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Ask HN: Do you ever contact people who have had a positive impact on you?

In the last year or so I've tried to make an effort to email people who have had some sort of positive impact on me. I specifically choose email because to me it feels more personal than a tweet or some other equivalent.

I've emailed quite a few people and have been very surprised at the 100% reply rate I've received and in some instances, the conversations that have developed from them.

The emails are usually very short, personalised messages along the lines of "Hi X, thank you very much for Y. It had a positive impact on me because of Z. All the best"

Some of the people include small to medium sized musicians, authors, developers, and teachers.

I kind of feel like a bit of a weirdo doing it because I don't really hear of many people who do the same. But sometimes I just genuinely want to thank a person for what they've contributed.

372 pointslethologica posted a month ago142 Comments
142 Comments:
lordnacho said a month ago:

Contacting people who've had an influence on your life is the very thing of living!

Here's something I did last year, which I'll be doing again in a few weeks.

Back in high school, I had a really great math teacher. He really created excitement about the subject, and he always had extra time to teach extra stuff to us. Just a really cool guy who'd show us Monty Python videos sketches and then some interesting math problems. It was really night and day when compared to for instance what came later at university. I found myself practicing a lot of extra math for no reason. Plus of course it made actual math class a breeze.

Three of us went to do a math contest each year, and in the final year - he was retiring, we were graduating - we won the contest.

So I've arranged for the other two to fly over to me and we're going on a road trip to see him.

If you're wondering whether he's bothered by it, I think he'd say that was the whole purpose of teaching, to show young people some interesting stuff and motivate them. The guy even sees his old "kids" who are now in their early 60s. He's mid 80s.

sinjid said a month ago:

I kind of emphatized with your story. My highschool math teacher was and is one of the most amazing people that I have ever met. He had a way of imposing respect without forcing it. He had a way of making you see mathematics in every day life. For example, when we begin studying logarithms, he told us that some of the shapes drawn on the curtains can be generated with composed logarithmic functions and he challenged us to come up with functions that have cool shapes :)) after that, he taught us about fractals, even if it wasn't actually in the curriculum. He was also a good friend. I recall I could only talk with him when I had my first crush. He was always there with a mature and educated opinion. Without doubt, he is one of my role models. Now, when I have the time, I sometimes go back to highschool and talk to him. He would let me join 12th grade class sometimes. :) One of those times, something got into me and from nowhere, I asked him whether I could address to the class. And so, I have told the students about how my ex-teacher's maths instilled a sense of rigorousness in my reasoning and how mathematics can improve your overall practical problem solving skills, which made me a better engineer today.

I could tell after that he was touched by my gesture.

I guess that what I'm trying to say is we don't arrive anywhere just with our strengths only. And we have to aknowledge that, not forget the help and pay it forward. Be human and say thank you!

SeekingMeaning said a month ago:

That last sentence... As a college student, I’ve never thought about that. It’s crazy to think that the percent difference in age gets smaller over time.

organsnyder said a month ago:

I moved in a couple doors down from an old high school teacher. His kids are only a decade or so older than mine. Makes me realize how young he was (relative to my current perspective) when I was in his class.

michaelwilson said a month ago:

Long before it was fashionable, I made the jump from the Corporate world to start-ups, mostly because I decided I'd rather be writing code than being a manager in a corporate IT organization.

Years and a few start-ups after that, I landed in a company was slated to have what looked to be a solid IPO, and I got a block of "Friends and Family" stock - shares which can give to whoever you want to purchase at the opening IPO share price.

I believed I owed much of my success to a few of my managers from my corporate days, who taught me as much common sense and good management as anything. Even though I had't spoken to some of them in over a decade, I tracked them down and passed on the opportunity to purchase the shares.

They were astonished to hear from me after so long, and even more astonished by the opportunity. Since they were still in the corporate world, or retired, the shares turned out to an unexpected windfall which had a real impact on their lives.

To this day I'm most happy about that result.

dominotw said a month ago:

That is such a cool story. Very good sir.

gspr said a month ago:

I think this is a great thing to do. I still regret not telling my last elementary school math teacher this. For years I had detested math. Then random events made it necessary for my school to have this alcoholic, probably technically unqualified, 70+ year old wood-shop teacher substitute as our math teacher for like a year.

No longer was I chastised for writing ugly and not underlining the final answer. No longer were repeated computations and rote memorization the order of the day. It turned out that those things aren't math at all.

That year math went from being something I'd come home crying about to being an amazing new world.

I now have a PhD in math, but more importantly, math has entirely changed how I view and approach the world. Thank you, MB. My life would have been immeasurably poorer if not for what you showed me that year. I wish I had been mature enough to tell you this before you passed away.

myself248 said a month ago:

> this alcoholic, probably technically unqualified, 70+ year old wood-shop teacher substitute as our math teacher

There is so much more story here!

That's incredible. In lieu of thanking your late teacher directly, you could pass this message along to the school's current administration. As a direct alumnus rather than a random person on the internet, they may be more receptive to the notion of looking for teachers who are truly interesting. As I'm sure that difference plays out in their classrooms to this day.

ArtWomb said a month ago:

>>> kind of feel like a bit of a weirdo

So what? Be the weirdo. The world needs more weirdos to combat the creeping Normie Conquest ;)

There's nothing weird about sending cold emails to give props. I've been doing it all my life. And now I find myself on the receiving end. And it always feels heart-warming. Especially if I can point someone to a resource or facilitate an introduction. This is how the world works. Random walk diffusion.

Now I am currently at the stage where I am trying to make the leap from the single one-on-one personal email. To the mass harvested email list in the 500-1000 user range. I still want to make it personal. I have targeted specific fields of interest. For example, "AI/ML researchers". And I know I am crafting content that will delight and enlighten. But its hard to pull the trigger on something I personally find so detestable, unsolicited noise.

Yet, I still think this is one of the best modes for seeding initial distribution...

