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Ask HN: Does anybody else feel overwhelmed while reading HN?
207 points by yeswecatan on June 9, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 147 comments
I've been programming for about 4 years now. During that time I've become an integral part of my team and have constantly been learning. Despite this I always read comments on HN and feel like there is SO much to learn that I'll never have the time for. I work at a big company and desperately want to leave so I have been dedicating time to prepare for interviews (pretty much just CTCI at this point). Even if I do get better at my interviews and land a job elsewhere, I'm worried that either I'll 1) not be as good as the other engineers there and they will quickly notice or 2) will basically feel the same as I do now. Hopefully the latter doesn't happen. My work environment is pretty negative right now so maybe a change of scenery will help.

Anyway, back to the original question. Does anybody else come on here and feel overwhelmed? Too much to learn, a lot of other people out there who are so much better than you etc. Could be just me, the Bay Area, or tech in general.

Attempting to be as accomplished/skilled as the union of people you read on the Internet is a fool's errand. You have to accept you'll never know everything and that, for almost all things, there will be someone -- or a lot of someones -- much better than you.

Pretend you were working at a company with a hundred engineers. Do you understand how easy it is for every single one of them to simultaneously feel like you do? The React mavens feel like they're just knocking together JS and wonder when they'll be allowed to do real engineering. The backend specialists wonder why they don't understand networking or servers better. The DevOps folks envy folks who build things. The American office wonders why they can't speak foreign languages; the German office marvels that anyone can learn Japanese; the Japanese office worries their English isn't up to the global standard.

There's nothing wrong in specialization -- it's how we stay sane. A very workable and easy to understand formula early in your career is specialize in two things; you don't have to be better at X and better at Y than everyone you meet, you have to be "better at X than anyone who is better at Y" and "better at Y than anyone who is better at X." This is very, very achievable, regardless of how highly competent your local set of peers is.

Also, unsolicted advice as a sidenote, but life is too short to spend overly much time in negative work environments. Assuming the negativity isn't coming from you, changing environments to one of the (numerous!) places where happy people do good work might be an improvement.

Reminds me of this:

"Data Scientist (n.): Person who is better at statistics than any software engineer and better at software engineering than any statistician."


That's very helpful. I was having trouble parsing "better at X than anyone better at Y" and vice versa; this is a perfect example.

I would appreciate HN for what it is; the confluence of some of the smartest minds in technology. Let it challenge and inspire you, not intimidate you.

Also, do realize that not everybody is right on here all of the time either, despite some of their egos.

Despite occasionally butting heads with some of the people on here, I really do appreciate the community here for what it is; you really can't find a smarter group of people on the Internet.

I'm not sure that HN is the confluence of the smartest minds in technology. Indeed a lot of very smart people are publishing stuff here, but for the first HN is rather a confluence of young more or less trend-driven technology enthusiasts, which are able to present themselves.

HN is weird.

At the top of the bell curve, you have people like Alan Kay, NASA engineers, cryptographers, founders of Reddit and 4chan and the like - obvious brilliant thinkers and innovators who'll pop in to a thread about something and mention how they invented or were involved in the thing being talked about.

At the edges, it's not much smarter than a tech subreddit or /g/.

Also, it's easy to forget that this is an important place for tech PR and advertising - so there is some incentive to appear smarter than you actually are.

(Not implying there aren't a ton of genuinely exceptional people here)

>> A very workable and easy to understand formula early in your career is specialize in two things; you don't have to be better at X and better at Y than everyone you meet, you have to be "better at X than anyone who is better at Y" and "better at Y than anyone who is better at X." This is very, very achievable, regardless of how highly competent your local set of peers is.

Scott Adams says something similar:

If you want an average successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths:

1. Become the best at one specific thing. 2. Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things.

The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try.

The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare.


This is one of the most helpful comments I've read on HN, thanks! :)

This is an excellent exploration of Impostor Syndrome[1]. Thanks for sharing!


Hi Patrick. More value bombs as usual. Thank you, sir.

Impostor Syndrome. Have you written more about it elsewhere?

It's been crippling at times. That said, I was recently very surprised to learn of a couple folks who I consider way better than me at $FOO to also regularly deal with impostor syndrome as well. I was floored.

better at X than anyone who is better at Y" and "better at Y than anyone who is better at X.


This is awesome advice. So true that I never realized it till I read this.

Oh, you will feel much better once you have mastered:

1. Programming chips in binary, machine code, and C. You need a variety of chips. Try to learn at least 5 from each manufacturer.

2. Learn at least 37 Javascript frameworks, as evenly divided between front-end and server side as you can. (Good news: angular 1 and 2 count as 2 frameworks).

3. Learn Scala, Rust, Haskell, C, C#, Java. (Python and Ruby go without saying).

4. Learn R, machine learning, statistics (prob and regressions), linear algebra and multi-variate calculus.

5. Learn growth hacking (edit:) and lean startup, human centered design, and design thinking.

6. Learn accounting, finance (go through Markowitz, to Black Scholes, Fama, CAPM, and factor models. Read the original papers only and implement everything yourself, in 2 languages).

Now you are ready to read HN.

Hardly. You still need:

1. An in depth understanding of Physics, History, Literature, and Philosophy. You can just make up whatever you want in Economics, Sociology, and Bitcoins as fits your political leanings.

