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Healthy Self-Doubt (nerdygirl.com)
133 points by zdw 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 120 comments



For most of my career I worked with a small group (20 to 30) group of highly educated and mostly brilliant people. I barely graduated high school. As the years passed and we all began to age, I realized that the amount of knowledge we all had obtained during our tenure was an irreplaceable resource for the company. In order to help the younger incoming people bypass this learning curve I set up a wiki where group members could publish articles that they thought may help others not to have to re-invent the wheel. What I discovered was that most of these brilliant people would not share a lot of their knowledge. I often wondered if even these brilliant people suffered imposter syndrome and that they didn't share this knowledge for fear they would be found out.

What I did learn from the most brilliant members of the group was to never be afraid to ask a question, even if it sounded ignorant. Never be afraid to expose a gap in your knowledge. If you don't, your missing an opportunity to increase your learning.


I've seen a lot of people waste time on writing documents that just sit there unread. No one wants to RTFM, esp one written a few years ago that is likely not accurate.


documentation has to be actively maintained, but even old and innacurate documentation can serve as a starting point (and be update to be accurate) when something needs to be investigated/refactored etc

without any documentation, all you have is word of mouth, and when people quit, the organizations knowledge DECREASES over time

> people waste time on writing documents that just sit there unread. No one wants to RTFM

documentation is hard... most documents that i have seen are mostly brain dumps, very badly formatted, just very hard to follow...

one thing i think severely missing in school and otj training is how to write documents people WANT to read


The most valuable thing in software is knowledge. That comes either from experience (slow and painful, the jagged little pill), from other people (if you're lucky enough to have a local expert, I often don't) and from books/docs (easily available, if a little time-consuming to read). I go straight for the docs. They give the biggest ROI I can easily get my hands on. Really knowing your tools gives you a lot of power and it's a shame people don't seem willing to spend time on them.


I think there's value in docs from a level setting perspective...it's usually way quicker to talk someone through what's changed since the last update than from scratch.


Then that's poor documentation.

Documentation, like comments, is most useful when it answers "why" sometimes "how" but rarely "what". And "why" changes much more slowly.

It's why I find API documentation to border on useless. I need examples and rationale, not variable names.


> never be afraid to ask a question, even if it sounded ignorant

On the mentoring side, never make fun of someone asking a legitimate question.

I give my team shit if they should know better about something but legitimate questions are taken as seriously as possible.


> should know better about something

It's been my experience that this is quite subjective.

For example, the standard leetcode binary tree tests.

When I mention that I'm not particularly good at them, I will usually get some variant of "Well, this is basic stuff that any programmer should know." –often delivered quite condescendingly.

But I've been writing ship code for over thirty years. I have a public portfolio with hundreds of thousands of lines of ultra-high-quality code, dozens of articles on software development practices, and multiple shipping apps for years (I write code every day –my GitHub ID Activity Log is solid green).

It's just that I started as an EE, and have been primarily self-taught. Since I have never encountered a binary tree in my professional experience, learning them has not been a priority. I'm certainly not interested in spending time learning impractical (to me) stuff, at the expense of learning what I consider the important stuff.

I'm also constantly trying out stuff I don't already know. It makes life interesting. I write about that here: https://medium.com/chrismarshallny/thats-not-what-ships-are-...


I don’t care if someone can bang out working binary tree on a whiteboard with the fluidity of Bob Ross, but I do care that people know that data structure and associated algorithms exist and could implement them given a dev environment, google, stack overflow, and a day or so.


> data structure and associated algorithms

That's the thing. 99% of programming is Big Data (and windows, thereof), so everyone is on about that.

I tend to write stuff that is on a much more humble scale, like device control software, or systems that are used by thousands (not millions) of people.

I guess that I could say that "Any programmer should know about ring buffers," as that was a staple of my device driver stuff (I came up through hardware). In point of fact, only low-level drivers need concern themselves with ring buffers. Even programmers dedicated to writing device control software don't have to mess with them. The same with hardware handshakes, IRQs, etc.

We tend to view everything through the lens of what we know.


> In point of fact, only low-level drivers need concern themselves with ring buffers.

As a side point, ring buffers are also useful in some high-level, high-performance code that is multi-threaded or using multi-processors.

io_uring is an example of this used to speed up Linux kernel-userspace communication (although it's not a great example for illustrating the general principle because it's so specialised).

DSPs use ring buffers extensively. Mainly for signal data, but sometimes for communicating tasks and messages between coprocessors.


Cool! I did not know that, but it makes sense, as ring buffers were developed specifically to handoff between thread/clock contexts.

I haven't played that low in the dirt for many years. I suspect it's a very different world from the one I once knew.

I'm grateful for the abstraction. Low-level comms stuff is pretty damn hairy.


Heck, I’m using ring buffers in some high performance image processing stuff right now. There’s non-constant-time processing in the pipeline, and dropping frames is acceptable if we hit some kind of pathological case where the image processing stuff can’t keep up. Pseudo-real-time is more important than processing every frame, but processing as many frames as possible is still desirable. By adjusting the size of the ring buffer relative to the input rate, we can put a bound on the maximum age of a buffered frame (camera runs at a fixed fast rate) while guaranteeing we’ll never exceed N*frame size memory usage.


That also makes sense. We used to call that behavior "isochronous." Do they still call it that?


