Developing Your Career Part 4 – Control your Ego

Do you seek attention and praise for your work?  If you do a great job on something, and you aren’t noticed for it, does it lessen the value of what you accomplished?   How about if one of your co-workers does something and is recognized for it.  Do you envy the praise that person received?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then your ego may be playing a bigger factor in your life than you think.

Our ego can be the driving force behind our success.  If left unchecked, it can also be the downfall of one’s success.  Ego can be defined in many ways, but simply put it is  “one’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”.  It is important to be confident and sure of oneself.  However, when starting to compare yourself to others, this is a warning sign that you are putting too much emphasis on how others view you.  Don’t get me wrong, we all seek approval and validation, but what levels are we willing to go to seek it?

In software development, there are so many different areas to learn it is impossible to know them all.  There will always be something that you do not know, and you must be willing to accept that and ask for help.  Earlier on in my career, I struggled with this and was trying so hard to prove my skills that I lost sight of what should have been my focus (self-growth).  I wanted to reach the next level so much so, that I failed to notice how well my progression was advancing.  As a junior developer, I wanted to be considered on the level with the senior developers around me.  I knew my skills didn’t match theirs, but that didn’t matter in my mind because that is what I wanted.   I just was not content with being a great junior developer, I just wanted to be a senior developer.

As time progressed, I started realizing the only way I was going to get those skills I valued so highly, was to just do it.  Those skills could only be obtained through experience.  The only way that was going to happen was to build software and not by myself, but with others.  I had to lean on other people’s knowledge to help push myself beyond my boundaries.  The only ones who could help me do that were the senior developers I wanted to be like.   So I began to ask questions and take their advice.   I learned, I studied, and most of all, I accepted that my ideas were not always right.  One technique that I started doing to help me figure things out, was to analyze why my ideas were different from theirs.  How did they come up with different solutions and why were theirs’ better?  One day it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Finding the best solution isn’t always about how much you know.  There will be times where a junior developer will come up with an idea that is brilliant and leave most senior developers standing in awe.

You see, the key to keeping your ego in check is not placing your self above anyone, regardless of your level or theirs.  It is the willingness to accept all ideas, to look at all possible solutions, and realize that yours probably isn’t the best, and many times will not be.  That is one of the main reasons why better quality software is developed by a team of people, and not just one person.  It’s not just about the quantity of work being done, but the quality of the ideas that are shared among a group of individuals.

There are many examples of how to control your ego on the internet, a simple Google search will show that.  When it comes to software development, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to get an idea of how much control your ego has over you.

Is it hard for me to say I don’t know something in a meeting?

Do I have trouble accepting others’ ideas over my own?

Do I feel bad when my ideas aren’t chosen?

Is it more important to me for my ideas to be accepted, versus providing a better quality solution?

If you can honestly answer them with no, then you probably have a pretty good handle on your ego.  If you answer yes, then you may want to consider looking closer at what is driving you.

Remember, ego isn’t just about trying to feel superior to others, it can also be a feeling of inferiority too.