The “Dark Matter Developer” moniker has been floating around for several years. Scott Hanselman introduced the term to describe developers who do not have active online or social personas:
They don’t read a lot of blogs, they never write blogs, they don’t go to user groups, they don’t tweet or facebook, and you don’t often see them at large conferences. Where are these dark matter developers online?
To answer Scott’s rhetorical question, we know these developers are online somehow because they build things for the web and it’s kind of tough to build for the web without being on it in some capacity. The question is, to what degree does dark matter exist in front end development and, perhaps more importantly, does it even matter at all? (Pun intended.)
The Dark Matter Stereotype
Has the movie Hackers come to mind?
It doesn’t have to be that sort of stereotype. You likely know or work with a Dark Matter Developer. It’s the person on the team who clocks in and out right on time and might appear perfectly content punching the clock and staying rooted on their rung of the corporate ladder. It’s that friend you know who is crazy good at all-the-things but doesn’t ever show off.
Dark matter isn’t limited to development. I have a good handful of friends whom I consider to be excellent designers, illustrators and photographers, but you would never find them posting anything to Dribbble, Behance, or Instagram.
Dark matter seems to have a more punctuated meaning in the development world because it’s tough to believe that anyone working on the web would be adverse to participating in the communities there.
How Much Dark Matter Exists in the Front End Universe?
It’s tough to tell. The web is huge; we all know that. There are blogs, tweets, tumblelogs, and Reddit posts galore. The volume is enough to give the impression that everyone is engaged, active, and listening. More than 200,000 people follow CSS-Tricks on Twitter alone. That’s a lot of people! However, it’s certainly not everyone; there are front end developers who have not heard of CSS-Tricks at all, despite what they do for a living.
Scott’s article suggests Dark Matter Developers represent 99% of the developer population, where the other 1% accounts for all social activity. That’s an enticing illustration—and I’m certainly not qualified to check those numbers—but I have a feeling that’s more hyperbole than reality. I like to think it’s closer to 80/20.
Is Dark Matter a Bad Thing?
One of the most striking moments in Scott’s original piece is when he vents his internal frustration towards those who seem ambivalent toward interacting and sharing on the web:
Personally, as one of the loud-online-pushing-things-forward 1%, I might think I need to find these Dark Matter Developers and explain to them how they need to get online! Join the community! Get a blog, start changing stuff, mix it up! But, as my friend Brad Wilson points out, those dark matter 99% have a lot to teach us about GETTING STUFF DONE.
I get his point. The web was formed on the basis of openness, transparency, collaboration and, more than anything, a willingness to share. It’s a lot more Wikipedia than it is The Wall Street Journal.
And his point is well taken. In fact, the web is better when we share, collaborate, and interact. Think of how many people benefit from the open-source ethos of communities like WordPress and GitHub. We benefit individually when we share (in the form of esteem, job leads, credits, etc.), and others benefit by getting to use those contributions and build off of them. It’s an ecosystem where we all feed off each other, and it moves the web as a whole forward because the work and consumption feeds itself. Pretty cool!
But does dark matter hurt us? There’s a case that it does: an ecosystem not living up to its full potential. Things move forward slower when some of us are not as actively engaged as others.
It may hurt those who are the dark matter as well. What do you lose when you, for example, don’t blog your ideas, maintain a GitHub account, or connect with others on LinkedIn? Exposure. Growth. Job leads. New friends. New experiences.
Hiring may suffer as well. Recruiters who rely on social activity to scout talent. It is certainly easier to discover qualified candidates who are actively involved in communities like StackOverflow, GitHub, or CodePen. But, if those are the only sources being scoured, then there’s the chance of missing out on seriously awesome Dark Matter Developers who might come from other leads, like word of mouth.
Dark matter seems to be a force, like wind, that we feel rather than see.
I would be stoked to get feedback in the comments here from those who might identify with the “Dark Matter” label. Although that isn’t likely to happen, as by definition they aren’t reading this post. Or if they are, they wouldn’t be the type to comment.
Dark matter, in a grand global sense, may also be grown through any inaction. How many times have you meant to update that blog of yours but just haven’t done it? Or commit a small, but obvious fix to a GitHub repo? Or thanking someone publicly on Twitter for sharing what they learned? Dark matter grows.
I’ll leave you with this:
A hole would be something, no, it was Nothing! And it got bigger, and bigger…
You got me with this one.
In my current perspective dark matter grows with me, when I focus a high volume and quality of learning/training with a (personal) deadline in front of me. Being in this mode I only leave time for the absolutely neccessary. Just do, sleep, eat, repeat.
To focus like that I can’t listen what others say (‘You need to go out, because everybody does [more…]’). And that’s where connecting with others ends in correlation to dark matter… in my opinion.
Ha ha, never heard about this expression before. But I think not reading and not writing (e.g a blog) is very different. I work at a fairly successful web agency, with about twelve developers. We all read blogs, follow youtube channels and go to conferences. But NONE of us have a blog/site/channel about development, and none of us have done any talks at conferences. We’re busy working! I think we all feel that it would be great to contribute more to the community, but in real life there’s just no time for it. If you look at my social media accounts, there’s little to tell that I’m a developer. I don’t want to bore my non-developer friends and family with that stuff.
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head for me as well here. I love what I do and I get properly into it, but I think it takes a certain type of person to really want to shout about what they’re doing.
I can see the benefit to it in terms of career progression, but that just means everyone knows when I’m looking for a new job because suddenly there’s loads of new posts on my blog.
Yeah, exactly, ditto to those two… If I’m gonna write a blog post, it’d probably be on my company’s blog, as part of a team effort. Basically, as part of the job I’m already busy with!
I was going to try and directly message you but it looks like I can only leave a comment.
I am reaching out to you because I am interested in becoming a web developer but am very lost with which would be the best path to go. I graduated in 2011 with a BFA concentrating in graphic design. Back than with the 1 or 2 courses that included web I had no desire to code. However, going into 5 years later I’m seeing as a designer it is important to know the backend as well as the front in order to continue to grow as a designer. I’m familiar with coding a little (but this is also 2010/2011 knowledge) and the web is constantly changing seeing HTML5 now.