I agree that programmers should know about (the existence of the concept of) ring buffers, hardware handshakes, interrupts, synchronous vs asynchronous and serial vs parallel data communications, error detection/correction systems, grey codes, Karnaugh maps and logic glitching, split clock domains, etc.

If you tell me “I don’t want to know about anything that I don’t need clearly and presently to accomplish my next task”, you’ve told me something important.


The parent is not wrong, coming up on two decades in this industry(and much more to keeping before that), the number of times I've encountered a binary tree is near zero. Only thing close was BSP trees in some engines we've licensed. There are parts of CS that get heavily over emphasised and parts that are neglected but super important.

It's also been my experience that the hardware things you mention are not well understood by most developers(it's a level of abstraction that honestly they don't need to worry about unless you want the last bit of performance from a piece of hardware).


Binary trees I agree. Binary search and friends? That’s come up quite a bit for me.


Never, for me, but I am sure that's because of the type of programming that I have done.

There's a chance that it may have been used in some of the convolution filters we developed, but I was no longer coding pipeline stuff (manager), by the time we got there.


> If you tell me “I don’t want to know about anything that I don’t need clearly and presently to accomplish my next task”, you’ve told me something important.

Oh, wow. I'm busted. I guess I should just sell my computer and take up turd farming.

Except...

> "I'm also constantly trying out stuff I don't already know."

That might indicate that "clearly and presently to accomplish my next task" keeps changing.


Yeah, binary tree type interview questions are probably a good way to weed out broken employers.


In fact, let's just not make fun of co-workers (in contrast to friends you work with) as a rule of thumb. We are too quick to legitimize all kind of questionable practices as soon as we start making that the prerequisite.


> I give my team shit if they should know better about something but legitimate questions are taken as seriously as possible.

The thing is everyone has gaps in their knowledge and is missing stuff "they should know" or perhaps have forgotten about. Getting "shit" for asking a question will lead to team members clamming up and pretending they're on top of something when instead they need a hand and some review.


> What I discovered was that most of these brilliant people would not share a lot of their knowledge

I'm someone who has spent a lot of time training up juniors. TBH I dont have a lot of show for it. I really wish I spent my time trying to learn things myself, many of the people I've trained have much better careers than I do. I'm guessing your group of successful smart people are that way because they don't waste time trying to share their knowledge.


I hear what you're saying. Though the feeling of helping someone else is wonderful (regardless of whether you later end up with "something to show for it", job wise).

Don't you think that trying to teach someone something ends up helping you solidify your understanding, maybe even making you question what you took for granted?


You are right, do you do learn when you have to teach something. Often though you're teaching how a internal system or codebase works, so you're learning/teaching stuff that isn't useful for you anywhere else.


You're delusional if you believe that.


If I believe what? That explaining something helps me with my own understanding? Plenty of teachers and professors report the same feeling, so I'm not alone in this.

If what you meant is that helping people understand something doesn't feel wonderful to you, then of course you're entitled to that opinion. One really can't argue with subjective feelings.


Empathic, not delusional. This person has a different set of values and I resonate with what they expressed.


Reminds me of a tiny anecdote:

in junior high, a new guy straight from africa asked to play tic tac toe with us, he never played. So we hustled him a little bit, and quickly he went into open curiosity mode, wanting to know all the rules. He went away for an hour and after beat us all mercilessly :)

I'm very sad about how adult life chaos makes most people turn on stealth enemy mode, or stealth anxious mode.. it require us to become 'hungry' (not to say sharks) to ensure reaching our maximum efficiency.


> I often wondered if even these brilliant people suffered imposter syndrome and that they didn't share this knowledge for fear they would be found out.

I don't consider myself brilliant by any stretch of the imagination, but between self-doubts along the lines of "does anyone actually care about this?" or "people who really know this stuff might think I'm an idiot for stating things this obvious" and the time/effort required to actually make a good resource I've kept away from publishing almost anything. For employer-internal purposes I never had a problem writing docs and by all I've been told they weren't half bad, but the questions of who cares (or at least gets paid to pretend to care) and who needs it are much clearer, which also makes writing technial texts much easier.


Imposter syndrome or job security? I've seen both.


I learned a long time ago that if you share your knowledge freely with your co-workers that only increases your job security. I postulate this plays off imposter syndrome. Your co-workers think to themselves, if this person is willing to share that knowledge, what are they holding back?


I agree but I'd place more of it on the fact that people like people who help them. I've worked with a few engineers who have been incredibly helpful and gone out there way to share knowledge with me. I consider every single one of them to be a great person. If anyone ever mentioned them in a conversation I'd like say 'oh they're great, I love working with them' or some variation of. When it comes to office politics, like it or not, it exists and likeability is important.


I agree and have wholeheartedly embraced this idea as a manager.

At the same time, I once had a manager who dinged me in an annual evaluation for asking too many questions and not knowing as much as I should about our applications as a senior developer.

When I pointed out that I had written most of the documentation for those applications in our wiki, he replied, "That's not knowledge. Knowledge is what is in your head."

The obvious lesson: avoid organizations like that.


I learned the same, and follow such. I've also seen orgs where there is no version control because the culture encouraged people to consider themselves as sole sources of indispensable knowledge, irreplaceable. Those tended to be toxic places, but as such they show a counterexample where their specific job security was from not sharing their knowledge and experience.


