I’m Not a Normal Developer. You Don’t Have to be Like Me.

A while back, I had the privilege to speak with another cohort of new developers at a local bootcamp. This is the second time that I’ve been invited to speak with this particular group and I’ve enjoyed myself both times.

This time was especially fun for me because one of the other panelists (unbeknownst to me when I agreed to come back) was an old friend and mentor that I hadn’t had a chance to catch up with in several years. The rest of the panelists were just as impressive a group of people and I consider it incredible that I get invited to be a part of a group like this.

That’s honestly not a humble-brag on my part. We’re talking about a group that includes 2 C-level execs (one of whom has written multiple books), a talented developer at Twitter with more degrees than I care to think about and who organizes get-togethers, a manager for a gigantic retail company who organizes other get-togethers and conferences, and then… me. It really does feel surreal to think that I belong in a group of people like that (even though I do. And so does anyone else if they want to work at it).

It’s honestly a little intimidating to find myself in a group like that (which might come as a surprise to people who know me – including the aforementioned mentor – considering the fact that I have a bit of a reputation as a smartass who doesn’t back down easily).

One of the reasons I love doing this sort of event is that things happen in the Q&A panels that make me think. Whether it’s a question from one of the students or an answer/comment from one of the other people there, something almost always happens that makes me stop and think or reflect.

I consider that a fantastic thing and well worth the price of admission on my part (which, admittedly, is minimal in this case – an hour or two of my time and a little bit of stage jitters). The fact that I get to meet so many amazing people (both speakers and students) along the way is just a bonus.

This time around, part of the food for thought was one of the other panelists (I think it was my friend, but I could be mistaken) reassuring the students that even though the people answering questions that day often work a ridiculous amount outside of their normal jobs, that it was possible to have a career in tech while still having a life.

The reason given was because the five of us “aren’t normal.” That the people who write books, organize conferences, speak at conferences and events like this, and write on a consistent basis aren’t the average.

And they’re right. We aren’t.

The people who do all of this stuff, spending their own time (and in many cases their own money) to do it aren’t normal, and we shouldn’t expect everyone else to be like them.

To take it a step further, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to them. If you want to look at them as a role model for what you want to be able to accomplish, that’s one thing, but comparing yourself to those people is a mistake for so many reasons.

I’m one of the people doing this stuff and I have that problem sometimes. To be honest, there are times that I still don’t feel like I do enough even though I know that’s not only unhealthy but absolutely bonkers.

Everyone has their own journey. For some people, living their life means that they want to speak to crowds or write books or change the world in some way. For a lot of others, living their lives means that, when they finish work for the day, they go spend time with their families.

Both of these things are laudable.

This is something that I have to remind myself of sometimes. Not because I expect other people to be like me (though I’ll admit that there was a time I did), but because I have to remind myself that part of what sets me apart is the fact that I do often go above and beyond the average.

If you want to know the truth, I’m pretty much the poster child for imposter syndrome. I’m also far too hard on myself.

I’ve been friends with, and learned from, people who literally wrote the books that I used to learn new things (and this has been the case at least since I was in college). It’s really hard to think you’re hot stuff when the person you’re talking to is a recognized expert on the subject and has an entire shelf of books with their name on them.

It’s also downright surreal when they consider you to be part of the group – even if you have worked your ass off to get there.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune to speak to on various topics (with crowds ranging from a dozen people to a few hundred), written for and been the executive editor of a tech magazine that was read by half a million people, taught and mentored quite a few people, and any number of other things.

All of that sounds really impressive when you put it like that, and if we’re being honest, it is. But that’s not what I see when I look in the mirror.

I just see me. I know where I came from. I grew up in rural Appalachia without a whole lot. I’ve always felt that I had to push myself at least twice as hard as other people to make it half as far. Part of the reason that I’m a smartass (despite the fact that it gets me in trouble on occasion) is because I’ve been fighting above my weight class for the majority of my career (and most of my life, if we’re being honest).

Other people see impressive accomplishments. I see a person who wonders how the heck he got here and when they’re going to figure out that he doesn’t belong there. Yet, paradoxically, at the same time I have no problem chatting with a CEO as a peer. Don’t ask me to explain how this works, because I have no idea.

For all I know, every other person you see on a stage or with their name on a book feels the same way. Honestly, they probably do. But the other person on the panel was right – we’re not “normal”.

On the upside, if you want to join the table, a lot of us seem to be willing to go and get you a chair. You can join us and be not normal too.

Just remember to live your life while you do it.

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