My win...

brandelune profile image エラリー ジャンクリストフ ・4 min read

tl;dr We all have different levels of familiarity/expertise with the domains that we are active in and being able to roughly assert one's position on the various skill ladders is a good way to first get things done and then to also avoid that "impostor syndrome" thing. But that's not easy.

I was going to put that in the "Your win this week" thread but I thought it deserved a bit more thinking, plus it's already about last week's win. There is a lot of "thinking aloud" here, so bear with me.

What I did

So, last week I installed a Wordpress site from scratch on a remote server through SSH on a bare bones Debian install and I imported an existing site there. I was not in charge of the domain name transfer so my "job" stopped at testing the import to see if everything was there and working smoothly. The server was in France, I am based in Japan.

The site was for a new left French political organization that supports expatriates. It was important not to fumble but not critical since the site was already live on the original server and other volunteers were available.

Where I come from

I've been touching the "command line" in a way or another for 35 years now, from my first ZX81 up to and including OSX, my current work platform.

I've also used Debian on and off for close to 25 years, from my attempts at installing a dual French/Japanese system on an IBM Lenovo before UTF-8 was a thing to recently installing it in VirtualBox or SSHing to my Raspian machine only to play with picolisp (yet another of my underdeveloped "hobbies").

And I've also used my (osx) local apache server to do fun things on my machine thanks to the tools available on the platform.

But I have never used Debian or installed server things in a professional capacity in my life, and still, I was able, just thanks to familiarity with the tool (command line), the environment (Debian, and Linux in general) and the "structure" (apache, etc.) to:

  1. make sense of the high-level documentation found on the net
  2. apply the directives without worrying I would mess with the system
  3. not mess with the system

I would never have been able to pull that off with only the knowledge I have from 35 years of amateur use of computers and client/server things, so that made me reflect on a few things.

Domain expertise has a role and it's not all

  • There are only so many people in the world who nowadays do this kind of thing manually for a living. I can imagine that in the huge majority of cases a similar system would be automatically installed from a script and the system manager would only have to do some tests (also automated) to check whether the system can go live. Even system managers would have to rely on documentation because most of them wouldn't practice such skills every day.

  • All the documentation that I followed was written by highly skilled experts but the instructions they gave only covered an extremely small subset of their skills. It is not a 20/80 rule that we have here, but more like a 0.1/99.9 rule: if I can understand and apply 0.1% of their knowledge, I can reach 99.9% of my goals (and indeed there was a 0.1% thing that required that I think about what was written).

  • I am, of course, not an impostor if I say I can accomplish that feat, because, well, I accomplished it, and I was relatively confident that I could before starting it, hence my volunteering, because I felt that my familiarity with the various domains was sufficient for me to understand the stakes. Although, the first few minutes were scary, once I got used to the latency, working from Terminal on that remote server was just like playing locally on my machine.

  • The Wordpress upper layer is yet another totally different domain with similar levels of deep expertise, superficial expertise, familiarity, etc.

  • The human lower layer, where abstractions come as words and social interactions also has its own levels of expertise. And that's where I had to use my skills first, to convince other volunteers that I could help.

We are deeply connected abstraction spouting animals

All those domains and all those layers come from our innate ability to understand and generate abstractions. That is what we are experts at, and that expertise is shared by all of us.

We only exist and act in relation to others, differently positioned in the same domain or others, overlapping or not. And that's what matters. Because it is our connections as humans that give any kind of value to our skill set.

When too much emphasis is put on external evaluation, the human context and the domain connections are severed and we end up feeling disconnected from our real worth. That's when the "impostor syndrome" kicks in, and then depression. Read more about that in "Lost Connections" by Johann Hari.

Acknowledged contexts and connections are a requirement to go forward. Acting on them in a systematic way is what leads to self-improvement. And using that self-improvement to create more contexts and connections is what allows other people to go forward.

Posted on Apr 13 '19 by:

brandelune profile

エラリー ジャンクリストフ


In Japan since '97. Translating and localizing on Mac since 2000. FOSS advocate and user. Super proud that I have some code that's been accepted in Emacs :^)


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Yayyy you did it! And yes I’ve found so much of picking up a new skill is related to knowing what to learn (hence the imbalanced ratio you mentioned). I constantly feel like my head is cut off until i follow a tutorial step by step until I’m to. This kind of open mindedness to just googling the options gets better over time.... I think