I don't think this has much to do with imposter syndrome. A person who can scale their knowledge across an organization is simply a more valuable employee than an equally-skilled person whose knowledge is mostly not shared.


I didn't feel like I had anything worth sharing until recently. Something I've discovered is that it's often the stuff we consider "basic knowledge" that is the most useful to others. I think that perhaps one of the reasons skilled people don't share basic things is because they don't think they have to.

Once you get over that initial fear of being patronizing or talking down to people, you're able to really start communicating the things they most need to know.


One of the things that I find really hard to do is to figure out where to start. I started programming when I was 8 years old, in BASIC, on a Vic-20. We were too poor to buy many games, but I discovered somehow that the public library had books that had game source code printed in the back. I learned how to type so that I could get free games quicker. Then I started understanding how the games actually worked and figured out how to change the code to cheat. Then... started making my own from scratch.

A couple years later I got a C compiler (Mix C) that came with a fantastic reference manual. This was on the family’s shared XT, so I started optimizing my computer time by writing code on paper and then typing it in when it was my turn. I started figuring out how to debug on paper too, so as to further optimize my computer time.

Then when I was around 12 we got a Pentium 1. Windows 95! This was really cool, but the C compilers for Win95 were either expensive or extremely hard to use (GDI in DJGPP? Yeesh). But I heard about this thing called Linux, and downloaded just enough Slackware packages to get going. From there, learned Perl, made money through high school doing web development, and started a CS/EE dual degree in 2002.

Anyway, that’s the long prelude to the problem: employees that work for my clients often enough ask me “how can I get better at Linux and lower-level software development?” I have no frickin’ clue what to tell them. I know the path that worked for me, but that path started a decade before I took my first university course. There’s this huge deep well of experience that I didn’t learn for the sake of learning, but rather because somewhere along the way it solved a problem for me.

Easy example: debugging something weird in giant source trees (eg the Linux kernel). “How did you figure that out?” “Well, I used find and grep to figure out all of the files that referenced that constant, and looked through each one of them to figure out which one we were actually calling.” “What do you mean when you say ‘find’? And what’s ‘grep’?”

It’s like that joke about “to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe”. I have absolutely no clue how to figure out how much of a universe a reader might have, and I’m almost certain I’m going to be making a bunch of incorrect assumptions about “common background knowledge” that will just further bewilder the reader.


Tried my best left and right telling people I can help them to learn x,which would most likely double their income in a couple of years. Nobody was interested.

I try my best to ask as many questions as I can even if I sound completely stupid. Had enough of these meetings where 8 people sit quietly for an hour and then silently admit they had no clue what was everyone talking about..


> What I discovered was that most of these brilliant people would not share a lot of their knowledge.

Is that "would not" or "it isn't a priority"?

In a consultant role, a lot of what I initially saw as my value was transferring as much knowledge as possible to my clients' staff. I prided myself on how much I was able to boostrap a team to self-sufficiency and how many years it was before I ever heard from them again.

I was mostly wrong. For the vast majority of my clients' staff, my value lay in achieving some deliverable for them, and the value stream ended "dead right there". For technical concerns, it was way faster for clients' staff to treat me as a DSL Google for the particular problem space I was parachuted in to assist with, than for them to read the material I wrote for them. I did a long stint as a technical writer to put bread on the table while sharpening my coding/design skills in college, did a few user and developer guides for commercially released products that were well-received, so I am pretty sure the written material I leave with them is not lacking, as I re-use those skills weekly in my sales activities.

It is an incentives and culture problem. People are heavily incentivized to short-term results, and long-term cognitive wealth is heavily discounted. It takes an active, conscious effort by an individual to work against that pressure and actually go beyond the process described in documentation if they get good procedures that not only explain what to do, but in a manner that doesn't interfere with streamlined procedure-following, the reasoning behind what they are doing so they are equipped with a model to handle edge cases that come up during operation of the procedure.

In most average IT offices, there's probably 1 out of 10 who are like this to varying degrees, from the curious intern to the Free Electrons. They're a delight to work with and share with.

The best part of sharing: I get to learn and push my own boundaries as I get to play with a new friend in the model space to discover new corners I missed earlier. I like feeling I'm the dumbest bloke in the room in a creative atmosphere when there is no pressure on to fix something quickly; that's when I learn the most, when my mind is on fire.

I can see for someone like those on your team of brilliant mates, it can be hugely demoralizing over time to write and try to actively share, only to realize that only the rote part of it is ever used by the majority. That evolves over time into de-prioritizing that sharing to just the rote parts, and then as other teams ignore even that finding it easier to open incident tickets and loop them in, making only half-hearted attempts at sharing the rote parts.


Perhaps they found the task of turning their brains inside out unappealing for other reasons. Maybe it was just more work, for example. Maybe they didn’t need their “brilliance” to be validated.

It’s also not really a straightforward thing to do, there are all sorts of questions around how best to structure info for the purposes of those it will be used by. All of this is a pretty big undertaking. The more I think about it the more I’m unsurprised people didn’t just hop to it.


Fear of redundancy might be another reasons technical skills would not be readily shared by skilled employees. It's not something you typically see in startups but large corporations are full of people who actively protect themselves from perceived redundancy by obfuscating their skill set.


Imposter syndrome such a popular thing to belive in because actually most people really do suck at their jobs.

I see a similar sentiment all the time where people say things along the lines of "Nobody really feels like an adult, we are all just muddling through" etc etc.

