Mommy, I don’t feel so good

So, you are a programmer for a year or two. You are too shy and incompetent to call yourself an engineer. You know some things, but it seems like the domain of computer science is too big and scary for your tiny mind. You feel that you don’t understand enough to stand up and speak up, so you try to remain silent until directly asked. You feel like you are on the wrong plate and would be better off mowing someone’s lawns or working as a taxi driver.

Don’t. There is one interesting creature I want to show you.



This is a peafowl, beautiful and glorious bird. More precisely, it is a peacock, male peafowl. The peacock consists of two parts - the bird and the plumage, this thing at the background, bigger than the bird itself. The plumage is not only a spectacular detail of appearance, but it also has a function. Its purpose is to attract a mate and create an impression of a huge and confident partner. Otherwise, it is used to distract bigger carnivore creatures that are eager to feed on the pitiful peacock on their way. This is how they survive in the nasty dangerous forests they usually live in.

Be a birdman, show yourself

To survive and prosper in your forest you gotta become one, at least for some time. To grow bigger and get more interesting and less discouraging jobs you have to seem like a better-qualified person than you really are. It is not that hard. Know how the perfect candidate for it looks like and mimic it, growing proper plumage. A perfect candidate should be interested in the job, he should signal the technical virtue and act accordingly. People like smart agreeable people that know how things should work, and more importantly with this knowledge matching their own. To signal the virtue properly, you should better refer to the best practices and common knowledge in your field. Read the high-reaching articles on the processes, code, architecture, get their point and show that you know about those practices. Show that you have manners. We are apes that got out of the forest not so long ago, so our brains are not that advanced on resisting stereotypical thinking and crowd aura. If you show that you and your interviewer/manager/higher level engineer are on the same page and share a common set of principles on how to develop the software, they are much more likely to be fond of you. That means that you gotta be a showoff, stand up and speak up even though you may uncomfortable with that because of your techy introvert inner nature.

Pro-activity is also a part of the appeal that can create you a reputation of a great engineer. Even if you don’t know exactly how to do some hard task - try and take it, that is the only way to grow. The only caveat about such tasks is making sure that you are able to see the deep pit of sorrow and wasted time soon and retreat for help before you wasted too many bucks of your employer. Another side of pro-activity is visibility. Work is great, great work is even better, although, no great work is worthy from your superior’s perspective if it is invisible. Show your work, explain its worth and get the praise. Work on your reputation and change the view of you in other peoples’ eyes, increasing the chance of being promoted, getting higher salaries and recommendations. Even though all of the programmers of the world would like to be just left alone with their code and products without a need to work on their appeal, we live in an imperfect world, so without employing such techniques, you leave your prosperity in the hands of fate and random chance which is not reliable enough.

Harder than you think

Alright, the easy part is finished, now goes the hard one. You plumage shines, you are proactive and people like you. It is nice and you don’t want it to stop. But if you don’t act, sooner or later the plumage will drop and only the little bird that was pretender the whole time will face the real world with a task too hard to complete, a job that is too broad for your narrow skillset, the supervisor that not fall for your appeal. To avoid this you gotta work hard to fit in your plumage and actually become the person you pretend to be. Learn from the better job you’ve got thanks to virtue signaling and feeding people what they want to hear, exercise your manners and best practices of your community to get to the core and reason for them at the first place, get every valuable piece of documentation, guides, info and working process of your coworkers to craft your actual skeleton for the job. Then sooner or later you won’t need to spread your feathers to seem bigger, you will be big by yourself.

Yikes, you’re not shy and incompetent now. You’ve become an engineer. Put this plumage on the wall and get yourself a drink. You are awesome. Always been.