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Davide de Paolis
Davide de Paolis

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What s worse than being an imposter?

Being stupid and not knowing it.


Everyone knows already what the Imposter Syndrome is (a quick google search shows 6.100.000 results), not so many know its counterpart: the Dunning–Kruger effect ( only 62.900 results).

If the Imposter Syndrome that affects many of us is a constant feeling of being not worth it ( the fame, the title, the money) because - despite the efforts and the results and the proven competence - we feel that

there is so much that we don´t know,
we are not those experts we pretend to be,
we are not so good as our colleague - or our boss, think we are,

the Dunning Krueger Effect is exactly the opposite: the overconfidence of people that have no freaking clue of what they are doing...

In a more scientific ( and wikipedic wording) the Dunning Krueger Effect is a cognitive bias in which people assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.

Since you don´t have the meta-competencies necessary to evaluate your competences, you are therefore unable to recognize your lack of ability.

Jokes aside, that does not mean stupidity, it is just un-awareness.

How many times have you heard someone in your team state that something was easy and could be done quickly, while you knew behind that "simple" requirement there was a hell of a lot of pain and hassle?

It is acceptable when it comes to interns and trainees or juniors, it is definitely annoying when it comes out of the mouth of some pleasing senior or project manager.  Still, it´s a natural process in the development of us software engineers.

Of course, this is particularly annoying when this unawareness comes with a touch of arrogance.

Dunning–Kruger effect

My dad used to have a painting in his living room which I loved. With very fancy antique calligraphy it stated:

Four men are gathered:
One knows nothing, and he doesn´t know he knows nothing. He´s a mad man. Stay away from him.
One knows nothing, but he knows that he knows nothing. He is ignorant, teach him (help him learn).
One knows but he does not know what he knows. He is asleep, awake him.
One knows, and he knows what he knows. He is a wise man, follow him.

Since I was a kid these words resound in my head.

It does not matter at whatever stage of your personal and professional growth you are, or whatever people surround you:

Be kind, be patient, be mindful.

Top comments (5)

jcmarquet profile image
Jean-Christophe MARQUET • Edited

My coworkers and me speak about that frequently. A lot of them have the imposter syndrom whereas I stopped feeling it when I finished my studies and even then it wasn't a syndrom, I was just a beginner and I knew it. One of my first concerns when I learned of that problematic was, and still is to this day : "Am I incompetent but not aware of it ?". One series of articles I like on that subject is from Erik Dietrich when he speaks about the "expert beginner" :

I don't know if I fall in that category but what I do to help my chances is to read a lot and speak with my peers. I try to break out of my confort zone. The general idea behind that is if I'm not competent enough for my position then I'll just get exposed and learn from the experience. That happened from time to time over the years.

I still don't have my answer, and I probably never will, but as long as I keep challenging my knowledge and beliefs then I hope that it won't matter anyway.

Edit: I forgot the reason I posted this answer in the first place :S
What practical steps would you recommand to people like me, to make sure they avoid this problem ?

emptyother profile image

if I'm not competent enough for my position then I'll just get exposed and learn from the experience

This was my conclusion too a few years ago. Relax. Do ones best for this day. Accept that some days your best is less good. And reserve some "best" for yourself, to learn stuff you want to learn.

I still feel like I'm just a good Googler but people keep asking me for my opinion on more and more programming stuff so I guess I must be doing something right.

dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

The feeling of just being good googlers will never go away. :-)
but as I wrote here there is way more behind being good at googling that we usually acknowledge.

dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

thanx for the link. I love the definition of Expert Beginner.
Definetely challenging ourselves and our knowledge is the key to not fall in the Expert Beginner / DunningKrueger trap

ankitbeniwal profile image
Ankit Beniwal • Edited

Thanks! I needed this one. ❤️❤️