Don’t feel like an expert? Share anyway.
Too many of the most interesting voices in tech and design talk themselves out of writing or speaking about their work—because they don’t think they have enough experience. But you don’t have to wait for “enough“ (whatever that means). Here’s how to find what’s special about your perspective right now—wherever you are in your career.
Last fall, Katel LeDu and I asked more than 200 people about their experiences with professional visibility in the tech and design communities—including what was hard about it. Over and over, in almost every way you can imagine, we heard the same thing: “I’d love to write or speak about my work, but I’m worried I don’t have enough experience.”
“I feel like I’m uninteresting, and maybe not knowledgeable enough.”
“I don’t see myself as expert enough to give advice, mentor, give talks/workshops.”
“I see so many profound talks, blogs and material out there and I worry I will never match up.”
“Who am I to be talking about this?”
We heard it from product designers in Seattle, from content strategists in San Francisco, from engineers in Nashville, from UX specialists in London. We heard it from people who just got their first tech job, and from those who’ve been in the industry for over a decade. We heard it so often, we started wondering whether anyone feels knowledgeable at all. So if this sounds like you, take heart: feeling inexperienced or uninteresting or like an imposter is super normal.
But it’s also a feeling, not a fact.
There’s no magic amount of experience that will suddenly make you worthy of sharing your ideas with the world.
Anyone who tries to make you feel otherwise probably has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo—which is to say, more of the same overrepresented groups on our stages and bookshelves, and at our meetups and conference tables. You know, the same voices who got us where we are today: an industry laced with racism and sexism, and woefully unprepared to solve the massive ethical problems it’s created.
We desperately need more voices, and different voices, if we want this industry to change — and those ideas could absolutely be yours. So, I’ve pulled together some of the things Katel and I heard in interviews with experienced speakers and authors, and things I’ve learned over years of writing books, speaking at conferences, and generally learning to talk about my ideas with anyone who’ll listen. They’re the things I wish someone had told me back in 2011, when I had to drink three glasses of wine to get the courage to hit “publish” on my very first professional blog post. And they’re the things I hope you’ll keep in mind next time you think about putting your work out there.
If you’ve been talking yourself out of sharing your ideas, this post is for you.
Experience not required
“You don’t have to know everything about a topic to give a talk about it.”
—Abi Jones, UX Manager at Google
…Or to write an article. Or be on a panel. Or present at a meetup.
In fact, I’d go even further: it’s often harder to learn from people with tons of expertise, not easier. The longer someone’s been doing something, the less likely they are to remember what it was like to learn how to do it for the first time. The more distant they can be from the day-to-day challenges of the work. The more they might gloss over details that seem obvious to them, but are incredibly not at all obvious omg I am so lost to their audience.
Really, I mean this. I’ve been to around a hundred conferences over the past seven years (yes, I am very tired). I also spent three and a half years, from 2012 to 2015, as the editor-in-chief of A List Apart, where I read at least a thousand article pitches, and published a couple hundred of them. I have seen amazing talks from brand-new speakers, and terrible, cringey ones from fancy keynotes. I have seen essays from new writers go absolutely wild with traffic, and ones from old hands that I honestly struggled to finish.
It’s not that I haven’t seen amazing work from experienced folks— I have, and I spend lots of time dissecting their techniques (and stealing — I mean, learning — from them). But trust me: it’s not a given.
Do it for past you
“Different people come at a topic with a different experience and perspective to bring to the table… Something I know now, I did not know six months ago.”
—Yesenia Perez-Cruz, Senior UX Lead for Polaris at Shopify
When I first started blogging about my work, I imagined the most influential people in UX and content strategy reading it. Would they think it was interesting? Would they think it advanced the field? Would they even finish it?
This did me no favors. Gaining the attention of influential people can be helpful, sure, but trying to write for them is probably a waste of time. First off, they’re a small audience, the keynote speakers and book writers of tech and design. And second, imagining an audience of high-level experts who go to a dozen conferences a year is a great way to psych yourself out of producing anything at all. You’ll immediately toss out perfectly good ideas, assuming those leaders have already heard them a thousand times — even if the other 95% of the industry never has.
