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Computers have been my hobby since I was 12. Now I'm a freelance Java developer. Like many other developers I am working on various private projects. Some are open source components (Butterfly Components - DI container, web ui, persistence api, mock test api etc.). Some are the tutorials at tutorials.jenkov.com. Yet others are web projects. I hold a bachelor degree in computer science and a master degree in IT focused on P2P networks. Jakob has posted 35 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Do Developers Have Ego Problems?

10.15.2013
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Have you also experienced how software developers can have big egos?

We should be among the more rational people on this planet. Yet, many of us run around telling others how they are bad developers, how this or that is wrong (even if the claim is scientifically false), and we religiously protect our favorite frameworks, tools, operating systems, etc. I have met several prima donna developers, who were not even that good (see, now I am doing it myself ;-)  ). 

This phenomenon is not limited to Java developers. It's everywhere.

Frankly, it makes me sick. Could we please get some humility back in the software development business? Luckily, this phenomenon seems to occur more commonly with young developers, who tend to overrate their own abilities and contributions. Maybe it is simply ignorance that makes you overrate yourself?

Please share your stories, and your suggestions for solutions (if you have any).



Published at DZone with permission of its author, Jakob Jenkov.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

Comments

Luca Cavagnoli replied on Tue, 2013/10/15 - 5:15am

Ah, good old Dunning-Kruger effect...

Jakob Jenkov replied on Tue, 2013/10/15 - 6:48am in response to: Luca Cavagnoli

Link ?

Vitalij Zad replied on Tue, 2013/10/15 - 11:26am

From Wikipedia:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.[1]

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others".[2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Nicolas Seyvet replied on Tue, 2013/10/15 - 11:49am in response to: Vitalij Zad

Dunning-Kruger for sure. And that as a developer in a big organization, there are so many persons telling you to implement things that are clueless about what they are saying, that (in order to survive all the crap), it is important to build a personality. :)

Developer Dude replied on Tue, 2013/10/15 - 7:46pm

I am not so sure Dunning-Kruger is always to blame here - maybe not even most of the time.

I think the assertion that just because a person can solve certain logic problems easier or better than the average person, means that they will not have an ego or personality issues is a false premise.

[rant]

I believe that we (humans in general) often mistake intelligence for wisdom - they may be related, but they are two different attributes. I have known intelligent people who continually made bad decisions, even when the problem was easily solved with logic - and not so intelligent people who often made very wise decisions.

I have worked with people noticeably more intelligent than myself (I rate myself as average or maybe a bit above average if you compare me to the general population - average compared to who I work with) who despite their intelligence made unwise decisions and/or would not grasp the wisdom of a given solution to a problem.

I believe the problem is not one of intelligence, but our inability to think rationally most of the time. It is one thing to learn and with practice/experience, apply knowledge when it comes to developing code, applications and/or software systems - and it is whole different ball of wax when it comes to making decisions about personal life issues, interfacing with other people, politics, religion and all the other non-coding issues - including how we present ourselves to others.

IMO (and experience), very few people can approach any problem rationally and objectively. The fact that someone can periodically apply rational thought to a problem that demands it  (e.g., writing software) - or it is going to fail in an obvious way, and demands expression in a logic language, does not mean they have they ca apply that very limited skill set and experience to much harder much more ambiguous and less obvious issues.

We are emotional creatures after all. This is how we evolved - first to emotionally react to situations and problems, then maybe less than one percent of the time we might be able to objectively and rationally solve some purely technical problem after a lot of hard effort and failures. In short, we are nowhere near as rational nor as objective as we think we are. Just because we are ever so slightly more rational/objective than our nearest primate relative doesn't make us all that advanced, just a little more advanced than any other species - and I would assert that much of the advantage we have is less about rationality/objectivity and more about our ability to communicate and store knowledge from one generation to the next.

But yes - Dunning-Kruger is maybe in play here, just in a different way; rather than comparing ourselves to other humans and thinking ourselves above average when we aren't, we should think about the fact that we are barely above the average when we compare ourselves to other primates with regards to our ability to rise above emotional knee jerk responses to any given issues we face.

\Wwe may have advanced technology, the ability to create it and use it, but I would assert that 99.9% of the human population cannot act wisely more than 0.0001% of the time. The sooner a person realizes this and recognizes the difference, especially when they can recognize when they are acting emotionally vs. logically/objectively, the better off that person will be; just the ability to improve oneself a tenth of a percent of the time puts that person way ahead of most everybody else. I.E., in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.

[/rant]

Then there is the whole Aspergers and other social interface issues that seem to have a higher occurrence in the software developer population. Even with others who suffer from the same issues, someone with Aspergers may seem to have an ego problem when the issue may be simply that the person does not have good social interaction skills.

Jakob Jenkov replied on Wed, 2013/10/16 - 3:46am in response to: Developer Dude

I agree that we are emotional beings, but as you get to know yourself better, you also learn when you are making an emotional decision, and when you don't. You also learn what emotions are irrational, and become able to change them over time.

Once we are into emotions, there are a whole range of "beliefs" that people have, that will often get in their way rather than help them. But that is a topic for a different blog post, and possibly for a different website too :-)

andy darlow replied on Wed, 2013/10/16 - 8:44am

 if you haven't had a chance to read it, read team geek (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Team-Geek-Software-Developers-Working/dp/1449302440). Great book and it talks all about this very subject

Andy

Gordon Milne replied on Wed, 2013/10/16 - 9:28pm

I would prefer a bit of arrogance to everyone hiding their egos away in pseudo-humility. We do not want to get caught up in this (http://vimeo.com/3829682).

Of course, people need to get over being "wrong", or seen to be wrong, and I think that is where the problem lies. There is nothing wrong with being wrong. There is a lot wrong with being unable to admit it in the light of evidence to the contrary.

Jakob Jenkov replied on Thu, 2013/10/17 - 4:35am in response to: Gordon Milne

Your vimeo link doesn't seem to work.

Pseudo humility is being arrogant but playing humble to hide it. I prefer real humility to any kind of arrogance. I prefer a scientific approach to software development, in which it doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong, but only the facts matter.

Lund Wolfe replied on Sun, 2013/10/20 - 10:09pm

Humility is a personality trait.  I would be more concerned about competence.

I agree that humility does seem to pair more with wisdom, intelligence, experience, being open-minded, and awareness of what you don't know or the "known unknowns" or even the "unknown unknowns".

Being proud/inflexible is often rewarded, though, since the other humbler people will often give way to keep the peace.

Keenee Madison replied on Tue, 2013/10/29 - 5:42am

 According to a survey, a variety of clinical problems in which not only a conflict of instinct and ego, but a deficiency in the ego-organization is clearly apparent as well. But this depends upon the different nature of the people.

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