she can be “right”. Believe me, in 20 years? I have seen plenty of sexism, plenty of bigotry and plenty of REAL problems. I have seen plenty of thin-skinned, young professionals do this same thing, both male and female. Just because sexism exists doesn’t make everything sexism.

        I’m not trying to unload on the OP; this is a fairly minor mistake, and everyone makes them, but it is a mistake nonetheless. Would it have been any different had a 23-year-old male dev complained about a distro list named StupidCoderTricks because he thought it was calling him “stupid”? It couldn’t have been sexism in that case….so him getting called out (which he would have) would have been…what?

        I stand by my perspective. In you are an engineer or a dev or or any other tech worker, and you get so concerned about a GitBot named “ShameBot” that you start a public kerfuffle, and then act surprised when you get major blowback? You DO need to grow a thicker skin, male or female. Standing against sexism (or any ‘ism’) is laudable and worth burning all the capital you need to. This isn’t that. This is oversensitivity and immaturity; knowing the difference between the two is critical.

        1. Dasein9*

          This is definitely about sexism. As is the “grow a thicker skin” response.

          Yes, we are all aware that tech is an industry where casual cruelty thrives. One of the jobs that needs to get done at the OP’s company is pushing back against that and making that particular workplace more welcoming. That’s not just fluff or an extra: it is a commitment the company is making and has good reasons for making. It is the job that has been asked of the employees. The grandboss’ response to this incident confirms this.

          1. CodeAndCoffee*

            I’m not trying to be difficult, nor am I trying to me mean….I’ve done plenty of silly things like this in my career… but this has nothing to do with “cruelty”. I’ve been in IT for decades, and it in general is not “cruel”. We’re devs and network admins, not coal miners. This was a bot with a silly name (with a long history in IT, going back for decades) that has *nothing* to do with sexism. And the grandboss’s response sounds much more like “This is ridiculous, make this nonsense go away.” coupled with a silent eye roll about the OP than a “Wow! She’s right! A bot named ‘ShameBot’ is a terrible thing!”

            I’m vaguely reminded of a class I taught in programming at a community college many years ago. I used the excellent book “C++ for Dummies” by Steven Davis. A student objected to using a textbook that he thought called him a “dummy”. I told him that was the book we were using, and that if he didn’t like the title, he could put a sticker over the “Dummies” part and writs “Geniuses”, and that I was trying to HELP the students by having them buy a (really great) $20 book instead of a traditional $150 textbook.

            He reported it to the department chair, who thought it was as ridiculous as I did, and the kid (maybe 18 or 19) actually dropped the class because I wouldn’t give in to his silliness.

            I told him he needed to develop a thicker skin too. That advice wasn’t sexism then, and it isn’t now. There are real things to be concerned about, and there are silly things that are often a marker of inexperience and/or immaturity. The kid in my class did himself no favors, nor did the OP. Neither is a big deal, but little things like this build up, and if one develops a reputation for being difficult, overly sensitive and (potentially) entitled, regardless of whether they are male or female, they will be writing AAM back in 10 years why they can’t get promoted to Director.

            1. Name Required*

              Some of these responses are kind of funny. Fergus and Frederick responded to OP’s request in a gendered way, for sure, but her reaction to the name “Shamebot” is silly and oversized. But because of the way they responded to her, people are bending over backwards to make paint OP as flawless. She can be right about pushing back against sexism, but wrong that Shamebot is demoralizing hill worth dying on. She can be right in her desire to take a stand, but ineffective if she chooses to take that stand by arguing over small beans on Slack. Some folks have decided that the very plain and simple description of grandboss’s reaction is rich with hidden “atta girl”s. And she doesn’t even work there any more! On to bigger and better things with some experience under her belt, I hope.

              FWIW, I’m an early 30s, female project manager in FinTech. I’m curious as to how many folks accusing you of being a handmaiden work outside of tech.

            2. Lavender Menace*

              “I’ve been in IT for decades, and it in general is not “cruel”. We’re devs and network admins, not coal miners”

              What does this even mean? A person’s job doesn’t inoculate them against being cruel. Coal miners are not inherently more terrible than developers. Have you been paying attention to the news in our industry? There are hundreds of stories at dozens of companies that highlight the cruelty that tech workers can get up to. Cultural problems in our field are a well-documented area, and minimizing them does us no favors.

