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On Being a Hopelessly Insecure Programmer

maxwell_dev profile image Max Antonucci Originally published at ใƒปUpdated on ใƒป3 min read

The 2019 Codeland conference is tomorrow. Amid the excitement, I've been thinking about my career.

The thoughts that followed were not pleasant.

Ever since getting a real programming job, I've been insecure about my career. No amount of words from friends, colleagues, coworkers, and anyone else has been able to soothe it. There's always that fear crawling in the back of my mind, a fear that I'll be lacking in programming skills, soft skills, networking skills, learning skills, or whatever else, and one day it'd all come to drag me down.

Several times it got to the point where I had what felt like mild panic attacks. Just seeing the success others were having made it flare up. I realized I'd been isolating myself just to avoid opening those feelings back up.

Obviously not the best thing for either my career or personal life.

Seeing Insecurities Another Way

I've been doing whatever I can to fight this feeling and push it away, but have had little luck. So instead of trying to remove something determined to stay, I'm trying to see it from another perspective.

I'm insecure about my fundamental programming knowledge. So I've researched and taken notes on fundamental JavaScript concepts like currying and type coercion.

I'm insecure about my Ruby on Rails knowledge since it's used a lot in my current job. So I went through the Ruby on Rails tutorial and am rereading the docs to see all the pieces and how they fit together.

I'm insecure about not understanding code changes my coworkers make. So I've started reading their pull requests and trying to understand what they changed and why. Anything I don't understand I look up later.

I'm insecure about receiving feedback on a topic or tool I don't know much about. So I do more research on them as I fix it. I recently got feedback related to validations in Rails, so I read up on the ActiveRecord and ActiveModel gems and what they do.

I'm insecure about my soft skills. So I got a copy of "Burn Your Portfolio" and began reading and taking notes on it and another book it recommended. I also already have notes on many small ways to talk better with people I can review.

I'm insecure about my career path. So I try to read about and chat with other professionals and see what their career path is like. I see how varied all their paths were, the ups and downs, the struggles they deal with, and often their insecurities.

Learning to Manage the Insecurities

I'm insecure and terrified, but painfully, I'm seeing it as a strength. It keeps me going forward and trying to do better. I have a hard time keeping the feeling under control though. Sometimes I just get so anxious I want to curl up and just stop trying.

Are these feelings worth it at a manageable level? High enough to push me forward, but low enough to not paralyze me? Is it worth the struggle?

I don't know the answer to that. But unfortunately, I don't see the feeling going away anytime soon. So I better learn how to manage it regardless.

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Discussion (15)

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yucer profile image
yucer • Edited


Some time ago I was having a conversation with a friend, a physician. He was complaining that he should always keep studying because its job was extremely complex and the medical equipment, techniques and available medicaments were advancing very quickly.

I did reply:

Well.. at least your hardware doesn't change so oft. It is true that the knowledge in your branch is advancing quickly, but the human body remains the same and it is not common that you need to discard what you have learn five years ago about diseases.

That, my friend, happens continuously to us.

I have been programming for more that 30 years now (since I was 10 years old) and I have faced many times the reality of knowledge obsolescence.

I remember of using BASIC, QUICKBASIC, Turbo PASCAL, Delphi, ASP, ... and many other technologies or computer languages that are not used too much nowadays. What you are learning today would be obsolete in some years...

But if you focus on the theory, the probability of obsolescence diminish.

I know that the industry is trying to diminish the university, by mean of online learning and certifications. But if you want such knowledge that never expires, you might need also to go to university or at least buy some classical theory books (Database theory, programming paradigms, Operating Systems, etc..).

One good source is MIT's Opencourseware.

But .. hey.. You might not need that. It depends on which are your expectations, and what is your plan of life.

If you want programming skills to apply in a problem domain then it is just a matter of look information about that.

We need all to realize that there is no such concept like a universal programmer that knows all the industry branches in detail. At most we might have a general overview of everything, and now what is every topic is about, but not to take full domain of everything.

It is already very difficult to be a full-stack programmer, almost impossible to deeply know all the stacks.

If you achieve to learn everything about informatics and computer sciences, then you would realize you became old, probably applied nothing, and lost the time of enjoying the life.

So don't put your expectations to high, try to learn by doing what you need and from time to time read something about the theory. You will soon find that what make programmers more valuable is not so much they knowledge about informatics, it is more about the knowledge they acquire over the problem domains (the branch for what the software is going to be used to...)

Also take a time to read what is one of these programming paradigms about. Not deeply, just to read the descriptions.

Try to read the tech news and, if some concept is new for you, just try to read the basic definitions.

