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Self-Deprecation Needs to Stop πŸ›‘

mauricehayward profile image Maurice Hayward Updated on ・2 min read

It's common for someone in the tech community to preface themselves or their accomplishments with self-deprecating remarks. For example, Stephanie Hurlburt was trying to give visibility to women who were junior coders by retweeting their technical blog posts.

Later she noticed:

I very much agree with this. This kind of self-deprecating behavior is ingrained in our industry. Honestly, I think it's almost encouraged because many articles downright romanticize Imposter Syndrome and the Dunning–Kruger Effect.

Self-deprecation is very damaging especially if you are part of an underrepresented and marginalized community. When you're part of an underrepresented and marginalized community a lot of times you are already being undervalued by others when you walk in the room. Your voice isn't viewed as that important. It's sad but it's true. So if you self-depreciate yourself it further weakens your voice.

Some Advice

1. Stop saying these words when describing yourself or your accomplishments. These words are now under BAN πŸ‘‡

2. Really think about the value you bring, then let everybody know.

Whether you're new to tech or experienced, have a CS degree or not, in a career change or no, YOU bring value to the table. Our unique perspectives alone are very valuable.

It's up to you to think about what other value you bring. But once you figure it out, let people know and they will believe you! You're not bragging, You're marketing yourself.

3. Be Proud of Yourself!

Being in the tech industry isn't easy. It took hard work and determination to reach the point that you are at now. Be proud of that!

You submitted a Pull Request, learned a new language/framework, fixed a bug, simplified some documentation, gave a tech talk, wrote a blog post or something else fantastic. Be proud of that!

Proudly tell others what you did! Tell everyone here on dev.to about any of your accomplishments, we will love to hear it and to cheer you on.

Need Some More Advice?

I really enjoyed the following article:

EDIT Another great post on this topic:

EDIT I really appreciated the advice in this comment:

@maurice_hayward My husband and I have this discussion a lot. I always respond with: "We teach people how to treat us." I have seen every issue you raised in your post over and over again. I am 100% sure that you're right but also, I've learned, that you can't think your way into better self esteem, you have to ACT your way into it. Change the responses when you talk about a project. Even when you don't feel like it - force yourself to simply explain it as if you were talking about something that someone else did.

Here's what I know:
It's normal to be afraid and truly courageous people get through the fear by simply doing what's right
There will always be someone smarter than me and someone not as smart as me
My projects won't always be good. They won't always be bad either.
Assuming someone more experienced can judge my work better than me is not always right.
Confidence is built with bricks made of failure.
The will of the universe will never lead you where grace cannot protect you ( my way of not being afraid)

One final thought:
Self-depreciation is a dialogue running in "my" head. Those thoughts are coming from me, not the person I'm talking to. I have no idea what the other person is really going to say or think about anything. I have the power to stop that dialogue because I own it.
And so I did.

What are your thoughts on self-deprecation in tech?

Posted on by:

mauricehayward profile

Maurice Hayward

@mauricehayward

I interned at NASA, working on statistical modeling and machine learning projects. Now I'm at Ferguson Enterprise, working on applying UX principles to internal tooling!

Discussion

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This is a great post and you make an incredibly important point. I think that self-deprecation, especially in humor, is an effective method for setting up a low-ego environment, which may often lead others (especially from underrepresented groups) to feel safe enough to contribute. With that being said, I absolutely think that you are correct that this can be extremely harmful if the person performing the self-deprecation doesn't recognize his or her own value.

Whether you're new to tech or experienced, have a CS degree or not, in a career change or no, YOU bring value to the table. Our unique perspectives alone are very valuable.

I love this. It's certainly not a race or competition. Use your position to your advantage, no matter where it is. The easiest way to achieve this is by asking tons of questions. Literally ask every question that pops into your head until you know so much that everyone comes around asking your questions. People feel good when they can teach (show) you the things that they know. Make people feel good as much as you can! :)

Thank you for writing this article Mr. Hayward, I really enjoyed it!

 

I like the idea of asking a lot of questions and fostering an environment where posing many questions is seen as a positive.

I think that self-deprecation, especially in humor, is an effective method for setting up a low-ego environment, which may often lead others (especially from underrepresented groups) to feel safe enough to contribute.

If we make self-deprecation become the norm, then that habit may creep up during job interviews and performance assessments. It will negatively affect us in the long run.

I wonder if there is a way to foster a low-ego environment without the need to self-deprecate? πŸ€”

thanks for your thoughts John!

 

If we make self-deprecation become the norm, then that habit may creep up during job interviews and performance assessments. It will negatively affect us in the long run.

I agree with you. By no means should it be the norm and there are certainly other ways to foster a low-ego environment. I've been reading The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Effective Groups, by Daniel Coyle, and I highly recommend it. He speaks about our subconscious need for reassurance of safety. One way that you can foster a low-ego environment is to have people work very closely together and constantly reassure them of their worth and safety. It sounds very silly and obvious, but Coyle provides a scientific basis for these claims.