              Telling people to “grow a thicker skin” and roll over and accept slights is not helping them. IMO – and I don’t mean this harshly, but genuinely – it’s contributing to the problem by teaching them that small things, and the way they treat other people in casual interactions, does not matter. This is not true.

              You see your story about the kid who dropped your class as some kind of proof positive of your point or something, but I see it as horrifying. As a professor, you could (and should) choose to be compassionate and take your students’ concerns seriously, trying to understand where they are coming from even if you don’t agree with them. Instead, you chose to flippantly dismiss them, causing them to withdraw from the class. Hopefully, this person could enroll in another C++ class with a different instructor, but this could be a catalyzing event that causes someone to drop out of computer science. You are essentially telling your students “no one cares about your small concerns; a culture of compassion and dialogue is less important than making cool tech; and you shouldn’t do anything to try to change the culture of the industry.” That is actively harmful and, in my opinion, only makes our field worse over time.

              The reason it’s often sexism is because this happens SO MUCH MORE often to women (and people of color, and out LGBTQ people, and and and). Men, especially white men, are told they are “overly sensitive,” “immature” or “inexperienced/missing the context/a bad cultural fit” far less often than women and POC are. These kinds of statements are deliberately used (consciously and unconsciously) to maintain a culture that privileges white men and disadvantages everyone else. There is literally decades of research on this…and they all start from the small cultural interactions that ruin an entire company and industry over time.

              If you can believe that “little things like this build up” to form a reputation for OP, why is it so difficult for you to see that “little things like this build up” to form a toxic and oppressive work culture?

              1. CodeAndCoffee*

                I AM a “LGBTQ” person. I think I get what “happens” to lesbians, considering I have BEEN ONE for decades. Thanks for the tip. I have lived sexism. I have lived discrimination. And I have lived bigotry. And this is NONE of those things. Getting outraged over a bot named “ShameBot”, as an IT professional is nothing but utter immaturity and silliness, just like my student dropping the class because I told him that I wasn’t going to stop using a good textbook because the name made him feel snowflaked.

                There is a difference between things that are imporant and things that are not. Sexism, bigotry, mean-spiritedness are things that are important. A bot named “ShameBot” is not. A book named “C++ for Dummies” is not. And if one is to make it in any seriously competitive professional environment? One has to know the difference.

                It is offensive to me to compare the trials that women, POCs, and LGBTQ people have had to endure to a 23-year-old right out of college who feels put upon by the non-sexist, non-gendered, non-discriminatory name of a bot. This isn’t a “toxic and oppressive work environment”, certainly not based on the evidence she provided. This is a normal place for grownups to work.

                The OP asked if she was out of line? I expressed the opinion that yeah, she was. And that she needs to grow a thicker skin not because she’s a woman, but because she made a silly mistake and felt overly entitled to be outraged. We all make mistakes; I’m simply telling her that I think she made one, and how not to make the same mistake twice.

      3. Lavender Menace*

        Yeah, agreed here. People shouldn’t *have* to develop a thick skin to withstand other people being terrible, even if they are being terrible in small ways. Personal attacks don’t just materialize out of thin air; a culture becomes toxic through a million little things and a few big things.

        “this culture (rightly or wrongly, IMO rightly) rewards those who simply “get the job done”, and are not overly sensitive.”

        No, wrongly! This is what contributes to lower numbers of women and people of color – and other underrepresented folk – in tech. Some people have the attitude that you should just “get the job done” and ignore all of the toxicity and prejudice going on around you. That kind of thing only benefits the ones with all the privilege – they don’t have to change, and they can continue to act and work without thinking about being decent. At a certain point, it impedes “just getting the job done” because you’re so stressed out and bombarded with death by a thousand cuts.

    3. Elena Vasquez*

      As woman who is also in IT for many years, I agree with your post.
      Any sexism in the office has to go, but there are bigger hills to die on than the botname.

  32. Not So Little My*

    I’m a woman software engineer with 20+ years of experience. The whole time I was reading this letter I was thinking, “OP hasn’t stated their gender yet, but I bet they are a woman, and those guys are assholes.” When I got to the end where you mentioned that you are a woman, and junior as well, I got even madder at those guys. I’m mad at your boss too. It shouldn’t be a junior developer’s job to change a toxic bro culture at an organization – your manager should have had your back. He is probably part of the problem. Be prepared to look for another workplace if the assholery doesn’t get shut down by someone with power. There are much better workplaces.