Do you have any suggestions as to how I can get my feet in the water to gradually learn how to swim? I was considering (1) enrolling into a state university to get a certificate. Than I realized (2) there are sites such as Tree House and Code Avengers that offer help but with paid subscriptions. Lastly, there is option (3) which would be to just a project for myself such as tackling on creating a portfolio site for myself from scratch and searching the inter webs when I’m unsure of how to do something, but this seems a little daunting.
Any suggestions would be of most appreciation. Thank you for taking your time to read this and hopefully respond!
Don’t bother going back to school. I’m sure the paid online tutorials are good, but there are plenty of good free ones too.
I think the approach of “pick a project and work it” is the very best way to learn.
Thanks for your advice @RioBrewster
@angela l replied to you further down in the comments.
This is my experience too. I just don’t get time to contribute, I’ve got work to do. And like you, I avoid posting dev articles to my social media because most of my friends and family would actively mock me for doing so.
Pretty much me, too. I read a TON, but don’t publish or speak. I plan to, though… Always planning to…
This perfectly sums up my experience as well! I work — and enjoy working — as a web developer, but that’s not the start and end of who I am as a person. I’d much rather be enjoying my time off and getting recharged than working on personal or community projects 24/7.
The assumption that people who don’t contribute code or aren’t social in the web community aren’t engaged at all is bizarre to me. I’m really not too concerned about what isn’t being shared; the web doesn’t suffer for lack of content.
Not only this, but it’s not very motivating to write about topics that other, more well known devs (as well as scores of other devs) have already written about. Performance? Important, but unless I discover something really interesting and novel, I’m writing stuff that retreads what others have talked about.
Now, I might write a bit about figuring out responsive layout with flex box, but… is that really new? Nah.
Are you assuming that all the people who provide you with such great resources, blog posts, videos do not work? This point doesn’t sound exactly right.
Interesting article! The only dark matter developers I know suck big time, so it’s kind of better they stay offline, they already produce enough bugs that way.
This kind of attitude is often why I don’t participate online. Some developers can be pretty ignorant at times. Why contribute to a community of people like this? I know that there are plenty of nice devs out there, but the ignorant ones tend to stuck out more.
I have to agree with Jason on this one. Actually I used to have more of a developer online presence when I was starting out and felt there was a bigger need to prove myself and reach out. But now, the next time I go job hunting, I can show my skill and dedication with actions and words personally. And if the potential employer or partner has an attitude like yours on the way, Gibran, then it’s kind of better they stay outside my network.
Exhibit A. Developer communities are often very unwelcoming.
Remember that word “just” that you wrote about lately?
I recently posted a question on stackoverflow about the best way to represent data in financial tables in an accessible way. Within 5 minutes I had three down votes and a response that said “How is this about code?”
It was about code because we are creating standards for how to code financial tables in HTML/CSS, making them both responsive and accessible. That’s not an easy problem to solve.
So while many of the leaders in this field are off speaking at conferences, blogging and tweeting, some of us are actually trying to solve real world problems – and get zero respect from the rest of the “community”.
Ugh, not a cool comment at all. The point here is not that Dark Matter Developers “suck big time” but that there is a massive pool of great talent that often goes unnoticed.
In other words, we might all be sucking big time since we miss the opportunity to learn from those who are silently smarter.
I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to sound that rude. I understood the topic and wanted to bring the other side to discussion, about how hard it is to work with people that don’t really care about their jobs and just clock in and out everyday after collaborating with even more bugs and workarounds. Of course there’s a lot of brilliant people out there that are unaware of the perks of being more public. But you see… every company I’ve worked I could find that lazy kind and they incredibly fit in this dark matter profile, except for not being that great. Anyway, I guess I was in a moment of angry when I wrote that, I apologize for my rude manifestation.
I can totally relate to that. I work with several “just do the minimum to get by and never ask questions” developers.
Heck we have pages that were updated last year that still have “valign” in them.
Gibran, I think this is a really important comment you’ve made.
Often online it’s super easy to sound angry or rude without even realising it – writing code is tough business, it takes a lot of dedication and with so much changing all the time people are bound to get a defensive or angry when comments are flying around. Makes me think of a passage in Paul Ford’s article: ‘What is code?’ he asks ‘why coders are angry people?’:
I’m just starting out as a developer so I can definitely relate to this ‘dark matter’ idea (so far at least, trying to contribute more) – but my god…stack overflow….it takes NERVE to post on there sometimes! Maybe this is a barrier that puts a lot of people off.
It might not be that these people don’t care enough though, some people are just a bit shy online too.
Not reading blogs is a bit of an assumption to make.
I’ve only been developing for about 6-7 years and I’m now at a stage where I actually know enough to contribute at a high enough standard.
There’s quite a high bar to entry really, as Stack Overflow proves
I don’t think the case is that Dark Matter Developers are not reading blogs but more that they are not participating in the conversations they spark.
Stack Overflow can have a high barrier to entry, depending on the question being asked. At the same time, it’s not the only place to contribute. There is no barrier to entry to create a personal blog. :)
It’s right there in the quote in the first paragraph:
‘They don’t read a lot of blogs …’
I read a massive amount of blogs, I’m just not at a stage where I’m knowledgable or confident enough to trumpet my ideas all over the web and I know it!
There’s another terrible assumption in their too, that we aren’t pushing things forward, I have done as much as I can in my jobs, because I turn that reading and learning into actual productivity at the companies I work for, rather than into another ego-flattering, but almost certainly written already, blog post.
That was the definition provided by the original author. The expanded definition in this article is that Dark Matter doesn’t need to fit that stereotype. Inaction at any scale can feed Dark Matter.
Efraim hit the nail on the head. I’ve never met any good developers who don’t read blogs/Twitter/etc but I’ve only met a small handful who maintain a blog or are actively sharing their development experiences online.