2. Learn to resist weapons grade grammar analysis.

3. Learn to recognize sarcasm in short, written text.

And Chinese or Japanese, especially characters; the argument of material design is much better replaced by everyone learning Chinese characters and just using that. HN is happy to contribute its wisdom to all fields.

> 3. Learn to recognize sarcasm in short, written text.

No need. This is HN. Someone's bound to have used machine learning to crack this already.

Duh, haven't you read "Automatic Sarcasm Detection: A Survey" by Joshi, Bhattacharyya and Carman?


And for a second there I thought that you just made that up :-)

What we need now is a text-to-speech engine programmed with The Mary Whitehouse Experience's "Man With A Sarcastic Tone Of Voice".

I don't normally downvote good jokes like this one, but I'm making an exception. Imagine if this rises to top (it's #2 now), and either the OP or someone in the same situation see it first, and fail to notice the irony.

Never thought of that. Phew, close call. You might have saved them.

You forgot entrepreneurial skills. Obviously at the top of that list should be the ability to raise funds from VCs.

Small quibble: fundraising is not an entrepreneurial skill. It's a substitute for lacking those skills.

If a business is solid, no funding is needed. Or, if it is needed, it's easy to get.

To be an entrepreneur is to raise funds. I thought this was accepted as absolute truth in Silicon Valley.

I must respectfully disagree.

Forming or becoming a capitalist organization using Other People's Money is a perfectly valid approach for an entrepreneur to take, and if so whether funds should be raised from VC's or other sources is the kind of uncertian decision that entrepreneurs have to rise to, yes.

But it's also possible to be a complete entrepreneur by using only your own resources whether that is primarily funds or not. You may or may not need to choose a low-resource-requirement business to operate. You may also survive or prosper in a capitalist environment and/or compete in a capitalist market without being a capitalist at all.

At least since recorded history anyway.

IMHO the top of the list for entrepreneurial skills should be the ability to develop the best income from the most satisfied clientele.

So true.

You're right. I edited the growth hacking line a little.

I don't know if I can recommend "learning" to raise from VCs but you're right they should practice all aspects of launching and running a company a few times by doing it.

You also need to read at least one 1000 page fiction book per week and be on some version of the "paleo" diet.

You've forgotten advanced knowledge in neural networks, molecular biology and (for some reason) medieval books.

I've done all this but still don't know why I keep getting asked why manhole covers are round!! Pls help?

Just say "you look at the manhole covers and ask 'why'; I look at the same covers and ask 'why not'"

That's the secret answer at McKinsey.

A concise and useful list of suggestions.

you still need your pet theory for the evergreen topics: diets, state surveillance, healthcare (US) and education (US)

You are being sarcastic, right?

Not at all, in fact the OP was being generous. Where's computer vision and cryptography on that list?

37? Only?

I don't want it to be overwhelming.

You simply skipped 3 great, must-have, state-of-art frameworks released this week.

Angular is a thing of the past. You need to be using OrbitalJS, or Conker. Sabre is also gaining a lot of traction

I actually made all those up and nobody called me out on it

Perhaps you are not acquainted with the severe name shortage that currently threatens the Javascript community?




You are fucking kidding me. I literally opened a dictionary for those

Yet one more reason to not get overwhelmed here.:-)

add network, linux kernel debugging, also containers.

Haha, are you serious? Or just joking?

He was totally joking - sarcasm.

Here's the dirty secret: You'll always feel that way.

I'm in this for 30+ years now. (Yikes!). My resume is somewhat nice. I've got a deep store of knowledge and experiences. A large group of people considers me somebody you ask for advice.

And yet, every day, I still learn something new.

Sometimes because it's a new paper cycling about. Sometimes an HN article. Sometimes because some other senior person shares from their wealth of experience. And quite often because a junior does something in an unexpected way - knowledge comes from every corner.

I still feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. I'll probably feel that way for the rest of my life. All my colleagues do.

So, don't worry. There's always somebody who's better than you, and that's great, because you can learn from them.

Imagine you are going for surgery and the doctor tells you 'yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing, really'.

You'd be very interested in knowing whether it's 'I just graduated from med school, I'm barely competent', or 'I've been doing this 30 years, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know'.

Those are not the same.

Insecurity is there for a reason - to let you know you should tread carefully and learn more.

The feeling of insecurity will go away when you're competent. The feeling of wonder and curiosity hopefully remains until you die - the author's problem is not the feeling of wonder that the parent is referring to :)

I know you used surgery/medicine as a parable, but I would argue that competency is probably a little easier to objectively gauge in those fields than in Computer Science, for instance.

Objectively, yes, but in practice, doctors sometimes work 12 to 30 hour shifts, all while the medical establishment actively tries to educate that tired driving is worse than drink driving...

This attitude, is what makes you the next person to let a young one feel overwhelmed. Be humble and keep trying and life will feel easier in the end.

I've been a professional web developer for 18 years now. I was very much on the bleeding edge of web standards, and jumping on Rails in 2005, I did everything from managing my own servers through backend, front-end and design in Photoshop. At the time the web was still a very greenfield type of place that was uncolonized by the top talent in either software engineering or in design, as a result it was possible to be one of the best web generalists with a little bit of aptitude and a lot of interest.

Fast forward ten years and every discipline of web development now goes very deep. It's still worth it to have a broad skillset, but it's no longer practical to be upper echelon across the board in web development. This generally leads to a feeling of overwhelm and regret that I can't learn all the things I possibly might want to learn, but on the bright side the playground is bigger than ever.

