I was quite surprised to discover that thousands of people were members of the “Imposter Syndrome” Google+ group within my first month at Google.

I always thought that getting into Google was probably the best social proof of “making it” that an engineer could receive. The interview process is hard, gruelingly technical, relatively unforgiving and riddled with rollercoasters; many incredibly talented Googlers had to go through the process two or more times before getting in for good. (I went through it twice…sort of.) The engineering talent at Google is nearly limitless; many of the world’s most formidable and accomplished computer scientists, sysadmins and software engineers work or worked at Google doing all sorts of things.

So imagine my surprise when literally tons of engineers join a group expressing how they feel as if they aren’t good enough to be at Google or working alongside people with Wikipedia articles written after them. Perhaps it was a big joke that completely went with my head, but given the many, many internal jokes made about not being good enough to be a Googler that I came across (mostly thanks to Memegen), I had my doubts.

I hate checklists.

I can’t help but feel that every other day, I come across a blog post from a programmer or engineer that I’ve never heard of telling me 15 nicely-edited reasons why I’m not worthy of my job. I’ve never used Haskell. I don’t know what git stack does or how to untangle complicated head conflicts from rogue git commit -forces. My .vimrc is really, really plain, and I still don’t know how to write an emacs plugin despite having used it intermittently for the last three years.

Hell, I think if I tell anyone at any conference that I don’t watch Star Trek, don’t play video games and actually love being a Windows engineer (or simply show them my relatively barren Github profile), I’ll be blacklisted by every professional computing community out there.

I can already feel the angry emails coming.

I really hate checklists telling me how to be a “good” engineer. What does “good” mean anyway? Who sets the benchmark? Aside from my manager and peers (who seem to like me, I think?), who’s judging my “goodness?” My gut feeling is that most engineers are much better than they think, and these are my three guiding principles as to why:

Are you learning?

Technology is all about learning new things. If I had to take a guess, I would be scared if anything less than 15 JavaScript frameworks got released last night. What’s last year’s computing messiah usually becomes passé this year (see: virtual machines vs. containers); the state of configuration management is a quintessential example of this.

Are you learning new things? Are you trying new things? If so, then awesome!

Are you challenging yourself?

Finding a groove and sticking with it is a comfortable place to be. However, I believe that sticking with a groove for too long is an easy way to miss things, or, worse, an easy way to think that you don’t need to learn anything new.

In the beginning of my career five years ago, I was really, really good at VBscript. I knew enough to write and maintain behemoth-sized code and where its (many) oddities were. I got so good at it, I thought that learning PowerShell (then Monad) was more of a pain than a benefit. Setting registry keys was (back then) so much more difficult with the StdRegProv provider than with using the Shell object and calling reg.exe.

Had I invested the time in learning Powershell early, I would have probably invested much more time helping build the language or at least collecting cred on Stack Overflow.

If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.

Are you keeping yourself challenged? Are you working around people who challenge you? Are you taking on increasingly more challenging work? If so, then you’re awesome!

Giving a ****.

Do you care about the quality of your work? Do you document what you’re doing to teach others? If so, then you’re awesome!

Ditch the checklists.

Merriam-Webster defines passion as a a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and it shows through your work, in my book, even if it pales in comparison to what it should ideally look like, you’re a good engineer in my eyes. So much easier than checklists in my experience.

About Me

Carlos Nunez is a site reliability engineer for Namely, a human capital management and payroll solution made for humans. He loves bikes, brews and all things Windows DevOps and occasionally helps companies plan and execute their technology strategies.

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4 thoughts on “You’re a better engineer than you think.

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