I have a wrong opinion

I like opinionated people. I find people without opinions to be absolutely dull to talk to. Heck, even all of the above is an opinion. And so are all my previous blog posts and other public ramblings. There are a few people who like them, probably way more who don’t, so this is me trying to discuss why do having an opinion matter. Or more exactly why is it better than not having one and assuming that everyone agrees with you on… that. Confusing.

After the PHP Benelux conferencee last week, which is actually incredibly brilliant and you should definitely go, me, Chris and Anthony were walking around Bruges discussing how much of an opinion a conference talk should have. I was arguing that PHP conferences especially are suffering from the lack of strong opinions, thus making talks dull and easily replaceable by a documentation page.

My ideal conference talk should be given by someone who has done it, broke it, fixed it and made it bend. Someone who can suggest why something is better than the other. Because he knows. Everything else is useless to me. These are the sort of people I appreciate because they are not afraid to give their opinion - they know it’s true, they have done it. Others might disagree with them and thus cause an argument which would lead to a even better refined opinion.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a written article or a conference talk - I want to hear what you think. I would like to believe quite a lot of people too. I don’t need you to tell me how to use anything from Amazon web services - all of this is already documented in their docs - I want to hear how you managed to scale your systems, reduced costs, implemented different distributed architectures and hacked it to work the way you wanted it to work. I want to hear your story.

Obviously there is a risk of listening to someone who is convincing enough to sound trustworthy and then cause yourself some problems down the road. That happens. But if you can’t separate right from wrong, I really hope you are not reading any newspapers. World is filled with misinformed and delusional people, but when one is presented with a variety of opinions he can see the correct way. For himself. For example out of the people giving talks about RESTful web services, I think only 10% or so have opinions which I think are based on actually knowing things.

More often than not, if I’m stating something I have a very good reason to do so. And if anyone wants to argue against that, they are more than welcome to do so. I love it. I was accused of assuming I’m always right, but actually I assume I’m always wrong. The fact that I stand by my opinions apparently makes it seem like I’m not open to input. I’m very open. But you will have to argue, I’m not going to buy it just because someone said it - opinions without arguments are worthless.

If I was giving a talk about German car manufacturers I would most likely end up stating that BMW is good, Mercedes Benz is for old people and Audi is shit. Now you might completely disagree with me here, but that is ok. You will learn the true way one day. Heh, that is actually not true. There is no true way, all of these are quite brilliant in their own ways, but my opinion is what it is (and is also based on testing them all). If you didn’t knew much about cars I could actually recommend something quite objectively since they all have a bit different customer bases. At the same time, I’m not an expert.

Now imagine going to a talk where a speaker presents all these three different manufacturers, lists their cons and pros, and leaves you to decide which one is the best. Unless he has some exclusive knowledge and thus presents you with facts you can’t find otherwise, everything he does is reads you 3 wikipedia pages combined into an hour talk. I think talks like this are absolutely horrible and just waste people time. If you didn’t know about cars you will leave still too far to make any decision. If you knew about cars then you were just given some unprocessed facts.

During my talk at the PHP Benelux conference about efficient data processing I asked everyone who was using a certain feature of the PHP language to raise a hand. Everyone did. I called them all idiots for doing so. Why? Because I strongly believe that the points I presented further proved that it was indeed a pretty terrible choice. Calling people you don’t even know idiots might not be the most clever thing, but it just allowed me to stress the point well. I don’t think anyone felt offended.

If you are educated in a topic enough - you must have an opinion about it. If you can’t form it yet, you still have learning to do. That’s how I can tell if an article or a talk is given by someone who has no idea what he is talking about. A material then only consists of listing raw facts, without even a hint of personality. I really have no idea why he can’t be replaced by Siri, she doesn’t have much opinions either (she has a few, she was quite clear that she won’t marry me). I can replace you with a 5 minute googling around or reading an official document.

One might argue that if someone is not stating his opinion he just doesn’t want to sound blunt. Maybe. But then maybe public media is not the right place in a first place?.. It provides guidance for others, it makes them not repeat your mistakes, it allows faster learning. Avoiding this is avoiding having people disagreeing with you, which for some is a goal, but for me is acting naive. You can’t please everyone, but you can believe in what you think and defend it.

By the time I have finished writing this, I probably already disagree with it. Opinions change fast. I often get people asking “yeah, but last year you said xyz?”. So? This world moves too fast for an opinion to last for a month even. I reevaluate my thinking on a daily basis and keep changing everything I do. The fact that someone even remembers something I said so long ago means they’ve been stuck in the same thing for way too long.

So in the end it doesn’t really matter if you agree or don’t with someones opinion. It’s good that they have one, you should have one too.

*all illustrations done by Frits from hikingartist.com