Actually no, some of us actually have our shit sorted out and are actual adults.


> [..] most people really do suck at their jobs.

If fact, 50% of people perform below average! 50% of the population also have below average IQ.

> Actually no, some of us actually have our shit sorted out

> and are actual adults.

I believe that everybody has an "inner child", but most functioning adults have built layers around that inner self to enhance their behaviour to that of what we externally perceive as an "adult".

Proof that most people still have that inner child can be observed in some edge cases, such as under the influence of drugs, sleep/energy deprived, some mental deterioration conditions such as dementia - and many others. I think sometimes we see this too in viral videos where people behave strangely when presented in an unusual scenario. The mind just seems to go into a "default" mode.

I think for the most part, people generally run on auto-pilot. Like the so-called "muscle memory" for athletes, I believe something similar exists for most tasks a person completes day-to-day. Human behaviour more generally is likely doing this.

To that extent, is this seeming lack of adult-like behaviour simply a person that needs to relearn this "outer shell"? (Assuming they are also capable of doing so.)


> 50% of people perform below average

Nitpick but it's "median" not "average".

> everybody has an "inner child", but most functioning adults have built layers

And that's the point where I'm scratching my head. What do people even mean by that? As I observe the "inner child" in others and then apply the new theory to myself it's freaking obvious that the adult part is doing all the reading, all the predicting, all the planning, all the outwitting of the child, all the building, all the self-updating, all the $dayjob. Who is writing this text? I am - the adult part. I am who has 99% of control of the communication at this moment. (At a different time the show can be 50% mine. Or 1%. But when writing, the inner child is mostly shunned, I think he cannot even write too well at all.)

And so I protest calling me "an outer shell" that you think you can just simply "re-learn". I am no shell. And I'm definitely not outside! I am the first class citizen, I just happen to have a very silent/weird/energetic/stupid/shy roommate. If I try less, he will have more control. If I try harder, he will have less. Balance. But the balance that is maintained solely by me, i.e. by the adult part - the inner child is not able to do that!


The more we learn about neuroscience, the more we learn that your conscious brain is merely the CEO, and that the brain is contradictory often competing sub-organizations with differing priorities and relative power in the organization. Dysfunction comes from an over-powered HR dept, etc.

I largely agree with the essence of what you are saying, which is that there is no "inner child", although some people may be more capable of "reinventing the wheel" internally, which may allow for some new optimization for the overall structure.


> Nitpick but it's "median" not "average".

“average

noun 1. a number expressing the central or typical value in a set of data, in particular the mode, median, or (most commonly) the mean, which is calculated by dividing the sum of the values in the set by their number.“


average

the result you get by adding two or more amounts together and dividing the total by the number of amounts

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/average


If you're going to nitpick, use the mathematical definition where averages are measures of central tendency. The median is one of those measures.


Calling all the measures of central tendency "averages" is colloquial, not formal. Check your sources if you're going to nitpick my nitpicking.

Saying "literally" in place of "figuratively" and then referencing the Oxford dictionary (meaning C, look no further) is a cool way to troll, and to make a fool of oneself.


I don't understand why you're mad that someone cited the Oxford definition to you. It's not trolling.

You're wrong, and you can see this by looking at any number of published news articles where more often than not, average is used to mean median. You can see this from the way that we use average to mean typical. 'Typical' features are more likely to be median or mode than arithmetic mean.

'Average' is itself a colloquialism, so the colloquial use is what's important.


TIL "average" in English can also mean things that aren't "the average" (mean)¹, but I also feel like "news articles" aren't a good way to source the "correct" usage of statistics terms.

¹ This makes "average" a particularly weird "false friend" vocable, because the average recipient might well take it to mean what you think it means, but might also understand it as a very closely related, but subtly different thing.


The fact that you used "the average recipient" to mean typical here really brings it home.


email oxford and maybe they’ll fix their definition for you


> If fact, 50% of people perform below average! 50% of the population also have below average IQ.

That's not necessarily true and for IQ I think it's only true because IQ measures are normalized to an average of 100 and a normal distribution with a set standard deviation.

For example if out of ten people nine perform at 100 %, and one performs at 95 %, then the average performance would be 99.5 % and 90 % of people would perform above average.

If you swap average for median, then these are true by definition which doesn't really tell us anything about the distributions (so the people by way of measurement) involved.


"Different concepts of average are used in different contexts. Often "average" refers to the arithmetic mean, the sum of the numbers divided by how many numbers are being averaged. In statistics, mean, median, and mode are all known as measures of central tendency, and in colloquial usage any of these might be called an average value."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average


Don't call me mad again, but realize that the citation you've provided literally says: the parent is "often" right and you "might be" also right. Sigh.


That's not how categories work.


> Imposter syndrome such a popular thing to belive in because actually most people really do suck at their jobs.

The question then is whether there's a correlation between professional confidence and job performance.


Both "professional confidence" and "job performance" are hard, if not impossible, to quantify, so I'm not sure how one would even begin to answer that question.


Professional confidence isn't hard to quantify. Give a quiz with scoring from 1 to 10.

Job performance may be easy to quantify depending on the job role. For students, it's trivial.


Is the metric individual job performance, or outcome on the whole?


> Imposter syndrome such a popular thing to belive in because actually most people really do suck at their jobs.

