Awhile back I read a blog post titled, “I’m a Phony, Are you?” by Scott Hanselman. If you’re reading this blog, you are probably well aware of who Scott Hanselman is. But, for those who are unfamiliar, Scott is basically the definition of Rock Star Programmer. I really respect his opinions, and try to follow his advice when he gives it. But he’s a phony!?
After reading his post, something felt a little… off about it. How could someone who has achieved celebrity status in the IT world describe himself as a fake? What does that say about me? or you? I’ll tell you, my initial reaction to this was: “Well then, I should just quit now.” If someone who I view as so totally better than me is a phony, then I’m clearly not cut out for this.
Now, when we dive a little deeper into his message. He’s not calling himself a phony in general, he explains that he gets into situations that put him in over his head. The feeling of I have no idea what I’m doing here, but I’m doing it anyway is what makes us feel dirty. We are the experts here, were getting paid to know this. I’m taking their money and I’m just ‘winging it’? That makes me a phony.
Ok, so I can see where he’s coming from here and I can see how this makes us feel bad. It seems like people in the IT industry get down on themselves when they realize that they don’t know EVERYTHING about something. Scott, explains how this feeling helps motivate him and I think this quote sums up what I think is wrong with this line of thinking.
I use insecurity as a motivator to achieve and continue teaching.
If that works for him, great, but I don’t think that feelings of inadequacy should be a motivator for anyone on a regular basis. One thing that people in our industry should understand is that they aren’t going to know everything about everything, it’s just not going to happen. More importantly, we’re not hired because we know everything about everything. We’re hired to do a job, and our ability to deliver on that is what makes us what we are. Do the people you work with or hire you care that you googled how to do something? No, they care that you delivered what you said you would when you said you would. Your ability to adapt to new situations and apply new concepts is what makes you valuable.
‘I don’t know’ is an acceptable answer
I think the root of this entire problem boils down to the fact that people are afraid to say “I don’t know”. It’s OK to not know something. It’s what you do after recognizing that you don’t know something that makes the difference. How quickly can you move from’ I don’t know’ to ‘I do know’?
Continuous learning and adaptability are the most important things when it comes to building software. Our industry, tools, methodologies, problems, and goals change constantly. Adapting to these challenging and ever changing demands is where we should be building confidence in ourselves, not making ourselves feel inadequate because we aren’t already familiar with the new conditions.
I realize that Scott’s being a phony claim is probably supposed to be Tongue in Cheek and a bit embellished, but I do think that people in our Industry do suffer from Impostor Syndrome and they shouldn’t. Scott is not a phony. I’m not a phony. Neither are you. If you set clear expectations and meet them, you are doing what you’re supposed to.