A recovering “wunderkind”

If there is anything the IT industry loves above anything else it is youth.

I used to work in a company with an engineer who’d been programming since the early 1970s, who’d implemented operating systems on mainframes in assembly language, wrote OSI (up to session layer) and TCP/IP comms stacks from scratch on DOS based machines and made them all work together in the background. He wasn’t the only one either. There were a number of very talented, mature engineers at the company at the time. And yet, the guys the company held up on a pedestal were the snot nosed kids just out of college who hadn’t done anything even slightly comparable.

I was one of the snot nosed kids.

My “wunderkind” years hid a great deal of insecurity. Deep down most wunderkinds understand that it’s all just a charade. Genius in the computer industry is a much debased term, meaning you are moderately competent at your job but are young.

The fear is always there, the fear that somebody is going to find you out. Maybe, just maybe, your next project is going to show that you don’t know all of the answers. You may even be tempted to turn down projects that are challenging because of your fear.

The biggest danger is that you might start believing the bullshit. The worst thing you can do in this business is stop learning. If you start thinking you have some kind of innate ability, then sooner or later, you may think you can just rely on it. Stopping your learning in the wunderkind years is just going to mean you miss out on the early to mid career development you need to punch through into being a genuinely good engineer.

My advice if you are a current wunderkind? Ignore it like the bullshit it is. Keep developing your skills and take on challenging projects. Fail if you must. But above all, keep learning…

Author: Jack Hughes

An experienced software engineer with 20+ years experience writing products for Microsoft Windows based operating systems as well as 12+ years experience hosting websites on Linux and Windows including e-commerce and CMS systems.