The silent, grateful majority

In the summer of 2012 I went to see Scott Berkun speak at a local meetup in DC. Berkun is an author who writes about creativity, philosophy, and management with a focus on tech.

I later ordered and read his most recent book at the time, Mindfire. Berkun is a great essayist, and some of his words have stuck with me years later.

There’s one essay I particularly took to heart: “How to make a difference”. It’s a short read - I highly recommend it.

In the essay, Berkun recounts an experience during his last days at Microsoft. After a final lecture in front of his peers, Berkun is struck by one colleague’s straightforward, personal expression of gratitude for all Berkun’s work. Berkun remarks that such expressions are exceedingly rare, which is a shame considering the powerful positive effect they have on their recipients.

This is a lesson I have taken to heart. When I particularly enjoy or benefit from another person’s work, I try to take a few seconds to let them know my appreciation. Usually I just send a short tweet expressing my gratitude, and sometimes I get a reply thanking me for it.

But occasionally, you can tell the message got through to someone who really needed to hear it.

Gods Will Be Watching is an indie “point and click thriller” game released earlier this year. I really enjoyed its style and gameplay, but the critics haven’t been kind.

I especially enjoyed the soundtrack, and I purchased it through the artist’s page on Bandcamp. There is a small link on the checkout screen that lets you include a short custom message to the artist. So I wrote a couple sentences saying how much I appreciated the game and the music.

The next day I got a reply directly from the artist. Here’s an excerpt (included with the artist’s permission):

Thank You! And I really mean it. Love it when I get this kind of mails.

Sadly those opinions about “game is awful but ost is good” are not something I really enjoy… Yeah, I did the music and I should be happy, but the music without the game is almost nothing. I mean, you can listen to it without playing the game, but it was the game what influenced 99.9% of the soundtrack (as it should be).

Anyways, really appreciate your mail, glad that you loved the game and my work on it! Thank you!!!

Just a few weeks later I received an email from a software developer in the UK thanking me for my spin-docker project. He was looking for a lightweight Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and was attempting to build a web-based user interface off of my API.

Someone else finding your work useful is the highest compliment an open-source developer can receive. I feel similarly uplifted when people thank me after I deliver my Docker tutorial.

I’m still not sure if I believe in karma, but I do believe in the power of straightforward expressions of gratitude. Even today I don’t make them often enough, but now that I’m on my own I rely on free and open-source work more than ever. And I intend to let people know just how much I appreciate it.

(Of course, a big thanks to Scott Berkun for helping me think this way!)


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