Code. Life.

Development takes time, you’re not dumb

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Though this post applies primarily to people in tech, it is definitely applicable to everyone in whatever career you choose to pursue or are pursuing.

Relatively recently I made a tweet…

I have been into software for at least half my life now and there is at least one constant: the feeling of inadequacy. It is there sowing mustard seeds of doubt when you start out. It is there when you get your first internship role. It is there when you resume as a junior developer, mid-level developer. It is most certainly there when you become a senior developer.

I, and I’m sure you also, have at some point in time, dealt with this feeling of inadequacy. This is what this post is about. How I sometimes manage this feeling and how you can probably manage it too.

Things to absolutely accept

If you are just starting out, here are some things you have to learn to accept:

It will take time and effort. The amount of effort you put into it will help reduce the time it will take you to understand it but believe me; time is NOT optional. When you are embarking on the journey, accepting that it is a long and hard journey will make it easier to deal with the feelings of inadequacy.

It requires a lot of practice. In my opinion, I believe videos and articles have their place in the learning process, nothing teaches faster than mistakes. The problem with watching someone tell you how to do something is apparent when you have to do it by yourself without guidance. In my experience, learning the initial concept from an article or video is sufficient enough. The next step is throwing away your training wheels and going for broke.

The problem with using videos and articles exclusively is, it does not work this way in real life. Code breaks for a variety of reasons that the video will never be able to anticipate. Sometimes it’s a missing semicolon, other times it’s simply because an Elephant died in the Serengeti.

When you go for broke and start attempting to do things, you WILL make many mistakes. You will start feeling frustrated and you will consider quitting. These things will absolutely happen but as cliche as it sounds, persistence is what pays in the end. When you finally get it, you will have picked up so much experience along the way that you would never have gotten otherwise.

The things no one told you

It happens to everyone on any level of their career. It definitely happens to me at least. I know a lot of senior level engineers that face the same thing. Every one has to struggle with the feeling of inadequacy. You are not alone in this.

Most of the people you look up to also go through this. They have just had a longer time riding the wave and can potentially navigate it easier than you can. So as a side note, whenever you are going through the motions, talk to someone who has more experience than you and see how they get through this phase. It may help you to handle it better. The one thing you cannot afford to do though, is stop trying.

I recently joined a company in Hamburg and I had a hard time initially. I plagued myself with doubt and coupled with the stress of moving to an entirely new country, the struggle became worse. However, constantly reminding myself that I have not spent enough time (just 6 months now) to be able to master something that took years to build helps me deal with this anxiety.

Cut yourself some slack.

Finally…

Remember that being in software development is hard. It is not a walk in the park. However, it is doable. Many people do it every day and many more will. You don’t need to feel dumb when you do not understand a certain concept. No. What you need to do it practice even more. Ask the right questions. If A confuses you, don’t ask about the entire alphabet, just ask about A. Sometimes understanding A is all you need.

Of course there is always another possibility. Maybe this just isn’t your thing. 🤷🏽‍♂️

If you have experienced or are currently experiencing this feeling, please leave a comment below, what you say might help others realize they are not alone. If you have some tips you can also share them below.

12 Comments

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  • This is great advice and so very true! As a junior developer in a non-development role, I completely relate with how easy it is to doubt one’s ability.

  • I am currently having this feeling. I’m a final year student and I don’t feel I’m good enough to get a job I’ve even gone as far as emptying my github out. Of shame . I think the pressure comes from seeing others learn things quicker than you

    • This is a new angle, not really considered external pressure, but this is probably because I ignore it. People learn at different paces, it’s okay to use someone as a yardstick but only as long as you remember that you are not the same person, and you could accomplish things faster or slower but never the same pace and that’s okay.

  • There is this project I am working on to build my skills. I recently discovered it is throwing errors I have no idea on how and my code bow looks complex because I didn’t even comment it. Has anyone gone through the phase of rewriting a whole project from scratch because the first one written was thrash?

    • I used to do this a lot and I am still tempted to do it. Depending on why the code was written, rewriting might not be an option. However refactoring is a thing. This is why writing tests is so important because it allows you refactor without fear of breaking your code

  • Honestly this article is just for me. Some hrs ago I posted on my whatsapp status on how frustrated I am. “I think after this stage of inadequacy comes the next stage of fulfillment”.

  • This so great and I love the fact you said it plain, at some point where I tried some stuffs I keep getting different errors, believe me I have to abandon my system for days to clear my head (Lol) but the main thing is that I never gave up, I will always go right back at it, I’m a junior front end developer but I build myself for greater height so whether dumb or not I’m not giving chances to anything that will stray me.
    Thank you Neo for I believe this article will help many newbies, because they think they are on this alone

  • Nice write up, for me, most times when I visit larachat on #slack and see the code people posts there and even with the fact that I am about to finish the whole of laravel documentation with practices I still feel like I am still far off, and what makes it more painful is that senior devs will always hype the whole stuff and use terms to make you feel like you don’t know a thing. This had often freaked me out and planted fears in me. But I believe constant practice is the key. Thank you for the advice.

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