I can only speak for myself but after a full day at the office (where the workloads don’t really allow time for writing blog posts or posting on Twitter) and then time at home with the family I’m left with a precious few hours a week to do a little freelance work never mind enjoy my own hobbies and interests. Web development is just one of many things competing for that time.
This is my exact experience as well.
I enjoy making contributions to StackOverflow and Github on occasion, but writing is one of those things that I’m unwilling to dedicate significant time to.
Hobbies and personal projects simply get prioritized over blogging.
Perhaps these dark matter developers have interests and responsibilities outside of development. I read blogs and research when stumped but I have not shared much of anything development related in 10 years. I started a family at that time. I work 9-5 and shut off the developer side at 5pm. Family is more important than blogging.
Absolutely! Blogging is not life, unless you happen to earn (at least a portion of) your living off of it. Family does trump work for me as well.
Still, the overall point here is not about carrying the weight of the web on one’s shoulders. It’s just to step out of the dark a little and give back where you might take.
Work/life balance seems to be a key issue. I struggle with that as well. The “bar of entry” is another issue, too. I teach web dev classes at community college, but still feel my expertise is too low to lend anything constructive to the online community compared to what is already out there. I would just be contributing to the “noise” – or worse yet, offering up outdated or tacitly wrong information! Do you have any tips for simply building confidence in what one might post?
I suppose I’m pretty close to a Dark Matter developer as far as detection goes. I read a lot, but very rarely contribute, so you wouldn’t really know I’m there. I very occasionally comment, or stick up a little algorithm that I think would be useful to people, but I wouldn’t say I’m particularly active.
I wonder what the proportion of active to passive community members is (assuming passive members can be considered as part of the community)?
I’d say any contribution is a a good one, whether it’s sticking up a little algorithm or contributing to conversations like you’ve done here. It’s less about big, swift heroics and more about simple gestures that advance the community by any increment.
I think that for the 1% that write and maintain blogs its there hobby. And the biggest reason why the other 99% don’t do it is because of time.
If i look at myself i work between 08:00 and 18:00 when im done with the office hours i get home, change my cloths and start working in the garage on different cars, come home at around 24:00 and then its time for bed. So there isnt any time to write blogs.
On a side note maybe its time to starting writing them because i get sick of people telling me what to do because they have read it online so that must be true/good.
I definitely recognise myself as a dark matter full-stack developer and layout/UI designer. I realise I’m not networking at all as much as I could, but the thing is, I’m perfectly happy with my current job situation, and optimistic enough about career advancement. You could say I’m not enthusiastic enough, but I prefer to direct my professional enthusiasm to reading more than writing, and trying stuff out more than showing stuff off. That, and I also have a life and hobbies outside my job.
Honestly, the way some people view creative professionals nowadays feels pressuring. It’s assumed that a developer should be contributing to open source, attending hackathons and proving oneself all the time. Maybe I am leeching the open source movement in a way, but each to their own, I think – it’s wrong to say having a low profile is an inherently bad thing, when it’s really down to how people want to spend their time and what fits their personality.
I totally agree here.
I used to feel ashamed for not taking part in the loud community. But now I realize how much “being silent” has left me time for my other interests/hobbies…
I’m still reading a lot, just have nothing to add.
I’m not completely dark. I do publish a very small number of things. But I do most of my development at work. If I achieve something clever, I’m proud of it; but it’s not mine. If I did it in work time, the IP belongs to work. It would be inappropriate for me to publicly discuss much of my innovation.
I do read blogs though. I believe it’s vitally important for a developer to keep up with the state of the art. New techniques are suggested, new anti-patterns are discussed, working in one’s own bubble carries the risk of perpetuating your own mistakes.
I disagree that sharing ideas you got paid for is inappropriate. It doesn’t take value from the fact that you came up with it. If I didn’t have more interesting ways to spend my time, I’d definitely share everything I do.
Of course if you build something proprietary, you’re entitled to maximising profit. It’s not wrong. But greed aside, if you take from the open source movement, it’s better to give back.
When I said inappropriate, perhaps I should have said ‘against the terms of my employment contract’. It’s not a choice that I exercise, it’s an obligation.
Where I do new work outside of my employment, I enjoy blogging about it and sharing it.
I am a pure particle of Dark Matter and I am ok with that! But to reply to Geoff question about what the real numbers are…maybe you should check traffic stats of a website like css-tricks.com I can bet for sure that most of that is made be Dark Matter users. So don’t think we don’t have a huge part in helping these sites exists. Without us they will be much smaller. If someone likes a page doesn’t mean they are going to visit that page every day. Facebook and other social websites may give sometimes a false impression about who is just a liker and who is really a user.
If we are all teachers, who will be the students?!
I think any good teacher will tell you that they are also learning all the time. Education is an ongoing journey. :)
Many people don’t “participate” in communities because of useless fluff exactly like this post.
Perhaps you can elaborate on what makes a post like this “useless” or “fluff” and that will help advance the conversation to having less such content on the web. As it stands, I do not see how this post qualifies as either of those terms.
Bathe in the irony.
sometimes people talk too much – they get nothing done except waste oxygen.
There certainly is something to be said about the distinction between signal and noise when it comes to sharing and collaborating. At the same time, I would see that as a reason to not participate.
Has anyone ever learned anything useful on Twitter?
I always think of Twitter as a bunch of people standing on soapboxes simply shouting into the ether.
Oh, yes, tons! One of its main uses for me is asking questions because it has become way faster to get answers than on SO. And I have learned a lot this way. Not to mention people do tweet interesting stuff. There’s a lot of noise, that’s for sure, but it’s not like it’s hard to ignore…
I am a dark matter full stack developer. I read a lot of blogs. I do a lot of tutorials. I’m constantly trying to improve my skills as a developer. But like many who have commented, I don’t spend my free time writing about it. I have many interests outside of development and I think it makes me a more well rounded person. Web development is not who I am, it’s the work I do.
And that’s a healthy balance to have! I abide by that myself.
