Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

28 Oct 2013, 23:59 p.m.

On Ability

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2013 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Someone discovered "that the addition of 'Harry' to almost any Plato quote makes it seem legitimately like a nugget of wisdom out of the mouth of Albus Dumbledore." This reminded me to look up my favorite Dumbledore quote:

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

I am trying to remember that, because every day I go to Hacker School and sit next to people with lots more programming skill than me, and sometimes I find that discouraging. Or I realize how badly I want to impress people, to feel admired and respected, and how that sometimes gets in the way of growing and achieving actually admirable, respect-worthy things. I need to remember to disregard that kind of anxiety fungus emotion. Thomas Beagle said in some related comments:

to be a good geek you [have] to have both humility and arrogance in equal measures. The humility was so you'd admit you didn't know something and get help/read the docs/etc., the arrogance was the bit that said "I don't know that now... but I can and I will soon."

I think that, like a lot of people, I conflate skill and confidence, and I need to disassemble a construct I didn't even realize I had in my mental infrastructure. How slippery, that the confidence I need to develop is the confidence to express uncertainty, to say "I don't understand" as many times as it takes. Our Hacker School facilitators guide us to try projects that intimidate and scare us. Truly being vulnerable to my own ignorance is on that list. I wish I knew how to credibly and persistently promise myself that the rewards from being open to change are greater than the return on inertia.


Selena Deckelmann
07 Nov 2013, 17:15 p.m.

I totally relate to this feeling.

I also have the (advantage?) of not expressing much emotion with my face when I am nervous, and so people often mistake nervous on my face for confident. I have had to learn to tell people when I am nervous or unsure, because otherwise, they often never know.

I work on a team with amazing developers, with lots more years of experience than me and who are totally willing to help me on just about anything. I've had to learn how to accept that help, and also how to accept and believe compliments from people I really admire.

So much hard work! I'm so excited about what you're doing at Hacker School. <3 <3 <3