My advice is don't spend too much time thinking about the big picture, instead pick one practical project at a time and spend 95% of your time making it the best you can. Even if you only read HN a couple times a month, that's all you need for basic awareness of the landscape. By giving yourself heads-down time you can replace some of the overwhelm with a feeling of accomplishment, and you'll be growing your skills to boot.

What you are feeling is the exact opposite of hubris. It is good that you feel overwhelmed by looking at the universe of possible technologies and the pace of change within them. It sounds to me like you need to make peace with that, and then decide for yourself where you want to build expertise. You can extreme depth, extreme breadth, or something in between. According to IDC, worldwide IT spending is going to be around $2.5trillion this year. Its a big world with tons of products, disciplines, people, and very little of it is totally static. In fact, large swaths of IT probably get very little mention on HN.

To reiterate though, pick your battles, follow your interests/employment possibilities, and make peace with the fact that you can't know everything.

I think the opposite of hubris is called nemesis, or what happens after hubris.

I'd say the OP is describing humility, a quality which is essential imho

I think you may be right, however, Hubris is a "feeling" while nemesis is an "Agent". So, it is possible for you to be my nemesis, but you can't be my hubris.

Humility vs Hubris do seem to be opposites.

Good point about agent versus feeling. If my Greek friend is a reliable reference, the words originated in Greek mythology wherein a human acting in hubris would be punished by the gods, the punishment was called nemesis.

adds antonym knower on top of his to do list.

Thanks for that. I have definitely taken the extreme breadth approach (just what my job calls for) which I don't necessarily view as a benefit. I feel like having extensive knowledge in a few different areas is much more beneficial than being a jack of all trades. Maybe just me.

You are describing an aspect of Impostor Syndrome. It's super common among programmers – and IMO, all people who have a modicum of self-awareness.

Just search around, you'll see that feeling overwhelmed puts you in great company. :)

https://www.hanselman.com/blog/ImAPhonyAreYou.aspx (also talks about Dunning-Kruger effect, which is related)



You might appreciate Ira Glass's take on this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2wLP0izeJE

Everyone is overwhelmed by envy-stoking social media. Humanity simply did not evolve to process information from the whole world instantly.

Up to a short time ago, most humans never ventured farther then 5 miles from their birthplaces in their entire lives. Before printing presses, books, and finally newspapers, all news was word of mouth...a very limited bandwidth indeed.

Even newspapers really were nothing but mostly gossip and had very limited work-related information for almost everyone, so feeling totally overwhelmed by the avalanche of targeted career knowledge is not only ok but actually totally appropriate.

I think that the structure of the commenting system here at HN might contribute to this feeling.

Usernames are de-emphasized and there is no indication of karma/reputation. A trick of perception can lead one to read this forum as if the same handful of broadly knowledgeable people are participating in every discussion.

The reality is, I believe, quite the opposite. There are hundreds of us here, and we all have depth of knowledge in vastly different areas. There are developers, DBAs, sysadmins, doctors, lawyers, writers... I think once I saw someone mention that they were a welder.

Keep that in mind when reading the comments here.

FWIW, I do note the usernames comments come from sometimes, particularly if they're insightful.

Regarding the numbers here, I'd say there are multiple thousands, possibly 5 figures. The top article about Apple refusing to publicly backdoor the iPhone (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11116274) got 5667 points. And sometimes my comments will attract a reply chain but not get upvoted, which shows that some proportion of people doesn't upvote here.

Specialization actually isn't a bad thing. I'm the CTO of an AI company dealing with some very complex problems. I've even written an oreilly book on deep learning. I tell you this for perspective.

I can't design for crap. I don't understand the thought process and don't even want to put cycles in to trying. It's not time well spent.

I'm also an enterprise founder. I don't mind wearing a suit selling to folks who have obscene requirements with 6 month to year long sales cycles. I don't understand B2C companies at all. I could never run one. The idea of catering to hundreds of millions of people with none of them paying you while relying on VC to scale blows my mind. I feel similar about small business.

I like the idea of a smaller number of big name customers with large requirements. I also understand how they work: They are for profit organizations trying to make money or cut costs. I see consumers (despite doing a ton of data) as a blob of irrational behavior I don't want to deal with.

I also can't do marketing. I can kind of write when needed but my main focus is on technical content or specialized pitches.

Being on HN is very similar to being a founder, you see everything and wonder how the people around you do what they do. Don't worry about it! You hired them for a reason.

Hope that helps!

I was overwhelmed at first. Every time a Show HN would pop up, I was amazed at how individuals could deliver on so much alone. So I accepted these things:

- There will always be people who are better than you, in any field. I see it as a positive and a great learning opportunity.

- There will never be time to learn everything you want to learn.

The question I try to answer is: Am I doing the best I can at the moment? Of course, this can also lead to complacency.

And then you need to realize that if you spend a bit of time every day doing a little something, you'll be able to deliver some pretty big things over time.

The hardest part, I find, is starting. But once I do, boy is it a lot of fun to keep that ball rolling! There's nothing so enjoyable as hacking away at something and seeing those incremental changes fall into place.

> The hardest part, I find, is starting.

To me the hardest part is finishing. To start stuff is very easy for me but to actually grind away at something day after day until it is finally done is very hard.

