Nobody Knows What They’re Doing

Makinde Adeagbo
The Compiler
Published in
5 min readNov 11, 2015


Makinde Adeagbo has worked as a software engineer and manager at Pinterest, Dropbox, Bridge International Academies, and Facebook. He is also the founder of /dev/color.

From the outside, it looks like my career has been smooth sailing through some of the top tech companies in Silicon Valley. A very different picture emerges when I’m describing my career to those around me. I start to tell folks about the unexpected times where I struggled and learned something new about how to advance. The story I tell the most is about a certain javascript file I once wrote. I’ll never forget color.js.

I was only one month into my job at Facebook, and they’d thrown me into the deep end. Each day I applied what I knew, figured things out, and built cool stuff. Then one day I saw the title of one of my revisions in an email to the entire engineering team. Referring to my revision, an engineer commented, “…this is the type of revision that makes me mad!” He’d called out my revision and went line by line explaining how horrible the entire file was. Wow. I was abruptly confronted with the fact that I had no clue what I was doing when writing JavaScript. Not only that, my lack of knowledge was now broadcast to the entire team. If you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, this is as bad as it gets.

This was a tough moment. I wasn’t sure I could cut it. I legitimately thought that I might not have what it takes to be an engineer at a top company. It’s easy to feel alone and unsure in these situations. Luckily folks were there to give me a very important lesson. Through my career, I’ve found that this lesson totally changes how I approach these situations. When I feel cornered, worried that perhaps I bit off more than I can chew this time, and worried that I have no clue what I’m doing…I remember that nobody knows what they’re doing.

If you’re lucky, you will have many challenging moments in your career. Moments when you only understand a portion of the problem in front of you, when you know you’ll have to try a few things to see what works, when you aren’t fully confident that you can do the job. We’re lucky to have these moments because that’s how we grow. By pushing outside of what you know, where you’re comfortable, and into the unknown you force yourself to learn.

“If you’re lucky, you’ll have many challenging moments in your career.”

Yep, this goes for just about everyone. The CEO of that hot shot new company that everyone loves? He’s probably never run a company before. That director who just started managing other managers? She’s probably only managed individual contributors before. We are all constantly being asked to step up to new challenges and help lead. This is just as true for engineers who’ve just finished college as it is for CEOs, executives, and everyone in between. Silicon Valley is built by people constantly pushing to the limit not just of the technology they produce, but their personal capabilities as well.

Knowing that others around you are also learning to swim in the deep end will usually relieve some of the stress of needing to learn a new role. But that’s just the beginning. As you move forward, keep these tips in mind:

  • Don’t get fazed by the people who look like they have everything put together; they didn’t when they were just starting out. It’s easy to look at other people or companies that are further along and compare yourself. When you dig in and find out how things were at the start, you often find that they were making it up on the fly as they went along. Furthermore, they are confronting their own, new challenges now that are pushing the boundaries of what they know.
  • Know that those around you want you to succeed. Someone put you in that position because they believed that you had what it would take to excel there. They didn’t put you there hoping you’d fail. A close analogy is public speaking. Everyone gets nervous in front of a crowd. But the entire audience really wants you to do well, if not for your sake, for their own.
  • Everyone around you wants to help you succeed. Asking for help feels like you’re admitting to your peers that you don’t know something. Struggling through on your own can be the worst thing to do. Being vulnerable and asking for help is usually welcomed by your peers, who are happy to help. More times that not, reaching out like this creates deeper bonds between peers, rather than straining the relationship (as I’ve feared so many times in the past). Remember, that person you’re getting help from is likely figuring out how to do their own job, so they understand where you’re coming from.

These tips will get you started on the path to fighting through those challenging times in your career. It will still take lots of hard work, lots of help from others, and perhaps some sleepless nights. You’ve got to take the challenge head on. When I was working on color.js I decided to start sending all of my JavaScript revisions to the engineer who called me out. Sure enough, he tore the next few apart. But over time he’d make fewer and fewer corrections, leaving fewer and fewer comments. After a few months, I’d become one of the leading JavaScript engineers at the company.

You won’t always succeed, but you will succeed more often that you think. In addition to learning a lot about your subject matter, you’ll learn about how to motivate yourself through these tough situations, because you’ll face many more down the road.

Ultimately, this is a lesson I’ve learned over and over again. I find that I have to remind myself of this at least weekly, if not even more often. Remembering that the tech industry is being built by people just figuring things out on the fly isn’t just a way to avoid stress; it’s become one of the most empowering bits of advice I can imagine. Because if all those people out there have changed the world while not knowing what they were doing…so can I.

/dev/color is a non-profit organization that provides Black software engineers with the connections and skills needed to start and stay in the industry, and advance into leadership roles. To learn more, check out our website and follow our blog.



Makinde Adeagbo
The Compiler

Founder of /dev/color. Former engineer @ Pinterest, Dropbox & Facebook.