Most people who I have encountered that are really really bad at their job do not suffer from impostor syndrome, because the whole point of impostor syndrome is that you are open to your own vulnerability and your own incompetence.

The people that are exceedingly and amazingly bad at their jobs are often bad because they refuse to learn, because they don't feel they need to. They don't practice humility, they don't ask open questions to learn and they don't improve their processes over time.

So while it's easy to kick in an open door and say "everybody can't be smart so some 'impostors' must actually be bad at their jobs" I think it's more useful to take a step back and try to focus on what behaviors and mindsets lead to development and growth, and which do not. I strongly believe that having impostor syndrome rarely correlates with refusing to learn due to one being convinced of one's own brilliance.


>The people that are exceedingly and amazingly bad at their jobs are often bad because they refuse to learn, because they don't feel they need to.

Humble impostors can "evolve" into arrogant incompetents. If you're praised for something you don't really understand it can lead to all kinds of unpleasant psychological dissonance.

Money + power + embracing that everyone is a fraud who is just "faking it to make it" and you end up with people who are defensively and openly hostile about their knowledge.


Yes. To claim to have Imposter Syndrome is really a form of humblebrag, and often a way of seeking validation. "No, you really _are_ smart and capable"


Exactly. It also provides a bandaid for their self image, and provides an excuse for being ignorant or mediocre.

I've only ever observed mediocre people talk about imposter syndrome. Seems like the author is trying, politely, to express a similar idea.


> I see a similar sentiment all the time where people say things along the lines of "Nobody really feels like an adult, we are all just muddling through" etc etc.

To me, when I used to feel like this a few years ago, it was not about the fact that I didn’t have my stuff sorted (which is also true that I hadn’t), but rather that it turned out that what I thought adult life was about when I was little turned out to not be true.

Since then I have been able to reconcile that, and to work out a direction that I am pursuing.

One footnote to that though, is that I am still not an adult in the traditional sense of having financial security and a spouse. But I am working towards that.


Certainly. But then again claiming that most people suck at their jobs does not particularly scream "has sorted shit out", when in fact, on average, people are average at their jobs -- so maybe at least in some of these cases there's still some room left for healthy self-doubt.


People are average at their jobs is not necessarily true.

One competent person can cover for at least 2 or 3 below average people, maybe more.


Imposter syndrome is hard to evaluate because it's comparing three levels of skill:

1. Your skill

2. The skill required to do your job well

3. (Implicitly) The skill of your peers

The third one is what gets a lot of people who don't directly work with peers. In that case, one can only go by what one hears. And people who blog are self-selected and biased toward having high skills. The non-self-promoting experts are famous for doing great work, so they're even more likely to have high skills.

But I think #2 needs to taken into account. You may not be an expert in your field. But if everyone you work with comes to you for help with a task, and you're able to help them, then you're the in-house expert. Unless you want to be a expert among experts, that's not bad.


lol sure thing bud

you are the one who has shit figured out

how arrogant to think you know anything in this vastly complex world. you don't have anything figured out. you're just arrogant and have a narrow view of the world.


Yes, one particular pet peeve for me is the idea that the personal finance part of "adulting" is hard. It's really not. Live (far) below your means and invest the difference, that's it. Somehow 1.3B Chinese can maintain an average savings rate of 30%, but people in the west cannot help but live paycheck to payceck? Of course, few people are willing to actually go through with it, but it's not difficult to understand. It so happens that getting this part right is a pretty major part of adulting too.


Don’t assume that what’s easy for you is easy for everyone else.

There’s more to getting out of debt than just basic math. I’ve been trying to keep track of my expenses for more than 20 years but no success so far. I do have online banking and a list of contracts but there’s no way for me to figure out how much money I actually have left. Because for example, that yearly medical copay may be around the corner. I have no idea how to account for it, or how to spread it over the months while still keeping track of how much disposable income I actually have at any given time. And that’s just one example.

Please be aware that not everyone is financially literate.


I actually don't think you need to track expenses much, at least I don't. I did at first at 18 just to make sure I could survive on the $1000 I got in loans and subsidies by the government at the time.

What I recommend is to focus on the big expenses, those are what gets you. That is, housing, transportation, medical (if you live in the US, but there's maybe not much you can do here). Don't go for the most expensive house or apartment that you can afford. If every house is expensive in your area, then settle for an apartment. If you're not willing to, then that's the root of the problem. Go car free if you can. If you can't, get a cheap reliable used car (mine was $4k, worked like a charm). Don't eat and drink out very often. Cut expenses until you're saving 30-50% of your paycheck. If you're in tech, that's very easy, otherwise it's difficult but still doable. Then, if you start earning more money, you can perhaps allow yourself to spend more.

The problem is the expectations that people have of life. Your parents have a big house so you deserve one as well. You're having a baby, so you need a 3 bedroom house and a yard, otherwise that's baby torture! All your friends are buying new cars so naturally you need one too, right?

If you're earning below median income, I'm willing to cut you some slack, but I think for most people on HN, that is not the case.


I'm on the Midwest, it's not as easy over here as you think.

The salary of your first job can hold down your income for a decade, you might not even realize how underpaid you are.


> The salary of your first job can hold down your income for a decade

Why is that?


