Dave's Notebook

Confident Programmer Secrets, Revealed

To say there are secrets to being a confident programmer may seem a bit over the top. But, you would be surprised at what makes a programmer seem confident, how you can be more confident, why confidence is no real indicator of truth, and why you need to arm yourself against confidence.

Photo via VisualHunt.com

Why Be Confident

Persuade the Decision Makers

Look around the organization you work at. Have you ever noticed that there are one or two people who have your manager’s ear? Every time a decision needs to be made, the boss goes to them? Why is that? Why don’t they come to you? You know just as much as they do, right? Could it be that you simply don’t portray yourself as confident? I didn’t say you weren’t confident. Just that you aren’t perceived as confident. Don’t worry, we’ll fix that shortly.

Better Pay

You will also notice that people who seem more confident also command a larger salary. This is both because their confidence has moved them up the corporate ladder faster and because they are better able to interview for positions that most people would feel like are out of their reach. Confidence, and the ability to communicate confidence is better for your bottom line.

Interview Skills

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big proponent of interviewing for new jobs even if you like where you are. But let’s raise the bar on that. Don’t just interview. Practice interviewing for jobs that are a bit out of your reach projecting confidence that you do, indeed, qualify. I can tell you from firsthand experience. If you know your stuff and you project confidence that you know your stuff, you’ll end up being asked to fill positions you never dreamed of filling.

Consistency with Who You Are

You are confident, right? Imagine what would happen if you projected that confidence? How would you feel if everyone else thought you were confident as well?

Feel better

Let’s just assume for a second that nothing else I’ve said comes true. I can tell you that if you follow my suggestions on how to be confident, you will feel better about yourself. The fact of the matter is, you may have to exercise this confidence muscle a bit. But the good news is that by following my confidence tips, you’ll also end up feeling more confident which will make the tips easier to implement, which will make you feel more confidence. Confidence breeds confidence. And, confidence feels really good.

How to Be Confident

Know your stuff

While it is possible to fake confidence, eventually that is going to catch up with you. Confidence isn’t a con game. Confidence is a projection of something that already exist. So, the foundation of confidence is to know your stuff. If you are projecting confidence about all things JavaScript, you’d better know all things JavaScript. Follow podcast. Read blogs. Read books. Rinse, lather, repeat.

But the simple fact is, there are some of you who know all there is to know about a subject and you still aren’t confident.

Stand up straight

I’ve written before about how your body language impacts your perception of yourself. I’ll say it again here. If you want to feel more confident, stand up straight. It isn’t just good for your posture. It’s good for your emotional health. And the fastest way I know of feeling more confident and being perceived as more confident is to stand up as straight as I can. As you stand, walk and sit, imagine a string attached to your scalp pulling you up. Be as tall as you possibly can. Tuck in your belly.

Spread out

Another body position that communicates confidence is spreading out. The open, spread out posture communicates that you are comfortable in your own skin. Avoid the closed off posture. This communicates that you are protecting yourself. The obvious question the brain has to ask is, “what are they protecting themselves from?”

Speak with authority

The more confidently you can state a fact, the more likely it is to be accepted. In fact, I’ve seen people state things that were verifiably false with such confidence even I wanted to believe them. The only thing that kept me from doing so is that I intentionally went into that meeting keeping in mind that I was probably the most authoritative person on the subject in the room even though the person we were meeting with was the one who had been designated the authority for the moment.

Start a blog

Starting a blog is a confidence muscle exercise. The more you write, the more you will end up knowing about what you are writing about. It will also be the place where you are told you are wrong the most often. I’ve written articles in the past where people have told me I was wrong. Many times, they haven’t been very nice in how they tell me. But this has been good because now I have learned to take criticism and correction even of the worst kind without losing confidence in my overall knowledge. I’ve learned stuff in the process which has made me even more confident.

