Diagnosis: Impostor Syndrome

There is a malady that often afflicts creative types. It is called Impostor Syndrome. It is the feeling that one gets when they find themselves being recognized for skills that they are not sure they have. For example, artists early in their career often doubt their bona fides as artists. They have spent their youth in awe of the masters that actually make a living doing the things that they love. When they start to have some success they feel like someone is going to knock on the door and tell them, “Okay. You’ve had your fun. Now it’s time to get a real job.”

Artists aren’t the only ones that are afflicted with Impostor Syndrome though. The software developer works in a field that is constantly changing. New languages and tools are developed so fast that there are few, if any experts in any of them. You see ads on job forums looking for candidates with five years experience in a technology that has only existed for two years at most. Often the only way to get these jobs is to step up and say you know something that you don’t. Then, if you get the job, you hustle like mad to learn the skills that you claim you already have.

Needless to say, this causes a good deal of anxiety among software developers working on the bleeding edge of technology. It is a strange feeling that is unlike most other types of anxiety. Most anxiety is abated when whatever fears that you are anxious about turn out to be unfounded. In the case of Impostor Syndrome, the fears are founded until such time as you demonstrate that they aren’t by actually learning the skills that you have claimed.

When you finally reach the point where you can contribute to a project that you are working on under the shadow of Impostor Syndrome, the relief is palpable. It is an emotional roller coaster ride that takes a kind of adrenalin junkie personality type to enjoy it. The best advice if you find yourself in this position is to take a deep breath and dive in. After all, you were looking for a job when you found this one.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Prescription for a Program

Here is one way to solve a difficult problem. It is described in the context of developing a software solution but the process can be similar for a broad selection of problem domains.

First, ask questions. Ask lots of questions. Ask every question that you can think of. Questions are more important than answers, especially at this stage. Do not be tempted to try to answer these questions at this point. If you look for answers too early, you may stop asking questions before you’ve thought of the important ones.

Write them down as you ask them. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you will forget them if you don’t write them down. Also, if you write them down you can read them later and evaluate them from a fresh perspective. Not only can you read them later, you should look over what you’ve written. See if you have forgotten anything. See if there are any patterns to be discerned among them.

At this point, you can start looking for answers. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t capture any good questions that occur to you while you do. Consult with people that are familiar with the problem. In the case of a software project that would include the intended users of the program.

Write a concise description of the problem as you understand it. Review the questions and any answers that you’ve found to see if you have overlooked any details in your problem description.

Next, imagine potential solutions. Write them down as you think of them. Frame them in the form of stories from the perspective of the user of the program. Try to think of several different approaches. Read what you have written and see if any of these stories can be broken down into smaller stories. Keep breaking big stories into collections of smaller stories until you feel like you could write a program that implements one of the small stories.

At some point, pick one of the small stories. You might pick an easy one. That will let you see results quickly and build your confidence. You might pick a  hard story. You may have to struggle more to implement it but you will have a sense of accomplishment when you are done with it. After implementing each story you should write a test framework that demonstrates that it works.

This description has been written as a linear sequence but often in practice it unfolds iteratively. You start out asking questions. You think you are ready to look for answers to them but you think of more questions. The more you learn, the more questions that you have.

As you start imagining solutions your understanding of the problem may be clarified so you can revise the problem description. You may start to implement a story and decide that it should be broken into smaller stories. You may think of more questions at any stage. This is as it should be.

Don’t be afraid to start trying to implement a solution. There is such a thing as analysis paralysis. Software is cheap. The raw material for it is ideas. The principle cost is labor and that is relatively cheap in the broad scope of things. Do experiments along the way to help you understand the problem better. Experiments can also inspire story development.

Finally, understand that you will rarely find a problem that you will be able to completely solve. Usually the best you will be able to do is create a solution that is good enough. It remains for you to decide when you’ve achieved that stage.

This sounds simple but it is hard work. Just remember that you haven’t failed until you quit trying. Sometimes a good night sleep can inspire new perspectives on the problem. Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important, be kind.

 

Job vs. Profession

The difference between a job and a profession is a matter of attitude. A professional owes their motivation to a passion for the work at hand. On the other hand, having a job is usually just a matter of trading a certain amount of your time and skills for money and other considerations, for instance health care benefits and vacation. The motivation is often primarily monetary.

A professional practices their profession. A laborer does the work that is at hand. A professional is not happy when required to do too much outside of their profession. Most professions require special training and experience. Professionals will sometimes take low paid or even unpaid internships to acquire experience in their chosen profession.

A sad situation sometimes arises where an employer does not recognize an employee as a professional and gives them assignments that fall outside of their domain of professional expertise. The result is made even more poignant when said employee is well paid. The colloquial term is that they are wearing golden handcuffs.

The solution to this situation would seem to be for the employee to seek employment elsewhere where they can practice their profession. Unfortunately there are often mitigating circumstances that make that difficult if not impossible.

It is a sad situation to observe. It is a sad situation to be in. The important thing to remember is that all things are possible. All you have to do is imagine them clearly enough and watch for the opportunity for change to present itself. You must manifest your dreams.

Sweet dreams, remember to tell the people that you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Ayes Have It

Writing without the use of the personal pronoun is challenging. It requires a confidence that is hard to muster. The perspective is implied and yet the resulting prose is stronger when it is written in that fashion. Points are asserted and it is left to the reader to evaluate their veracity.

It requires the author to think about the arguments they will make and the facts they will to assert. When a statement is made in this way, there are no apologies to soften them. The reader knows who is making the assertions and will hold the author responsible for them.

This style results in simpler, clearer prose. There are no words wasted on personal appeals. The prose has been trimmed to the bone. It may not suit all purposes but it is the best way to present factual narratives.

Our educational system has become lax in teaching its students concise thinking and clear writing. It is left for other avenues of tuition to hone the skills of modern writers. One such mechanism is the blog. It provides a platform upon which the aspiring writer can practice their craft. It is then a matter of Darwinian selection to see which blogs attract a readership and which languish in obscurity.

Another platform that champions the spoken word is the podcast. It offers a similar low barrier to entry while potentially providing greater exposure for the author that captures the interest of their audience. There is a wide range of styles of podcasts ranging from very informal to carefully scripted. It is left to the consumers to determine which styles flourish and which do not.

The ubiquity of the smart phone has made it possible for many people to produce short videos. You Tube was one of the first to provide a platform for video distribution and remains a major source of engaging amateur video content to this day. This provides yet another way the aspiring writer can distribute their work.

It is clear that there are plenty of avenues for authors and artists to deliver their creations to an audience in the modern world. Although this discussion has focused on the online platforms for expression there are also other venues that aspiring authors can employ to publish their work. These include local paper publications, commercial broadcast media, and even open mike nights at local restaurants and other entertainment establishments.

But Does This Mean I Have To Grow Up?

I have started thinking seriously about my goals. I have been living life on autopilot for so long that I have lost a clear sense of exactly what I want out of life. I started trying to enumerate my goals and discovered exactly how hard it is.

When I say I’ve been living on autopilot I mostly mean that I  have a good job that is interesting, pays well, and has good benefits. Consequently, things like shelter, food, health care, and a modicum of entertainment is pretty much taken care of. I occasionally have to pinch my pennies until the next pay check but I don’t worry much about necessities.

What I do worry about is the fact that I have lost sight of the things that I wanted to accomplish in life when I was younger. I have pushed them aside in favor of fighting the various fires that routinely arise when you are attempting to go about your life and raise a family. Now that my children are on their own and I have learned the basics of coping with day-to-day challenges, I am left pondering, what are my personal priorities?

After several false starts I came up with a small list of things that I want to do more. I want to play music. I don’t really have any great ambition to be famous or make money from it. Making money from it would be nice to the extent that it would help finance further projects but it would just be lagniappe.

Another thing I’d like to do is write. I am just starting to get to the point where I occasionally write something that I’m not completely embarrassed by. I would like to have time to devote to writing, both non-fiction and fiction, for more than a stolen hour here or half hour there. I realize that it takes discipline to actually sit down and take these opportunities when they present themselves.

I’d like to have the time and funds to occasionally travel. I haven’t done much traveling in the last several years and I miss seeing new horizons every now and then. I have had the yearning to revisit some of the places that I’ve lived in my youth. Places like Kentucky, Illinois, and Germany. I’d also like to see Great Britain in all her glory.

And finally, although it would be somewhat of a bus-man’s holiday, I’d like the opportunity to work on a programming project of my choosing without having to worry about schedule or budget or adhering to corporate standards or policies. I’ve always felt that programming was more an art than a science and after a career as a commercial artist, as it were, I’d like to address the more aesthetic side of the art.

This is by no means a comprehensive or even fairly detailed list of my goals. I’m still working on refining them. I have learned from experience that the more clearly you can envision something, the easier it is to manifest it. I’ve also left out the more intimate goals like spending time with friends and family. Consider this a first, skeletal pass at putting my goals into writing.

As always, pleasant dreams, tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important, be kind.

Oh Boy! New Toy

I’ve got a new BiPAP machine. That is a slightly different therapy for apnea than I was on before. This machine has one pressure for when I breath in another pressure for when I breath out. Also, this one is a lot more high tech than my last one.

This one has a color display screen where you set the options and read the settings. It also has a built in cellular modem so it automatically uploads my data every morning after I get up. They can also do remote diagnostics and adjust the pressure without my having to take it in to the office.

They also have a web site where I can review the data that the machine uploaded about my sleep quality. In case I haven’t mentioned it, I am a self quantification hobbyist. That is to say, I record my blood pressure, my blood sugar, my temperature, my weight, my body weight, my body fat, my bone mass, and my BMI every morning. I also record my steps and my heart rate using my Fitbit. My Fitbit also keeps track of how many flights of stairs I climb and estimates when I’m sleeping and when I’m awake from my movement and heart rate. This machine is going to add a bunch of new parameters to my daily collection routine.

Why do I do the self quantification thing? I have ambitions to one day do some analysis to see if I can figure out anything about my health. In the mean time, it’s just another of my weird OCD behaviors. I’m a typical nerd. I get a few weird quirks with the nerd package.

I Think I Passed The Test

I wrote a post yesterday. I apparently didn’t press publish. I think I actually did press post but somehow it didn’t get posted. It doesn’t matter. I know I wrote a post yesterday, as I am writing a post today. It just turns out that yesterdays post will have today’s date on it. But that’s beside the point. On to today’s topic.

As a follow up to yesterday’s post about my sleep study, I think the protocol for sleep studies needs some serious revision. They spent two hours at the beginning of my study last night “establishing a baseline”. That’s doctor speak for having me try to sleep without my mask.

At this point they know I have serious apnea. When I was originally tested I stopped breathing sixty times in an hour. That’s a rate of once a minute. For those that don’t have apnea it is difficult to explain the sensation of waking up gasping for air. Surely it doesn’t take two hours for them to establish that I am still in desperate need of the device.

Why did I have to submit to this barbaric study. (Please note: the protocol was barbaric. The sleep technician was a great guy who was just doing his job.) That’s easy, the insurance company wanted to be sure that I still needed this device. In other words we are once again allowing a corporation to practice medicine without a license. This is one of my pet peeves.

The rest of the night went fairly well. At first the pressure was lower than ideal but that was still preferable to no air pressure at all without the mask. Then, there was a little bit of discomfort at the end of the calibration procedure when they had increased the pressure past the optimal stage and air was leaking out the side of the mask and coming out of my mouth and waking me up. I did sleep fairly well throughout the calibration though.

I do get a new, improved CPAP machine for my troubles. I just can’t imagine why they can’t figure out that I need the damn thing without torturing me like that. I’m going to talk to the doctor about it when we have the follow up appointment.

Enough of my first world problems. I wish you all sweet dreams. Remember to tell the people you love that you love them and most important of all, be kind.