Being a part of the community doesn’t have to be about writing blogs. The fact that you’ve spent some time commenting here is, to me, part of moving things forward and I would encourage you to do the same on the other blogs you read as well. If, for nothing else, to comment a quick “Thanks” on a post you found useful or constructive criticism on the ones that be improved in some way.
There’s a term for me! I have a presence online but not for my front end development. My Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, whatever are tools to promote basically anything else I do that’s not development. I’m at work at 7am, get everything done, am passionate about what I do and get things done, use an hour a day (at least) reading articles and doing tutorials to keep up with the latest in FED, but, as soon as 3:00 rolls around, I’m done. My website hasn’t been updated since 2007. My GitHub languishes, hoping I get another gig where I have to use it. And my tweets are more about television and Los Angeles pedestrian/mass transit news than anything having to do with CSS positioning or ES2016. I’ve been a developer for ten years. It’s just when it comes down to choosing to work on my website during my downtime or writing a Medium piece on car culture, I choose the latter. That’s the work/life balance I want. That being said, it definitely hurts my career. I know I’m underpaid and that the only way to move up is to move on but I don’t have a portfolio to show off my work or code samples in GitHub to bring to an interview. It’s like my head doesn’t work like that, making up my own stuff to put out on the FED Web. Tell me something to make and I can do just about anything your heart desires. Tell me to make something to show off my skill and I draw a blank. I am a Dark Matter developer.
It all comes down to work/life balance and happiness.
I get 8 hours a day of web development which includes a little time consuming articles like this one. I like to spend my evenings relaxing.
Sure I could contribute to the web to help it progress along faster but I’m not a martyr, I’d rather see my dog carry a stick around the park given the choice.
This term definitely applies to me. I’ve been at Front End web development for over 10 years, I read and absorb a lot of what others post or contribute daily, but almost never respond or comment and never post anything of my own.
While I can definitely get behind sentiments that time is a factor in my passive participation and that my spare time is often gobbled up with family or other interests, it’s more than just time for me. I am a hard core introvert. Interaction with others, even online, is a major drain for me. I spend my 9 to 5 at a large software company that has one of those insane, low walled open work environments that are quite unfriendly to an introvert like me. After a day at work, I simply don’t have any energy left to devote to actively interacting with and contributing to the online dev community.
I’m probably the only one looking at this on an iPhone 4, but the header is about a mile high. Just sayin’.
I totally identify with the label, but the reason I’m dark matter has to do with priorities. I’d rather focus on doing something rather than wasting 10x the time posting about how it is done. This is very selfish of me because I read a lot and benefit from it, yet seldom give back to the community. It is a matter of time mostly, and still I don’t believe I get enough done.
I am not sure if i fall under this ‘dark matter’ group. But I like to share my ideas and answers to new developers on Stack Overflow. I also have several publicized gists on github which anyone can access.
I don’t blog about my work but I do like to share my knowledge with others.
You are definitely on the light side of things, my friend. Those are all excellent ways to be involved, regardless of whether you blog.
You can see all the dark matter developers as we have no gravatar!
Gravatar to me is more a reflection of users who actively work with WordPress and have just set up their Gravatar for the sake of previewing author profiles on builds.
The term and definition seems a little too absolute for me. I’ve been designing and coding for the web since 1999, and based on this definition I probably would be categorized this way. I’ve never posted anything to Dribbble. I’d love to, but I don’t know anybody who is on there to get an invite. I started my career in a small town, and moved to another one.
Finding designers and developers who are work the way I do isn’t easy: web standards-based, with a focus on progressive enhancement, accessibility, performance, and future friendliness is not easy in a town of 100,000. It’s mostly low-end WordPress template tweakers charging small businesses $200 to get a site up for them. Sure, there are meetups in cities nearby but after a long day of work and commute, I can’t drive another 2 hours each way for a meetup. I’m a husband and father. That doesn’t fly. I’ve been to conferences, and met a person or two, but the few times I tried to talk with a speaker or a recognizable face, they are all huddled together, and catching up with their friends who they haven’t seen since the last conference they spoke at.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who are fine not communicating with the community at large, but I’m pretty sure there are plenty of us who want to, and find it difficult to get involved.
I have a three-year old and a soon-to-be X month old. Extra content for the web just isn’t going to happen.
A supermajority of the ~8 other developers here also have families with young children. It ain’t happening for them either.
I read books off the CEO’s bookshelf. I share the results with my company, and it’s on the company’s public blog. I’m working on improving the team I work with, and that’s 1.) good for the next hire, and 2.) just fine with me.
I’d say anything that shares knowledge–whether it be recommending books to colleagues or posting to the company blog–is a good thing.
I totally get that family trumps everything else. Then again, I’m assuming you posted this comment without sacrificing any family time and that alone is a good way to be involved in the community. :)
What’s wrong with saying nothing until you have something worth saying?
There’s nothing wrong with that at all.
At the same time, I would challenge you to (1) expand your definition what is is “worth saying” and (2) consider that even posting a comment like this is part of being part of the community.
I am Dark Matter. Err…at least I was until I posted this ;-).
Ha! Love it.
I do a lot of reading, but i find “participating” a waste of time, frankly. Going to large conferences is a tremendous waste of resources and time unless it’s local, or your company is paying for it.
I also (generally) would not hire someone who had too active/aggressive a social media presence, since I feel like I’d be paying them to do that.
It’s tricky. For some reason I just don’t trust someone who spends too much time on social media unless it is directly related to their job (e.g., a reporter who uses twitter alot).
Dark Matter dude representing here.
The elite designers and developers I know (the ones working at what might be considered the highest levels and making over 200k USD a year) are not socially active online and don’t have social personas. A lot of them might be described as overachievers, with other time-consuming interests outside of work.
The more run-of-the-mill designers and developers I know seem to contribute quite a bit to online social sites.
Just a personal anecdote.
I spent many years as “dark matter”. Most of my reasons have already been mentioned in this thread. Like a lot of folks here, I’m a parent and an introvert.
Another big reason I had, that maybe is unique to me, is that during my “dark ages” I was working on something boring.