JanisL said a month ago:

I sometimes email open source authors to thank them for their efforts, I don't ask for anything, just an email to show gratification. I'm more inclined to go to this effort for the projects that are highly useful but not popular since as an author of such a project it is possible to have doubts if benefits from it when you go a long time with no outside feedback at all. The few times people have contacted us with projects I've worked on has been good for morale. Sometimes this can lead to other unexpected good things like collaborations later on.

knopwob said a month ago:

I've never done this myself, but I've been on the receiving end. And I can say that those emails are really appreciated. It's one thing to get stars on GitHub but that's rather impersonal and after a certain threshold nothing special anymore.

etimberg said a month ago:

As someone who's received these emails before, they make my day. It's always nice to hear that my work has helped someone.

cerberusss said a month ago:

Exactly, the small projects could be indispensible for someone's daily workflow.

A good example is Karabiner-Elements, a keyboard remapper for macOS. The author and his team has been making sure that it works with every yearly update.

I've sent him a thank-you note, and now follow up yearly with a donation.

https://github.com/pqrs-org/Karabiner-Elements

danesparza said a month ago:

I have personally emailed Mitchell Hashimoto (this guy: http://mitchellh.com/ ) to thank him for his awesome software.

He wrote me back, and was very gracious.

This is what it means to be human. Well done!

prox said a month ago:

Especially because some open source projects ecosystems suffer from users who demand the world from the author(s) and throw a tantrum if they ain’t getting it. In those toxic communities it really helps to stand up for the authors and appreciate them, even when they’ve developed thick skins.

jonathanstrange said a month ago:

Unfortunately my Ph.D. supervisor died before I was able to tell him how profoundly his views and criticisms impacted my intellectual life. He was one of those hypercritical people for whom "it's okay" meant more or less the highest praise, both for himself and others. This made him a number of enemies, I believe, and for me, as a Ph.D. student, that attitude could be kind of demotivating at times. However, in retrospective I realized that many of his snippy remarks were spot on. For example, he once said on a rainy day in front of the blackboard: "So it seems to me that linguistics is very much like economics, not really a science, or at least fairly imprecise." Something along these lines. Then, I got really angry. Now I think he was right.

Anyway, I told his family after he died and I think they appreciated it.

Bottomline of this little anecdote is that if you want to tell someone how grateful you are, don't wait until you can meet in person and just write a nice email, like the OP suggests.

frandroid said a month ago:

My father was a rather quiet person who was nice, known as a honest and hard worker, and was appreciated by many. When he took his own life, over a thousand people came to the funeral mass. We shook everyone's hand; each and every person was very sad and upset by his unexpected passing. If he had known how many people thought so fondly of him, I think he might have decided to go on living.

52-6F-62 said a month ago:

I think you’ve summed up the sentiment of the entire thread in two words:

don't wait

pikwip said a month ago:

I'm one of the ones who's been waiting, mostly because I want more to show for it when I do contact them. Being in the middle of a career switch kind of looks like "my life is stalled" until you pull it off, and I don't want the other person to feel obligated to encourage me.

acollins1331 said a month ago:

It seems fairly obvious that linguistics is a very imprecise science, what field were you in that that statement offended you?... Was it linguistics?

jacquesm said a month ago:

Yes I do. I've made it a point to review periodically and to personally thank the people that have had a positive impact on my life rather than to wait until I'm at their funeral or I find out they've passed on.

I've also credited them in some of my writings:

https://jacquesmattheij.com/your-own-company-you-can-do-it/

Realizing that you need other people to get ahead and that some people will take a chance on you when nobody else will is a good start in paying it forward. It will prepare you for the day when you can take a chance on someone. And some of those will work out, and some won't. I'm happy to say that on the whole more than half of those cases worked out very well indeed.

Worth noting is that not all feedback was positive, I received one very weird response that I can't really square with my recollection of the past but then again, a lot of time has passed and who knows the state of mind the recipient was in. I certainly don't hold it against them.

skrebbel said a month ago:

Mad HN nitpick:

> – dedicated to Piet Tacx, Fred Fluitsma and Eddy de Leeuw, thank you both very much for my early career and everything that followed from it.

it says "both" but you're thanking three people :-)

jacquesm said a month ago:

good catch, will fix when back in NL (on the road right now)

davidmott said a month ago:

‘It will prepare you for the day when you can take a chance on someone.’

That is so true.

artpi said a month ago:

KEEP IT UP!

Just 2 weeks ago I have sent an expensive whisky bottle to my highschool Computer Science teacher. He let me manage the school website and that trust has had some influence on my career.

Not many people do this and you are really putting a smile on those people faces. I don't want it to sound transactional, but apart from being nice, this is also introducing serendipity and connections into your life. Literally no downside

AJ Jacobs "Thanks a Thousand" is a book based on this gratitude. A good start is his episode on the Tim Ferriss show: https://tim.blog/2018/11/05/a-j-jacobs/

mceachen said a month ago:

I salute your efforts and gesture.

I've been surprised through the years by how many people in my life turned out to be recovering alcoholics. It's not a part of people's lives that they're generally eager to share with students, coworkers or mentees.

dijit said a month ago:

This is wholesome.

It's so easy to give negative feedback and feels like it'll be taken as "creepy" or with some other intention to give positive feedback.

FWIW I've been making a concerted effort to give out much more positive feedback, since I had a psychiatrist who said "it takes roughly 9x the positivity to offset 1x of negativity" (or something to that effect), "So make sure when you feel something positive that you let people know, it's very important" and honestly just being brave enough to give that kind of positive feedback is enough.

I can tell you _for sure_ that it's appreciated, and you should definitely not have any inhibitions if it's well intentioned.

In fact, this post has inspired me to increase the scope of my positive feedback, so, thank you. :)

bionsystem said a month ago:

> It's so easy to give negative feedback and feels like it'll be taken as "creepy" or with some other intention to give positive feedback.