I think like many things, the benefit or harm of using self-deprecation comes from intent. For instance, I may use self-deprecation to break the ice in a tense situation because I know myself and I am confident in my self-worth. I'm willing to make fun of myself so that the other person feels safer in the environment that we share. This is a very different context for self-deprecation than you describe in your article and that's why I absolutely agree with your post. To use self-deprecation as a shield is only covering up a vulnerable point and will cause more harm than good. It's the job of every person to make sure that we don't force other people to feel like they need to do this to be accepted.

 

Great post!

Let me be devil's advocate just for fun!

I do this all the time

I don't know why others do it but I downplay my things because I genuinely think the said project is small and basic, @ben 's article Nothing in Software Development is Obvious describes my logic behind why I might sound as though I'm downplaying things.

If something is basic, it's basic! Employers should thing relatively, if a candidate says "that project is basic" if anything it shows that the candidate has worked in enough project that something which is not actually basic is basic for her.

Your article is spot on though (here again I was about to tell you how basic my comment is)

 

Ah... A few thoughts:

  • Claiming that something which is actually quite complex is actually "basic" in order to look better is a tactic that can easily backfire.

  • A project can be "simple", without being "basic". It can be a "straightforward illustration of XYZ", where XYZ is an interesting technique or pattern.

  • A project can be "basic" in that you used it to learn some "obvious" technique or pattern.

If it's genuinely simple but doesn't have anything of interest, and served no purpose, why are you wasting people's time with it? No, I'm not interested in why something is basic, I'm interested in what makes it interesting.

 

Claiming that something which is actually quite complex is actually "basic" in order to look better is a tactic that can easily backfire.

Yes lying usually backfires, but from the the point of view of the post it's clear that those of us that use this expression aren't thinking of tricking others. Nor do I believe it's to be hard on ourselves.

No, I'm not interested in why something is basic

No one is telling you why the project is basic. If I say "let me tell you how I made my basic project" or "how I made my own red jumper", no one is telling you why it's basic or why it's red. That's why I think my (and others) habit of saying "I did this basic thing" shouldn't be taken taken so seriously.

Miriam Margolyes an Will.I.Am were in a talk show. Whilst Will talks he uses "like" a lot, as in "he said this and I was like". And Miriam corrected him, told him why he should not use "like" - they were adorable together.
I strongly believe that we are dealing with the same thing here. When I say "I made this basic thing" the word basic is not important.

@johnlukeg said "this can be extremely harmful if the person performing the self-deprecation doesn't recognize his or her own value". My point is, if I tweet "Here's a basic project on ...", If I thought it was worthless, would I tweet it? All of use are elbows deep in code, yet we do not tweet every truly worthless crap we might write. If I go to the trouble of creating and sharing something, if I consider it to be basic, I'm not at all thinking it's worthless. Maybe, I'm thinking it was quick, easier than I thought, with room for other features. None of these mean I'm worthless, if anything, if you want to read anything into this, it shows I have a lot more.

The post is correct, if nothing else, I hope those that might believe their work is worthless should read it. However, I do insist that it's just a way of speaking that means nothing. However, as I said in the first comment, if others want to find a meaning, they could equally go with "cool, if this is basic for Aurel then he must be good". In both cases the person is reading only what they want into the word "basic". But since both reading are equally wrong, this topic is a non-issue in my point of view.

I remember my first ever html site. If anyone said to me "ah that's basic" I would have punched* them in the face. I'm currently playing with graphQL, I'm not going to share anything "basic" anytime soon. So when I do say something's basic, it's a habit that's dictated by my experience in the topic.

The only reason why I will try my best to stop using the word basic is just because of @ben 's post (I referred to in the original comment) - not everyone is on the same page, so what I think is basic might not be for others. But never because of self-deprecation or anything like that.

*Am I trying to be funny or am I violent? Most likely none :)

 
 

Also...one might call this post a deprecation warning.

 

When I was an intern here at The Practical Dev, I built a blog app in Rails to show that I could apply my theoretical knowledge of MVC to a real-world Rails app.

Every time I describe this app, I call it basic, and that I basically hacked it together. That it's simple and not very good.

It needs work. A lot of it, as far as auth, UI, etc but that is for another day.

I feel like, the way it looks, and how easy it is to do things that I don't want a user to do makes it a simple app.

I need to just either not talk about it or say, "I built this thing that took me four days. It stretched me a bit but I built it.". It really isn't a simple thing to build a full-stack app in a language you are completely unfamiliar with but I keep saying it.

This ends today.

Thanks for this article. I needed to hear it.

 
 

"Humility isn't thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less." -C.S. Lewis

We get the stupid idea that humility means we have to belittle ourselves, but that's crap. Humility means you recognize and speak about your achievements and strengths as realistically and frequently as your weaknesses and failures.