For most of my career before I went freelance I was responsible for an ecommerce site on a creaky old platform with honest-to-God HTML table layouts. I was essentially stuck in the 90s for an embarrassingly large chunk of this century. It was uncool work and I didn’t feel cool doing it, so I never felt like sharing what I did with the wider development world.
To me it is unsurprising that people who prefer to work with computers than with people are introverted which is what it really sounds like is being described.
Yeah, I have all the web presence, sharing and social profiles mentioned, some more complete than others. Heck, I even have them set up for clients.
But I often find it taxing.
And the more development experience I get, and the more I learn about security and social engineering (not to mention surveillance programs), the less I want to be sharing online, at least through major social sites.
This is one of the only blogs I’ve ever posted on, and I think this is my second or third post here. Lol, didn’t know there was a name this. :P
Like others here, I read blogs for education, training, just keeping up in general. I don’t have time to have my own blog. I appreciate the comments here, maybe we have a community that just doesn’t need to communicate much? (I have a great social life with family and friends, don’t need one online)
I built a CMS for professional web designers, all my clients are professionals and are all too busy building websites to have a blog. But there is some overlap for them and their clients (who need facebook and twitter marketing, etc…) otherwise it seems many of my clients are dark matter devs as well.
Maybe dark matter just means some people have offline social lives that are fulfilling, active and more important than an online social life would be?
I never wrote about it thinking other front-enders already know how to code it or/and others will share this technique anyway.
Sure enough, I started seeing this responsive menu idea in codepen & other websites.
My point is, if you don’t share your unique idea or coding techniques, others will anyhow. No need to clutter the web with duplicate information. The web is already flooded with sea of duplicate information.
Front-end coding, it’s self-explanatory to competent front-enders anyhow. No need to blog about it.
@angela there are many organizations that can give you free access to Treehouse. I got mine from the San Francisco public library. I just needed my library card number to sign up. Good luck.
Interesting read! I can’t identify with the Dark Matter persona, as I love to share things, but my full-stack friend and back-end colleagues qualify for… Grey Matter. They do attend conferences and some attend (small) meet-ups, exclusively to learn new things.
What I find interesting is the why. Why do Dark Matter Developers avoid exposure, and why do I seek it?
Prior to my development career, I already made tutorials how to produce a specific electronic sound, and how to ‘trick jump’ and create maps in various games. Being insecure at the time, I think I did so to show off, to receive confirmation and affection. I could spend hours training others to do what I did. Perhaps so I could prove myself I could do something they couldn’t. Perhaps I’m just passionate about teaching. I like to believe passion is my motivator today, but I find little joy in writing things without receiving feedback.
Whatever my motivator is, it seems Dark Matter Developers lack one. Whatever the reason, I think it’s a personal choice in the end. It was an unconscious choice for me, but I can imagine others, freelancers for example, choose to expose themselves this way, making it a conscious choice.
To be honest I’m one of those you mentioned
And to answer your question, Why ?
Well, of course my reason might be different than others but mainly because I’m afraid of embarrassment
A lot of the developers online (of course not all of them) are very judgemental and seem to be filled with ego and I really hate that
So I’m always afraid of posting code or writing blogs because simply I will be eaten alive :)
To be honest I feel like it’s everyone’s responsibility to to force the community to be more friendly with new comers
But yet these days I try to change for a bit and to be more open with the community and to collaborate more often
So I wish there’s a lot of people who try to change as well :)
This is very true! The community is very good at criticizing but doesn’t always do a good job of doing it in a way that’s constructive.
Honestly I don’t like the spotlight on me and I don’t like doing everything in a very public way. It’s very uncomfortable.
That is a BIG fear for me as well. Sure, there are trolls who might try to cut you down for putting yourself out there. I’ve seen a few in this very post.
Hopefully, though, fear will not detract you from sharing your wisdom and insight with the rest of us. We’re all on the same team at the end of the day and it’s great when we work together. :)
Great article ! I also share a slide about strands of web design. I discuss about the basic topic that use most of the premium website.
What bugs me about all this is that I know so many “dark matter” developers that are wonderfully talented and have so much to give back to the community. The problem is that they don’t see these micro-contributions (like blogging, or adding things to Dribbble, or answering questions on StackOverflow) as “work”, but instead they see them as acts of narcissism. Unfortunately I’m not sure what we can do to bring these people into the community and say “hey, we’re not trying to be jerks – we’re just trying to figure these things out in public.”
Exactly! It’s those micro-contributions that often get overlooked for the steam they provide in moving things forward.
Many of the comments I’ve seen in here suggest that we have to live and breath web in order to contribute, but I don’t think that’s the case. Any contribution, from recommending a book to a friend to commenting on a post, is a great way to be involved without breaking the bank, as far as sacrificing one’s life outside web development.
The narcissism part is spot on. Sure, there are self-serving “contributions” being made online and some of that is noise, but it goes back to the age-old question of whether people are truly benevolent by nature. In other words, can we be charitable without being selfish?
I would say that a lot of people have LIVES. Not everyone can devote lots of time to an online presence. Many developers have families and interests outside of the web development world. I think it’s more of a problem that in our line of work, we’re expected to be SO passionate that we live for nothing else. What an unbalanced existence.
And I understand there’s some “Type A Personality” people out there who do a lot in their personal lives, have families, etc. and still are active in the online development community, but not everyone has that kind of energy day to day to day. Most people need to get some rest once in awhile.
I really hope you aren’t inferring that I do not have a life. The web is such a small part of who I am and what I do–however, I do feel compelled to contribute back to it from time to time i the same ways that I feel it has contributed to me having a career. You may not find me tweeting about front-end development or speaking at conferences–I’m simply not good at them and don’t bother wasting my energy that way. However, I do love to write, teach and make a minor GitHub contribution when I have the time and those are sufficient for me without feeling like I sacrifice my life, which includes a family of my own.
