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Am I Too Stupid?

Growing up, I wasn't exactly the best student. My grades were the very definition of passable, and I was at odds with my teachers more often than not. I'd like to think I tried hard, but if we're being honest that's as much a hopeful sentiment as anything else. Studying came so easy to those around me, or at the very least my peers seemed able to apply themselves in ways I couldn't. Was there something wrong with me, then? Was I just too stupid to be taught?

Asking that question over and over did little for my self-esteem, but it did manage to teach me one thing. Curiosity. The one question turned to many as I tried to get leverage on my education, a sort of knowledge through brute force. As anyone who's ever crammed for a test will tell you, that doesn't really work in the long run. While it got me through GCSE’s, it also led me to despise classical education. I was still desperate to learn, but I'd become convinced nothing could teach me the way I wanted to be taught.

Despite my intense disinterest in formal learning, the stubbornness I'd cultivated alongside my curiosity let no barrier stand in my way. By my early 20's I'd created my first online company, in a technical field I knew little about beyond surface management. I'll skip most of the details, but several years of modest successes were marred by miscalculations inspired by that lack of knowledge depth. We all wish we could go back, to redo portions of our lives with what we now know, and I'll not be the first to claim differently. But despite that, I was proud of what I had created, and began to define myself by its rises and falls.

Fast-forward to just last fall, and many of my most promising efforts had fizzled out. Those successes I still held seemed to have lost much of their shine, and as they dimmed so too did my self-confidence. The old question arose in new ways. Are my best years behind me, at such a young age? Have I done all I can to protect my achievements? Am I too stupid to realise my dreams? Even as I descended deeper into the dark, I knew I was never alone. The family who had always loved and encouraged me. The old business partners and gaming buddies who'd always stuck by. Everyone just wanted to give me a hand, to help me out of the darkness. But even with well-meaning help, that's often not something you can simply force your way through, as I'd done so many times before.

After what seemed like an eternity on the precipice, I was willing to try just about anything. My best friend had spent weeks harping on me to try some online courses, specifically coding as he had. Remembering old efforts in the space, I was leery, but decided to just take the plunge. I picked up a basic web developer course that was on sale, and away I went. Every developer started at some point with the infamous "Hello, World!," and even that simplest of accomplishments made me giddy. I was addicted, and I shared every new success with anyone who would listen.

The feeling you get when something you banged into your keyboard turns into magic on screen is still one I just can't describe. Add in the victory of solving a problem you've spent hours on, and it's no wonder so many before me have fallen for it. Every day a new problem I can channel my stubborn curiosity into, every day a new spell to weave on the computer. I still throw up my hands every time I crack some latest dilemma, amazed at what I've managed to do of my own volition. It's still early for me in the grand scheme of things, but from here I can't see that wonder ever wearing off. I try to remind myself that this is the real value of the skill: not what I can do with it, but the fulfilling sense of accomplishment it brings.

So was I too stupid, as I'd so often asked myself? After all these years, I have my answer. I had the curiosity to peer through the veil, but the same stubbornness that kept me plodding along prevented me from tearing it down. Now that I've seen beyond, it's as though everything is falling into place. First it was basic websites to generate a little income and now, backend work. Who knows what may come after? Coding opens up a huge world of opportunity, filled with tantalising rewards for those who reach out to grab them. In my dark desperation, I could have latched onto any solution, but I'm so very glad I was guided to a skill like this. It's only upwards from here.

Top comments (13)

robencom profile image

That's the spirit! "It's only upwards from here"

Keep it up man, I've been through similar journey, lost many good years along the way, but that's what makes me, and this is what makes you.

Look ahead and don't turn back! The best is yet to come!

edd_rj profile image

Hell yeah!

davidwhit profile image

It's crazy how we often percieve ourselves to be something we're not. I feel like I'm on the opposite side; taught myself react/redux while working a normal job over 3 year period. I was able to make a full service custom forum builder with items and a queue manager using firebase in about a month. It was my first real completed project. I managed to get an opportunity,but passed because it was a startup. Since then I'm not sure why I can't seem to land a react gig for the life of me. They see my resume which is heavy data and that's it. I know I need to get a portfolio up so I'm working on that now.
One thing I learned from it all was people can never take away what you do know and it's up to me/you to do what we know.

tonymorello profile image

I really enjoyed your piece, and it resonated with me in several ways. I was born and raised in Italy where conditions such as ADHD are chalked up to kids being lazy/stupid/mischievous. I was diagnosed in the US when I turned 30 and even though all of the signs were there I was never aware I had it, and so my school years, while moderately successful as far as academic results, were always a struggle and I had to put in twice as much the effort as my peers to achieve what they did. Despite ADHD though, I taught myself to program, first with PHP and then several other languages over the years. You are right, conventional education some times just doesn't work for some people. My way of learning, as I imagine yours too, is different than others. I can't sit for hours reading on a book, I need to do what I'm learning. That's why I think programming works so well for creative people, people that need to solve problems, be engaged into something challenging while not discouraging. That is also why tech companies aren't much interested in formal education anymore. Until something changes in the way such disciplines are taught, many brilliant people who would otherwise achieve great success, will fall through the gaps of an inadequate system.

zenmumbler profile image

Good on you, as with all endeavours not everything will be highs, but I can tell you that after 30+ years of programming, when a part comes together it's still highly satisfying. I may not throw my hands up in the air in victory (much) but making a difficult module work gives me the same thrill as beating a boss in a Dark Souls game 😄 started a mentoring system recently, may be good to hook up with people here. I'm also part of it and am open for Qs from you and of course anyone else here on the site.

Best of luck and stay hungry!

edd_rj profile image

I will have to check out the mentoring system, would be really good for me. As for the Dark souls part, love that game so much, i always jump up and do a dance if i beat a boss.

amineamami profile image

I wish you the best of luck on your journey 👌

edd_rj profile image

Thank you :)

badrecordlength profile image
Henry 👨‍💻

I empathise with this so much, haha. I'm currently in uni for CompSci and I suffer from major imposter syndrome, so far everything's going well though. I try and reassure myself of my love for programming whenever I worry too much about whether I deserve to be doing what I'm doing.

oenonono profile image

I assure you: it wears off. But it never wears off entirely. Creation is intrinsically rewarding and, oh, the things you can make!

johncip profile image
jmc • Edited

My random thoughts on this:

There are a lot of giants in the field, and as knowledge work it can be fairly competitive, even if not always publicly so.

Some people struggle to make peace with the thought of not being one of those giants. I know I do, and likely always will. I have a degree in it, and work experience, but it doesn't quiet that voice -- I'm just more aware of the folks who came before me, and who exist around me, and I expect that much more of myself.

I think it's more about personality than anything specific to coding, honestly -- how competitive is a person? How much pressure do they put on themselves to be the best?

Ultimately I think most problems require not a genius but someone who can build maintainable stuff out of easy-to-reason-about abstractions. And thankfully the process of building things appeals to me all on its own. I coded before I was old enough to care what people thought of me as a "developer" and will likely always do some amount of it.

Anyway, programming is full of natural tinkerers who have nontraditional or checkered educational pasts. I have one myself, and it's been fine -- lazy hiring managers might hold out for Ivy Leaguers, but ultimately talented people recognize talent in others.

Awesome to hear you're finding your niche. I'll leave you with a Perlisism:

In programming, as in everything else, to be in error is to be reborn.

adam_cyclones profile image
Adam Crockett 🌀

Your computer is too smart, that's a better way to look at it, one day you will outsmart your computer.

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