Trust – Mindfulness and software development (5/8)

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Trust in mindfulness refers to one’s gut feeling. This attitude is meant to keep us from making ourselves miserable by over-thinking, trusting intuitive decisions, and not second-guessing ourselves too much.

In software development, I definitely prefer head decisions over gut decisions. I do want a decision for or against a certain technology or architecture to be thought through with an eye on the future and the environment, and not just spring from a vague feeling. But if you want to think through a solution until there can be absolutely no more doubt, you will never finish the job. This kind of perfectionism often hides insecurity and insecurity often hides a lack of trust in one’s own abilities. That’s where we’ve come full circle and we’re back to mindfulness.

What is the most common occupational disease among software developers? I did a little research and found almost only sources on physical symptoms such as impaired vision[i]https://www. aerzteblatt.de/archiv/52239/Bildschirmarbeitsplaetze-eine-arbeitsmedizinische-Bewertung or unhealthy posture due to sitting too long[ii]https://www.boeckler.de/pdf/mbf_as_risiko_2006.pdf. In my opinion, however, mental health aspects should also be taken into account to a greater extent in an activity that takes place first and foremost in the head. Although it is not classified as a disease, most software developers will knowingly or not have already experienced it in various degrees of severity: The Imposter Syndrome.

With Imposter Syndrome, the affected lose confidence in their own abilities. You feel like you’re just pretending to others that you know what you’re doing, but in reality you’re just randomly pushing buttons until something happens to work. At some point, you fear, it will be revealed that you don’t know what you’re doing, and then the shame will be great. The colleagues don’t respect you anymore, you don’t get any interesting tasks, you are threatened with dismissal because you wrote in your CV that you know C++ and that was obviously a lie… Of course, none of this is true.

The impression that you are deceiving yourself and everyone around you can arise when, after initial euphoria, you suddenly become disillusioned and realize that you know nowhere near as much as you assumed. This happens frequently, especially with complex topics. Something similar is described by the Dunning-Kruger effect, but from a different perspective[iii]https://www.verywellmind.com/an-overview-of-the-dunning-kruger-effect-4160740. It describes why people with very limited experience in a subject often argue with the most conviction. I’m misappropriating this model to illustrate how disillusionment, which can ultimately lead to Imposter Syndrome, comes about:

The (extended) Dunning-Kruger-Effect and the imposter syndrome

If you deal only very little with a topic, you do not grasp the full scope of the topic at first. The false impression is created that you already understood everything, because you simply don’t not know what all you don’t know. If this impression is disturbed, self-confidence drops rapidly. You suddenly see that before you were at the peak of Mount Stupid, claiming to know and be able to do everything – something you would call fraud from the present perspective. But it wasn’t fraud, because fraud is intentional. Rather, it was a mistake, and mistakes are allowed [iv]more on this in the chapter “Letting Go” (TBA). The fact that you can recognize this means that you have grown, because even if your self-confidence has just gone down, your experience has gone up.

I took the liberty of extending the classic Dunning-Kruger model[v]https://github.com/dwmkerr/hacker-laws/issues/163 a bit more: Usually the graph ends after the second maximum point, but I would like to explicitly point out that this kind of disillusionment does not only affect beginners, but can occur whenever a new subject area is broached.

Imposter syndrome is a sign that growth has occurred. For anyone who has arrived at one of the valleys in the chart above and feels that they can no longer trust their own abilities, it may help to realize that he:she has only ended up in the valley because he:she has moved further to the right on the X-axis (experience) – he:she has undoubtedly become more experienced, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

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