I hope I haven’t given the impression that I am a Type A personality. While I do consider myself to be a very responsible person, I am very introverted and find social interactions to be quite taxing on my energy level. I get the feeling that you might see yourself in a similar way and yet, you still found a moment to make a comment on this post. That, in itself, is a way of participating without living an unbalanced existence.
Some people need to be the lead singer in the band. I prefer being the drummer :)
This article is a big turn off for me, and emblematic of many issues that our field is going through relating to inclusivity and diversity. This article leaves absolutely no room for people with different backgrounds than the author, or who do not have the privilege to revolve their lives around keeping up appearances as a web developer celebrity.
It comes off as “if you don’t eat, sleep, and breathe web development, then you are considered a black sheep of the community”. God forbid anyone has a life outside of the granola vanilla stuff that web developers talk and tweet about. I have better things to do than follow a bunch of people on social media who are going to tweet ironically, ignore movements such as Black Lives Matter, and use silly abbreviations like “perf” and “totes” all the time.
Sorry, I wanted to reply a little sooner but had to take my daughter to school. :)
I would challenge you to re-examine what you define as “keeping up appearances” and “celebrity.” Yes, I am the author of this post on what happens to be a popular blog, but I am hardly trying to curate an online persona or a tribe of followers. In other words, I don’t speak at conferences, am terrible at Twitter, and am not sure what “totes” actually means (although maybe you can explain it to me).
This is a pretty defensive comment and I’m not sure how it follows the post. I, like you and the many others commenting here, have a life and prefer to spend that life doing other things besides front-end web development. I understand if you do not like the term “Dark Matter Developer” but I hope you do not take this post in a way that uses it in a pejorative manner. Instead, I hope to convey that there is a lot of wealth of knowledge in the “dark matter” and people like me feel as though we’re missing out on it.
For me, it always feels like sharing means anything I do will just get lost. So I’m not driven to share. There’s too much out there, am I really doing something that someone else isn’t doing?
Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of what I build and always strive to build in the best way possible, but so do so many others who already have the ear/eyes of thousands of followers.
I know that feeling all too well. I’ve never had a big following or a feeling that I have anything original to contribute.
But you what’s crazy? Sharing even small tidbits of what you learn, know or use has a way of building momentum. I would argue that the web misses out when any of us decides not to contribute even the smallest thing, such as a comment on this post. Just the fact that you commented is awesome and continues to spark the conversation. :)
I could also reverse things a bit: some are successful in being visible and popular, taking the space; being so bright of a star that those who aren’t as able in the social aspects aren’t noticed. People who have ability to connect with others are better in gaining attention. There are probably a lot of excellent contributions out there, but noise and hype of a fashionable subject or a more popular author take almost all the attention. And that issue can’t be solved by providing even more noise.
Personally, skillwise, I’m still catching up with professional developer basics, which limits the time (or energy) I could spend on sharing. I’ve programmed for 20+ years, but been employed as a dev for only 2½; before that I were, for the most part, dark matter. Networking, making connections with people… that is simply something I’m not good at. This most likely directly reflects to how little attention I get online; it is a total random chance if anyone happens to gain any interest to check out whatever I’ve done and whether it happens to match with anything they are interested of.
I probably don’t count as dark matter online, because I do like to write and share things when I think they’re relevant or might help someone. And I read quite a few blogs. Including this one. That said, I am a serial lurker. You really only know I’m around when I decide to come out of the shadows like this and add something to the conversation.
Or not. For some, part of it is a fear that they don’t have much to contribute so they resolve to stay out of it.
“It is a bit saturated here, after all. What could I possibly add?” That mentality fueled my reluctance for a long time. Hell, even now when I write or share something, I’m uncertain about its worth.
For others, they just don’t want to. Whether or not we’re robbed of their contributions, it is their choice to contribute at all. And we’re going to have to deal with that.
I’ll admit I’m also prone to simple inaction. Given the choice to do anything and risk direct harm, I may do nothing and risk indirect harm. It’s part of the equation regardless, so I tend to weigh the possible benefit of a contribution next to its potential harm. No one can do that consistently, though.
Additionally, as many have pointed out. We don’t know the circumstances or background of these “dark matter” developers by definition. The rallying cry to them for more contribution doesn’t often consider if they are in the condition or have the means to actually do so. Hell, just being able to comment here on my computer and a reliable broadband connection is an extension of my ability to contribute.
Finally, we have to admit the deficiencies of a lot of developer communities. Beyond the choice not to share, there’s also whether we provide an atmosphere that is conducive to sharing. Some communities do that well, and others drop the ball on it.
Furthermore, as diversity remains an issue for this and other industry spaces, some developers may have gone dark matter because they’re concerned about how people may react to their presence in the community at all. Especially if they have contributed before and got burned in the process.
Overall, there’s much to consider that keeps the issue from being as simple as partitioning developers into visible and dark matter. We can encourage more people to share their work and ideas, but we have to ensure they have the desire (first and foremost), the means, and the right platform for it.
Keep in mind that just asking people to contribute and wondering why they don’t isn’t encouraging on its own.
I like the idea of collaboration, where people simply share what they know, get opinion from others, discuss, etc. etc. But I’ve known some people who don’t really have the idea of collaboration in mind, or perhaps they choose not to instead. That’s not because they don’t find it beneficial, or if they are actually contributing to a greater good, but some of these people just want to live quietly at where they are, with what they’re doing. They don’t aim to climb up social or corporate ladders, they don’t desire new experiences or friends. In a way, they are very content with what they already have, and they don’t ask for anything more than that. They still grow, at their own pace, within their own frame, and they may even discover things that we have never known off, or new, innovative ideas that we have overlooked as our discussions may have carried us too fast. They don’t seek for confirmation from people all over the web, cause they have the people around them that they know of, and which their opinion can be trusted.
There’s always the flip side of the coin which we cannot see from our own perspective, especially when we’re standing at the complete opposite of where the other is. As so, it is unjust for us to make comments like they should do this and do that, as what we perceive to be right for us. We shouldn’t push our definitions onto others. My opinion would be just let them be, and let them go at their own pace.