Amazing, I've never thought about it that way, but it's very accurate.

artpi said a month ago:

Engineers, entrepreneurs and other tech workers are praised for finding problems and solving - throuught all of our lives.

Guess what that makes us? Really good at spotting problems.

myself248 said a month ago:

It also means we're capable of spotting and appreciating elegant solutions. Especially those that might've slipped in so smoothly that nobody around at the time noticed, and for which the original engineer was not thanked in any way.

It does not automatically make us good at expressing appreciation or praise. We have to develop that deliberately.

StyloW said a month ago:

Last year I went to a talk by John Papa where he mentioned that a lot of people seem to think that it's inappropriate to approach speakers to have a chat or tell them that you enjoyed their talk; while in reality, most of them would welcome it. That's why the first thing I ended up doing right after the talk was to thank John Papa for the positive influence he's had on my development as a software engineer. Nowadays, I try to continue my effort to thank people that have a positive impact on me, however small.

Pumpmaster6000 said a month ago:

Haha, thought you said Papa John and I was really confused for a bit

PaulDavisThe1st said a month ago:

Done some of that. More to do.

Had a couple of phys ed teachers in high school who were not into the usual UK triad of (soccer/rugby/cricket). I had already started ultra-distance running myself, and they supported and encouraged me, including inviting me to go a race (the Manx Mountain Marathon) with them. Having people around who not only told me there was nothing crazy about this sort of thing but who actively celebrated and loved it totally changed my life. I've been an endurance athlete ever since, and about 6 years ago managed to track one of them down (35 years later) to thank them for what they had done. It was a great phone call.

Right now, I'm writing a letter to a semi-famous solar inventor (Steve Baer) who really influenced me when I was a teenager growing up in London. I implemented one of his patents as my high school physics final project (an osmotic heat pipe), and then visited him at his zome home outside of Albuquerque, NM. I reached out to him about 20 years ago to see if he still remembered me, and he said "Of course! You're that Brit kid who built the heat pipe that Hughes stole from me". As fate or luck would have it, I now live about 50 miles north of him in a tiny village in New Mexico, and would like to see him again and thank him once more for the many different ways he influenced my life. Letter should go out tomorrow.

secretsinger said a month ago:

If you feel like a wierdo while doing this, you can take some comfort in the fact that it is endorsed by one of the most reputable psychologists in the world (Seligman) and that is has been empirically validated as increasing happiness and reducing depression (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16045394)

I agree it can feel like a strange thing to do, but in my personal experience the effects are amazing, not only on the person you write to, but also on yourself.

myself248 said a month ago:

I can contribute some anecdata here. For about a decade now, I've made it a point to do some end-of-year giving to software projects I've found useful over the year, tracking down tipjars and paypal links and sometimes just emailing people to ask how I can say thanks.

I figure it this way: I'm using "free" software, but what if I wasn't? What would I spend on Windows licenses and apps and stuff over a year? I'll set aside that amount of money, and put it into the hands of those who deserve it.

In several cases, folks have asked me to give the cash to a charity instead, or find another project to support because they're doing alright and the words mean more than a few bucks.

Not only have I gotten some fantastically appreciative responses, but I also come away with a glowing pride and deep satisfaction myself.

Their commitment isn't thankless. My gratitude isn't silent. The feedback loop isn't broken, and the end-user's voice has been heard loud and clear.

It says "you're awesome".

srik said a month ago:

I do this on thanksgiving every year - just reach out to some inspiring artists in areas within my interests but don’t know personally. I do include a P.S. no reply expected; I just want to convey my thanks and appreciation but not accidentally guilt trip them into replying. That part might just be my insecurity though.

I’ve been trying to work on writing to more people every year as it can be quite intimidating sometimes, writing to those you admire, but the pretext of thanksgiving helps overcome that.

jimhefferon said a month ago:

> I do this on thanksgiving every year

What a nice idea!

When I got my degree in Math I wrote to the high school math teacher who let me take advanced courses even though I did not have the prerequisite classes. She seemed very happy to hear from me, and also I felt that I had done a good thing. Positive all around.

tafeedback said a month ago:

I did this once and ended up feeling sorry I did.

I looked up and thanked a programmer who came after school for a computer club. He helped a lot in getting me into computing.

I got the feeling he was thinking I was after a job. I wasn't - I was employed as a dev. It was purely because I was grateful.

Many people are suspicious of those that come out of the woodwork to contact them.

egorfine said a month ago:

Depends on the culture I guess.

However this is a good point, thanks! I believe it is a good idea to slightly mention in the email that you are not looking after anything.

1123581321 said a month ago:

I bet he was happy to have received it after he cooled off, even though he never said so. Perhaps you will receive a thankful email from him some day!

corbett3000 said a month ago:

I think what you’re doing is wonderful. Keep it up! I come at this from the opposite point of you as someone who, at a certain point in time, was perhaps a little bit of a big deal. Many years later I still get emails from people almost weekly saying how impactful my insight was or how inspirational watching my own and entrepreneurial journey was for them. I’m always glad to hear from them and I also 100 Percent of the time respond. Nothing creepy about it. You also never know who of those folks that have inspired you could use that little boost in that moment.

neilv said a month ago:

At least a few times, I've contacted someone from long ago just to thank them, and recently have been assembling a mental list of some more people. As soon as you start thinking about it, the list is so big that you'll never be able to contact all of them.

One of the first times, I decided timing matters. I had occasion to remember how much I admired a particular manager who'd helped my career a lot, and I emailed him just to say something like I realized and appreciated it, and that I try to emulate that. One of the things he said in his response was to offer connections for job-hunting. Fortunately, I wasn't looking at the time, and I realized that the message seems more genuine if there's no question of whether your motivation might be to network, rather than purely to thank the person.

