Human Hacking



I'm an active open source contributor

, a leader of things

, and an amateur student of psychology

, and incidentally and reluctantly still a student at OSU.

Note that a lot of things I'm going to discuss are further from having objectively correct answers than many of the problems we're accustomed to discussing in the open-source world.

These ideas are almost impossible to communicate wihtout a bit of a spin toward the presenter's worldview. Please don't blindly follow, but think about whether taking my advice would make you happier and only follow it if it would.



The attitude which turns ordinary interactions into useful leraning experiences is pragmatism, or being scientific pragmatism / science

Being scientific == the approach required to get useful results from any "experiment" or time you change a cause to see how its effects are altered.

Next: Getting What You Want

What happened?

Why did it happen?

How will changing the contributing factors change the results?

Getting What You Want



My abstract is written in a way that will attract people who want to learn how to get what they want from others.

my "be careful what you wish for" is as follows: Identify what you want. Does it make life better or worse for you and the people around you? If it's unprecedented, get others' feedback on whether they'd see its results as an improvement.

If what you think you want is generally harmful, examine why you want it and whether that underlying desire could be satisfied through another course of action with fewer detrimental effects.

Next: Know what you want.

Getting... What?



But "Be Careful what You Wish For" has a prerequisite:

Step 0 is knowing what you want. If you don't konw what you want, I can't help you -- go spin up an instance of Elizabot and talk to her or something. What I regard as human hacking is mostly about channeling motivations and fulfilling desires, not about summoning that motivation out of thin air.

Next: Outline


웃 => 웃웃 => 웃웃웃웃웃웃웃웃



Writing this talk has shown me that introductory curricula in non-technical fields are just as hard to write as for technical ones.

Fully understanding the topic is a circular dependency of knowledge, so you have to pick the point with the fewest prerequisites and just jump in.

This is the first time I've done this talk, so it may not be the best way to organize the information -- I'd love to hear your feedback at the end (I'll have my contact information on a slide).

But this time around, I'm starting with abstractions of techniques to understand and predict an individual human, then generalizing those to small group interactions, then to the large groups of open source projects, and then talking about some things I've learned in nearly a decade of leading engineers.


Why do people do things?


Congratulations, you live in a human emulator! It helps you predict the reactions and behavior of people similar to yourself.

This can be a double-edged sword, because not everyone is the same.




Here's a model of how people are more or less the same: basic needs.

Lower needs need to be met before higher needs can be sought

MBTI types



Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator -- self-reported, seeks understanding

Attitude: Extraversion vs Introversion

Jungian interpretation. Briggs and Myers recognized that each of the cognitive functions can operate in the external world of behavior, action, people, and things ("extraverted attitude") or the internal world of ideas and reflection ("introverted attitude").

Functions: sensing/intuition (S/N) and thinking/feeling (T/F)

1 of the 4 is dominant; this is shown by the J/P

Sensing/Intuition: Information-gathering. Sensing: Present, tangible, concrete... Intuition: Abstract, theoretical, association-based. Meaning in theory/principles/patterns.

Thinking/Feeling: Decision-making. Thinking: Rational, data-driven, logical, detached, rule-based, causal. Feeling: Association, empathy, consensus

Lifestyle: Judging vs Percieving

Extraverts: J/P is dominant function, Introverts it's auxilary

Judging prefers thinking|feeling; Percieving prefers Sensing|Intuition




internal monolog goes with Dryack's story about Fred

Pop Quiz

Do you think that humans are mostly reasonable?



adjective 1. (of a person) having sound judgment; fair and sensible. "no reasonable person could have objected"


ha ha uhh NOOOOOO

Cognitive Biases


These are to everyday life what common fallacies are to logic

Negative connotations but neither necessarily good nor bad, they just explain.