Even though I love my job, I do this “clock in and out right on time”. Cos’ I really don’t want to spend any more time staring at the screen than I already do. I want to get out. Play my guitar, to go for a run, etc.
It’s already difficult to find time to stay up-to-date with web’s high pace.
I do miss being an active particle of the web as I used to be back in my 20s, but doing it now would mean giving up something in real life. I’m not sure I want to, despite all the disadvantages of my choice.
I think a big reason why ‘dark matter’ developers exist in the web development world isn’t so much because they don’t use the internet a lot or prioritise real life, but because they might spent their time online doing other things.
They could also be in communities that deal with web development, but are somewhat outside the ‘mainstream’ so to speak. For example, whole forums and sites exist for forum/community management, and quite a few expert programmers hang out on those sites. They might not comment on here or what not, but that doesn’t mean they don’t discuss their field or share their knowledge.
And how about on more… ‘unsavoury’ sites? I’m sure there are lots of good developers hanging around on invite only blackhat SEO forums and similar sites, but they like to keep out of the limelight for obvious reasons.
So yeah. Maybe these ‘dark matter’ developers do spend a lot of time online and do run blogs and profiles and what not, they just prefer to talk about non development related things. Or perhaps they use more obscure webmaster forums and sites rather than the ones that everyone already knows about.
Oh, it’s me. I’m a 90% Dark Matter and no one knows me. I like the idea to be social and share but it doesn’t occur at all. Hope once upon a time I will become Light Matter.
The uneasy notion hiding through the dark matter issue seems that, in “The Circle” style, to be considered a “sane person”, one must “engage”, meaning blog, share, post, comment, upload and whatnot at all times, in order to “sell oneself” and “optimise one’s online persona” to “score” better work and “more exciting people”.
Well, you can still engage wonderfully with real people in your neighbourhood or city, without collecting “points” and massaging one’s “online persona” – and still work on satisfying projects that pay ok.
Always remember: The last shirt you wear has no pockets.
There is a lot of privilege inherent in this post. I’m a woman, and a developer, and I have a stalker. I’m no one important, far less important than any woman who was targeted by gamergate or any of that crap, but this is just to let you know how common it is. I literally can not post things online under my own name.
I used to want to participate in the online “community”, and looked up to those who did. But in the last few years, post-stalker, I’ve focused on developing IRL relationships. I had a “hip” front-end dev job, now my job title is “Business Systems Analyst”, and I spend my days maintaining what would politely be referred to as “Enterprise Middleware”, using js, xml, and oracle SQL. Least sexy dev job ever, but it’s 1.65x the salary I was making at front end work, and I can count the times I’ve worked over 40 hours on one hand. I now have the time and money to have hobbies outside of work, and it’s actually pretty damn nice.
I’ll end this with an anecdote. I tried to go to a “hip” local dev conference this summer (even though my work doesn’t require keeping up with the latest and greatest, I still enjoy it for myself): the conference website required registration to even see ticket prices. In order to register, you were supposed to list company name and title. My company is in a highly regulated industry, and I had to sign a social media agreement, as a condition of employment, that says the only site where I am ever allowed to use my company name is LinkedIn, and then only if I never post anything or participate in any groups for the entire time I am employed here. So I left those fields empty. But the conference site put all the “profiles” of every single person who registered as public, regardless of whether or not they even bought a ticket. No option for privacy, because the assumption (like in this post), was that the “community” is all about posting things publicly online. The conference was popular enough that the top google hit for “my name + my city” really quickly became my profile page there. I ended up deciding that the risk of my stalker knowing beforehand that I was going to be in a specific location for 2 days, for 8 hours each day was just too high and I decided to not attend.
Systems built by privileged white men such as yourself do not prioritize privacy and safety in a way that would allow marginalized groups to participate.
Hey there, and a genuine thanks for adding your voice here. There’s obviously a lot to chew on and I want to make sure I reiterate and clarify the purpose of this post.
First off, nothing stated in here is prescriptive. In other words, it’s not a mandate for how we ought to act as developers. There are clearly exceptions to any rule and the concept of privacy and security are way outside the scope of what we’re referring to here as dark matter. I sincerely hope nothing in this post would lead you to believe that (1) dark matter is a bad thing or that (2) avoid dark matter should be done at the expense of one’s well being. We have lives and those come first.
Secondly, this comment really troubles me:
I am not going to try to make a case that my life has been any more difficult than others. But to make the assumption that my life has been easy and free of being marginalized simply because I am white and male is way out of line. I sympathize with anyone’s plights in life, but square-pegging others in return is a bold move for anyone who has felt square-pegged themselves.
Again, please accept my apologies if this post struck a nerve, especially one that it was not intended to.
Well, you asked, dude. You wanted to hear from some people who don’t comment. And clearly, you’re pretty privileged. The definition of being part of a privileged class is…you can’t see or know what it’s like to not be that privileged.
I provided a real-life example: I wanted to go do a dev conference, and the website was designed to have a public profile page that ended up very Google-able, for everyone who even wanted to look at schedule info and ticket prices. I used my real name, because it was part of the registration process. But I decided it was too dangerous for me to go somewhere that might lead my stalker there, where [stalker] could cause a scene that would damage my professional reputation. That’s what it’s like for me. I doubt the guys that made that website thought about what a privilege it is to be able to post online under your real name, without fear, they were just thinking about “building community”. But, by not considering that not everyone has the same level of privilege as them, they were really just creating a place for dudes just like themselves to hang out and be all self-congratulatory.
I certainly asked for comments about experiences, but not for personal attacks and generalizations that pigeonhole me to be something I’m not.
For what it’s worth, I hope you also understand that dark matter does not have to be exclusive to an online identity or online interactions. If you read a good book on development and think it’s worth someone you know checking out, lend it to them. That’s part of moving things forward and the spirit in which this post was written.
The really interesting thing, at least to me, is how meta articles like this one attract 100+ comments (95 as I write this), but articles about, say, rendering vector graphics in WebGL, attract… 3.