One of the reasons I was thinking about this recently, is that I suspect I was helped out with something recently, by someone who knows me, but I don't know exactly who, and I pretty quickly came up with about a dozen likely candidates. A lot of the help that we get and give is done quietly, and often no one will know, but we can at least thank people for what we do know.

tomhoward said a month ago:

I think it's a great thing to do and you've reminded me I need to do it more myself.

As someone who has occasionally written things that have found a reasonably big audience, it really is heartwarming to receive messages of appreciation, and a motivator to keep doing what you're doing.

I must confess I haven't always been as good as responding to these messages as I should, usually because I've been going through a tough spot in my own life and have found it hard to find the time and words to convey my own gratitude.

So even if you don't get a reply, trust that your messages are most likely seen and appreciated.

It never comes over as creepy, as long as it's sincere. It can seem creepy if it's a segue into a sales pitch or a request for an intro to someone else, but it doesn't sound like you're doing that at all.

Thanks to your post I have a new intention for this year: make sure I reply to everyone who has sent me such a message (now that I'm in a better place in my life, because these messages helped me get there), and start sending more messages to people who've had an impact on me.

he11ow said a month ago:

I found it really uplifting to read so many people do it. Echo the sentiment of feeling like a weirdo when I do it. All the same, I try to keep at it, because I think nothing feels better than knowing you've made a positive difference. On the few occasions I was on the receiving end, it made me feel more elated than what any other compliment could do.

m11a said a month ago:

I don't do it often, but I think of someone in my head every now and then that meets this criteria. Sometimes I wish I did get in touch to thank them.

It makes a difference to know you had a positive impact on someone. And a surprising email, call or meet can be pretty heartwarming. The further you go out of your way to do it, the more it becomes obvious that the person really did something special and different to everyone else, and that always feels good, even if they don't show it.

In my experience, most people are not amazing at what they do, or have deep passion for it. For the few that really do, and have a positive impact on you, it's worth acknowledging them. School teachers, for example, I can count on fingers how many were amazing (most were awful and hated their job), yet they presumably all get paid the same. I think some appreciation here goes a long way. After all, people in our childhood tend to affect our adulthood the most.

mattbee said a month ago:

Since deleting my Twitter, I'm much more motivated to email people out of the blue. It always feels positive, even if I don't get a reply.

I had a couple of lovely messages myself after selling my company in 2018 and they did a lot to help me square my impression of myself as committing career suicide / being a dreadful sellout etc. etc.

Do it!

geocrasher said a month ago:

I have. There's a newspaper columnist in my home town who influenced me a lot as a writer. As a young person he showed me, by his column, that what's defined as "correct" is often less interesting than doing something unique for the sake of Making a Point. I wrote him to thank him and we had a nice conversation, and he encouraged me further to keep at my writing. I have, and I've since found my niche.

On the other hand, there was a manager I had at my first "big" job (that wasn't a small computer repair shop) who I butted heads with pretty badly, also as a young person. He ended up firing me, but not before teaching me tons and telling me things that stick with me til this day- things I now teach! Maybe I should. It's been over 20 years since he fired me, I think the statute of limitations has run out :p

Razengan said a month ago:

Sometimes, but I keep that saying, "Never meet your heroes." in mind.

skrebbel said a month ago:

The trick is to choose sufficiently niche heros.

When I was young I was active in the demoscene but I knew few other demosceners in person. Needless to say, I looked up super much to many demomakers, genius programmers/artists who seemingly could create madly impressive works out of thin air. It was as if they could convert dreams into code, or something [0].

Then gradually, after visiting more demoparties, I got to know some of these gods, and without exception, they were super nice. I ended up collaborating (gasp) with some of them.

I'm convinced that if you're popular and you're overrun by fans every day, it gets tiresome. That's where that saying comes from. But I'm sure that your favourite knitting youtuber, or your physics teacher, or that amateur Ambient Techno Metal producer on soundcloud you're totally mad about, they really don't get fan mail often enough. Reach out.

[0] eg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VvPriI0sTwQ how??

Razengan said a month ago:

That's an enviable experience. The one developer that did respond to my mail, turned out to have no interest in continuing the things I admired him for.

In another case, the developer of one of my favorite games, Fez, seems to have garnered a certain unfavorable reputation, that, whether warranted or unwarranted, comes up in most mentions of the game.

That saying is more a warning against such disillusionments than about never reaching out.

majos said a month ago:

+1. I think there is a level of fame, possible even for niche heroes, where you'll attract people because of your fame and not the thing you did to build up that fame. And interacting with people who appreciate you for your fame and not the thing you did seems draining.

danesparza said a month ago:

The cage you live in is of your own making. I encourage you to step outside your comfort zone. Thanking people is almost universally welcome. If your heroes don't like to be thanked I would humbly suggest picking different heroes.

diegoperini said a month ago:

What's the lesson in this saying?

tristanperry said a month ago:

That it's easy to 'like' someone based on their public persona - what the media reports, how they come across in blog posts, or how they seem on social media.

But in reality, some people are nothing like what their public image suggests (i.e. they might actually be fairly unfriendly, negative, unwelcoming etc).

Of course, that 'hero' might also just be having a bad day or was feeling tired when their fans approached them - which is sort of a flaw in the whole "never meet your heroes" idea.

diegoperini said a month ago:

Thanks!

Razengan said a month ago:

Disillusionment. The same as idolizing anything – people, companies, countries. A curated image seen from afar versus experiencing it in person.

kingofpandora said a month ago:

I once emailed the developer of an open-source project that I used extensively while in graduate school. The software wasn't conceived for academic use so besides the simple thank you I also wanted to make the author know that it had applications well beyond what he had intended.

giarc said a month ago:

In graduate school statistics class, we read a lot of the famous Bland/Altman Statistics Notes from the British Medical Journal (1). They are short, well written articles on topics in statistics. They helped me tremendously however during one review our class debated something back and forth. The authors email addresses are right in the article so I simply emailed the author and asked for clarification and indicated how useful the notes were in our class. He (I can't remember which author I contacted) was thankful for the feedback and resolved our issue.

1. https://www-users.york.ac.uk/~mb55/pubs/pbstnote.htm

Narigo said a month ago:

It's nice to see that I'm not the only one with that intention :)

I have contacted just a few people (every two/three months) and sent them longer texts with specific examples of why something they did or said had a positive impact on me. The channel does not matter to me, it depends on what kind of contact possibilities I have to that person. It's usually a really long compliment, which I let one or two persons, who know the one I'm writing to, proof-read. I want to make sure it conveys the genuine "thank you" and does not make me look like a stalker or trying to flirt.

Since I only got a ~33% response rate, I am unsure whether I should continue doing that - 66% of the people I've contacted probably see me as a weirdo...

_Microft said a month ago:

Different point of view: they might think that your message warrants a proper answer instead of a one-liner and they have not gotten around to write it yet.

koonsolo said a month ago:

> I kind of feel like a bit of a weirdo

It might be a bit weird indeed, but I'm sure none of the people at the receiving side find it weird.

When I get such emails, I feel good and think "what a nice person".

I'm sure "nice person" outweighs "weirdo" in this case.

rorykoehler said a month ago:

I've never done but I have thought about it. It's strange that we could feel so self-conscious about spreading positivity.

gauravjain13 said a month ago:

I think one reason this is so is the fear that this might be misconstrued as brown-nosing.

ianai said a month ago:

It’s a thing that needs to change in culture. ASAP.

jlevers said a month ago:

I do this all the time! I definitely haven't had a 100% reply rate, but I often finish with something like "I know you're really busy -- no need to respond" when emailing someone I don't know. Maybe I should stop doing that.

Regardless, it makes me feel good to know that the people who've had an impact on me know that what they're doing makes a difference. I bet there are a lot of people out there who've done a ton of good, but have never had anyone thank them, and I want to make sure that happens as little as possible.

Fricken said a month ago:

All through primary school I had one teacher who actually have a fuck about me. About 10 years after high school I tried to get in touch with him to let him know that he mattered, but he had died.

AwesomeFaic said a month ago:

When I started my first consulting agency it was primarily focused on helping game devs treat their projects like a real business, which I witnessed was a common point of failure for indie studios. I reached out to my old Preproduction in Game Development professor (Brian Sullivan of Age of Empires fame), who also had a lot of consulting experience, and thanked him for everything while asking for advice moving forward. He seemed genuinely appreciative of the message and gave me some great advice.

SeattleCpp said a month ago:

Forty years ago, I had a wonderful high school biology teacher. She let the geeky chess club hang out in her room after school, and taught some interesting classes. I TA'd for her my senior year.

Last year I found her on facebook, just retiring. I shared some good memories I had of her, and updated her on some classmates of mine who had gone on to good things (one MSCS, one CPA, one PhD, one MD). I said I could speak for all of them that she had been the best thing that had happened to us in high school.

Her response was lovely, she remembered us all, and was very appreciative of my contact.

She died of breast cancer only about three months later after a very long fight. I was pleased to have made her feel good about herself right there at the end.

smugglerfm said a month ago:

Never apologise for having the confidence to show gratitude to another human, particularly when it is especially meant. I'd be hesitant to assume that you're on your own and therefore, 'weird', as there are other modes for showing gratitude that other people employ- keep an eye out and share the love.

matt_the_bass said a month ago:

I think this is great! I’ve done this a bit and have also been on the receiving end in a few different ways:

- I was in a pretty popular local band 20 years ago. I still get recognized now and then and people share how much they liked the band. It’s pretty amazing to hear someone remember I helped make them happy 20 years ago!

- at my day job we usually only hear from customers when there is a problem. It’s really hard to remember that most of our customers like our stuff. But they rarely reach out to tell us. However at trade shows we often meet customers in passing and the feedback is great (and moral boosting).

- I make wordclocks as a side hobby. After years of people telling my I should sell them, I finally started. Selling something I made is pretty gratifying. But the conversations from my Show HN [0] last year were awesome!

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18950130

tehlike said a month ago:

I do this often, both in corporate context and in real life.

There is a data analysis tool named Powerdrill at google. It is one of the most useful tools i have used, and its impact on the progress of people's projects was huge. It makes data slicing and analysis a breeze, and it always was somewhat implicit that we use it, but we dont think about the work went into it.

I asked around to find one of the key guys/initiators. I sent him a message saying a lot of engineers are very thankful for the tool, and it created huge impact. Another friend who sit close to him pinged me the same day, and told me "you made his day". Hearing this made my day, too...

From that day on, i try to send people email praising them for a nontrivial work they do good on. I hate group praise, especially when people have no idea what is being done or who is doing it but still respond saying how hard of a work that must have been. This personal email means much much more to receiving side.

dvfurlong said a month ago:

Yeah I reached out to the author of Murderous Maths once as his books had been impactful to me as a child. I got a nice response :)

gppk said a month ago:

I recently subscribed to a Patreon for a Youtuber that I watch, and sent them a message through the platform basically thanking them for making the comment.

This was the first time I've also become a Pateron for somebody, but I really felt like I wanted to give back/support their content.

They did respond with a nice message too so it seemed that it actually reached them.

dullroar said a month ago:

Yes. Two teachers (one elementary, one college). A former boss. Each helped me by not just expecting more of me, but mentoring me in ways that allowed a bullied kid with little self-respect recognize and grow into my talents. I think it is a great idea and recommend it. As OP said, the conversations that arose from each were great.

beefhash said a month ago:

You may be a weirdo, but I'm in the same boat at least. I occasionally reach out to people and just express my thanks and appreciation. The bewildered reactions are always curious to see, but the worst that's happened once is getting ignored.

Good friendships have been formed over this approach though.

muzani said a month ago:

I did this all the time. Back in the day, it was called fan mail. I've received a few too, and they were quite flattering. Many of these led somewhere. One even led to a successful startup. Sometimes it's just a good pen pal for a few months.