  33. Another worker bee*

    OP, we have a similar bot and for one, it posts to its own channel which everyone pretty much mutes (we do get @tagged when either our PR or a PR that we are the reviewer on PASSES all of the tests, but otherwise, no one is looking at this channel) and it is literally called GitHubBot. ShameBot is totally weird, especially if it is posting to a more general channel!

  34. Just Me*

    I may be misunderstanding, but it sounds like OP’s objection was that the shamebot reported regardless of whether there was a mistake or not but OP was fine with the Board of Shame because it only highlighted mistakes? If that’s the case, I fall in Camp Overreaction and might have balked depending on how quickly the name change could be completed.

    1. TechWorker*

      I fall in ‘camp ‘board of shame’ for test results is a bit weird to start with’ ;)

    2. TootsNYC*

      she was happy with it reporting that code had been posted.

      She wasn’t happy with every single posting of code–with or without errors–being labeled “shame.”

  35. TV or not TV*

    I guess I’ll go against the grain and say that I really don’t see what is so terrible or offensive about the name “shamebot,” especially since, according to LW’s description, there isn’t any (or much) shaming actually happening. LW had every right to ask that the name be changed. F & F had every right to say no. I think most normal people would have dropped it at that. When I was younger, I would get worked up over annoying, petty things. Then, I learned to ask myself if this was really a hill I wanted to die on. I have found very few things that meet that criteria. Life is much easier because of it.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It reports that new code has been pushed. It does not report on the quality of the code.

      It’s a stupid name. All code has issues. It has more issues early on, but even published code still has issues. (Are you listening, Microsoft?) People shouldn’t feel shame for doing their damn jobs.

      Fergus and Frederick are assholes. Culture changes gradually, a tenth of a degree at a time. And this is how you change it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I work with and have managed copyeditors. Shaming people for mistakes is so counterproductive.

      I would NEVER allow a Board of Shame. I did once ask people to put their great catches in a folder for passing around as a self-training thing. But I worried, because some of those catches were a colleague’s miss, and I didn’t want to make people feel bad. I used to make speeches about how no one was to try to figure out if it had been their miss, that it wasn’t about the miss, it was about the lesson. I only had moderate success with that.

      Mistakes happen, ESPECIALLY do programming bugs happen.
      And yes, posting them on the wall along with info about how to avoid, or what was wrong–that’s useful.
      But to label it “shame” is to focus on the mistakes, and it’s just counterproductive.

    3. CM*

      Like Alison said, there’s a big difference between one small issue, which you’re describing as an annoying, petty thing, and one small issue that is part of a much larger pattern. In this case I am 100% sure it’s the latter. If you don’t choose to die on any of those hills — where your coworker says you’re too emotional, or questions your competence, or your boss gives the assignment to somebody else because he deserves the opportunity even though you’ve been at it longer, or your coworkers all go play basketball together and you’re excluded, or any of the other things that individually may be annoying and petty — then you are stuck being a second-class citizen in your workplace. I say this as a woman in tech who has experienced this so many times, and who also, when I was younger, felt like I would be overreacting if I complained too much about any of this stuff. Only with age and perspective did I see the pattern and realize there’s no such thing as overreacting — it’s just reacting, based on your own perspective and past experiences. When someone else doesn’t share or understand your perspective or experiences, to them it’s overreacting.

    4. CM*

      I’m not sure I agree that they had the right to say no. If they built the bot to serve the team and one of the team members is saying, “Hey, that name bothers me. Can we call it something else?” shouldn’t they call it something else?

  36. Lilyp*

    I have an equal problem with the naming of the “Board of Shame” as the bot. As others have pointed out, public shaming in an engineering environment is both toxic and counter-productive.

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Fergus and Frederick sound like some lowkey bros.

    They don’t want to listen to your concerns and then dig in deeper for more flesh out of you as you try to struggle against them. Whereas the others quietly just accept their nonsense, so much yuck.

    I agree that I would have just shrugged after the first try but see why you went in on it. These types of bros live to do the little digs that they know are hitting a soft spot.

  38. TootsNYC*

    If I knew who had been a voice behind the “empathy” effort, I’d have sent them an email after the two F’s had done their “why do you care?” routine.

    “Just wanted to loop you in–I feel like the name of this bot doesn’t help with our culture change, and the response to my suggestion and request is similarly problematic. I thought I’d bring it to your attention, in case you thought it was worth weighing in.”

