Re: New-comers (was Re: the old fellowship program)

John C Klensin <> Sat, 17 April 2021 03:03 UTC

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Date: Fri, 16 Apr 2021 23:03:28 -0400
From: John C Klensin <>
To: Ole Jacobsen <>, Andrew Sullivan <>
Subject: Re: New-comers (was Re: the old fellowship program)
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I think you have captured something important but that Randy's
additional comments expose an additional part of the problem.

First, you are absolutely right.   I have seen people who come
to meetings (or watch mailing list) and just do so to observe
and learn what is going on snarled at, but it has been very,
very rare.  Two pieces of advice I give newcomers, advise that I
think is applicable to those who come with a particular topic
focus and those who just come to learn, are to not interrupt a
WG meeting (or equivalent) with suggestions, or even questions,
until they are watched enough to be confident they understand
what is going on and, if they figure out that they don't
understand something, to ask outside an active meeting/
discussion session.   In that regard, one of the most important
and useful features of our various one-on-one "help and guide
the newcomer" efforts, no matter the details of how they have
been organized or titled, has been that they provide a mechanism
for pointing people with questions to someone who would be
likely to be able to answer them and do so patiently.

>From that perspective, much of the "snarling" (or worse) that is
directed against newcomers or others is the result of
unfortunate behavior on the part of those people.  Standing up
(physically or virtually in a busy WG session or on an already
busy mailing list and taking up time advocating an idea that
(almost?) everyone else in the room believes to be seriously
wrong, already examined and rejected (with the person making the
suggestion not really saying anything new), or just in violation
of conventional wisdom is likely to produce a bit of "snarling"
... and worse on the second or third attempt.  Randy is right --
other professional communities, especially in the physical
sciences, can be even more abusive in those contexts than we
often are.  It is not hard to imagine what would happen to
someone who stood up in a contemporary meeting of chemists and
said that they have a brand-new theory to explain why things get
heavier when they burn and this "oxygen" theory is nuts and a
dead end, or what would happen in a meeting of planetary
astronomers (or students in the upper grades of elementary
school) if someone stood and pointed out that it was obvious
that the sun rotates around the earth and moreover that the
earth itself is obviously flat.  Should they, and we, treat such
input with more sympathy and willingness to educate --at least
up to the point where it becomes clear that the new people is
absolutely not interested in being educated-- absolutely.  But
inappropriate or excessive reactions to someone asking questions
or proposing a radical idea is still different from treating
every newcomer as a hopeless, ignorant, fool until proven
otherwise (or making a habit of snarling).  And we should also
probably remember that neither Priestley nor Copernicus were
treated very well when they first proposed their idea be a bit
less sure of ourselves and the reasonableness of our reactions.  

But Randy's other point is, IMO, important too.  Suppose we
could adopt a rule that forbade snarling at people until after
they had participated in the IETF for a few years and magically
changed the culture so that everyone observed it, at the same
time declaring open season on people with longer participation
records or at least a couple of RFCs behind them.  Whether
because of what Randy describes as having a shred of empathy or
because of the sense that they are likely to be treated
obnoxiously and aggressively about the time they were ready to
make significant contributions, people would still go away after
watching others be mistreated, abused, or dismissed.  

It really is time we clean up our acts.  And, for better or
worse, I think that insensitive choices of vocabulary are, while
important, a very small portion of the problem.


--On Thursday, April 15, 2021 22:12 -0700 Ole Jacobsen
<> wrote:

> +1000 to what both Andrew and John has said!
> But I think this discussion has assumed that newcomers are
> necessarily looking to get directly involved with a working
> group from Day One and therefore need to do a lot of homework
> and preparation. I know we keep telling the world that the
> IETF is "not a conference" and that "people come here to
> work," but I see no harm in simply exploring what the IETF is
> all about and then perhaps getting involved in a particular
> effort after some time, after having attended a few meetings,
> and most of all after having made friends and even discovered
> who to avoid! :-)
> Speaking as a Professional IETF Lurker with exactly 100
> meetings under my belt, I may not be your typical attendee,
> but I am surely not the only person who participates in the
> IETF mostly to "learn what is going on" and perhaps get
> involved in some projects or protocols from time to time, and
> above all keep in touch with colleagues from all over the
> world/industry. I have written exactly two RFCs and that was a
> very long time ago, but some of you may remember other
> activities that I have contributed to over the years.
> If newcomers risk being "snarled at" it is only due to our own
> culture and abusive behavior and not due to their lack of
> preparation. or coaching.