Be willing to be wrong

Which leads to the last point. Be willing to be wrong. You can be confident. As long as you are right most of the time, you can be wrong a few times and no one will care. What you don’t want to do is to be wrong all the time. Soon, no one will listen to you. This is what happened in the situation I mentioned above. here were so many things the “authority” said during our meeting that were verifiably wrong that I left not trusting anything he had said.

Defending against confidence

And this leads nicely into my next point. Just because someone is confident, doesn’t mean they are right. And some people will, knowingly or not, project confidence to bullshit their way to where they want to go.

When Two People Meet

Basic social interaction theory says that when two people meet, a pecking order will be established such that one will be the leader and the other the follower. In a group, a leader will emerge. If you are a speaker, you can leverage this by identifying the perceived leader and speaking to them. Everyone else will follow.

In our situation, you want to go into meetings with the knowledge that you know as much as the person leading. That everything that person says is subject to how you understand the world. If they say something that contradicts your understanding, you can do one of two things. You can contradict on the spot. Or, you can verify later. This depends on the situation and how well each strategy will advance your cause. In the meeting I’ve been referencing, I kept my mouth shut. He was already going the direction we wanted him to go, contradicting him would have worked against us and would not have served our purposes even a small amount.

But, I maintained my status as the authority in the room, even if I said nothing.

Fact Checking

I already mentioned this, but let’s bring this further into focus. Just because someone says something is true doesn’t mean it is. If someone says something and this is the first you’ve heard of it. You’d better make sure it really is true. This goes double if you’ve already heard him say things you know are wrong.

Which items you actually point out will depend on the situation. Again, in the case above, while we were told several things that were wrong, I only pointed out one that could have been a potential stumbling block.

Emotional Awareness

One thing I think programmers tend to have a really hard time doing is listening to their emotions. But, if you get good at this, you will often know that something is not right before you can articulate why. Listen to that inner voice.

Authority and Confidence

Confidence Without Speaking

You might think that authority and confidence are the same thing. But they aren’t. I can be the perceived authority on a subject without confidence and I can portray confidence without being the authority. In fact, just how I hold myself shows that I am confident even if I have no authority or don’t perceive myself as an authority.

Confidence vs Respect

In the same way, I can be confident while still respecting those who are in authority. We all have people who are in authority over us. This does not have to reduce our confidence. I’m good at what I am good at. They are good at what they do. We each have jobs that we are best suited for. Confidence doesn’t mean we take over, it just means we have influence.

Don’t Get Caught

Don’t Assert Something You Can’t Defend.

Do yourself a favor. If you aren’t sure, keep your mouth shut. As I’ve already illustrated, if you say something that someone else can verify is inaccurate, everything else you say is subject to evaluations.

Know Your Topic Inside Out

The danger, of course, is that you may think you know, but you really don’t. Make sure you are a student of what you think you know. Don’t be that guy who thinks he knows, but really knows nothing. Or that guy who is working with old information.

4 Levels of Learning

There are four levels of learning. Or knowledge. The first level is that we don’t even know that there is something to know. Most of us start there. But the second level is probably the most dangerous. Knowing just enough to think you know when you really know relatively little. As you progress, you’ll eventually end up realizing there is a whole lot more to know than what you thought until finally, you know the subject so well you aren’t even thinking about it anymore. Kind of like breathing.

You want to make sure you are working from the level of knowing the subject so well, it is like breathing. The problem is, many people who are in the second level think they are in the fourth level. If you are not reading the latest on the subject, not reading blog post, not listening to podcast, you are probably still in level 2 and working off of assumptions rather than facts.

One-eyed Man is King

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

The point is this, you may currently be that one-eyed man. The only reason you have the authority you do is because you are the best they have. In fact, most of us are where we are because that’s the best they have. But, don’t rest there. Try to gain that second eye. You really don’t want to be in a position where a two-eyed man can come in and point out all that isn’t right. This is why you want to go for the fourth level of learning in all that is important to you.