The smallest fish in the pond?

Hi there,

I was wondering how do you deal with the nagging feeling of not being as good as others in your team?

I work with a team of very talented people. Many of them maintain or contribute to several open source projects, speak at conferences, blog, create videos or podcasts, and handle many different trendy technologies. It seems like the flow of ideas and energy never stops for them and they really enjoy what they do.

Me, on the other hand, I do a great job, I meet my deadlines, I keep myself learning and apply what I learn at work, and I constantly receive praises from my manager, but I’m not remotely as good as any of them. I feel mediocre. Nobody has told me, they don’t need to, I just know it. I don’t have interesting side projects or contribute to open source. I don’t speak at conferences and my blog is pretty much empty. In fact, I’m still learning my way through some of the technologies that this company uses, since I started working there only a few months ago.

Is it that people like me are really not cut out to do this job? I wish I could stop being mediocre and be extraordinaire, like them. I feel so insignificant. Have you ever felt this way?

It looks like you’re doing great.

How much experience do you have ? You say you’ve been there only a few months so obviously you’ve had to spend time and energy catching up and getting used to new tools and technologies. Give yourself some time to settle in.

I’ve stopped comparing myself to others. I don’t think it’s healthy. We’re all unique individuals with different goals/skills/ambitions. Just because someone else is spending time blogging doesn’t mean it’s something you have to do.

Why would you constantly receive praise from your manager if you’re mediocre ? That’s harsh.

It looks like the external feedback you’re getting is very positive so you’re obviously meeting expectations. Think about it… would you rather work with incompetent people ? Would that make you feel better knowing you’re the best ?

So you DO meet your deadlines and you DO get a praise. So you’re not that mediocre. Maybe blogging just isn’t meant for you? And conferences - oh, talking in front of others might be hell! Don’t try to be good with everything at once. I am sure you will advance very soon and then you’ll have more time and more energy.
TBH, I had been thinking of starting a new thread here, I would name it “being a mediocre programmer sucks”, but your thread is already here and I know I am not the only one. Except I sometimes really suck at developer’s job.
I lack a technical background. I sometimes lack logic (although my friends sometimes tell me the opposite) and thus I can spend hours or even days debugging almost randomly. I certainly lack experience, but when I try to practice after work, my body says “fuck you” and I just lay on my sofa. I’m in my early thirties, so there are no parents around (I do have a partner who’s also tired as zombie). I workout daily, but physical exercise is probably all I can do after office. I feel myself dumb comparing with talented developers.
So I’ve been trying to tell you not to torture yourself, if you’re not a speaker or a writer, being a good developer is more than enough.

I guess I worry because I’m constantly afraid of being let go if I’m just good but not as good as so and so. I’m afraid that they’ll look at what others are doing and then look at me and think I don’t really belong there, so why keep me. It seems to me that the programming field is constantly encouraging people to do all these things: working in OS, blogging, speaking, teaching, etc. and if you don’t you’re somehow seen as not as committed to your “craft” as those who do. I often worry that could be a determining factor in job security.

Comparison is tricky in a professional sense. It is good to have a big picture of your current skills and how you want to progress but not so good to take it to the level of diminishing your own accomplishments and work. (It doesn’t sound like anyone is unhappy with how you’re performing your tasks.)

Everybody is such a unique mix of capabilities and experience. And also insecurities. Everyone has them, even if some have them more buried than others.

Are you interested in contributing to OS more or blogging or presenting at a conference? If not and it just feels like another ‘should’, I’d try to either stay the current route or find a side thing that does actually interest you. If you do have an interest in the areas your coworkers are, think about asking them their advice as someone venturing in new. “What would they have done differently?” “How to go about X, Y, Z?”

Two things stuck out at me about what you wrote: the thought that it seems like the flow / energy never stops for others and that you feel really insignificant. I’ve totally felt both those!

I have to remind myself that my own personal energies are different. I often need more recharge time and that doesn’t necessarily allow me to do all the “extras”. Not if I want to show up 100% (which I do)! The insignificant feels I try to reframe by reminding myself what and where I find meaning in my work and in the output of it.

If you DO your job and do it right, no manager would ever let you go. That would be a dumb move, and an expensive one.

Hi @nemonobody, I believe you are running into one of the ugly sides of the software development industry, but it’s good that you are thinking and asking about it, rather than trying to “go with the flow” and compete with everyone else.

First, please keep in mind that doing things like working on open source code, writing a blog, presenting at conferences, etc. is work. If your employer expects you do these things and doesn’t offer to compensate you for it somehow, then they are exploiting you, and you should push back. This goes for everyone in the industry. Now, does this mean that no one should blog, contribute to projects, or present at conferences if their employer doesn’t pay them to do it? Of course not, if that is something that genuinely interests them and they derive pleasure from it, they should. But there shouldn’t be an expectation or requirement to do it for free, certainly not from your employer. Think of it as volunteer at the SPCA, or helping cleanup a local park. You should do it for the enjoyment you get from being helpful and improving your community, not because you think your career depends on it.

Now, the second question is: are you competent? Based on my previous paragraph, remove any data points and experiences you have that don’t actually relate to your job. Concretely, it doesn’t matter that you don’t speak at conferences, or that you don’t blog, or don’t have any open source projects. All that is fine. It does matter what your boss and coworkers think of your abilities and work ethic. If your manager is complimenting, that is a good sign. You’re meeting your deadlines, learning and applying, those are all good signs. The only negative I can spot from your post is that you don’t know all the technologies your company uses. Given how big the codebase is, and that you’ve been there only a few months, I would say this is perfectly reasonable. You already said you’re learning actively, as long as you keep that you should know more and more of these technologies and become even more valuable to the company.

So, all that being said, what should you do? If you continue to have doubts about your competency, that is completely fine. Take concrete steps to verify them. If your manager is approachable, ask them what they think of your performance. Ask them if they think you are working as well as you could, ask them for specific areas in which they think you can improve. In my experience, most managers are happy to hear their subordinates taking initiative to get better and will do what they can to help you along.

Finally, if you really do think you want to start having side projects, or speaking at conferences, start taking small steps with that. If there is some open source library you use, see if you can close a bug, or file a better report. If you want to blog, try writing just one short article about something you learned, or some interesting code you wrote that week. Pick small, definite tasks and complete them regularly. You sound like a conscientious person, so I don’t doubt that you will be able to make progress.

Good luck, and please let us know if you need more help or advice!


I’ve been there before. It sounds like you are doing great though!

I’ll try not to echo what others have said.

Here’s the thing:
We are more than just code

I feel like we get so focused (and obsessed) with our “craft” via FOMO. I empathize with you because it’s discouraging when you’re co-workers are these leet-sauce super stars.

If you are let go, so be it. You sound like a solid developer and you could be one of those super star devs in another pond.

It’s your choice if you want to OS, blog, speak or teach. You don’t have to. Do it because you want to not because you are trying to keep up with the super stars in the team.

There always be someone “better than you but no one just like you”.

Be nemonobody not nemonobody’s leet-sauce super star co-worker :smile: