We all know that the impostor syndrome is really common between developers. We've all been there. But what if the data don't show us the same results?
While reading the 2019 Stack Overflow survey, I came across this seemingly simple question:
For the specific work you do, and the years of experience you have, how do you rate your own level of competence?
The question featured these 5 possible answers:
- Far below average
- A little below average
- A little above average
- Far above average
If you haven't completed the survey, think of your response for a couple seconds before reading further.
That was probably what I thought the first time I saw the question. And there's something funny about this: it seems a lot of people made the same assumption as me.
Almost 70% located themselves above the average, but just 10% considered themselves to be below it. And even 1 out of 5 people thinks they are far above.
Stack Overflow's ironic analysis made me laugh the first time I read it:
This is statistically unlikely with a sample of over 70,000 developers who answered this question, to put it mildly.
What's happening here?
What we see in these results is a common consequence of the above-average effect: a cognitive bias that makes us overestimate our own competence in relation to other people.
It is closely related to the Dunning-Kruger effect. I don't wanna dive deep into this right now, but you can always read about it here.
In a nutshell: we tend to forget that statistics also apply to us.
As much as we all may want to be above the average person, we just can't. If we are all above the mean, the mean wouldn't be the mean. See what I'm saying?
There are a lot of other examples of this bias, E.g. how we all tend to think that we are better drivers that anyone else (and I'd have to plead guilty on that one), or how we think that our startup will succeed even though the records show that almost 9 out of 10 fail.
I don't wanna forget to mention that men are more likely to consider themselves to be above the average than women and non-binary, genderqueer, or gender non-conforming people.
I can't say I didn't see that one coming. In next surveys, it would be awesome to observe that people from gender minorities started to feel more and more confident about themselves.
What do you think? Do developers tend to be overconfident? Are you the above average?
Let's discuss it in the comments.