Thanks for saying this Jacquesm. I've read several of your articles over time so to receive unexpected correspondence from a respected engineer is, to say the least, very cool. You're absolutely right.

I find that one of the biggest contributions towards my feelings of burnout is the fact that, when it comes to software engineering, not much is ever truly finished. A lot of us work for places where the product is never actually finished.

When we work in environments where there is always another ticket to complete, it can be hard to feel as if there is actually an end in sight to much of anything. My father is an accomplished woodworker/graphic designer/renaissance man, he's built things such as book cases, stained glass windows, picture frames for his gorgeous nature shots taken across the United States, and even (when I was younger) a cedar stripper canoe.

Sometimes I very much long for the feeling that he has when he has completed a project. One he can run his hands along. We're not afforded that luxury as software engineers. We work on some of the most complex projects ever to be known to man. Projects with millions of lines of code that are never truly secure, complete, or tangible. When we step away from the keyboards, there is nothing in meat space which exists as proof of our work.

That being said, when I have the pleasure of working on my own terms, in my own office, I find nothing more satisfying than hacking away at my own projects. I am not sure if that is true for every engineer but when I have the luxury of being able to spend a couple of hours researching Git branching strategies because that is something I think will not only make my project more maintainable but me a better engineer, I just love it.

I am consistently humbled by our profession. Every single thing I'm assigned to seems to me to be easy in my mind, and it absolutely never is. (Of course I refuse to stay comfortable and take on everything I can).

I guess at the end of the day, if you don't enjoy the journey which may never end (and is more likely than not to be endless), it may not be the field to devote your time to. But if you can enjoy being constantly overwhelmed by the myriad of options for your development environment, databases, servers, and front end frameworks, then there really is nothing so sweet as hacking away at a project you can call all your own.

I actually try to teach the companies I work with. I call it 'never ending ticket queue syndrome'. What I try to tell them - and which usually clicks - is that the ticket queue is not supposed to be a tredmill, but a series of roads going to an intermediary spot where you can get off the road for a bit. The shorter the ticket queue (or at least the visible portion of it) the better. Sticking your 12 year product roadmap and a couple of hundred unsolved issues the majority of which will likely be forever pushed back because of higher priority items in a company wide visible queue is an excellent recipe for burn-out.

The internet solved discoverability but gave us the problem of consciously avoiding information, learning about the right things at the right level and accepting some ignorance in favor of specialized deeper understanding.

Personally, I forward everything from HN's front page, every tech-relevant subreddit, major tech companies and software projects, roughly 30 blogs, Twitter, and blogs/changelogs for every project/service I depend on (for work or side projects)... all straight into my email.

Rules automatically curate emails into prioritized / categorized folders. Setting up those rules was my solution to information overload - reviewing rule relevance is the same as measuring how my attention investment tracks against long-term learning goals.

One process for managing my work, personal life, and interests :)

10 minutes a day is enough to follow every personally relevant development. I do a deeper hour-long review of lower priority content at least once a week, but my email is an effectively infinite backlog of interesting-possibly-relevant information.

> I do a deeper hour-long review of lower priority content at least once a week, but my email is an effectively infinite backlog of interesting-possibly-relevant information.

As a zero-inbox kind of person this is terrifying. It's already enough effort to keep up with the new journal articles every day. I use my morning commute to do that and my evening commute to unwind and read the more interesting stuff.

I don't think you understand, my inbox is almost always at zero :)

This folders and rules was my strategy for balancing the need to be hyper-informed, well-organized, and not-overwhelmed... only uncategorized content shows up in my inbox.

My "High Priority" folder has subfolders for friends, family, bills, and other things that have to be kept at 0. The "Low Low Priority" folder has folders for online store emails that useful a couple times a year for discounts when I need a new shirt or something, auto-deleted after 14 days. In between is everything, nicely triaged and categorized.

It's really more of a personalized private ad/tracker-free mobile and cli-compatible individual media aggregation service - perfectly managing the flow of the internet into my brain :)

So, I'm trying to do what you do, entirely using browser tabs. It concretely doesn't work.

After 200-400 suspended tabs open and a browser chewing molasses, I tend to export all URLs to a list for One Day In The Magical Future™, kill my session and restart.

So yeah, I'm very interested to find out what rule system you use - is this bespoke, or using standard email client features?

Also, what email client do you use? I've been trying to find a medium between "old computer becomes unusable after >10 tabs are open" and "fast, native information-presentation applications (like terminals) are text-only and don't support images" for 15+ years.

I use Gmail's basic HTML mode 99% of the time. It... I can't say I like it. I want something that doesn't use Qt and GTK+, because I perceive more lag with applications that use these toolkits than I did with lightweight WinAPI apps I ran on Win98/Win2K machines with half the hardware capability.

Browser tabs were a different part of the puzzle, for me anyway. This is my preferred way of managing information:

* My email pulls new information into my digital sphere of awareness. * Browser tabs/history manage active context and mid-term working memory. * Bookmarks (poorly) curate resources for long-term information retrieval. * My git-backed repository of notes tracked my own thoughts and plans.

Fastmail, gmail, and my old university Outlook account all support creating rules, however I am not aware of any RFC standards around rules. My adhoc suite of scripts for pushing content to email is entirely custom.

I like Thunderbird, but it's a pig at 300MB memory consumption... however it's open source and does what I expect.