(Also, the people with big profiles certainly haven’t heard it all, either! If they act like they have, they’re probably trying to hide how insecure they really feel.)
A much better audience to write a talk or article for? Past you. You know, the person who didn’t know a damn thing about this topic. The person who stared at a problem with no idea how to start solving it. You… before you figured this shit out.
When you master something, it’s easy to move on without reflecting on how you mastered it. Part of the reason is that acknowledging our own ignorance often makes us feel ashamed, like we’re at a fancy dinner party and we don’t want anyone to notice that we have literally no idea which fork to use.
It’s easy to assume that everyone else already knows what they’re doing, and you’re the one who’s behind — and that if you admitted you just learned something, you’d be revealing just how naïve you truly are.
I definitely felt this way, for years. And I could always come up with a reason: I wasn’t working at one of those big cool companies, the ones that have it all figured out. I wasn’t living in one of those proper cities, the ones known for innovation and excellence. I didn’t go to the right college, I didn’t have the right credentials, I didn’t work on the right projects. Shit, I still feel that way on a regular basis. But guess what? I do know stuff. Turns out, I kinda know a lot.
I bet you do, too.
So think back: What’s something you do regularly now, but that seemed overwhelming, confusing, or impossible a year ago? Go back to that moment, slow down, and unpack what shifted for you. Some questions to ask yourself:
- When was a time you felt overwhelmed by something in your work? What did you do to prioritize, simplify, or otherwise process things?
- Did you have any “a-ha” moments where things clicked? When were those? What was happening when you had them?
- What techniques did you try as you were learning? Did you make up any new ones?
- When you got stuck on a problem, how did you get unstuck? Were there any concepts or ways of seeing the problem that helped you do that?
- What do you wish you’d known back then? What tools or resources do you wish you’d had?
It’ll probably feel weird at first to revel in all the things you once didn’t know. But trust me: if it was hard for you to learn then, it’s hard for someone else right now. Maybe sharing your work with them will make it easier.
Everything is new for someone
“The stuff you get up and do every day that is as natural to you as breathing? There are thousands of people who want to know about that.” — Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, CEO of Brain Traffic, and founder of Confab Events
I was talking to a woman recently who created a whole new practice area at her company. She told me that every time she talked about what she did with people from other companies, their eyes would light up. “We need that here!” they’d say. Yet she was still struggling to figure out when and where and how to talk about her work — because the things she was doing seemed super obvious to her. She had seen a gap in her organization that was causing problems, and she built a practice that would solve them. Simple as that.
But that’s the thing: her work was super obvious to her. To everyone else, it was a revelation — a new way of looking at challenges that had plagued the organization for ages.
When something feels straightforward to you, that might be because it is straightforward, sure. But it could also be because brains are weird. Yours might be wired a little differently than other people’s. You might have a knack for abstraction, or systems thinking, or finding parallels, or unifying disparate ideas, or telling stories, or any number of other skills that make some knots simply easier for you to unravel. And the same’s true for other people: some problems that make zero sense to you will be perfectly obvious to them. Life’s a rich tapestry, y’all.
Don’t write off an idea just because it seems obvious and natural to you.
Instead, figure out whether other people feel like it’s obvious, too. If they don’t, then you’re probably onto something. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- What parts of your job do you do without having to think about them? How did you learn to do them?
- When other people try to do what you do, where do they get lost or stuck?
- Do people tend to come to you for help? What do they come to you for, and why?
- When you talk with peers about something you care about, do they light up? Do they ask a lot of questions? What are they most curious about?
Only you can do this
Look, I don’t think everyone needs to get on a stage or write a book or, god forbid, become a thought leader (🙄). But if you do want to do those things, that’s ok — there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for your work, and to see your ideas flourish out there in the broader community. There’s nothing wrong with standing up and saying, hey, I have things to say, too!
Even if you’re new to your field.
Even if you’re a little bit scared.
Even if that voice in the back of your head is asking just who you think you are, anyway.
You’re you — with your piecemeal knowledge and your unique experiences and your weird brain. And you’re the one I want to hear from.