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Fundamental Attribution Coders

Many priviledged coders make a common mistake when thinking other coders should simply 'try harder.'

A common mental bias I see while discussing programming is the Fundamental Attribution Error. It means when we see things go wrong for someone, we tend to blame their internal shortcomings (being lazy) instead of external factors (having a job that drains them of most extra time and energy).

In my experience, this takes the form of a man telling several others (mostly women) that if they can’t find make some good React side-projects so companies will hire them, all they need some moxy and determination to boost their careers. The women will point out their current jobs barely give them any time or energy to do this, so all their hard work gets soaked up elsewhere and their solution doesn’t work for everyone. The man gets amazingly defensive and repeats themeselves with added condescension.

I’m not arguing there aren’t people who could do better and are just lazy - my own existence proves there are. But that assumption that it’s the person’s fault, not their circumstances, is one of those thoughts we shouldn’t take seriously. It’s often wrong, and even if it wasn’t, we should be willing to actually listen to the people being judged.

To summarize all this: