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The psychology of becoming a developer

The psychology of becoming a developer

There once was a cultural anthropologist by the name of Ernest Becker. He wrote a very insightful book called The Denial of Death. In it, he spoke of mankind’s immortality projects through efforts of heroism. In the end, he argued, all undertakings of men and women throughout history were made in the service of a culturally heroic ideal. Becker in turn was inspired to this realization by an Austrian psychoanalyst by the name of Otto Rank. Rank had published a book titled Art & Artist which made a deep impression upon Mr. Becker. Being a difficult read, and aware of his terse writing style, Rank had once asked the poet and essayist Anaïs Nin if she would be willing to undertake the heroic task of rewriting his work to make it more accessible to the masses. As far as I know, this never took place.

In Art & Artist, Rank sought to understand the origins of art, its purpose and meaning for mankind. He posed the question: Which came first? The art or the artist?

Through the methodical study of different psychological types, and with a complete overhaul of what constitutes an art, and who constitutes an artist, he was able to conclude from the evidence collected that the artist always, invariantly, declares themselves first as an artist before going forth to create the art.

So what is art? And how does this relate to the impostor syndrome?

Surely we can agree that art is anything performed or created with a certain degree of mastery. When art comes into being as a form of self-expression, we easily recognize it on museum galleries or concert halls. When it is pursued within a methodology, we call it science.

Programming has elements of both.

I had always had a fascination with programming and the people who could program. But it was not something I could do, I told myself. It was too complex and besides, I was no good at math. Even so, I once ended up teaching for a few weeks elemental ActionScript to high school students after graduation. It would be over a decade after this before I would make the choice to become a developer.

Overcoming the fear of a gigantic undertaking, surrendering to the fact that I would be a beginner for a very long time, accepting that there was a lot I would not understand at the beginning, and more than anything, realizing that time would continue to pass whether I made the choice to begin Now or not.

It has been one year and a half since I made the declaration I would be a developer. 555 days to be exact. On that day I wrote: I began today studying JavaScript and must remind myself to not attach any future value to the task of learning or else I will lose interest. To learn it for the sake of learning and nothing else, to develop a new skill, but not to dream of exploiting it. This is my psychology.

That was what I had to tell myself in order to begin. Had I had a goal in sight I’d had given up. Fast forward to today, I have recently earned the JavaScript Algorithms and Data Structures certification from freeCodeCamp and behold! As if an act of magic, the moment I wrote the code for the last project, the moment before where I explained the problem to myself, the moment I broke it down into smaller pieces, the moment I came up with a strategy to solve it, the moment I implemented a concept that had been particularly difficult to understand half-way through the entire course (recursive functions), the moment I debugged the script and passed all the test cases, the moment it was successfully accepted, and the moment I claimed my certificate, I understood that I had finally made it: I was finally a developer.

The accumulated hours, the quantified effort, the body of work pushed to GitHub was all evidence of the process of becoming. I had come full circle. Granted, I took detours along the way, sidequests, so to speak, but within the context of becoming a developer. A way to break up the monotony of it at times, writes David Quintero.

So what has changed from the beginning of the adventure to now?

Nothing. I have only climbed one peak. But now I know the method: as the character of Ernest Hemingway states in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “If you’re a writer, declare yourself the best writer!” So demand it of yourself, that which you seek to become!

I leave you with two quotes that accompany me in this journey:

“Therefore it is written: If you do not seek perfection you will halt before taking your first steps.” – Eliezer Yudkowsky, The Proper Use of Humility.

“Practice even what you have despaired of mastering. For lack of practice the left hand is awkward for most tasks, but has a stronger grip on the bridle than the right––it is practiced in this.” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations: Book 12 v. 6.