Monthly Archives: July 2014

ThoughtWorks Radar July 2014

Thoughtworks puts out a quarter technology radar, indicating their latest thoughts on techniques, platforms, tools, and languages/frameworks. Their latest report (PDF) just came out, and it’s always an interesting read to other’s thoughts on technologies you know, and see emerging technologies come into view that you might not otherwise have heard about. Enjoy!

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Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like everyone around you is smarter than you?

In a recent Hacker News post, a commenter said “… every day I run across articles here and comments that make me feel incredibly useless and inexperienced.”

Another anecdote: once while I was discussing algorithms with a friend, he confessed “I don’t know much about algorithms or software design. I always feel like I don’t know as much as I’m supposed to.” In contrast, I felt the same way, but about network operations and network analysis – in which he was an expert. Each of the two of us had a specialty in a narrow field, and recognized that the other knew more about “something” whatever that something might be.

This feeling happens to accomplished engineers again and again and again.

Why is that?

There is a whole world of things to know in the field of software engineering. More than that, there is a multitude of aspects of software engineering, each one of which is yet another world unto itself. In the end, there is so much to know in the field that it is literally impossible to master every aspect.

Because of this situation, it’s exceedingly likely the sum of everybody around you knows more about everything than you do. If you look around and only see people who know things that you don’t, you might think that they know what you know, and they know all these extra things on top of that. You might get the false impression that everybody is an expert and you are not, that you are an imposter and don’t know as much as you should, and it is only a matter of time until your terrible secret is revealed. Oh No!

You don’t have to feel this way. This feeling is called the Imposter Syndrome. This is a normal feeling and can happen to anybody.

The way out of this feeling is to use that analytical rational mind that you pride yourself on. Use it to challenge these thoughts and feelings with facts. Have you ever been fired for gross incompetence? No? Maybe you’re not grossly incompetent. Have you ever answered questions for other developers? Yes? Maybe you know things others don’t and not just the other way around. Have you ever accomplished anything by developing software? Maybe you are an accomplished software developer.

You do have much to learn. But we all do.

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Are You Smarter Than Your Boss?

There’s no shortage of managers claiming to hire people smarter than themselves.

Thinking of this, I was recently reminded of this little gem of a Dilbert cartoon about a manager proclaiming to hire people smarter than himself. Hilarity ensues, of course.

So: are you smarter than your boss?

Here’s a tale of two engineers It’s a simple tale, but you could probably make a very similar story if you replaced the names with those of people you know. Imagine two co-workers: Bob and Joe. Bob thinks he’s smarter than Joe because he knows Technology X, and Joe thinks he’s smarter than Bob because he knows Technology Y. And Bob and Joe BOTH think they are smarter than their boss who doesn’t know ANY technology. They joke with each other, “Our boss couldn’t code his way out of a paper bag! He just goes to meetings all day!” Who do you think is smarter?

Before we can answer that, we have to answer another question: what does smarter even mean? As engineers, we tend to focus on a very particular definition of smart. True to our analytic nature, we analyze, score, and rank one thing that we highly value: our intelligence as applied to specific technologies. And if, as engineers, we fail to recognize non-technological intelligences, we could be led into a false sense of superiority about our skills as related to others. Everyone is smart about some things but not others. Smart always has a context, a facility within a domain of expertise (or at the very least, the ability to learn quickly in closely related domains). And if you don’t recognize the particular things that somebody else is smart about, you might think they are not smart at all!

In a tautological way, you are smarter than your boss about the things you are smarter about – the things that define your job. And in the same way, your boss is smarter than you about the things he or she needs to be smart about – the things that define his or her job.

You are not generally smarter than your boss. Your boss is not generally smarter than you. You are both smarter in the specific ways that you need to be, to do your jobs the best that you can.

In conclusion: You are not smarter than your boss. 🙂

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