Reflections – Developer Confidence

Hackathon 2021 is in the books. The attendees have arrived for Summit 2021. Last night was the welcome reception. The first day of Summit is underway. As I settled into my room last night, I realized that this year is nothing like last year for me. In fact, it is like nothing I remember in a long time. Something profound, even surreal, hit me. And I found myself in a moment of reflection.

As I sat thinking about my journey as a “new developer” it occurred to me that 3 years on Acumatica hardly counts as “new” anymore. With that realization, something else very important occurred to me. It is something I believe affects a tremendous number of developers at one time or another. No, this isn’t going to be a technical post, but perhaps it is more important for some. A time to reflect and understand that our worth as developers is not measured by how well we compare to others’ strengths, but how we compare to our own previous abilities. Being a developer is a journey that comes one experience at a time. All it takes to be seen as an amazing developer is to help one person with a question, and sometimes it doesn’t even have anything to do with syntax.

I can’t tell you how many times people have complemented what I have done over the last couple of years. That isn’t a prideful statement. It is a reality that, from the point of a developer who has been surrounded by great developers in the community, I have been unable, or maybe unwilling to believe it all. People so often pass a complement because complements are cheap to give and make others feel good. It is a tool that I once learned to recognize as a manipulation, even if it wasn’t. People come and go in our lives, and sometimes they help us learn to be very guarded. It’s human nature. We don’t like to be manipulated by insincere praise, and sometimes we fail to see the genuine value of our work.

“It took me 5 minutes. It couldn’t be that impressive if it only took 5 minutes, right?” We fail to see that it took 5 minutes NOW or that it really was significant to the person it helps. How long did it take last year? What did you learn that made it ONLY take 5 minutes? While some developers seem to think the world is blessed for them to merely exist, I think most developers tend to downplay their talents and fail to see the incremental growth that comes with time and experience. In truth, I’m struggling to accept that I am so much better than I let myself believe. Sure, there is a little “under promise, over deliver” going on, but it’s just hard for me to accept the praise as genuine.

Case in point. The last hackathon and summit was 18 months ago. That is roughly halfway back to when I became a developer on Acumatica ERP. It was 1 year after I was able to meet some of the finest Acumatica developers in the world and restart my journey to becoming an amazing Acumatica developer like the ones I see at Summit. When I think back to where I was in technical competence, I see no real difference. I don’t really see in general where I was as a developer and how far I have come. The truth is, I am nothing of the developer as I was 18 months ago. When the pandemic hit, life came to a stop for a while. For some reason, I can think back to all the things that I have accomplished, but I refused to accept that I have grown as a developer. It’s almost like how you watch your kids grow a little each day and don’t see how much they have grown. The reality is that my sons aren’t little kids anymore. They are growing up. Likewise, I’m not the new guy still trying to figure out how to do the most basic tasks in Acumatica. I still am challenged and learning every day, but I am far more capable than I have been able to admit.

Herein lies the great problem. It creates a lie we tell ourselves when we don’t feel like we measure up. It is the vulnerability we are afraid to show. Some of us overcompensate and try to appear more confident than we are. Others really have no skill because they have refused to do the work it takes to learn. For me and some of my very talented friends that shared similar thoughts, it is a problem that comes from being surrounded by the “best of the best”. The proverbial bar is raised every time those around us learn a new trick or technique or achieve success in a challenge. It’s called growing. It is easy to miss that you may have grown as a developer because you never seem to catch up with the amazing talent around you, or at least you don’t see it. As a friend reminded me this week, “if you are the smartest person in the room, you probably are in the wrong room.” We want to be surrounded by people that can show us how to grow more, but it can leave us feeling like less than we are if we let it.

Now this is the lie we tell ourselves and somehow manage to believe. I’m not as good as “A”, “B”, or “C” and I’m still struggling. A friend and I actually swapped, “you are so amazing, and you know this stuff so much better than I” stories this morning. If we will stop telling ourselves how we don’t stack up, we might have time to see how we excel. We are both incredible… in our strengths. The thing is, we can’t see our strengths because we only see the different strengths of others. The truth is, believe it or not, they have weaknesses, too! Sure, they may have more well refined skills, but your refined skills make you valuable to the team. We never see the struggles others face but rather the incredible successes. The thing is, others see our incredible successes that we take for granted.

What we miss in all this comparison is that we are not those people to whom we seem to compare ourselves. Thankfully, we are not. We grow at different rates. We have different challenges, so we acquire different technical skills at different times. The truth we fail to see… the amazing, incomprehensible truth is that if we truly try then we cannot help but grow… and so we do.

In my job, I recently built a module with a lot of features in a few days. It isn’t finished, and it still has some flaws. I tend to think I’m performing poorly because of that. The reality is that it took far less time to get to this point than for previous projects. The functionality and usability is far superior for initial testing than anything I’ve done before. The facts are plain that I am improving. Quite frankly, the sheer amount of practice ensures it.

You won’t see me singing my own praises, but it’s time I stop viewing myself as who I was as a developer 18 months ago, and the same for you. It’s time to stop comparing how good we are as a developer by how we measure up to someone with years more experience. We are not measured by how we compare to others on their strengths, but rather by how well we perform with our own strengths.

Spread your wings and fly, and I’ll do the same. And if you don’t think you are very good as a developer, try answering some questions on Stack Overflow. You will either become someone’s hero there, or you will learn something new as you research how to help.

Happy Coding!

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