Good luck, relax and enjoy learning !

narviktribe profile image
EJ Santoemma

Michelangelo was an imposter. When pope Giulo II commissioned the Sistina Chapel, he said: "Non sono un pittore, non รจ il mio mestiere! Io sono uno scultore" (I'm not a painter, that's not my job. I'm a sculptor)

Btw, few notice a perl when visiting the chapel: below Michelangelo's work the walls are covered by "perfect" paintings, made by famous painters, using cutting edge technologies like perspective.

His work is devoid of perspective, but so powerful that you find yourself asking what these perfect paintings have to do with this place.

I found that visit inspiring to my career as a coder

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

Do you meditate? Have you read up on impostor syndrome?

You are 100% correct. The feelings never totally go away (I'm 18 years in the industry and they still flare up from time to time). Management is key. Understanding my own psychology and learning to have a different relationship with my thoughts and feelings by practicing mindfulness has been key!

elasticrash profile image
Stefanos Kouroupis

It depends on your personality... I am in the industry as long as you are but when I make a mistake which might result in a bit of downtime...for example... I am not worrying about my skills rather I worry because I woke up someone (with a family) from the Dev ops.

codingmindfully profile image
Daragh Byrne

Indeed. Some worry is totally legitimate. I find my mind adds a bit extra on top that could probably be done without in most situations. Piecing together which is which is a lifetime of detective work!

vimmer9 profile image
Damir Franusic


I have just recently joined this community and wrote my first post which is similar to yours. I have been in software development for around 20 years. I started when I was 16 or so and now I am close to being 38. Sorry to say but in my humble opinion, singular human brain is not equipped to catch up with global technological advances since they are happening at an increasing rate. It's difficult for me to imagine how I would feel if we had all these frameworks, languages and options when I first started. I probably would have decided that it's too much for me. You need to find a coping mechanism and try to find a balance as others have suggested (I do yoga for example and even that doesn't always help).
I have experienced burn-out many times and I am still recovering. I am starting to consider the possibility that I will never fully revert to pre-burnout state but I am still hopeful. The point is, pay attention to your own behavior and reactions and if you notice some unwanted changes (panic attacks, insomnia, etc.) take a step back and just relax and chill out if you can. Anyway I hope you find a way to keep up with your work and not get caught up in burn-out loop.

Good luck,

steelwolf180 profile image
Max Ong Zong Bao

I think being comfortable that you don't know much is alright.

Just don't allow yourself to stop you in taking action to apply for jobs and doing work that you will regret it in not taking action.

No one knows the answers for all questions related to programming that's why we have teams or other specialisation in place to complement and learn from each other.

ekimkael profile image
Ekim Kael

I'm a little more comfortable with that fact now.
When I started programming I was everywhere because I wanted to do everything.
Then I chose to specialize in Javascript, it was decisive for me.
Then I decided to do only frontend and React only.
the mistake at this level was to want to use React everywhere.
Then I learned to analyze each project before choosing my technology and when it appears that the best thing is that something I don't know, I collaborate with someone who does.
Today I am no longer the hype of all new features/state of the art technology that allows me to do this or that because I want to be "efficient".
I know the basics: HTML/CSS/JS and even in 10 years it will still be that.

I think you want to be efficient too. We're all fighting this impostor syndrome right now. It's okay not to know everything for me, that's what you should keep in mind.

Courage to learn to manage this feeling, you will gradually find what is best for you so that it is no longer very present

twitmyreview profile image
Priyab Dash

A very good post on managing professional insecurity. Very inspiring post.

quinncuatro profile image
Henry Quinn

Several times it got to the point where I had what felt like mild panic attacks.

No bueno. Do you think this is all in your head or is there something with your workplace that's adding to it?

maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

This was happening regardless of the specific workplace, or even if I'd recently gotten good feedback recently at work. More likely it was a gradual accumulation of everything without a proper way to manage it.

timothymcgrath profile image
Timothy McGrath

I think a lot of people feel this way, even people that look really successful from the outside.

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Andrew Harpin

I get the impression that it is fear of failure and attempting to compare yourself to your colleagues that is driving your anxiety?

maxwell_dev profile image
Max Antonucci Author

Comparing myself to others is often more of a symptom than a cause in my experience. Feeling insecure leads to trying to find ways to alleviate it, and one way that never really works but my mind jumps to is comparing myself to others.

I see it more as a reflexive thought I need to ignore on the path to finding a better perspective.

sandeepbalachandran profile image
Sandeep Balachandran

Everythings going good now? So how do you feel now after an year?