9idjosfsS said a month ago:

That’s awesome! I typically send handwritten cards or letters and include my email address under my name to make it easy for them to reply if they’d like. As the volume of email and other electronic communication has increased, traditional mail has become more of a treat to receive. I first thought it might creep people out that I found their address, but I’ve never gotten that reaction. In fact, I’ve gotten far more meaningful replies than I imagined. My impression is that many/most well-known people feel very alone and yearn for contact that feels more real than the constant electronic communications from fans and the flattery from those immediately around them.

mguerville said a month ago:

New year is a good excuse to reach out, I sent a few dozen emails or LinkedIn messages to people I worked with and enjoyed, and to part mentors. I think every one of them responded. It feels good to say hello and some good wishes without any ask afterwards

r_edwards said a month ago:

In a Christmas card this year, I learned of the death of an old friend that was very influential to me when I was a teenager. I hadn't spoken to him in at least a decade. With some hesitation, I wrote his widow about how much impact his generous gift of his time and his friendship had on me. She wrote back a very thoughtful and gracious note saying she was saving the note to share with their young children when they were younger. So a positive ending, but I still wish I had done that when he was still with us. If this thread brings anyone in your life to mind immediately, don't wait. Give them that feedback while it's with you.

rswskg said a month ago:

Yes. I often get very embarrassed responses from developers if I do it in real life, pretty good responses if I do it via twitter. I've been trying a similar thing with musicians and it seems to go much better when I do it in person

yingw787 said a month ago:

Woah you inspire me! I have a habit in my habit tracker of reaching out to one person every week via email, mostly developers. I’ve gotten mixed success honestly. Maybe I should try your template, much more succinct than mine :)

OJFord said a month ago:

What's 'success' here?

yingw787 said a month ago:

A reply :P

rogem002 said a month ago:

You're not the only one who does this. I have a small collection of thank you emails I've sent and received I use for motivation.

It's definitely not to common, but I think it's great to send positive vibes down the wires.

caseysoftware said a month ago:

Yes, I started doing this with independent authors a few years ago. When I read a book I enjoy, I drop them a note saying "thank you" and citing one thing that I liked about the book. I do not offer any criticism or even a hint of negative feedback.

I have a near 100% response rate - which is usually just a "thanks!" - but I clicked with one author and we've traded book recommendations off and on for ~3 years. He tipped me off to the Passage Trilogy which was great.

Who knew that kind words had a good impact!? ;)

vaowel said a month ago:

Yeah do it though keep this tip in mind should the conversation behoove a promise/task/bid: underpromise... overdeliver

Basically, never promise more than what you are not able to satisfy, it makes you look irresponsible and like a b-s-er.

And over-deliver. Add more value to others/the_task/bid/promise than what you promised. You’ll have a better foundation with the person and they will regard you as responsible but also helpful/resourceful and that will likely ensure you have good on the table.

robbiejs said a month ago:

I do sometimes. I think of how rarely I receive compliments and how good I feel whenever I do receive them. I did the Digital Nomad thing for 2 years. After the (exhausting) experience I emailed the employer, thanking him for all the experiences they made possible by allowing me to work remotely: surfing, exploring waterfalls, meeting my then-girlfriend... included some pretty pics as well.

They loved to hear it. That's also why I do it. This job meant more to me than just employment.

rajapanidepu said a month ago:

Something similar, last year I have explored meeting new people and learning from them. Hopefully, at the end of this year, I will have list of people who had a positive impact in my life. https://medium.com/@raja.panidepu/takeaway-from-2019-lets-ge...

picardo said a month ago:

I do this sometimes, but I don't email the people. It's a personal exercise. It was recommended to me by a therapist. While it does lift up my spirits and fill me gratitude and compassion, it'd make me feel worse if the person on the other side didn't respond for whatever reason... You've been lucky with your reply rate so far.

I like the idea, though. I'll give it a shot at sending them in the future.

officemonkey said a month ago:

I have a related problem.

My tween son and I have been listening to Jack Benny radio programs for approximately two years. They're funny and clean, and mostly not problematic. And they're guaranteed to knock my son out at night.

The sad part is every single person associated with the show passed decades ago. We literally have no one to thank.

So, thank you Jack, Mary, Dennis, Rochester, Phil, and Don. You too Kenny, even though you kinda sucked.

krustyburger said a month ago:

I grew up listening to Jack Benny, and I was born in the 80s. KNX-1070 in Los Angeles used to play old time radio every single night, with Saturdays dedicated to comedy. It was great and really helped me to bond with my father.

I would caution you against trying to shield your son against “problematic” content, if by that you mean stuff that isn’t up to the precise current standard of political correctness. For one thing, such an effort is doomed to fail. For another, it may keep him from getting to experience some of the best comedy ever. For an obvious example, I’m grateful to have also grown up with the films of Mel Brooks, many of which are about as “problematic” as they come and yet still funny and even profound.

officemonkey said a month ago:

I don't do much screening. I'd just prefer to have him listen to Ernie Anderson playing Rochester than Amos and Andy.

Anderson was a black comedian getting top billing and a high salary. His character often gets the better of Jack Benny, and is always treated respectfully (as respectfully as any of the characters, anyway.)

Compare that to "Amos and Andy" where two white actors play blackface and are often the butt of the joke.

I know someday he'll be ready for Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, but frankly, I'm just trying to get a boy to bed... ;-D

krustyburger said a month ago:

That makes sense. Rochester was always my favorite! I even named a beloved pet parrot after him when I was young.

Recently, I enjoyed seeing Ernie Anderson in the original Brewster’s Millions. There’s something very satisfying about seeing his face instead of only hearing his iconic voice.

officemonkey said a month ago:

YouTube has a lot of Jack Benny TV shows on line. Rochester gets a lot of screentime.

pjmorris said a month ago:

I feel funny doing it too, but I found it's better to get comfortable with who I am than to worry about it. I'm usually on the delivering end of reaching out to thank people from the past, but a few years ago one of my old managers reached out to me to thank me, and to buy me lunch, gratitude for something I'd shown him that had helped him. I felt like 10 million dollars.

