Reality Check: Counseling for Developer Hero Worshippers

I used to believe that outliers were people who performed superhero feats that I could never hope to match and one glance at my Twitter feed was all I required as absolute proof.  Let me show you what I mean.

Sample Twitter feedBy the time I wake up, A has already tweeted that she pulled an all-nighter performance-tuning some massively parallel database logic and shaved off an insane number of cycles.  B couldn’t sleep so he settled down to learn a technology he’d heard good things about.  By lunch-time, C has delivered a well-received keynote at a conference that D and E are attending and E is also speaking at.  Both D and E spend the day tweeting quotes from the various speakers from said conference.  B replies to some of those tweets and the whole thing turns to banter.  A posts a link to some 1970’s highly technical white paper on parallel processing algorithms and marvels at how relevant the contents still are.  Those early developers really knew their stuff!  B eventually tweets that he’s whipped up a quick thing using the new technology and is loving it.  D boasts about sharing a beer with C and having a blast which A claims to be envious of.

Based on this, outliers are people who code by night, speak at conferences by day, and enjoy a well-deserved beer before starting the cycle again.  Right? Well, let’s see: The next day, neither A nor B tweet anything at all.  D’s flight gets delayed and he’s stuck at an airport.  E gets home with a sigh of relief and tweets about procrastinating on that online course she should be recording but it’s such a gorgeous day out that she goes for a long walk with the dog instead.  F, G, and H are all tweeting about unrelated but cool GitHub projects while K tries to find volunteers for a coding dojo for kids that he’s organizing.

My state-machine-like brain gets tricked into believing that whatever a person was doing when they last posted is what they continue to do until their next post indicates they’ve moved on to something else.  From the information above, it has no proof that A ever sleeps.  It gets so caught up with all Superhero With Clockthe great things being accomplished on the second day that it glosses over the fact that most of those actions were being performed by a different set of people while the first set are going about their regular lives, walking the dog, taking kids to soccer practices or dance lessons, and the like.

Everyone has 24 hours per day.  No more, no less. It’s what outliers choose to do with those hours that makes them different and it’s the tidbits they strategically choose to share of their lives that trick us into believing they have super powers and a wardrobe full of superhero capes.

About Danielle Boldt

Danielle discarded her imitation super suit and cape and stepped outside of her comfort zone to propose a session for That Conference which, to her surprise, was accepted! So, in August, she’ll be able to add conference speaking to her list of achievements. Danielle is a Senior Software Engineer at Renaissance Learning Inc. She has nearly 20 years of software development expertise that ranges from design through to quality assurance and deployment automation. When not at work or working towards a particular certification, you might find Danielle out on her motorcycle, at the indoor rock climbing gym with her husband and children, or tucked at home practicing guitar.

8 thoughts on “Reality Check: Counseling for Developer Hero Worshippers

  1. Thanks Danielle – good post. I completely agree with that brain trick. Gets me everything I follow those superheros on Twitter.

  2. This also relates to image branding. If all you post about is coding all night or how your learning the next thing, then that’s the way you are perceived by others.

    1. Great point Paul. I agree, though I get the impression you’re saying posting only about those topics is a bad thing. If I am looking to hire a developer and see he/she has a blog that talks solely on these topics, I’m likely quite impressed. What are you suggesting they’re missing?

      1. I’m saying that if you post like the heroes in the article then you will be perceived the same. As Danielle says “It’s the tidbits they strategically choose to share of their lives that trick us into believing they have super powers. “

        1. Paul, I’d love to understand more about your comments. Would you prefer there was a rule dictating that everyone must make enough personal information available so that the public at large can be assured they indeed belong to the human race like the rest of us?

          Personally, I strongly believe that people should be free to share as much or as little about themselves as they wish to. If they feel more comfortable sharing only technical information, that is their absolute right. I do not hold them responsible for the way I may perceive them based on their collection of posts. My blog post above was intended to highlight how I am free to modify my perception of people regardless of what tidbits I am provided with. I did not intend to imply that people should modify their behavior just so I can feel less intimidated. If the blog post came across that way, it was unintentional.

          1. What I was getting from the article was that if a person wanted to appear super-human, then they could release tidbits that reflect that. This is not something most people think about.
            This is really important when considering your brand image and could be used to your advantage. I’m not saying or even implying that this is a bad thing, but another tool to think about whilst maintaining your own personal brand image.
            I really enjoyed the article and I’m sorry if I seem to be attacking it, that is not the case.
            Now, I must get back to saving kittens up trees and curing cancer!

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