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When your entire knowledge gets judged because you didn't know that one random fact

yaphi1 profile image Yaphi Berhanu Originally published at simplestepscode.com ・3 min read

This article originally appeared on Simple Steps Code which tries its best to help people learn JavaScript and actually remember it.

Let's say you know a lot about a topic.

Suddenly a piece of trivia about that topic comes up in conversation.

It's something you don't know.

People see this, and they assume you know nothing about the entire topic just because you didn't know that one random fact.

Frustrating, right?

It can also go the other way. You might hear someone mention a buzzword and assume they have a vast pool of knowledge, when the truth might be that they read a paragraph on Wikipedia yesterday.

So why does this happen?

It happens because the brain likes shortcuts, so it's easy to assume the part you see represents the whole story.

Now why would this matter to you?

It matters because this pattern of assumptions can have consequences that go far beyond looking silly in some random conversation.

There are two types of situations where the effects can be particularly bad:

1) When you're learning
2) When you're in an interview or other important meeting

Let's look at both of those.

Problem 1: Assumptions can wreck you when you're learning

When people confidently throw around the latest buzzwords, you might see that surface and assume these people have vast pools of knowledge about the subjects. Often this is not the case. Since you have no way of knowing that, it's easy to feel like you have to know everything about every buzzword before you can get started. This discourages a lot of people from learning JavaScript. It can also lead to impostor syndrome.

What to do:

First, remember that everyone knows different amounts about different things, and it's impossible to know everything.

Don't let a fear of looking foolish stop you from asking questions. In fact, the smartest people aren't afraid to ask the "stupid" questions.

Also, when you hear people throwing around buzzwords, don't assume you need the entire combined knowledge of all of them just to get started. Instead, take it a step at a time, and focus on learning what makes sense for your goals.

Problem 2: Assumptions can embarrass you in an interview or other important meeting

Miss one small thing or phrase something in a way you didn't mean, and your audience might assume you know nothing.

To use an embarrassing personal example, I once phrased a question in a way that made a hiring manager think I didn't know what jQuery was even though I had been using it for years.

What to do:

The good thing about these sorts of situations is that you generally have an idea of the topics you'll be discussing, so you have time to prepare. The best thing to do is to prepare some talking points that will show your best skills in a way that ties them into what's relevant to your audience.

Key Takeaways

It's natural to assume things about other people's knowledge and how it relates to your own. The important things to remember are:

  • Don't get discouraged from learning.
  • Keep asking questions.
  • When there's something important like an interview, prepare a baseline of topics to cover so your audience will at least get an accurate, positive overview of what you know and how it's relevant to them.

I hope this has been helpful!

Posted on by:

yaphi1 profile

Yaphi Berhanu

@yaphi1

I like to make JavaScript simple when I can. I hope it's helpful!

Discussion

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Overcoming this stuff is easier said than done, but I'll say that from my perspective it's more important to me that you care than that you know. Like if we are covering a topic and you don't know, but you want to know more or you at least see why this topic might be of value.

Dismissive ignorance is the only thing that will make you lose points in my book. If I'm talking about, say, network performance with a front end dev, I don't really care if they know about that stuff, but if they dismiss the topic as wholly unimportant to their world, it's going to leave me pretty miffed.

If you come into an interview, or any difficult networking environments, with a willingness to show an interest in the subjects you don't know as much about, you'll do well.

 

That's a great point, and I agree completely. Having a friendly, curious, open-minded approach seems to me to be more important than any one piece of information.

 

Glad you're shedding light on a topic that is probably hard for some/most people to talk about.

On a different tangent, what's interesting to me is the converse of this; that is, people make the assumption that you know everything when you do throw a buzzword or bring up a small, but relevant point to attention. While I think this assumption usually happens out of interest and curiosity in learning about what someone else knows, it puts the person who doesn't know or only knows a little about the subject in an awkward position. It's times like that I'm glad you talked about how it's okay to ask questions even if they seem foolish. +1 to that!

 

Thanks! The converse can definitely get people into tricky situations, so thank you for bringing it up.

 

I think at one point or another we have faced the imposter syndrome. I guess this comes from built up years when maybe you were told "You are smart...", "You are brilliant..." This may make us have a shortcut; makes our brains lazy. Why? Because we have been told we are smart. We don't have to think. A fixed mindset is made.
When we are presented with something new we end up feeling this way.
Cultivating a growth mindset is good to help mitigate such situations; "I know a few topics(or nothing) about the subject matter, but hey I'm willing to get a different way of looking at the topic with various questions I may have as well"

 

Very true. I'm a huge fan of growth mindsets.

 

In a phone interview, one of the Qs was what is the mechanism to translate IP addresses to MAC addresses.

I've known it. It was part of the networking course at school.

But it's part of the stack that just works, and it's the parts that need configuration that stick out in memory.

Therefore, I'm standing there, saying "I know this! I'm gonna kick myself so hard, but ... I don't know."

It did kick me a little off my game, but it was toward the end.

Oh well.

I've asked this question to computer people whose skills I respect, and they didn't know it either. It's part of attacks on the local network, but if it's a thing that you have to deal with often, you're making your own NICs or something.

I try to do what I do in Trivial Pursuit, which is to talk it out. It proves that you know things, if only not this thing. And as long as you're still talking, you're not wrong yet.

 

That's a great strategy of talking it out. I'll try that the next time I get a chance.