Yenrabbit said a month ago:

This is such a good habit. I think that because relatively few people take the time to reach out, even seemingly popular projects (software, videos, lectures, writing, whatever) can leave their creators feeling like they only ever see complaints/bugs. Even a tiny note of thanks means a ton, and can make someone's day. Thanks for taking the time to thank people :)

corporate_shi11 said a month ago:

If you don't phrase your letter weirdly, making sure you to keep focused on conveying your thanks and relating how they impacted your life, I'm sure they'd appreciate it! Just put yourself in their shoes, if you received a letter of genuine gratitude I'm sure you'd appreciate it as well, like most people would.

fsiefken said a month ago:

I wanted to thank my teacher who taught our little class Greek in Gymnasium high school, thank him for his stories about Plato, Euripides and Homer and Hector saying goodbye to his son before battle. Unfortunately I heard he died 10 years later. So many more people I lost contact with or had died. Gratitude!

tuckerpo said a month ago:

I'll keep somewhat up to speed with professors that were impactful to me during undergrad, and offer to take them out for a coffee if I'm in their city. It always surprises me how little effort you need to exert to stay on someone's good side. Soft skills will always win.

onreact said a month ago:

Expressing gratitude is always a good idea. The way you do reminds me of what we call "outreach" nowadays.

Reaching out to people by mail usually works the way you describe it.

The only way most people do it wrong is that they don't say "thank you" first but they want something from you.

abyssin said a month ago:

I do it, because I know my positive message has a disproportionately big impact on them. Being loved is one of the motivations of many public figures. It also feels good to say something nice.

Politicians get a lot of hate, and I'm sure positive messages have an impact for them too.

brlewis said a month ago:

I don't do the same very often, but here's one from 2015:

"Hi Professor Harris,

I still talk about how well your phonetic approach to Spanish 1 worked when you taught me over 25 years ago. Since email makes it easy to mention this to you, I thought I would."

santa_boy said a month ago:

Yes. Despite being quite an introvert, I have tried to reach out with genuine need, praise, requests to various people.

To be transparent, my fake attempts clearly displayed lack of approachability and interest. They just don't make sense any longer to me. I have a strong bias towards quality and risk over quantity and spray gun approaches.

There are three things that stand out from my analysis to make this effective:

- Genuinely appreciate your need to reach out. You cannot fake stuff for long

- Articulate your reasons and your homework as well as you can. This can mean a bit of hardwork but it is worth every bit

- Express gratitude and understanding even if the answer is negative. People have other things to do

On point 3, that is not a dead-end, pick up if you have a stronger case and try again without being painful

Also, get out of your comfort zone. The odds are in your favor IMHO. And yeah, don't get personal ... it does no good.

I'm still actively learning ... so this is quite experiential as we speak

atdrummond said a month ago:

It’s a much appreciated gesture, having received some myself.

I’d say a physical letter stands out even more.

1123581321 said a month ago:

Yes, I’ve thanked several such people. Usually I made the updates a little more newsy (children, where we are living , where I work) when writing an email or a letter. In-person was more organic conversation but of course not always possible.

ntlk said a month ago:

Yes, I do it regularly. Depending on the relationship I might send a handwritten card or include a small gift if I know the recipient well. From responses I get I know that it means a lot to have your investment in another person recognised.

CalRobert said a month ago:

I have, but not to people I didn't know personally. I was very fortunate to know and work with people in school and early career who were extremely supportive, and I didn't realize just how important it was at the time.

htkibar said a month ago:

Yes I do.

I have changed where I live. I didn't have that many people in my life regardless - but it doesn't take much to see how isolated I've become, so any kind of _socialising_ is helpful in my quest to not go insane.

mark_l_watson said a month ago:

I do, and not just the people who had the biggest impact on my life.

My calendar is full of friends and business associates’ birthdays. The occasion of of someone’s birthday is a great reason for a phone call or a long catchup email.

kd5bjo said a month ago:

When I’m mailing out Christmas cards every year, in addition to friends and family, I often include some random thank-you notes to people that have been helpful in the prior year, whether they know me personally or not.

Hoasi said a month ago:

Yes, one thing I try to do is sending them a hand-drawn postcard or hand-written message every once in a while. Little things like that matter, especially when meeting someone face to face is not possible.

konradb said a month ago:

I have done this with musicians whose albums I have enjoyed, and I've gone into depth about what I specifically enjoyed and why. I have also received a 100% reply rate which I found completely unexpected.

blowski said a month ago:

Yes, for example I've written emails to OSS authors - particularly those of small plugins published as an individual. I've also written to authors of blog posts that have helped me in some way.

nissarup said a month ago:

Yes. I did. She have now been my girlfriend for around six years.

vectorEQ said a month ago:

such a weirdo. normal people don't contact people who they like :D ...

j/k ofcourse.

I think it's good what you do. A little positivity can go a long way. even though you might not expect it from someone who influenced you positively, but hearing such feedback might mean a lot to them personally and lift them up in their lives and day too, knowing they had some positive impact on someone. Imo too few people do this. good stuff and keep it up!

krtkush said a month ago:

I got a very similar email few days back about one of my comment on HN. It was definitely a positive experience and something I would do too in the future.

PMalhotra said a month ago:

I appreciate that. That is a very good thing because it not only feels good to them but it feels very right to us as well. I will also start doing the same.

RickJWagner said a month ago:

Sure. I've written to an old employer and to my Boy Scout troop leader to thank them.