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Is that empathy, or compassion? Someone can instinctively understand that someone is being shamed and still be perfectly happy to shame them.

  39. Maya Elena*

    Oh man, I am on a different side than probably everybody else here, regarding the ShameBot.

    I think the context is NOT that specific bot. It’s the feeling that even the slightest thing which isn’t exactly right according to a set of rules that you have in your head, regardless of how idiosyncratic or subjective, they have to be the one who give. The question that arises is, why if ShameBot is clearly not meant to shame anyone, and nobody is actually shamed, and we all agree it is a joke, why should it make a reasonable person uncomfortable? If that person is you, why do you, as a newcomer especially, have the license to change everything to suit everything to suit your feelings, especially when the harm can arguably be construed as small and imaginary?

    I think that Frederick is probably immature, unpleasant, and certainly not the best dating partner or even coworker. But I do think that in picking at the small things, we vindicated the Fredericks and only punish the less culpable ones (Ferguses?) And so I do think that escalating was a mistake, just as I do for a lot of similar issues around “culture war” questions that come up on this site.

    P.S. Alison, if this goes to moderation, I hope this isn’t too inflammatory, and hope you let this comment stand. If it is, I’m sorry.

    1. CM*

      The reverse question would be, if there are 800 names for your chat bot that don’t make anyone on your team feel uncomfortable, why should you insist on using one that does? That seems arbitrarily hostile to me.

      1. Elena Vasquez*

        Anyone can be made uncomfortable by anything, People attach all sorts of personal meanings to things . It’s a hard call.

  40. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Captain Awkward has a whole category for the Ferguses (Fergi?) Of this world: That F*cking Guy. Always uses the classic neg, That Guy.
    “You need to rethink your priorities.”
    “I don’t know of any better priority than getting rid of sexist office culture.”
    Go ahead and name it. Of course they’re going to get on your case; and the more you calmly stand your ground while they froth at the mouth, the better.

  41. StaceyIzMe*

    It’s very possible to be right and still be wrong. In that culture, the name “shamebot” was a play on an existing page for “wall of shame”. It was a cultural reference. How can you have a “wall of shame” and be okay with that, but balk at “shamebot”? (To be honest, it strikes me as a questionable name in either case, but probably not an egregious one. It’s just that if you’re going to object to one, it would make sense to object to the other.) Both sides seemed to privilege their privilege and while it was worth advocating for yourself, this particular issue might have been “small potatoes” compared to other challenges within the organization’s culture. That said, your manager is a donkey’s hind end, in my estimation. Even more so than your coworkers. (Oh! And while it’s a small thing, people can be really territorial about their work product. I wouldn’t change anything on another person’s work- even something as minor as a name. You just don’t have the standing to insist that your view is the only correct one.)

  42. Lt_Ripley*

    I read an article recently that suggested a great way to kill inappropriate or offensive talk is to play dumb and ask the offensive person to explain the joke. It was in context of sexist comments i.e. responding to a “That’s what SHE said” with “I don’t understand. Why did she say that?”

    Maybe this method would have worked in this scenario. Play dumb and sincerely ask what makes shaming funny. It’s kind of what AOC does so magically. Ask the questions that lead the person to tie their own noose (hate that phrase but I don’t have an alternate!).

    1. Name Required*

      Cosign this. Ask them to explain something that is offensive and watch their heads explode with the effort of resisting the need to be smart and explain it to you while trying to get around the fact that there is no way to do so without inadvertently proving how terrible their own ideas were. Occasionally, they will be oblivious to how terrible and offensive their own ideas are, but it’s often a pretty good tactic …

  43. CM*

    OP, I see I’m in the minority here, but honestly? I think you did great.

    It’s true, having a public argument on Slack may make your life harder. But it’s also awesome that you were willing to stick up for an eminently reasonable position, in a reasonable way, and persisted even when coworkers were dismissing you. It’s even possible the people who PMed you but didn’t speak up might take some courage from your actions in the future.

    (And speaking as a lawyer, if you have a bunch of these conversations documented where you’re asking for something reasonable and they’re shutting you down for being too emotional… just saying, it could help you in in a pinch. Which hopefully you will never need. But Slack is excellent for keeping track of who said precisely what and when.)