Sieve scripts (https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc5228) are the standard for email rules; FastMail uses Sieve scripts internally and also allows you to write your own if you desire: https://www.fastmail.com/help/technical/sieve.html.

Oh that is so freaking cool, thanks for sharing!

I would love to read an article on setting up such rules. Any links to posts?

Unfortunately, setting up rules is very client-specific. Fastmail, Gmail, and Outlook all have different UIs.

Complacency may be a blessing at this point. For years I had the mindset that it's a bad thing.

Do what makes you happy / keeps you and your family fed.

If complacency does that for you, then it's good. If not, it's not.

> Do what makes you happy / keeps you and your family fed.

The issue is for many people these two seem to be opposites

Pith instruction. I don't think it can get much more succinct than that.

   Fill your bowl to the brim
   and it will spill.
   Keep sharpening your knife
   and it will blunt.
   Chase after money and security
   and your heart will never unclench.
   Care about people's approval
   and you will be their prisoner.

   Do your work, then step back.
   The only path to serenity.
-- Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation (http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.h...)

  Success is as dangerous as failure. 
  Hope is as hollow as fear.
  What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure? 
  Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky.
  When you stand with your two feet on the ground, you will always keep your balance.

I need to get this carved into my steering wheel.

I need to burn it into my brain that it's acceptable to be adequate.

If that excerpt spoke to you, I can't recommend the whole thing highly enough. Mitchell's Tao is beautiful -- one of the few books I can honestly say changed my life. (I wrote a bit about how here: https://jasonlefkowitz.net/2016/08/books-love-stephen-mitche...)

..it's acceptable to be the best yourself. There is only one of you in this world ;)

Thanks - one of the best parts of Mitchell's translation. Just love it.

HN in a way can be considered a monolith with thousands of years of combined cumulative experience in every domain and in every technology.

Of course, you, by comparison will seem lackluster. Realizing that a single person on here may be lacking in specific expertise may give you solace.

As much as I love HN, it does make me feel extremely inadequate as a developer sometimes.

I often dream about building some project that would provide me passive income to no longer have to work a 9-to-5. It's not that I lack the skills to execute on it, but as a father and a husband, I struggle to find time to commit to such ideas while balancing time with my family. The only time I attempted to build my own product, I ended up getting fired from my daytime job because of performance reasons. It only discouraged me from attempting to pursue anything further.

I've learned that I just can't compare myself to others here, because it just makes me horribly depressed.

There is quite a bit of braggadocio going on here too.

What may sound super bad-ass might just be a 20 year old intern riffing like a BOSS!

You'd benefit from clarifying what it is that you really want.

More money, better work environment, be better at computer science, etc etc.

These are all different things and require a different approach. The sooner you figure out which one you value more, and understand that you'll have to neglect some other things in order to succeed in that area, the better you'll feel.

For example you didn't mention any education - if you want to not feel like a fraud, you'll have to educate yourself on all the things a common 4 year program teaches you. There is no way around it.

You may score a nice paying job in something like web-dev or mobile where there's a lot of demand, but you'll be blindly stitching other people's code together for a long time if you continue down that route.

The solution is to take some time to go fill in the fundamentals.

The more solid your fundamentals, the smarter and more interesting the projects you can be involved in, but you'll have to sacrifice time and money to get there.

Clarifying your real intention is important.

As for not feeling overwhelmed - by being good at your area of expertise. If you know you're better than most people at one specific thing that's in demand, you don't need to worry that someone else is kicking ass in augmented reality, big data or whatever hype phrase of the year is :)

I sometimes feel the same way while reading HN.

I can usually cure it by going to a Sharepoint developers' meetup, or something similar. Running into people who there who are doing consulting work and doing very, very well for themselves while working significantly less that 40 hours a week and using almost none of the cool stuff that gets mentioned on HN.

I suppose the lesson there might be to avoid a game of one-upmanship with alpha nerds. And I don't say 'alpha nerds' in a derogatory sense. It's just that on HN, you're going to encounter lots of people who will run circles around you in one domain or another. And some people love being the absolute expert in their particular technical domain.

That's okay. Good for them, actually! Everyone should do what makes them happy. You might find you're actually happier in a role that is more concerned with the business problems you're solving than with needing to be an expert in everything you see mentioned on HN. Your technical skills will be important, but not as important as your ability to use those skills to help a business 1) save money, 2) make more money, or 3) both.

No, I don't feel overwhelmed. I am just happy to know of a place where it is possible to find meaty discussion that is reasonably civil.

I think this is a perspective problem. You need to stop comparing yourself to everyone in all things. That isn't what I come here for. I just come here to gratify my intellect and enrich my life. You don't need to compare to people here. You need to compare yourself to people you are in actual competition with at work or compare yourself to the work standards you are expected to meet. Don't come here and do that. It will only lead to misery.

You have to accept a lot of it is noise, or effectively noise.

Some of it is wrong, some of it will never be relevant to you, some of it could relevant to you but not knowing it will never hurt you. Some of it could possibly be relevant but will be obsolete or out of date by the time you get around to using it. Some of it is nonsubstantive self-promotion. Just focus on some area you want to improve on at a given time and do it. Read what you want to read and have time to read and ignore the rest.

Just because someone puts up a nice-looking blog post with some information doesn't mean they're right, or better than you. Not that it matters if they're better than you. You could be in the top 10% and that still leaves hundreds of thousands who are better than you.

