Brent Simmons makes some great points in his essay on the role of zealots in the software industry. I especially relate to his observation that zeal, or the mere impression of it, can repel somebody from what might otherwise be an attractive technology.
In particular, Brent confesses that before he could even try the popular git source control management tool, he had to overcome his resistance to joining rank with some of the cult-like followers of Linus Torvalds, the famous developer of git who also created the world-changing Linux operating system.
After giving git a fair shot, Brent decided it was not for him. What eventually got to him was the usability, or lack thereof, of the system. The pesky little details really added up and ultimately made him feel that the tool was costing him more effort than it was saving.
Sounds like a Mac user to me.
Zealots are useful to society because of and in spite of their tunnel vision. When you find somebody who believes so strongly in something that they need to shout it from the rooftops, you can be damned sure something’s about to get done. The problem is that even if you don’t agree with what they’re shouting, you’ll have to stomach their success, unless you care enough to stop them.
From the Oxford English Dictionary definition of “zealot”:
One who pursues his object with passionate ardour; usually in disparaging sense, one who is carried away by excess of zeal; an immoderate partisan, a fanatical enthusiast.
It sort of reads like those contrived job interview responses to “what is your greatest weakness?” That is, a zealot is a deplorable person who you would very much like to have on your side.
We’ve all benefited from zealots who were on our side, and all suffered from those who were not. The famous zealotry of Steve Jobs, which Brent also alludes to, is at least partly responsible for the iPhones, iPods, and Macs that many of us love so dearly.
As for git itself, I’m inclined to agree with Brent. The technical advantages of this tool are because the people who pursued it did so with a great zeal for things that mattered to them. In my opinion, usability and a consistent interface were not among those things.
Now it’s up to somebody with a dissimilar zeal for source control to show us how it’s done. If git is the metaphorical Xerox STAR, how will you turn it into a Mac?