    If anything, what I would do differently is be more firm. If somebody comes at you, don’t be afraid to shut them down.”Why are you getting so worked up?” “Fergus, while it’s common for women in this industry to be dismissed as being ‘worked up’ or ‘hysterical,’ I’m focused on the workplace environment. We have said we want it to be more welcoming. The name ShameBot doesn’t work and I’m asking you to change it.” And when someone privately sends you an ‘atta girl,’ write them back and say, “I’d appreciate it if you would say that publicly. It’s tough being the only one and if you agree with me, I could really use your support.”

  44. Question*

    Is there somewhere where the definition of “spending capital” is spelled out? I see it a lot here and I only vaguely comprehend what it means.

    1. TechWorker*

      Alison may have a different definition… but it’s sort of like imaginary ‘points’ you build up by having a good reputation, lots of experience and/or strong relationships with colleagues. You can ‘spend’ the points to get things changed or done ‘your way’, but as they’re limited you sometimes have to be careful about what you spend them on. This is particularly true if you don’t have many to start with (eg junior, haven’t been there long).

      An (imperfect*) analogy is asking for favours off a friend. If someone you don’t know too well asks you for a favour you might say yes, once, but then be disinclined to say ‘yes’ the second time (and find it weird that they are even asking again!). A close friend you would give much more leeway and be more likely to help.

      *definitely imperfect because relationships at work are not usually equal and the ‘big boss’ sometimes has near unlimited ‘capital’ to get their own way.

    2. Oranges*

      I think of it as a “good-will bank”. I make deposits by: covering other people’s stuff when life happens, being really good at my job, training others, willing to take on hard projects, having good soft skills, having a history of good work, etc.

      I withdraw by: asking for favors, having more sick time than usual, getting good standards put in place even when my co-workers push back, making bro-coder go away, etc.

      If I just withdraw and don’t deposit I become “the coworker who no one likes” because the give/take balance is off.

    3. CM*

      There’s a concept of “social capital” or “political capital” in the economic sense, like money. If you have money (capital), you can spend it. But you can’t spend more than you have.

      You build social or political capital by building relationships and establishing a good reputation and track record for yourself. This type of capital is your reputation, credibility, and value to the organization, which translates into influence and power to change things.

      If you are a star employee, you build up lots of capital. So if there are things you want to see changed — whether for yourself, or on behalf of others — you can “spend” that capital by advocating for change. And there’s a good chance that change will happen because the organization wants to keep you happy, or even because people think, “If Star suggested it, it must be a good idea.” On the other hand, if you never get your work done, you’ll be seen as complaining. Even if you’re a star employee, if you argue about every little thing, you’re exceeding your capital and you may start to be seen as a troublemaker. For most of us, we need to pick our battles and decide how to spend our capital.

  45. CM*

    I’m on team “You can’t back down when someone treats you with contempt.” If you show weakness to these guys, they’ll clobber you. My advice to the OP is not to let go of stuff like this, but to let go of the idea that anything she says or does will change these guys’ minds. So, don’t plead with them to see reason, and don’t expect that they’re going to be friendly to you, ever — just call out what they’re doing, tell them what you want instead, and brace yourself for them to act like jerks.

  46. Rexish*

    ” I suspect this wasn’t really about “Shamebot” for you — I’d bet it had started to represent a broader pattern in the culture, and that’s what you were reacting to” Yes. This was my first thought. Fights are rarely about the thing they are about.

  47. Timothy (TRiG)*

    If you want to know who wrote a particular bit of code, the option you pass to git is called “blame”, so this kind of idea is deeply embedded into programming. I can certainly see how someone could think of it as a harmless joke. However, once someone else said they were troubled by it, there’s no good reason not to change it.

  48. Batgirl*

    I think it’s fairly ironic that the bot is designed to give feedback and highlight errors, but that the OP’s co-workers reacted to constructive criticism like they’d been scalded.
    Double irony: they project this defensiveness by calling HER thin skinned!
    However the last bit of irony falls to the OP. While insisting that some criticism can be too harsh…she doubled down on her own criticism of her co-workers.
    To sum up though, I wouldnt be too hard on yourself OP. Your co-workers are very annoying and they got under your skin; they probably would have irked me too. Yeah it would have been cool if you’d just backed away with a “Sorry, I thought we were sharing feedback” before they were tackled by grandboss, but ultimately your position was still upheld by him, and your co-workers made themselves look like asses.

  49. Elena vasquez*

    As a woman in IT , I actually found the Shamebot designation amusing. However,if its part of a pattern of coworkers humiliating each other, then the larger environment needs to change.

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