That's assuming there's some pure linear scale of developer quality anyway, which there isn't. People are fingerprints, not points on a linear scale.

I strongly recommend reading the following book - https://www.amazon.com/Good-They-Cant-Ignore-You/dp/14555091...

It's a fantastic book by a now tenured CS professor that provides a good framework for how to think about your career / career satisfaction. He encourages working backwards from the lifestyle you want to the skills you need to master to where you are right now. His framework provides a lot of clarity and helps you ignore the roller coaster of announcements, updates, and new "things" you FEEL like you need to stay on top of.

You can also just read some of his blog posts - calnewport.com/blog - if you don't feel like buying the book. Or check out some of his interviews, etc.

Read about the T-Shaped profile mentioned on the Valve's Employee Handbook[1]. It's a nice concept on how to know when to learn something new and when to learn more about something that you already know.

And calm down: HN users are really heterogeneous. Trying to be like everyone here is impossible. Even you find someone with the same profile as you, it is a nice thing to know that there is something new to learn. A bigger problem is when you don't have anything new to learn.


Edit: And answering your question: I feel overwhelmed when I learn somenthing new here, and there is already another article telling me that what I learned is obsolete.

I'm a Sysadmin on the east coast & I feel completely wrecked every time I read the comments here. The level of brain power & swell here is beyond me. Some of you can be a little brash, though. I wonder if it's just you guys are all on a different level, cognitively, are taking drugs, or what. But the precision at which some of you respond to comments, clarify things and/or just rip apart content, is fascinating.

> Anyway, back to the original question. Does anybody else come on here and feel overwhelmed?

No, or at least not much. Most people have a specialization or two, whether it be front-end, back-end, mobile, application, embedded, games, etc., which limits the scope of what you really need to care deeply about.

Beyond that, it's a matter of your own personal curiosity and desire to expand your abilities; my reaction to most articles is "hmm, that's interesting; I'll remember that in case I ever need it" with just a scant few meriting a "I need to dive into that because I also want to have that knowledge / skill."

Reading HN is extremely overwhelming. I'm in the data science field. So I read yet another Deep Learning article on HN and wonder how long it is till I'm unemployed and bankrupt because I barely know anything about deep learning and have no opportunities at all to use it at my job.

Then I remember the following.

1). I'm employed, my manager is happy with the work I do, and I make enough money to pay my bills, have savings, and live in a decent place in a safe neighborhood.

2). I don't have to be better than everybody else at my workplace. I just need to find an area where I can contribute.

3). When I apply to other jobs I get some positive responses. I know people who would be happy to recommend and hire me if they can.

4). I've met more than a few people who can talk about data science like they can solve any business problem under the sun, but cannot actually do much of anything except talk.

5). There is plenty of stuff I read on HN that is clearly wrong or exaggerated.

I think the key is to focus on what you need today to stay employed and have a realistic assessment of your weaknesses and where you want to go. Then figure out what you need to get there and slowly work towards that that. I don't need to know Rust, Go, and Vue.js because they have nothing to do with my job or where I want my work direction to go. If they day comes when I do need to learn that stuff, I'll learn it.

I experienced much the same thing when I first discovered HN. What helped me was the realization that there's a difference between being aware of something and being an expert in it.

I've found that it's not often that I need to be as intimately acquainted with a subject as those who are feature on HN appear to be. In fact, just knowing about something has been enough for me to intelligently answer an interview questions, converse with a senior engineer, or make the right decision on a project. And usually that's because what's most important is being curious and asking questions - e.g. admitting to myself that I'm not an expert.

Now, instead of being a testament to my ignorance and personal failings, HN is portal that let's me feed my curiosity.

You may want to do some research on the impostor syndrome. It's been my experience that anyone who's any good at anything is convinced they'll never "catch up."

A few comments come to mind.

Yes, there's so much to learn that you'll never have time for it, even if specializing in a small area. It reminds me of a Chomsky interview. He said that he has so many books left to read in his office alone that a lifetime wouldn't be enough. You're in good company.

It may sound obvious but don't forget that HN isn't one person. The guy that knows about particle physics is usually not the one that tell you about the latest type theory research. Don't compare yourself with a collective mind.

Besides, I'm sure there are people less bright than you in all positions you can imagine. Retrospectively, I realize that there are a lot of things I didn't even try for fear of failing or because I thought I wasn't smart enough. It's only a few years later that I realized I missed so many opportunities.

> It may sound obvious but don't forget that HN isn't one person.

Honestly I think the total absence of avatars can make it quite easy to forget that HN isn't one person. "That person with their name in little grey letters is a frickin' genius, jack of all trades"

This applies to social media as well. It's so easy to compare your own social life to the lives of all of your friends and acquaintances put together. In reality most people live rather boring lives punctuated by a few interesting things here and there.

I used to feel this way and when I had time set aside to learn I would just sit there and waste almost all of my time figuring out what to study because there was so much. I would waste all my time doing this and not really learning very much because the breadth of stuff to learn was overwhelming.

Eventually I just forced myself to choose one thing and focus on it. When I get to the point where I feel competent in it, whether that's a day or 3 months, then I allow myself to move onto something else.

Don't get stuck in your head. Just choose something and commit, no one knows everything, the posts are by hundreds of people, each with skills in different areas. Know one knows it all.