Most employers ask you what your previous salary was, or get it from your past employer. Salary is not protected information. https://www.marketplace.org/2020/07/08/how-salary-history-ba...


except in a little-known place called CALIFORNIA


The median salary in the US midwest is probably equal to my country, and cost of living definitely lower. I don't know your personal situation, but if you're interested and not already familiar with it, you should check out some of the financial independence bloggers such as Mr Money Mustache. There are people with median or below incomes saving 50% or more, although it's of course more difficult than if you have a cushy tech salary.


I do ok, considering I have 6 kids and just broke 2x the poverty level a couple years ago (based on family of 8).


> I do have online banking and a list of contracts but there’s no way for me to figure out how much money I actually have left.

Here's some relatively easy exercises (just arithmetic and basic excel):

1.) Export your last 12/24/48 months of bank transactions (money in, money out) and calculate how much money you spent in that period, and how much money you made in that period. Is it positive or negative?

Tip: If you have a row of + and - entries, you can just sum up the entire column for a quick idea. Still ,it's good to break it down by period, maybe you had a rough year that offsets the others.

If positive: You're making money. This is good, but it's still a good idea to find out how much of your money goes to what. Try grouping your expenses (negatives) per year into things you have to pay (rent, medical etc) and things you don't (restaurants, pubs, gadgets).

If negative: Urgently figure out what's making you bleed the most money. Group your expenses into detailed categories and figure out what you spend the most money on.

"Grouping" is as easy as copying and pasting into different parts of the document. As you start grouping, you'll encounter new expenses that you can't fit into a category, so you can create a new one and improve your overall categorization.

Sure, this takes time, and some patience. But you can definitely do it if you just sit down and spend an hour or so.

Also, remember that while income is important, what makes your poor is your expenses. I would argue that most people in financial trouble can almost ignore their incomes and focus solely on picking apart their expenses, because like my friend's grandma once said: it's not the large income that makes you rich, it's the small expense. Also, most people kind of know their expenses, because they're so much simpler. Expenses are usually complex.


You don’t know how much money you have left because sitting down and actually doing the maths require time and continuous effort. What’s with the copay? Can’t you estimate that from previous year?

Many of my friends are like this, especially the ones I lived with: they come to you and ask how much money they owe you thinking that you’ve got this magical ability to count money while it just doesn’t fit in their head that I actually did spend my (considerable amount of) time on doing the maths (including learning how to do the maths).

My parents from Lithuania know exactly how to go around relevant tax law in the country (and everyone they know also know how to do that). They know that because they earn so little that it actually makes a huge difference. And to make it clear I come from a background where having any sorts of education is rare so it’s not like they are privileged enough to know it.


> 1.3B Chinese can maintain an average savings rate of 30%

This is a good example of a statistic where the average is meaningless if you don't also know the median.

Also, which specific statistic are you referring to?


For example: https://data.oecd.org/natincome/saving-rate.htm I was wrong, it was 46% in 2015. I don't know what the median is, but it's probably much higher as well. Having Chinese in the family, I also know from experience that they are more frugal and save much more diligently.

Now there's a reason the savings rate is high in China: there is practically no social safety net, and borrowing for school or housing is not common I believe. But my point is that we in the west could save more if we tried, it's just that in our culture we feel like, or we're pressured to, spend. To keep up with the Joneses, or because we feel we deserve certain things, maybe the same standard of living as our parents etc.


I'm sure it would be hard for you too if you living far below your means meant spending nothing or next to nothing.


Yep compared to someone in the 51st percentile, most of us suck!


True that. Dunning Kruger still applies


I wonder how much of this ends up being from gender-based socialization. Maybe this individual got just the right balance of encouragement and luck in her upbringing to build a healthy balance of self-confidence in her abilities and self-doubt to encourage her to keep learning.

Meanwhile, a ton of men are insecure and scared, but they're treated as "the default choice," so in many cases they may not receive that formative boost of self-confidence. Thus, we get grown men convinced that they don't belong in their own careers.


The individual may feel impostor syndrome or similar negative feelings. On one level emotions need to be managed (observed & accepted). Associating emotion with being "underrepresented" may just be one of many possible internal justifications. The environment, work-environment dynamics, unreasonable demands and lack of leadership, are probably more powerful influences than one single individual's exhaggerated feelings of responsibility. Psychological safe space must be consciously built and maintained, sometimes by dilligent effort on multiple levels pushing back against existing marginalizing forces.

The modern victim narratives I don't automatically subscribe to. Though, try to relentlessly direct attention to official and unofficial power structures: How they shape interactions, siloing and the inevitable unhealthy power dynamics (entropy). The dynamics is defined from top and down in typical hierachical structures, but is not rectified until cooperation starts at the top. Sometimes, technology and knowledge hoarding is used to same effects and ends. With good people all this may happen unwittingly, no matter the color, gender or "representation".

The cure to self-doubt is a healthy and supportive environment to provide necessary feedback during the course of creative and deep knowledge work. This happens to really be what agility is about too.

The Divide & Conquer-people would like us to fully believe in individualism, to justify shortcomings in leadership, for own small-minded benefits or managerial simplicity.


> At some point in my software engineering/leadership career, it became evident that I was expected to have Impostor Syndrome. Indeed, it became clear that all underrepresented people in tech were expected to have Impostor Syndrome.

Is that so? I agree with the first part: it's somewhat expected that you deal with impostor syndrome. But it's pretty much expected for everyone, regardless of some group representation. I believe it's an occupational thing, not a "I'm in the minority" thing. That may contribute, but it's not the factor at all.


