On Programmer Insecurity: Is it Personality or the Market?

Here’s a wonderful blog post by Ben Sussman-Collins, “Programmer Insecurity”, to which Jesse Noller has responded with “Programmer Insecurity and Mea Culpa”. (I don’t know either of these folks, I just follow their blogs in my RSS reader.) Ben talks about the need for more transparency, communication, and iterative growth in a programmer’s development:

Be transparent. Share your work constantly. Solicit feedback. Appreciate critiques. Let other people point out your mistakes. You are not your code. Do not be afraid of day-to-day failures — learn from them. (As they say at Google, “don’t run from failure — fail often, fail quickly, and learn.”) Cherish your history, both the successes and mistakes. All of these behaviors are the way to get better at programming. If you don’t follow them, you’re cheating your own personal development.

At the moment, I’m lucky to have fairly down-to-earth colleagues who generally foster these principles, but overall, this sort of perspective is sadly all too rare.

I don’t think it’s purely a matter of personality peculiar to programmers, or as Ben suggests, just “human nature” to fear embarrassment. I mean, sure, to an extent… but the fear is also fostered by a competitive labor market that values personal marketing over personal growth.

That’s why there are so many “best practices” blogs, vanity websites boasting of track records, and heated religious arguments about almost anything pertaining to code. The market has created a culture of showing off. And if you can demonstrate you are more “perfect” than the next guy or gal, you’ll impress the interviewer and land the job or the gig. One might argue, rightfully, that these are not great places to work. But places like Google where there is a generous philosophy of employee growth are probably the exception rather than the rule.

I can remember a time when things were different.

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