I too feel this way. But somehow all my superiors in my work has so much confidence about how much they know about the project and can even project themselves as know what they are taking kind.I am sure they do not know as much as they think, because they are very confident in my area of work more than i ever will be.

   The irony is the more i know the lesser confident i get and i reflect it in meetings. I dont know how to avoid it. I am really looking for a mental framework on how to not look like a complete idiot in meetings although what i say is totally factual.

Take a break.

Try cutting the cord for a few days. It's refreshing.

I also feel overwhelmed while reading HN. Being surrounded by so many great and smart people, I feel like I know nothing and like my entire career until now was a waste of time and resources. I am also becoming addicted to HN. I left Twitter behind and now HN is my primary source of information. I am reading HN anywhere: in subway when I commute to work, in car while I stay in traffic jam, before I got to sleep, at work, etc. Thank you all for making HN such a wonderful place.

I feel this way about frontend technologies that people talk about, but I concluded a long time ago that trying to keep up with the latest churn in that space is pointless. I have a few technologies which are stable and work well for what I need, so I focus on keeping up with that. Every time I've tried to chase the latest and greatest frontend fad it usually turned out it was an immature reinvention of a wheel someone else already built better.

I simply accept and take advantage of the fact that HN is filled with many people much smarter, much more accomplished, much more driven, much more successful than me. I've never felt overwhelmed by it - that seems like it would take a personal choice to put yourself in competition with the best of HN, which seems a little silly to me (especially if the end result is not something productive).

I am a cognitive neuroscience post-doc. In my work I have to be an expert or at least competent in: cognitive theory relevant to my specialty, brain science relevant to my specialty, neuroimaging methodology, non-trivial statistical methods, as well as a competent paper writer, grant writer storyteller, and talk giver, I regularly need to write bash and python scripts, administer and operate a linux compute cluster. I also need to be a good dad and husband, and that takes practice. I read HN and am impressed with all the expertise and competence and also feel overwhelmed. I'd like to try some ML on my imaging data, but I'm stretched too thin already. Maybe someday. Or I'll partner up with someone. I have the urge to do it all, but I'm not smart enough and I don't have superpowers to manipulate time. I'm aging. Time is running out. Oh my god.


Take a walk.

Do what you can.

It is ok.

Absolutely. It's much worse if, instead of HN, you follow a niche area like machine learning because the pace of progress is so fast plus each paper / project that gets released is so dense. It took me a couple of weekends just to set up an old box with Linux and the proper drivers for a GPU, learn python virtualenvs, etc; Meanwhile, it's absolutely discouraging to look at reddit.com/r/machinelearning and see the flurry of productive activity.

I think a sense of resignation is actually useful here. Just resign yourself to the fact that you'll never be as good as them and that it will take you 10 years to be able to just follow instructions under a Google or Facebook AI scientist (, say). And continue to trod on like the tortoise in the tortoise vs. hare story :-)

"During that time I've become an integral part of my team and have constantly been learning." First off, this sounds like you know a lot more than you give yourself credit for!

Second, think about what kind of site HN is. This is a site whose DAU are mostly highly educated (either formal or otherwise) from very diverse backgrounds in tech, machine learning, etc., etc.. It should come as no surprise that for any given topic there will be a ton of high quality and interesting points of view.

As for the statement 2): "will basically feel the same as I do now." To be completely honest, you probably will. Every new opportunity in life presents you with a chance to learn and while learning most people often realize how little they actually know. But that is why you are learning in the first place!

I can see how this would happen, so I doubt you are alone. There's so much stuff and s o little time to consume it. My browser tabs and pocket account seem to grow and grow and I seem to spend as much time organizing and moving information as I do actually consuming it. I have trained myself as I've gotten older to just let some of it go. Not everything has to be seen.

I think this is one of the (probably many) reasons feed readers failed and chat came to beat email: the feeling of something incomplete. I had to force myself to ignore unread counts to stop myself from going crazy, but Twitter, HN, Reddit, etc. did away with outward signs that there were things unread, and that's a good start.

No, because you can't expect to learn and use every new technology - sometimes, it's better to know "proven but boring" than "new but broken"!

I appreciate more the insightful conversations than view a link to the latest JavaScript framework.

Yes and no.

Yes that I realize I have a lot to learn and I should keep removing distractions/bad habits and toxic people/situations out of my life. Yes that I realize there are Ivy Leaguers in here and also people who work at the world's largest companies.

No also because there is also a fair amount of hubris here. There are also a lot of people who miss the forest for the trees. There is still a lot of room for innovation in certain markets and the means of fulfilling human needs are ever evolving even if the needs themselves are still the same.

I take breaks from time to time. Also I've recently deactivated my facebook and unfollowed a lot of people on Twitter/Quora/Instagram. Feels great.

In my case, no. I don't know everything, but I know enough; I'm good at what I do. I'm confident I'm contributing.

Sounds like you need to change jobs, if you're at the point of acknowledging that your work environment is negative.

Yeah there is a lot out there. I've been doing this for a while and tech changes all the time. Don't worry about not being an expert at everything, enjoy that there a lot to learn.

I don't worry too much about it, as long as what I'm building works and can be maintained I'm happy.

The good news about tech changing all the time is if you wait there will be some new language or framework so you didn't waste your time learning something obsolete !

