Feeling Stupid

Programming makes you feel stupid.  All the time.  Just when you think you finally understand something, know all its ins and outs, along comes something new that you know nothing about, not even enough to hold up your end of a speculative conversation.  Now, this might be enough to scare a lot of people into finding another line of work.  Me, I live for feeling stupid. 

You would not feel stupid if you were just approaching the frontier of knowledge about the discipline/art/science/voodoo magic thing that we do, going where no man/woman/child progeny has ever gone.  Heck, it would make you proud just to be on the edge, tasting the salty air of that unexplored ocean.  No one would blame you for not seeing into its depths on your first go 'round.  No one would care if you chose not to take the plunge just yet. 

What makes you feel stupid is when you just don't understand, when nothing makes sense, its all a dark black pit of ambiguity, a cloudy mountain top far away and you're a lone climber, no safety line, hanging on for dear life, hoping you don't fall, listening to the wind and the voices lofting down from on top, the chatter and jovial cheers.  There's a party going and you're not invited.

You feel stupid because you know many others have already figured it out, already understood and moved on, but you're still stuck trying to muddle through it. 

It makes me wonder how they could be so brilliant.  What makes them different from me?  Have I finally reached my plateau?  Is this as far as I go?  Do I just stop here and move on to my next career flipping burgers?  I've asked myself this so many times that I've gotten used to the question.  I'm actually comforted by it.

Because the truth is that as many times as it is happened, as many times as I have hit that wall trying to force my brain into the next higher gear, as many times as I've doubted myself in the past, I've always found a solution, I've always eventually turned that corner and seen what lies beyond. 

Feeling stupid is just the signpost on the road telling you to fasten your seat belts, the speed limit is about to increase.


Comments (13)
  1. Amen. And I feel stupid not just because there are others that understand this stuff when I don’t, but there are actually guys who MADE this stuff. You braniacs in MS have to understand it well enough to make it. You have to understand it in Assembly language, and now I can’t even figure it out in the fourth grade reading level help files!

    But somehow I reach the next milestone and then the next and the process proves to be half the fun; the pain half the pleasure; and still the mountain top nowhere in sight!

  2. John Roller says:

    Turn off that darn e-mail. It was all those stinking interruptions that kept me from understanding anything new. I even took an ADD test. I then realized that ADD is a learned response. Now I know why those smart guys work in the middle of the night or really odd hours, to get away from interruptions. I’m still stupid, but it doesn’t make me feel bad any more.

  3. Matt says:

    Yes, it takes about 15 minutes to return back to the ‘zone’ once you’ve been interrupted. I usually close my email program when I’m writing code. You wouldn’t believe how much this bugs some people, thinking that if they just email’d you something you ought to have seen it already.

  4. Steven says:

    talk about perfect timing for your post .. I just went through a "stupid" spell and seriously wondered why I was punishing myself this way … then the light shone at the end of the tunnel and I relished in that "programmer’s rush" of success.

  5. Tyler says:

    God, thanks for writing this. It’s good to know that those in that party up there also perceive a party going on above *them*. I better stop or this will turn into some allegory about the universe and parallel realities. 😉

  6. NetSapiens says:

    uhm… I have NO clue how my comment got in here in Danish.. I actually just linked to it in my own weblog.

    Just to ensure that noone perceives my comments wrong, what I wrote (in Danish) was:

    Boy are you right.

    Being nowhere near able to call myself a programmer, but learning constantly, I have taken the final comment in your post and places it squarely on my office wall.

  7. Matt says:

    Maybe my next career will be greeting cards. 🙂

  8. Sonya Weiser says:

    Ah yes, the more I know, the more I know that I don’t know.

    Even worse is that "oh my god, how did I miss that one" feeling when, after struggling with a technical problem for hours, you show a colleague, and they point out something REALLY simple that you’ve missed while staring bleary eyed at the screen!

  9. In the world of blogging this seems to happen to me about once in every two posts. It seems someone else always has the right comment to make, the smart piece of code that seems so obvious. To make matters worse, while I still program occaisonally, I make my bread-and-butter project managing programmers … who sometimes seem to enjoy programming challenges less than I do!

    Still, we truly can see further by standing on the shoulders of giants, and the thing I always like to see is that I can use someone else’s hard work to get ahead, and perhaps share something with another less fortunate than myself (usually my above mentioned programming team ;-).

  10. robdelacruz says:

    Man, and all this time I thought I was the only one who was stupid, my cover is blown.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content