For example, I am a C++ and (almost) Python expert, and I'm good at project management, library/API design, and algorithmic efficiency. However, I have no skills with Javascript or web application design, and packaging in Python regularly kerflummoxes me. PHP is an elusive beast for me. I could list off about two dozen languages I don't know. I'm still growing, and I always will be!

 
 

// , Well said on the part of Mr. Lewis.

 

This truly is a real challenge. I've actually had the opposite experience. I'm very confident in myself because I know myself and what my strengths and weaknesses are. When I've worked somewhere where all the projects could use my strengths, my confidence actually put people on edge, because they were not confident themselves. Some one actually said to me "it's not normal how certain you are of your ideas."

The culture of the team was to, essentially, never have confidence; always assume your idea might be wrong.

I was really flabbergasted by it to be honest. I have no problem admitting when I'm unfamiliar with something, or I don't know the answer. When I DO KNOW, I will also say that. What's the problem??

 

// , I think the title of this post is misleading.

There is a time for self deprecation, and a time for confidence, as you say.

 

Well put. I found this train of thought especially resonant:

Self-deprecation is very damaging especially if you are part of an underrepresented and marginalized community.

I don't doubt this for a second. From the other side – i.e. as a loud, opinionated white maleΒ (oy, sorry!) – I use self-deprecation as a tool to try and limit my "privileged" place in conversations. That is, as a method for diminishing whatever I just said when I realize that I'm over-speaking, or drowning out somebody else's viewpoint by sheer volume, or so on. It's an attempt at self-correction, though I'd wager we'd all be better if people like me could just learn to listen from the get-go instead of having to walk it back post-fact!

Again, really interesting article!

 

Wow, thanks for your perspective! I feel like lowering your voice at times so that others can be heard is a sign of humility. I feel like there has to be a way to do this without self-deprecation. Keep it Up Rafe!

 

@maurice_hayward My husband and I have this discussion a lot. I always respond with: "We teach people how to treat us." I have seen every issue you raised in your post over and over again. I am 100% sure that you're right but also, I've learned, that you can't think your way into better self esteem, you have to ACT your way into it. Change the responses when you talk about a project. Even when you don't feel like it - force yourself to simply explain it as if you were talking about something that someone else did.

Here's what I know:
It's normal to be afraid and truly courageous people get through the fear by simply doing what's right
There will always be someone smarter than me and someone not as smart as me
My projects won't always be good. They won't always be bad either.
Assuming someone more experienced can judge my work better than me is not always right.
Confidence is built with bricks made of failure.
The will of the universe will never lead you where grace cannot protect you ( my way of not being afraid)

One final thought:
Self-depreciation is a dialogue running in "my" head. Those thoughts are coming from me, not the person I'm talking to. I have no idea what the other person is really going to say or think about anything. I have the power to stop that dialogue because I own it.
And so I did.

 

yes! @JR. This is so true. We have to change behavior in order to change our thoughts.

I really love your comment, do you mind if I highlight it in the article?

 

Thank you @maurice_hayward. Yes, please do :)

ok added your awesome advice!

 

My hardest problem with this is a struggle to tell people about something that you know isn't done. Something you know has bugs because you made it and you know all its flaws before they even think of interacting, and personally I get wary about telling people about projects in this state. I'm not trying to little myself but on some level I fear they'll use it find a bug and write it off as broken and me as bad especially online.


Anyways, in light of the post here's what I've been working on: apps.nektro.net/

It's a suite of common-use PWAs made to serve as web replacements for the default applications that people expect to come with their devices these days. The project is on GitHub here and I work on them all the time with more apps and service workers coming soon!

 

Awesome Job! I really like the way you structured your application code, everything is easy to follow. You did all this sans framework! I can't wait for that Emulator and gamepad tho!

 

Thanks, I'm glad you like them! I actually didn't use any frameworks, it's all custom built :)


The emulator (at least in the beginning) is going to be for NES ROMs on the web since I already wrote a file parser a while back, but haven't written the app code to run them.

And the gamepad app is largely based on html5gamepad.com but different presentation and on https with the rest of the apps

 

Future me: just pushed the Service Worker update so all the current (and future with time) apps work offline after their first visit!

 

I do this often, but not because I don't recognise my own value - rather I just want to avoid yet another argument about the specific way I've done something.

Lets be honest. Some of the time, we just can't be bothered to do something "right". If you're trying to bash out a tech blog post with limited time, you may be even less likely to do it right and may focus on blogging a broad principal, failing to proof read it fully, using a generalisation or two etc.

Expressing a not-exhaustively-researched opinion is bad enough for anyone in tech, but as a woman in tech, on the internet, on twitter, with an opinion? I don't envy you.

 

Great article Maurice. I think one way to discourage self-deprecation in tech is to encourage open naivetΓ© in workplace, hacker space, and anywhere.

 
 

// , At first I thought this was an article about deprecating software, not whether to horn-toot.

Be careful what you wish for.

Perhaps next year: "Self-promotion needs to πŸ”š"