The Gap: “Why do I feel like I suck as a Developer?”

The junior developer journey can be hard and full of self doubt, how do you pull yourself out of those moments when you think you’re just not good enough?

Walking to work one morning listening to the Start Up Podcast I was reminded of this very well known quote by Ira Glass, the host and producer of This American Life.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this.
We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
― Ira Glass

On this particular day I was feeling pretty shitty, and questioning my skills as a Junior Developer:

1. It’s taking me ages to learn and I feel really stupid.

2. Can I even do this? Am I even smart enough? Development is for smart people!

3. I’m completely over my head…what the hell am I doing!

Rinse, repeat. gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

The Ira Glass quote, which is referred to as “The Gap” is exactly what every person trying to make a career change or learning something new goes through. I’m going through both and it immediately gave me perspective.

It was exactly what I needed to hear at that moment in time, that I’m not special, everyone goes through this.

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

So I decided to focus on the activities and strategies that help me when feeling like a giant disappointment:

1. Take some time out if you need. Walking away and clearing your head can give you some perspective. Being well rested and not stressed out is a good thing! Note: Easy to say, hard to do…I don’t practice this as much as I should.

2. You’re not alone. Sometimes family and friends can’t empathise as much even though you want them to. Find people to talk to, colleagues or mentors, or other junior developers. If you don’t have this support you can find like minded people through Meetups.

3. Create a list of things that you are technically struggling with and focus on learning those. There is a wealth of information on GitHub, Slack Channels and online Tutorials. Remember though, you can’t learn everything!

4. When you feel overwhelmed about solving a technical problem break it down into the smallest tiniest pieces possible and work on each bit at a time. The project or task then turns from Mount Everest into lots of tiny ant mounds. This has helped me, but you need to be disciplined, it might seem easy to skip this process and just plough into developing…don’t!

5. Listen to podcasts, read articles and keep learning. Listen to this latest episode of Syntax.(They even reference The Gap) Advice for New Developers, Imposter Syndrome and Interviewing at Google.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

And finally, keep coding, persist, learn…and don’t quit.