Imposter syndrome is where you actually have the skills and/or knowledge but don’t believe you do (irrationally). Most people are simply incompetent. That is not imposter syndrome. Having a rational sense of your actual abilities is tough because beliefs affect confidence. So most people seem to be encouraged to over inflate their abilities. The syndrome is not imposter but over inflation.


"I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage." -Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord


Yet the question is not "am I stupid or clever?", the question is should I take advice from the army's central Hitler's opponent whose decisive moment of the career is described by Wikipedia like this:

> Hammerstein repeatedly warned President Paul von Hindenburg about the dangers of appointing Hitler as chancellor. In response, Hindenburg assured Hammerstein that "he would not even consider making that Austrian corporal the minister of defense or the chancellor". Barely four days later, on 30 January 1933, pursuant to a request by Hindenburg, Hitler formed a cabinet as the German Chancellor [...]. Hammerstein was forced to resign from his office on 31 January 1934.


Here is the thing, it's not very accepted or welcomed to have a lack of skills and knowledge in any paid work. So if you don't have some or all skills for the job you are in, how do you reconcile that?


I always get excited when I see a position like this that embraces competence and seems excited at rising to the challenges of learning.

There are so many meme-ish ideas that circulate that seem embraced precisely because they tacitly claim to remove the challenges of life and learning and becoming competent.

Worried you're not competent enough? Oh, that's just "Imposter Syndrome", don't worry about it, we all have it, you don't need to do anything to address it.

Of course there are feelings of insecurity that go too far and it's helpful to have a compassion for ourselves.

But I think more important is to not couple our self-worth to our competence. The tacit and wrong assumption behind "Imposter Syndrome" (and many aspects of our culture) is the idea that our self-worth and competence are connected.

It's okay to be incompetent at something; life is too short to master everything. But if you do make a conscious decision to grow your competence, then you should respect that it is going to be effort, you should even get excited about that effort, and yes, self-doubt, is essential in following through on that effort.


It’s strange.

In the tech industry, whenever you express any self doubt, people read that as you saying you have impostor syndrome.

Why is that?


Because as opposed to what many people like to think, and even though tech is a purely desk-kind-of-job; tech doesn’t actually require deep intellectual thinking.

Tech is the least risky engineering discipline and in the huge majority of jobs requires the level of a plumber work with almost none of the liabilities of physical manufacturing.

So of course a lot of us have impostor syndrome as we’re simply not doing anything special (but also the job doesn’t actually require anything special either)


with imposter syndrome you have self doubt, but having self doubt doesn't mean you have imposter syndrome. at least to my understanding and experience. so the difference can be confusing and it's easy to label one as the other. but i also appreciate your concern, my friends use imposter syndrome when they sometimes mean self doubt.


I read you. Impostors bad-mouthing themselves? That's a contradiction in terms pure and simple.


I think there are different varieties of this that someone can experience. Many have piled onto the "most people suck at their jobs bit" (possibly because they feel like they haven't been pat on the back enough).

I feel like it can be difficult to disseminate exactly what it is that you may or may not be good at in a job, partly because the offered reasons are opaque, and partly because being good at a job doesn't necessarily depend on having a high level of whatever skill you were ostensibly hired for. Up until this year, most companies have normalized a standard definition of a job that selects for one type of person with some kind of skill that hopefully they'll be passable at.

I personally have been terminated 5 or 6 times from various software related roles, and have pre-emptively quit two other unrelated jobs in customer service and moving. I have at all times, especially during the interview gauntlet, been totally dissolutioned with either my own skills, those that someone is looking for, or what I'm looking to do. I'm fairly sure that if you were a bad programmer at a software developer job, you'd never know it unless you just found yourself intellectually dumbstruck when faces with fairly mundane problems.

At this juncture, I have no idea what I'd still feel like doing as a job, but I can pretty reliably guess when I'll depart of my choosing or otherwise, out of boredom, bureaucracy, or a terrible awful no-good sleep insomnia.


This is a bit of a weird take, the weird part is primarily...

> My point is this: if we expect everybody who is a little bit different to think of themselves as an impostor, we’ve totally lost the plot on this whole inclusion thing.

I'm wondering why when "especially [...] younger women" refer to "[their] Imposter Syndrome" it's assumed to be related to them being "women" and not to them being "younger?" Many young men and women feel some level of self-doubt early in their careers (and this is often labeled as "Imposter Syndrome"), which is why I'd imagine it'd be expected. I certainly did - self-doubt being simply a difference in internal vs. external "value" or "ability."

I certainly wouldn't expect a woman (or man) who has been in largely the same software space for ~20 years to feel Imposter Syndrome.

Other than that, which is a large portion of the article, I agree with the other general premise - that some level of humility in what you know is good (I probably would not call it "self-doubt" though, because nothing she described sounds like "self-doubt" healthy or otherwise).


To me what the author is describing as 'healthy self-doubt' doesn't sound like self-doubt to me at, but rather admitting one doesn't know everything, one needs to surround oneself with competent people, etc. If you feel you're good-to-go except there are some things you just don't know, I'd say you're not suffering much self-doubt at all.


Healthy self-skepticism might be more accurate, but it's clunky.


