Here is something true: You are not the best engineer.
Here is also something true: You are not the worst engineer.
You're about average. Almost everyone is. You know how I know? Stats.
Let's assume engineering skill follows a normal distribution from crazy bad to super good. It skews to the good side because very bad engineers aren't likely to get hired and don't keep jobs for long.
Normal distribution looks like this 👇
The average engineer is that mid point. Very thin slice. I don't think such a person exists. Just like the average American household is 2.53 people and I have yet to see a 0.53 person walking around.
What people mean when they say "about average" or just "average", is the 1 standard deviation spread. That's 68%.
Well … they tend to think of "modus" (the most observed value) when thinking of the average engineer and that's due to representation bias.
Anyway, 68% of engineers are average. Most engineers are average.
Therefore, it is safe to assume you are average, too.
Did you know that 80% of people asked about their driving skill say they're better than average? Yep, 80% of drivers think they're above average.
Doesn't compute, does it?
Grab two standard deviations and you've got 95% of the population. That is literally almost everyone.
Why am I telling you this? Because it's important.
Wikipedia describes impostor syndrome as
a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.
I get this a lot. It comes out in tweets where I am flabbergasted that people walk up to me and say things like, "Dude, I love your newsletter. It's really helped me a lot. Please keep going.”
The weirdest part of giving s talk at @rwreact last night was how many people came up to me and said they read my emails, blogs, etc.— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) January 18, 2019
And by many I mean like 5. That’s a lot! Always gobsmacked to find out there’s real people out there on the other end of the internets.
Everyone gets impostor syndrome. It's normal. You get it most when you are surrounded by people who know more than you about something.
You know what else you get when surrounded by people who know more than you? Growth.
Just like when people say that you often don't recognize opportunity when it comes knocking because it's wearing overalls and looks like work. So too you often shy away from opportunity because you're not sure you can handle it.
Fuck that. Yes, you can. You can grab the bull by the horns and Figure It Out.
That's your greatest superpower as an engineer. Figuring shit out.
You take a problem you've never solved before and you solve it. That's what engineers do.
Impostor syndrome is your friend. That annoying friend who reminds you that you're about to do something hard, something you've never done before, and what's worse, you're surrounded by experts who could do it ever so easily.
But you know what?
If you're surrounded by experts, that means you've got someone to ask. You're gonna do just fine.
And remember, just because they know more than you about one thing doesn't mean they know more than you about all things. They don't.
Acknowledge that you feel this way. Think about why you feel this way. Then do the things.
Don't know how to do it? Learn.
Team better than you? Great! Ask questions. Use your team as a resource.
Stuck and nothing works? Breathe, take a break, try a different approach.
Anxiety? That's tough. Here's what helps 👇
Build a portfolio of successes. Every time you complete a difficult project, write it down. Just a note in a file, a couple of words in a writeup, perhaps. What made it hard, how did you solve it, what obstacles did you overcome?
Challenge! Write down 5 accomplishments from the past few years. Think hard. What are the 5 things you're most proud of building?
Awesome! You got it.
Next time you feel like you're struggling, go back and read those 5 accomplishments. Keep adding new ones.
Remind yourself how good you are when times are tough and motivation is low.
First talk of the year! Gave a talk at the Real World React Meetup this week about my experience building a #24hrstartup.
Really, it was more about how amazing the web has gotten and you can be crazy productive and everything is awesome and this is the best time ever to be a frontend engineer.
Talk wasn't recorded, but a few people came up to me afterwards and said it reminded them of this much better talk from Chris Coyier.
Oh, and React for Data Visualization is going okay. We're at 77 videos, and I really need to wrap up and launch this thing.
Just finished video 77 of React for Data Visualization.— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) January 14, 2019
Remind me to make smaller courses in the future pic.twitter.com/xIM4L9pfLh
My #200wordsTIL practice of learning something new every day and writing a Twitter thread has been going great. Only missed 1 day so far and that was because I went drinking after the meetup on Thursday. Oops.
Start with Why isn't necessarily something I learned today, it's something remind myself of every time I work on a new talk, workshop, or really any content.— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) January 17, 2019
This is the best 18 minutes you can spend on YouTube. Ever. #200wordsTIL
Yesterday I learned a lot of weird stuff about Unicode from @bobthecow which is perhaps the coolest Twitter handle I have ever seen. #200wordsTIL— Swizec Teller (@Swizec) January 19, 2019
His talk is great, I wish it was recorded. Here's a recap from memory after 4 beers, 1 cocktail, and 27 hours. 👇
Here's some cool stuff I discovered recently 👇
- This webMIDI thing projecting notes on a keyboard so you can learn how to play
- Lars Heemskerk shares a plot of dataviz tools so you can compare which one is better for your usecase. Pretty neat.
- Trevor Bedford of nextstrain.org shares this cool improvement to how charts on their dashboard interact. You can now better follow how various diseases spread.
- You should read this post on stoicism and how it applies to your job 👉 If Marcus Aurelius were a software developer
- Dave Ceddia shared a great post about The Path to Becoming a Front End Developer in 2019
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
Subscribe below 👇
Join Swizec's Newsletter and get insightful emails 💌 on mindsets, tactics, and technical skills for your career. Real lessons from building production software. No bullshit.
"Man, love your simple writing! Yours is the only newsletter I open and only blog that I give a fuck to read & scroll till the end. And wow always take away lessons with me. Inspiring! And very relatable. 👌"
Senior Mindset Book
Get promoted, earn a bigger salary, work for top companiesLearn more
Have a burning question that you think I can answer? Hit me up on twitter and I'll do my best.
Who am I and who do I help? I'm Swizec Teller and I turn coders into engineers with "Raw and honest from the heart!" writing. No bullshit. Real insights into the career and skills of a modern software engineer.
Want to become a true senior engineer? Take ownership, have autonomy, and be a force multiplier on your team. The Senior Engineer Mindset ebook can help 👉 swizec.com/senior-mindset. These are the shifts in mindset that unlocked my career.
Curious about Serverless and the modern backend? Check out Serverless Handbook, for frontend engineers 👉 ServerlessHandbook.dev
Want to Stop copy pasting D3 examples and create data visualizations of your own? Learn how to build scalable dataviz React components your whole team can understand with React for Data Visualization
Did someone amazing share this letter with you? Wonderful! You can sign up for my weekly letters for software engineers on their path to greatness, here: swizec.com/blog
By the way, just in case no one has told you it yet today: I love and appreciate you for who you are ❤️