Why You Need to Tread Your Own Path, Not Follow Others by Matthew Setter

Why You Need to Tread Your Own Path, Not Follow Others

July 21st, 2014

I've been a software developer for close on 14 years now. But for only a precious few moments during those

I’ve been a software developer for close on 14 years now. But for only a precious few moments during those years have I really felt like I had any right to be working as one.

The primary reason lies, as I’ve found with most people, in a lack of confidence and a poor self image; which result in the Imposter Syndrome. Try as I might for many years, nothing ever quite shook the constant feeling of inadequacy.

At one time, not too long ago even, I sat ready to throw in the towel on my life as a software developer. Despite loving software development for as long as I can remember, it just seemed pointless to continue.

My level of mistakes had been rising, owing to a number of extenuating circumstances; which only added further fuel to the fire.

No matter where I turned, I saw reason after reason to just let it all go. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Amarillo.

I can’t say whether I’d started to toughen up, after more than 2 years living here in Germany, where I’ve had to learn the language, customs and culture to live a normal life.

I don’t know whether it was an age I’d reached, where some change magically happens. And I don’t know whether I started appreciating truly how fortunate I am, in spite of how tough things have seemed.

But regardless a change definitely happened.

I was sitting at my laptop for an hour, working away on a project and had a very cathartic experience. The perceived need to compare myself to others just fell away; which I should explain a bit further.

I’ve always compared myself to people that, seemingly, are vastly better than I am and made assumptions that as I’m not as experienced or skilled as they are, I’m therefore just not cut out to be a software developer.

On the weekend it just stopped.

I respect that there are any number of people more versed in software development than I am, and that’s totally ok. They can be an inspiration to me to keep learning, to do better, to keep on pushing when subject matter seems just too difficult to surmount.

But I no longer contrast myself negatively with them. I stopped for a moment and started asking different questions; such as:

  • What they’re thinking?
  • How long they’ve worked & studied to achieve what they have?
  • Who are their mentors and influencers?
  • Have they had more advantageous opportunities (and capitalised on them) than other people?
  • What was their personal journey to get to where they are today?

Now this all sounds very “you have to find yourself“, “you’re a wonderful, unique, beautiful person too” type rhetoric. And to an extent, that’s a fair assessment.

But the reason I’ve written this post, is to say that, you have to start somewhere, no matter how good you are or ultimately become.

Stop comparing yourself with someone else and get out and find people who will give you honest, considered, practical, and constructive criticism. If you’re worried about people negatively criticising you – don’t. If you’re concerned about people “what people may say” – don’t.

If you’re concerned about people slagging you off – don’t; that’s a complete waste of time. Get involved in the community, find some great people who you can learn from and who will be honest with you. Learn like hell and grow, grow, grow.

OK, the way that people deliver their criticism may be completely different or foreign to how you could or would expect, but that doesn’t mean they’re abusing you. Take time out, hear what they have to say, think it over and implement what you believe is right.

The rest, well either drop it completely, or leave it aside for another time. I’m an Australian male and we’re not the softest breed in the world.

But we have inherited a rather English set of sensibilities, where we don’t address someone directly with criticism, because that’s considered either rude or impolite.

We’re taught to provide a balanced criticism and consider someone’s feelings. Whilst that for me is normal, I’ve learned, after some years living in Germany, that a more direct, straight to the point, style, where you don’t muck about and say what needs to be said is also good.

I say this because you’re going to encounter people from many different backgrounds, from many different cultures, who have many different approaches.

They’re not mean, harsh, or rude, it’s just their approach. So when you’re criticised, look for what’s truly being said.

Is the criticism constructive and genuine, then work with it. Otherwise, if the person is just insulting you, who cares who they are, who they work for, what title they have or what their name is – forget them and move on.

They’re just not worth it. People like that may insult you purely out of their lack of self-worth, because they’re having a bad day, or any number of other reasons.

From here on in, give yourself a chance, a real chance. Don’t setup obstacles in your mind before you’ve even begun.

Get out there, get in to it, and don’t look back. Yes you’ll make mistakes, yes there are people better than you, but so what. If you don’t try, you don’t grow. Mistakes are natural and normal.

These are my thoughts, what are yours? Do you do (or have you done) what I used to? Share your feelings in the comments.

Matthew Setter. Ethical Hacker, Online Privacy Advocate, and a Software Engineer.

Matthew Setter

Software Engineer, Ethical Hacker, & Online Privacy Advocate.

Matthew Setter is a software engineer, ethical hacker, privacy advocate, & technical writer, who loves travelling. He is based in Nuremberg, Germany. When he's not doing all things tech, he's spending time with his family, and friends.