Ego is Killing Tech, and I’m Part of the Problem

K Hodges
4 min readDec 14, 2018

Here’s a scenario.

We’re at a Standup at $TechCompany.

The Double Senior Data Ninja is recounting the riveting tale of how he Double Senior Data Ninja’d the Foo-Bar code. How? Well, he says, he used QWERTY_ORM.

There’s strong agreement, silence, nodding heads and then a half dozen keyboards start clacking to frantically search “What is QWERTY_ORM?”.

Why is everyone doing this? Because the last time, when the Half-Junior Intern raised his hand to ask Data Ninja “What’s tensorhaskell?”, he was subjected to the feigned surprised of Data Ninja, or perhaps one of his cohorts. “You don’t know what tensorhaskell is?”, and then further subjected to an overly technical explanation that only served to inflate the rockstars ego.

So now instead of sharing knowledge, everyone’s taking udemy courses in secret, because everyone else seemed to know what QWERTY_ORM and tensorhaskell was, and that means I’m the impostor.

I’d hazard a guess that there are probably entire architectures built on this anti-pattern. Hell, that’s the only sensible explanation for why modern JS is the way it is.

Last year I wrote a whole thing on impostor syndrome. It’s like the only thing I’ve ever written that more than a few people have read. The gist is “if you feel like an impostor, simply try harder”. I preached this philosophy as a virtue, especially in job interviews.

At one such interview, my shitty idea was called out. I was interviewing at Riot. The interviewer had like eleven degrees in quantum psychic molecular data science , so I was impostoring extra that day. She said something to the effect of “That whole idea kinda seems like you’re overcompensating for insecurities, and I’m worried that it’s going to burn you out.”

Well, when you put it that way… Crap, it’s true.

I had this awesome pattern of getting jobs I wasn’t qualified for, letting my fear of being deemed unworthy drive me to eventually become useful in the position, feeling like a #total #boss for meeting the demand and then getting burnt out and feeling unappreciated.

That same job, at Riot, fell through. It was for some Data Engineering position, and I was told that I didn’t meet their standards for the senior team member. They offered me an associate position. I felt hurt and a little offended.

It was around this time that my Cousin (another quadruple PhD in rocket-data-physics or something) suggested I read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday. I was a little taken aback- surely I don’t have an ego, I’m unappreciated and a total rockstar, right?

Turns out, the book more or less outlined this “unappreciated rockstar” fallacy perfectly. It goes on to make the point that ego manifests itself in weird ways that often are factors in a persons success, but once success is attained will lead to their downfall. It describes how setting your ego aside will let you see the bigger picture outside of your perception, and making decisions when seeing that bigger picture can lead to healthy choices instead of my pattern, which led to me drinking too much and resenting people that cared about me.

I took the associate job. I’m allowed to be a noob for the first time in my career. Hell, the other day I asked a platinum-level-senior “What’s BGP?”, and instead of acting aloof, they booked an hour on my calendar and showed me how rad BGP is.

The ego thing, I think, is a major factor in the lack of diversity in tech.

I was raised by 4chan, online gaming, and early 2000s hacker culture, and for better or worse my formative years were molded by the toxicity of ‘bro culture’. For people far more emotionally intelligent and self aware, the “core competency” of being an insecure egotist isn’t a practiced skill.

Some folks don’t have the time in their lives to take clandestine Udemy courses and have to resort to asking reasonable questions instead. Many more still don’t think of themselves as rockstar wizards and don’t apply to dozens of jobs they’re not qualified for, they don’t work on lofty sounding side projects and they don’t give conference talks on subjects they don’t know about. They might not even namedrop the newest hackernews_thing to look more current than their peers, and they probably don’t even exaggerate on Linkedin.

The toxic feedback loop we have created keeps out honest, humble, emotionally intelligent individuals. Tech needs people like that now more than ever. I’d rather work with Julia Evans over Linus Torvalds any day of the week.

If I’m driving at a point in this aimless rant, it’s this:

Be radically honest with others and yourself. Be boldly kind. If you love technology, extend that love to your fellow geeks. Let’s not allow our generation of hackers to burn out, because we’ve got a lot of stuff to build.

My name is Kevin and I have no damn clue what tensorhaskell is.

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K Hodges

“Defense Researcher” according to Reuters, Chelsea Manning Fan Fiction Author, Delightful Degenerate