I find that pretty interesting myself! I guess one strikes a personal nerve where another might not. Still, I’d love to see more discussion on technical articles in general.
There is a lot of developers, whose first language is not English. You, as an English speaking developer not always see them, because the language barrier. Maybe they are participating – in their native language.
That is a great and legit point! I have to admit that I am very ignorant of what possible contributions are being made outside of my own native language. At the same time, I suspect there are people in any segment of the community where there are missed opportunities to contribute.
I would fit the Dark Matter moniker. I took my first programming course in 1966. I do have a small online presence on github, but I am semi retired, but still building websites for select clients. I don’t need to actively promote myself as I get more work than I want. Want being different than need or can handle.
I do read blogs but leave almost no comments, this being the exception. I still take online courses, ask questions when I want to learn more. Post issues on Github when I need to and submit the occassional pull request.
I do not write blogs, speak or attend conferences (any more) as I did that in the 80’s and 90’s when there was no web or it was used differently than today. I built my first website in 1991.
I found some of the comments above to lack perpective on motives and experience concerning those of us whose presence is so small as to be virtually non-existent. But like in physics, dark matter makes up a significant portion of the universe. You may not see it but its gravitational impact can be great.
My daughter when she was 12 told me she was glad we had taught her learning was fun. It is and I still learn something everyday, often from Chris.
Thanks for the post, I learned something today.
The “death” of comment sections plays a part in this, as does the increase in opinionated censorship . Just think how many people may disagree with a concept in a blog post but decide not to post their opinion in fear of ridicule or harassment. By trying to make such areas of interaction “safer” we may be losing what makes the results of these interactions salient, and thus the ability for interaction pertinent.
I don’t often comment online, I do read a fair few blogs, but most of my “giving back to the community” is done face-to-face by showing non-developers and new developers things about web accessibility, the cascade, mark up, CMS, SEO, and half a dozen other aspects that make up The Web. I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m able to teach the people I work with in broader businesses so their level of understanding increases. Because these are done in person and aren’t trackable online in the sense of being blogged or tweeted, does that count as Dark Matter?
Face-to-face interactions are definitely a good thing! I often find that loaning a physical book to someone is just as (if not more) effective as tweeting something. Definitely not dark matter. :)
No, it doesn’t. What you describe is a great work.
I feel like this article, though it tries not to, is suggesting we should avoid being a dark matter developer. Sure, being active in the community is helpful to the community, but the world is much bigger than web development. I’m active in several communities I care much more about, and spend time doing things much more meaningful. I bet many developers might be happier if they spent time being active in the community, doing things outside the community.
Not that I’d expect a web development blog to ever advocate we spend less time active in web development.
That’s an interesting point and I can see how the post might come across as “hey, you most be in the community.” That’s definitely not the intent though, and I’d go so far as to say any sort of micro-contribution–whether it be recommending a resource or thanking someone for their contributions–is engaging in the community.
I totally get that we all have lives outside of web development (I have my own, for sure!) and make sure to balance my work and life as I would with any other job.
Thanks for writing! Commenting on this post is a great contributing to the discussion :)
Thanks! I contribute frequently to stackoverflow, but not much else. I felt the need here to speak as a “dark matter” developer. We, by our definition, let our perspective go unknown for most issues, but this was a good moment to share it.
Indeed, the language divide remark made earlier is an important addition to this topic. We’re basically looking at the 20% of english speaking world of developers. I don’t know how much that lowers the percentage, but it could be down to 5% of the total, making 95% dark matter.
Summing up some reasons, most mentioned before:
No desire to share, or afraid of it. It’s not just a developer thing. In business meetings with a group of 10, you’ll often find the same 2 or 3 persons rambling on. The rest has knowledge and skill, yet for some reason does not contribute.
No time to share. As our world is so digital nowadays, combined screen time of work and other digital activities can easily go beyond 12 hours. People may want to do other things, or must do other things, like taking care of the household, their health, etc.
Some time to share, but it’s just not worth it. I think this is the most important reason to not contribute. Nowadays, it is extremely hard to get your contribution noticed:
I used to write technical articles on my blog, at the very beginning of the blogging era, over 10 years ago. I had some mild success with it, a reasonable amount of page views, and some discussion on the content from people reading it. It fueled me to write more of such articles, some taking 1 or 2 full days to research and write.
The sobering truth right now is that whatever topic I would pick up, very likely somebody beat to me it, has written it better, and has marketed it better than I ever could. Each niche or technology has their heroes, and they take 99% of the attention. The same thing is true on social networks. If you’re a nobody that makes a brilliant post, likely it will go unanswered like 99% of all posts, whilst the 1% viral posts and funny cats take the 1 million likes. It is not linear.
So if both writing original content is extremely difficult AND the delivery mechanism works against the 99%, the only conclusion I can draw is to NOT contribute. Seriously, statistically speaking, it is better to not contribute. At an individual level, the value versus return is negative for almost everybody. You can better spend that time on work, family or leisure.
At a macro level, I don’t support that conclusion, yet at the individual level: the odds are against you.
I agree with you and some of the earlier comments. (Too many to read them all, unfortunately!) I have tried to contribute to StackOverflow, and while some comments seemed helpful, one of my suggestions was not appreciated. It takes a lot of time to think things through enough to make a good, complete posting about it. Forcing me to think harder about my suggestion was good, but I don’t have the time to do that too often.
But mostly, I agree that most things are already covered in sufficient detail. Do I really need to write something on a topic that is already well-covered? On rare occasion where I have bumped into something unique, I have blogged about it, but usually not. I will try to do so, but I’m not sure if anyone has found my blog. :-)
Anyway, back to Dark Matter developers… Most people I have worked with probably do not blog or are active in contributing online. I think to some extent, it’s just a job. I always think that exploring what’s out there is both interesting and could help with the job indirectly, perhaps if not immediately, so like many of you reading this, I do explore a bit. But I think many do not and are simply not interested. I would do more except for the aforementioned conflict between time with other hobbies, responsibilities, etc. I’ll (occasionally) code for fun; most developers I know do not.