<the xkcd about breaking changes>

impostor syndrome, dunning-kruger, etc. for tech... several slides that thing about asking favors

<example of same "fallacy" being both good and bad>




Raise your hand if you think you're better at driving than the average person in this room

Overconfidence Effects



Overconficence effects -- Planning fallacy

the tendency for people to overestimate their rate of work or to underestimate how long it will take them to get things done.

Ever tried to do time estimates on a software project?



Raise your hand if you think you're better at coding than the average person in this room

Underconfidence Effects



Underconfidence effects -- Dunning-Kruger

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias manifesting in two principal ways: unskilled individuals tend to suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than is accurate, while highly skilled individuals tend to rate their ability lower than is accurate.

Cognitive Biases...



We could talk about cognitive biases all day... but let's not.

A word of warning



generalizations are useful because they help you ask the right questions and suggest what to look for

Differences != flaws -- a trait that's a strength in one context is a weakness in another.

Never assume you have enough context -- if you want to say/do something that makes an assumption, look for a less assumptive way to phrase it or at least acknowledge that guess. Example: initial conversation w/ Dryack




all of the factors that affect an individual's behavior are still relevant...

Social Scripts



Kind of like conversations with NPCs in a video game

helpful for dealing with anxiety -- get help from a friend who's good at handling a given situation to write out its script if you're nervous. They'll feel good... because people like helping others! Inner monolog: I'm a good friend because I help people in need...



"He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged."

  • Benjamin Franklin


People like helping others!

Ben Franklin effect is extension of attribution error -- people observe themselves doing a thing and then make up a reason why it happened

The Ben Franklin effect is a proposed psychological phenomenon: A person who has done or completed a favor for someone is more likely to do another favor for that person than they would be if they had received a favor from that person. Similarly, one who harms another is more willing to harm them again than the victim is to retaliate.

Body Language



dominant/confident/aggressive vs submissive/uncertain/scared

"Body language" of online communication:
  • sentence length/structure/punctuation ~= tone
  • word choice ~= style of dress or medium of meatspace comms (graffiti vs newsletter vs political speech)
  • presence/absence in IRC channel (rage quit = slamming door)
  • interrupting with offtopic or inane things ~= being fidgety and attention-seeking
  • typing super slowly ~= mumble or stutter
  • email address, handle, email sig ~= age, style of dress, gender




Hints at someone's communication style and priorities -- match their style

most assume all others think/feel/prioritize the same way they do, until they learn otherwise

Inviting conversation



we'll get into how to get a specific question answered from a project later; this is along the lines of generally making friends

when do you feel safe approaching someone and then do it? give the situation those traits.

  • be present, calm, engaged in shared channels
  • subtly solve a problem of theirs

storytime: trying to talk to linus at linuxcon vs plug

Effective email




again look at your own inbox -- which important messages are still unanswered? why? because they're hard

  • use a good title
  • most people only see one ask per message
  • summarize w/ bullet points
  • anticipate questions -- know audience and purpose

Social Capital



pony by raegar on deviantart :)

karma, esteem, popularity, call it what you will

Use your brain -- your built-in human emulator -- assess how you judge others

  • storytime: Google interviews if you rate yourself a 10 at a skill

Making recommendations is a gamble of social capital, proportionate to the pain that'll ensue if the recommendation was wrong

Stalking Skills





social media

news articles -- it's amazing what you learn by Googling somebody -- be prepared to feel like you invaded their privacy

personal site/blog

is their hostmask or email at custom domain?




Okay so now we have a whole BUNCH of people. no longer feasible to consider them as individuals...

next: FOSS





Meritocracy: Currency is fucks given measured in lines of code

next: getting taken seriously

Getting Taken Seriously



non-ridiculous handle -- be especially cautious of negative implications about any group, because the code reviewer might well be in that group (even sports teams)

conform to channel/list behavior
storytime: gifs vs no gifs, UA vs Intel

ask questions well

Asking Questions Well


I want ____ to ___ in order to ____. At ____, I read that ____ which makes me think that I should be able to get it to _____ by doing ______. But when I try to ______, ______ happens instead. Please help me ______.