"An expert is someone who knows more and more about less and less till they know everything about nothing" - from a Murphy's laws on technology poster..

Keep in mind:

- Most solutions posted here probably won't just work for your problem, you have to work it into your needs - concentrate on what works for you not necessarily whats new.

- Many really cool things took someone years to develop, you are just reading a lot of different people's long-term accomplishments not a small group. And most of those people were sticking to things that worked instead of chasing the shiniest technology.

- Theres more than one way to do anything, just because they may be currently more successful doesn't mean you can't find new solutions, don't forget to try your own thing.

You don't get good by worrying. You get good by loving to learn. I went to college at ten years old to learn to program. I had a job when I was 14 working on invoicing software for telephone companies. At 18 I went to university to learn engineering (structural). I lasted 8 months in industry after graduating because of how bored I was not learning. It's not a bug its a feature that there is so much to learn in CS. Embrace it. You're able to pay the rent in under a year and the sky is the limit to how much you can learn.

I see nothing in this comment that would require a downvote.

The greatest thing about a resource like Hacker News is that you get exposed to a lot of ideas. It's up to you to figure out which one of these ideas you're going to explore more.

Nobody explores all of them.

Figure out what's interesting to you and then go deep on that. Keep an eye on the stuff that's not interesting to you just to develop contextual knowledge, then when/if your interests/responsibilities change and you do need to go deeper on stuff you didn't need before, you can get started more easily.

I've felt this way too in the past but gradually realized that's it OK not to know everything. Specialize in one area, make it your 'home base', and then test the waters of other tech from there. Once you find something new that you like you can gradually chip away at it and expand your skill set. I've got several things on my radar right now, but still put my specialty first. With this state of mind, I don't feel overwhelmed, but still have lots to look forward to.

I'm guessing there's a few factors at play that lead to your perception:

(1) HN covers a lot of areas of software development; more than any one person can really be expected to know. But each reader is ignorant regarding how big a fraction of the covered technologies are well-understood by the other readers.

(2) HN stories often involve technologies related to web-development, containers, or virtualization. Those technology areas spawn inordinate numbers of tools, frameworks, etc. This exacerbates issue (1).

Try doing DL research these days -- just skimming through new papers takes most of your day. :-)

The thing that helped me the most was to realize that you _have_ to specialize, at least to some extent. It's impossible to know and do everything, no matter how much you would like to.

Pick "your thing", and worry about staying up-to-date on it. Everything else skim through just to understand what's going on. How broad "your thing" should be depends on how much time you're willing to spend.

Tech in general is a fast moving target.

Don't try to master everything all at once. Just learn what you need, or what interests you and then on to the next thing. There is no "done".

I think there has been an explosion in potential distractions the last couple of years though. Everywhere you look, new frameworks, platforms and languages, as far as the eye can see. So much shiny stuff. And it just keeps coming. (I do think something has changed in like just the last five years or so. Github has been an important part of it, I think.)

Does this change also appear in usage numbers, is real large scale use in the industry much more divided among tools since before 5 years ago ?

That's one way to look at it. The other way is to gaze in wonderment to how much there is in the world to learn. And learn just for the sake of it. The day I look at the world and don't find enough interesting stuff for me to learn about is the day I'd really be afraid.

Your work situation can be remedied. Lots of companies require good engineers who're willing to learn stuff rather than pre-know stuff.

Just have a look at: http://n-gate.com/hackernews/


It actually is quite useful, I sometimes find interesting stories there which I missed when they were submitted.

The old adage of not comparing your life to somebody else's highlight reel is valid for HN as well.

You'll never master everything. No one does. Take it easy. You say you've become an integral part of your team and that you're constantly learning. You seem to be on the right path.

Even if you assume every comment you read is written with good authority, bear in mind that each time you read a comment on a different topic it is in all likelihood written by someone else; the two authors couldn't have written each others' comments.

Life is all about learning new things. Feeling overwhelmed is part of our life. You should break it down into small chucks and start learning one thing at a time. Just learn one new thing everyday, you'll endup knowing a lot in a year from now.

You'll realize everyone is only good at 1 thing. Taking everyone against you certainly makes you feel overwhelmed but after you realize 4 years is nothing and you are financially stable, you'll feel better.

There is a lot out there, you don't need to be an expert in every new thing.

Strive to be a helpful, open, honest team member, with a thorough understanding of core patterns and practices. (e.g. SOLID principles)

The only people who comment on the technical posts are the experts in that domain/topic. Most readers just read silently and don't have the knowledge/context to comment

4 Years is not much.

HN starts to fall in pattern as a lot of stuff you do. There are those new cool hip stuff, papers, a few deep inside blogposts and it repeats itself.

Enjoy HN as long as it holds :)

Yes, I do feel overwhelmed while reading Hacker News, 'cause it is the only community where I feel free from getting absurd ads. :)

Find comfort in the fact that broad mastery takes a very long time, but there is always room for apprentices and journeyfolk.

Yes it may feel overwhelming at times, but the trick is to be focused and selective what you read.

And I just found out there's so much smart people here. Seriously.

Have you been learning from your team? Although HN is nice to find about interesting things, there's nothing that can give me more experience than focusing on my team's goals. Focusing on execution is the most important and most translatable skillset you can have besides interviewing.

I feel underwhelmed...

Yeah, exactly. Sometimes I open HN and find no new things that are interesting to me. I guess I'm opening it too often :D


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