I constantly have self doubts, something in between Imposter Syndrome and OCD. I need to make sure I did the right thing, and even when I'm done what I had to, the self doubt kicks in, the OCD makes me look over just once to make sure. I'd say, this feeling is the exact opposite of walking away from what you've destroyed behind yourself like in the movies. In the early days of my career I thought this was what is keeping myself from achieving goals but later I realized that my self doubt kept me from making a lot of mistakes that would cost a fixing. It's ok to have self doubts, it's ok to think you're not competent enough, or fear that you'll fail in general. I believe that's what actually makes you a good developer.


Tangentially related, John Carmack on the value of feeling ashamed of your work:

https://www.wanzafran.com/posts/2020/shame-and-code/


Imposter syndrome is very much an internal struggle and I think for some people who exhibit imposter syndrome wouldn't let other people let on. So, the fact that admitting self doubt in public shows a break from it.

I had imposter syndrome while in business school and boy o boy did I try hard to fit in. Only when I realized that there is more to life than external achievements did I outwardly express any self doubt and only then to my close circle of friends.


People always talk about this imposter syndrome thing for themselves.

I think it's hard to look at yourself. You gotta look at other people. Do you think this is necessarily true? Do tons and tons of stupid people think they're smart and tons and tons of smart people think they're stupid?

In general I've seen some of the former and almost none of the latter... mostly people know their place and how good they are relative to the entire ecosystem.


The author also did an insightful guest post for my blog: https://letterstoanewdeveloper.com/2020/04/27/it-never-gets-...


I've seen quite a lot of people from underrepresented groups claiming they have impostor syndrome but from the outside they seem to be closer to the Dunnunig-Kruger effect and just claiming it because it's hype.

Of course, I'm not in their minds and I'm absolutely biased.


If you feel like an impostor, chances are you are. Embrace it, relish it, learn, and you’ll become not an impostor.


I feel like this comment is actively harmful.

I know some ultra competent people who still feel like an impostor. They aren't. Suggesting that they are makes it harder to get out of it.


Are those people you know in the majority? The point could be made more politely while still being true.

More interestingly, steps to take in order to tell the difference?


Totally off topic, but damn if that TwentyTwenty WordPress theme doesn't have awful heading letter-spacing!


The more I know, the more I know I don't know.

Being wrong is the first step to being right.


The more I know, the more there is to learn... this is what causes impostor syndrome.


I always equate "impostor syndrome" to being insecure.

There's a ton of stuff I don't know, and that's fine. I'm not afraid to ask "stupid" questions, and let folks know that I don't know something. Sometimes, I have no interest in knowing it, so I don't ask questions about it, and don't pretend that I know anything about it.

But there's also a lot of stuff I do know. At one time, I didn't know it, and asked a question. Now I know it.

The only annoying thing about my approach, is that when I state confidence in what I do know, it's perceived as "arrogance," and when I state what I don't know, I'm labeled as "stupid," or "lazy" (I'm none of the above).

I've learned to ignore this type of thing, and go ahead and ask my silly questions. Over the years, I have become better at asking questions. That's an art, in its own right.

Sometimes, the best way to get a correct answer, is to state something wrong. People will fall all over themselves to correct me. It can be grating, because they are sometimes rather nasty about it, but they also tend to do their homework, to make sure they are right, and I can rely on their response.

I've also found that the world will continue to rotate whether or not I provide my opinion/experience/knowledge at every opportunity that pops up.

I'd like people to respect me, but I won't go off into the desert to die, because someone on the Internet doesn't like me.


Well, knowing something is not arrogance.

Stating that you know something is arrogance, unless you take precautions. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm saying the situation perfectly matches the dictionary definition of the word "arrogance".

Everyone around here surely knows that it's often sufficient to prefix the opinion with "everyone here surely knows that <X>". Because if you say raw "X" very confidently, people immediately assume that your full implicit message is "I cannot believe I even have to waste my precious time to explain to you nitwits that <X>".


I'm a fairly literal person ("on the spectrum"). If I know something, I say "I know this." If I don't know something, I say "I don't know this." If I think I have insight into something, I say "This looks like..."

My experience, here, and in many other places, is that people seem to have a deep-seated need to "put down" other people. We jump on openings from others with an almost fanatic zeal.

You won't find much (if any) of that stuff in my postings; here, or anywhere else I participate.

It's just not important for me to be "better" than anyone else (see "on the spectrum," above -I seem to have different motivational drivers from many folks). It's my experience that I can learn from just about anyone, and that I can sometimes find that what I thought was right, was actually wrong.

I'm pretty much self-taught in software development. It has served me very well. I've been delivering software for decades, but it has also sometimes handicapped me in other ways, by maybe missing something that CS majors get (I was an EE), or by not knowing the current vocabulary for something.

I remember once, in the 1990s, asking someone "What's 'AJAX'?" They all laughed at me, but explained it. I ate my crow, didn't react, and went home, realizing that it was just HTTPRequest.

Within a week, I had written a very powerful AJAX driver.

Sometimes, the people that laugh at me are doing me a favor. It doesn't really help things if I kick back. I've learned that I should keep my mouth shut, and learn from them.


> people seem to have a deep-seated need to "put down" other people

Well, of course they do. All the time. It's a fine way to improve status in a social group and to get more meat after we kill our next mammoth.


small brain: Dunning-Kruger effect

normal brain: 'imposter syndrome'

galaxy brain: healthy self-doubt




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