I wrote actual physical letters, though. I think it's just more personal.

danesparza said a month ago:

This whole thread is amazing. Thank you for posting it.

brianmcc said a month ago:

Haven't heard of this much - but what a great idea. There is no downside I can see and you could make someone really happy to hear from you!

highhedgehog said a month ago:

Nice thing to do. Thanks for the idea, i will do it

billiebeta said a month ago:

I do this and have for years. Please continue. -BGW

irchans said a month ago:

I called my high school math teachers to thank them after I got a Ph.D. in Mathematics 13 years after I graduated high school.

whiddershins said a month ago:

If I got an email like that it would make my day.

I imagine most people feel the same way.

So how can it not be good? (Assuming you are being genuine)

s9w said a month ago:

I have written a couple of authors of libraries I use and cherish a lot. Also can report a reply rate of 100%.

RyJones said a month ago:

I found the guy that wrote the manual for Coherent, told him thanks. I got a nice reply.

techer said a month ago:

I do this in many forms. Has been very beneficial and some truly sweet responses.

solarized said a month ago:

Receive stars at github repo: great. Receive stars + thankful email: touching.

solarized said a month ago:

I just emailed linus torvalds after reading this thread.

Thanks for remind me.

throwaway947106 said a month ago:

I emailed him once too, he never replied.

AsyncAwait said a month ago:

RMS usually does.

cinnamonheart said a month ago:

I emailed RMS during the fiasco a couple months back, in support of him. RMS has always been an inspiration to me, and I've always had a lot of respect for him -- a hero to me, if you will -- so I felt I had to let him know the world wasn't against him, even if he couldn't reply.

He did reply and let me know ways I could help.

stallmanite said a month ago:

Thanks for this information. RMS is definitely a soldier I’d like to “thank for their service”.

trumbitta2 said a month ago:

I do. My experience is quite similar to yours :)

Numberwang said a month ago:

I had someone contact me after a few years had passed to give this type of feedback. It felt great. The world needs more weirdos.

elfexec said a month ago:

No. It would come off as weird or creepy just to email someone out of the blue. Also, email is impersonal and seems like you are trying to solicit something from them.

If someone had a positive impact on you just tell them when you meet in person. If you are really intent on contacting them for whatever reason, then a personal letter might be better.

jimhefferon said a month ago:

I have some Free materials and FWIW at least in my case when I am contacted out of the blue it does not seem weird (I get maybe one a month). People email and send polite, brief, and respectful notes. It would take quite the grouch to not appreciate getting such a note, and I always reply.

justinclift said a month ago:

Interesting. The people who've contacted me (via email) to say positive things I've generally taken at face value about <whatever they said>.

Maybe I just don't feel people are being weird/creepy when they thank me for the effort I've put into things?

Re: "email is impersonal". To me, it's not. But then... I use a lot of emoticons and similar, to help convey things better than "impersonally". :D

elfexec said a month ago:

> The people who've contacted me (via email) to say positive things I've generally taken at face value about <whatever they said>.

That's good to hear, but what else do you expect them to say? You put them on the spot and I suspect 99% of the people would be polite.

> Maybe I just don't feel people are being weird/creepy when they thank me for the effort I've put into things?

If you didn't think it was weird/creepy, why are you here trying to get validation? I suspect deep down you know it is a bit weird and that's why you are seeking validation here. Or this is just another of those manipulative social engineering ploys you see all over social media.

> Re: "email is impersonal". To me, it's not. But then... I use a lot of emoticons and similar, to help convey things better than "impersonally". :D

That would come off as even creepier unless you are contacting family/friends. And if you are contacting family/friends, why not tell them in person when you meet them? And if it is just business acquaintances who helped you out, emails full of emoticons would come off as silly and unprofessional. But then again, I'm one of those ancient former 90s kids.

I also love that with these types of self-validation posts, only validating comments we know deep down are not true are upvoted, but the reality based critical comments we know deep down are true get downvoted. But whatever the agenda was in regards to your post, I hope you got what you wanted out of it.

justinclift said a month ago:

> That's good to hear, but what else do you expect them to say? You put them on the spot and I suspect 99% of the people would be polite.

Did you read too fast or something? I'm talking about people who's emailed me out of the blue.

> If you didn't think it was weird/creepy, why are you here trying to get validation?

Huh? What are you even talking about?

What "trying to get validation"?

I was saying that people who've emailed me don't come across as weird of creepy.

Not sure where you're getting the rest of your ... [I don't even know what to call that] from. It sounds like you're trying to put people down. It's weird.

> That would come off as even creepier unless you are contacting family/friends.

Heh Heh Heh. Well, that explains a few things. You don't seem to understand how to communicate via text, and seem to misinterpret things in bizarre ways, and/or put people down.

Good luck with that. ;)

> ... why not tell them in person when you meet them?

Meet who?

The vast majority of people I communicate with are not people I've ever met in person, not are likely to.

Distributed teams are a thing. ;)

Sounds like your life is lived very differently, and you just can't relate. No worries. ;)

elfexec said a month ago:

> Did you read too fast or something? I'm talking about people who's emailed me out of the blue.

Sorry, I did.

> Huh? What are you even talking about?

Your post. The purpose of your post. If you didn't think it was weird, why would you seek validation here?

> You don't seem to understand how to communicate via text, and seem to misinterpret things in bizarre ways, and/or put people down.

Text? I thought you said email?

> Meet who?

I was very specific in my comment.

> Distributed teams are a thing. ;)

Oh you didn't mention people you were currently working with. Your post made it seem like just random people in your past. Of course thanking people you work with for their help and contribution is normal and appreciated.

> Sounds like your life is lived very differently, and you just can't relate. No worries. ;)

Maybe. If it works, just keep doing you. Why even bother seeking validation?

If people are contacting you out of the blue and you are contacting people out of the blue, then it's a norm for you so why bother asking here? Seems strange, that's all.

wtetzner said a month ago:

> If people are contacting you out of the blue and you are contacting people out of the blue, then it's a norm for you so why bother asking here? Seems strange, that's all.

justinclift isn't the one who asked the question...he was just replying to you that his experience is different.