Format is "I wanted X; I did Y; I got Z"

Routes into a project



  1. use it and fix a bug
  2. find a contributor you know and get mentored/introduced
  3. edunham's help with installdocs technique
  4. start your own project

Improving Docs



For mega-karma just offer to do it yourself

  • first diagnose why they haven't been written already

    • not needed by target audience?
    • project doesn't care?
    • just not enough time / too much work (usually)?

are you asking the right person?

can/should you change project culture? (social influence)

Route Around Damage



yes maybe it takes more effort; this means that you'll only do the things that're worth it

storytime: pessimistic coworker and big new project idea (dobc)

Case study: They're ignoring my PRs!



is your expectation realistic?

what feedback have you gotten?

where could you get some feedback?

what's blocking them? can you help?

the magic of "when shall I remind you..."

Leveraging Conferences



hallway track

when you get a business card, take notes

FOLLOW-UP sets you apart

when writing talk proposals, questions show that you know your audience

stalk conference abstracts from past years to get a feel for tone




Leadership tends to happen to people who work hard, are reliable, and are bad at saying 'no'. Here's what I wish someone had told me back when I started leading groups of humans (usually engineers).

Know Your Audience








Establishing Culture



foster accountability -- CONSISTENCY

benefit of the doubt -- they chose best of percieved options. to change future behavior, ADD MORE OPTIONS

empower... give people percieved buy-in, investment

Discrimination is when the rules are enforced inconsistently, different rules for different people. Priveledge literally means private law.

Prevent it by choosing rules that can be consistently applied to everybody -- be careful of assumptions about hardware or monetary resources, time zones and geographic constraints




successful leadership is when everybody else does the work

the bus problem (git-bus)

EMPOWER minions vs DIY... what do you gain by burning yourself out?


knowing it will happen == knowing who will do it

Managing Expectations



pre-emptive strike with codes of conduct, clear expectations, etc.

dropped balls are noticed a LOT less than perfect serves

  • good for managing own burnout

pre-emptive problem solving



clearly communicate expectations -- this includes being attentive to what the group wants its expectations to be

Establish code of conduct early, enforce consistently

get buy-in from group, leverage inner monolog (i'm a good contributor) to get public commitment to go along with rules once group votes

don't make enemies; be careful with professional friendships because if you need to end them... yeah

keep all communications on the record and remain beyond reproach

if possible, don't feed the trolls




don't leak information or make people feel unsafe -- don't make it worse

storytime: EMT rules (find the patient, don't kill the patient...)

Discrimination is when the rules are enforced inconsistently, different rules for different people. Priveledge literally means private law.

And Yet...



sometimes you do your best and yet it all goes to shit anyways.

techniques: get someone who feels offended to propose a rule that could be enforced equally on everyone in the channel including them... asking them for help/input at least makes them feel included

mirroring is super powerful for inciting self-awareness of behavior, but self-awareness does not necessarily inspire them to change and can in cases with self-hatred or w/e actually make things worse

Getting People Out



assess the situation. what's best for the rest of the group? if someone is causing drama for attention, how to avoid giving it to them?

why aren't they doing something productive/useful with their life?
  • insufficient information? can they be educated?
  • path of least resistance? increase resistance till they go troll someone else

super important time to step back from perception that you're "right" and they're "wrong"

Avoiding Burnout



empower group realistic expectations forgive yourself for more resources

Leadership Handoff



madlibs version of common tasks

canned responses

share with newbie during transition

mentor vs. walk away...

diversity: recognize that new leader does not work the same way you do, and that's good for the group -- work with them to use your handoff to make the next handoff easier

Mental health / brain bugs



picture: original software bug

read the CVE apply patches (usefully obtained from shrinks) unplugged machine is "secure" but useless



edunham on


disregard expectations of fairness eliciting information:

  • leverage traits we've talked about, desire to correct falsehoods, quid pro quo, etc

social engineering do things that make you happy/motivated/inspired