How do you avoid feelings of entitlement?

At a certain level of achievement in a software, it can be easy to become entitled.

How do you stay humble and appreciative?

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DISCUSSION (26)

I think about my second job. I'd just come out of a startup where I'd gotten a taste of cutting-edge technology and techniques and landed in a developer-analyst role in automotive manufacturing, where everything seemed years behind the times in comparison. All the existing code was VB6. I did a lot of COM interop, and if you don't know what that is, be thankful. Source control consisted of "ask X if he's got the latest version of that code, or uh try to find it on one of these old laptops I guess". I set up an SVN server because my god what are we, animals? Do we eat nuts and berries and shit in the woods too? I test-drove development and approached problems iteratively and moved fast and broke things and all that stuff.

And nothing changed. Nobody else adopted TDD or even used my SVN server. I wound up changing how I worked, because I realized quickly enough that I was shipping code that wasn't fully baked. I'd gotten used to having centralized product and the ability to deliver patches whenever I wanted. When installation and updates both mean someone (very possibly you) has to fly across the Atlantic, put on goggles and earplugs and a safety vest, walk half a mile to plug a USB key into a station, and stop an assembly line for hopefully under a minute, the thing had better work right when it comes up. And for all the other developers at this place were studiously ignoring all kinds of standards and best practices and so forth, they understood the context they'd been working in far better than I did coming into it.

I ate a lot of crow at that job. Not because I wasn't good at what I do, but because I thought that that meant I understood what was right for the environment I found myself in better than the people who'd been in it for years before me.

On my way to work I see people that can barely walk in a city that is supposedly at the forefront of software innovation. The contrast reminds me we are all just special chimps and barely have anything figured out. It's easy staying humble when you notice all the little things humans are bad at. No matter how far along I get I will always be limited by human nature and biology.

I relate to this so much.

It also makes me think that the 'limited' in the last sentence might stand to be embellished with 'and graced'. The richest, unsanitized experience of life isn't really possible without those things. Even though we often think they're a nuisance. Sorry, I've veered off topic; that last thought wasn't related to resisting feelings of entitlement, or staying humble and appreciative... other than, maybe, to say that there's an innate motivation to do so if you don't want to relinquish your humanity entirely.

Damn! These words sound as though they are said by someone who is 100% alive! Really well put, Monica ✌🏻

I guess it depends on what you mean by entitlement. There's a difference between honest expectations and prima donna demands.

You're entitled to a work environment that doesn't dismiss your knowledge, doesn't presume you're incompetent, and treats you with respect. You can expect an honest assessment of your abilities and are entitled to be afforded responsibilities commensurate with them.

You're entitled to be privy to the business and going-on's of other departments. As you acquire experience in programming you will naturally acquire know-how in those other departments. You should be fairly allowed to voice your opinion for things outside of your primary domain. You should of course be humble enough to know when you're outside your depth.

Staying humble is easy. I just look at my resume. Every listing prior to now is technically a venture from which I didn't get rich and retire on. Now I look at your current job, I'm still working, and not sitting on a tropical island, thus there must still be something I can improve upon.

If you have frequently found environments that do not dismiss your knowledge, that do not presume you are incompetent, that afford you responsibilities commensurate with your abilities, that make you privy to business goings on, and that pay any attention to your opinion, then you must live in a different world than I do.

My environments generally do few or none of these things. Your 'honest expectations' sound like dream jobs to me. Sigh.

Sorry to hear you've had some bad luck in the job department.

Note that I've mainly worked with startups and small companies, so they were smaller to begin with. I'm also quite proactive in getting what I want from the company, and demonstrating what I can do.

I think my difficulty is that I don't fit the mold, and no one knows how to interact with me on a productive basis. I think I need to somehow create a new field of software development, and then work in it. I don't know how to do that.

For me, entitlement can best be fought by developing a few good mental habits. It's easy to get comfortable with thoughts about "things just being they way they are" and "good things only happen to good people like me." But I've been trying a few things that both help me deal with feelings of entitlement, and also just keeping an open mind.

I listen to people's thoughts that I instinctively disagree with, but then take them seriously try to honestly evaluate them. Especially if it's about society and its role in helping me get where I am.

I reassess my worldview and myself whenever I can. I accept I'm wrong about code I wrote all the time, it's just as likely I was wrong about a worldview or part of my identity. Especially if it's about identities and how they influence how the world sees us - and how we see ourselves.

I don't let my mind's tendency for simple, catchy narratives distract me from nuance and new information. I never end a thought or observation without taking a few more steps to find gray areas, or areas I'll likely never fully understand. I don't take simple talking points or catch phrases about tough topics seriously. Especially when my mind gets defensive about entitlement and privilege and tries to deny it exists.

Most importantly, I never see my mind as being settled. Our minds never have the right answer, just more accurate ones. That means I should hold my beliefs loosely and know when to adjust my beliefs, whether they're large or small. Especially when they're about the world being fair, people getting what they deserve, or me being an exception to all the rules.

Entitlement is letting your mind get settled into a luxury sofa and assuming everyone else could just walk over and joining you. Beating it is finding the will to get up, see the long and painful paths others would have to tread to reach it, and realizing you never had to walk them. It will be hard to believe, it'll be painful, and that sofa will never feel as comfortable again. But if I'm lucky, I can sit in it again, relax a bit, and make room for someone else.

I try to ask a colleague to teach me something at least once a week. I'm learning all the time from them when I read their code, but it's also important to all to be taught to help stay humble. Also reading and trying to learn new things is always a hoping experience.

Confidence: Belief you can do. Arrogance: Belief you know it all. Smugness: Arrogance without the talent.

When I successfully develop and deliver, I get confidence. Healthy self-respect is needed if we need to progress.

At every stage of my life, I have been lucky to get a network of super-smart folks who were willing to teach. I look upto them and I realize I've a long way to go. That keeps me grounded.

Have you watched Matthew McConaughey's Oscar speech: youtu.be/wD2cVhC-63I

...And to my hero, that’s who I chase...So you see every day, every week, every month and every year of my life, my hero is always 10 years away. I’m never going to beat my hero.

And that is how you stay motivated and humble.

On days you feel good it is harder to be humble — fake it til you make it. Remember that last big mistake you made so you stay grounded.

On days you feel bad it is easier to be humble. But don’t take it too far. Remember your past victories.

Failure, rejection, and hard times will make you humble and appreciative. If you never experience any of those things, it is hard to understand why you need to be humble and appreciative.

I'm most grateful for the wonderful people that I get to work with. Not only other developers, also facility services, IT support, HR, customer care and even marketing (even though I still have to cringe now and them when I have to deal with them directly - but their job is important, too).

Appreciating all those people will help you remember that you're not entitled to be in your position, but that you can enjoy it and perform well because of their work.

I go to my twitter/github feed. I see people building amazing stuff. I go back to being the fascinated little kid who wants to do more.

When it comes to work, no-one is irreplaceable.

There's nothing I do to avoid feeling entitled per se, but since I love trying and learning new stuff, I'm always tinkering with something new. When I'm learning something new, I feel like a beginner quite often -I get frustrated, I don't understand things, I realise that there's so much that I still don't know... And I'd say that it's quite hard not to stay humble when you feel like a beginner rather often.

Collaboration. When you're the only one going in there, writing your magic and maintaining it without a feedback loop, it can easily lead into entitlement. Merge requests and pair programming will make sure your ego is left at the door.

Look up, at everything else you still don't know. Great at web development, how about some machine learning. Amazing data scientist, try building a mobile app. Outstanding rails developer ;) , how about learning some Rust and building a kernel :P. There is so much too learn and so much fun to be had that its hard to get to the top and feel completed.

My curiosity keeps me humble.
I want to learn everything, so I am constantly aware of a long list of things I don't know. That list just keeps growing longer and longer. I'm good at my job, and know a lot of things my coworkers don't, but they're smart and accomplished in their own right. Since we come from different backgrounds, they know a lot of things I don't.

Don't forget that your boss wakes up everyday trying to figure out how to fire you and replace you with a new employee that does the same job for a fourth of the salary and be very appreciative that he hasn't come up with anything...yet.

Once upon a time, I had a big fancy financial project completed with notably successful stats, to which a college responded with a note just on point ... "A developer's success is measured by the size of his bank account.". So leme cure cancer real quick for you, then I'll worry about "entitlment"! :)

I am kept humble because I don't belong. I live with extreme job mismatch.
I work in a field that I do not belong in. I don't belong in software development, and there is no other field I belong in - maybe data science but since I have made a breakthrough in software development, I sort of have a responsibility to see it through.

I have a very low level of inductive reasoning aptitude and most software developers have a very high level. So other software developers see me instinctively as not one of them. My mind works very differently. The field I belong in does not seem to exist yet. So I tend to get assigned work that I do not do well. And teams and managers do not ask me for the work I actually do well. So I get assigned the grunt work, the low value work, the extremely simple work and the work that is wrong for me.

No one else seems to understand the work I do or the value I bring. On rare occasions I save the company. Most of the time however teams and managers demand that I provide very little value. This keeps me humble. I also feel frustrated and screaming in pain because I know I can provide so much more to benefit people and because the work I do is so very much lower value than I can provide. Or is so very much harder than I can do.

I'm always curious. I pretend I'm new. Sometimes I really am new, but don't tell anyone. Make a dumb mistake that takes all day to fix(tm). Nothing like a misspelling a function to take you off your high horse, or a configuration that made no damn sense or some other aspect you just didn't see.

No, I'm not talking from my own personal experience, I swear.

I still don't get stuff right and I need the more detailed folks for some investigative work for sure. I have gaps in my knowledge 100% and some guys are better at aspects as me, and probably vise versa.

Just being supportive and understanding tends to smooth a lot of hitches out in the process, too. Keep the good fight against the code, not your teammates.

I keep on working hard. Hard work makes me proud and self-pride makes me stay humble.

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Ben Halpern
A Canadian software developer who thinks he’s funny.
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