The Impostor Effect vs Dunning-Kruger

The more I think about things like the Dunning-Kruger Effect and Impostor Syndrome, the more I suspect they’re sociological as opposed to psychological.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Dunning-Kruger Effect is the name of a cognitive bias where people consistently rate themselves as being higher skilled than others, even (especially?) then they are decidedly not. In other words, people are nowhere near as good as they think they are.

Diametrically opposed to that is Impostor Syndrome, where people refuse to acknowledge their accomplishments and competencies.

If you’re aware of both of them, you might constantly vacillate between them, occasionally thinking you’re awesome, then realizing that it probably means you aren’t, going back and forth like a church bell. I know nothing of this, I assure you. But the point is that I think they’re almost certainly related to the people that we surround ourselves with.

Look at it like this. Suppose you stumble into photography somehow. You like taking pictures, and so you do it a lot. Over time, you start to notice that some of your pictures appeal to you more than others. You like them more, and you decide that they’re better than the others, so you take more pictures like them. Over time, your portfolio grows and you begin to get to the point where almost all of the photos you take are good, in your eyes.

Thus far, there is no problem.

Suppose then, that you decide you want to start a photography business. Now, we have the beginnings of a problem. Are your photos good, or have you decided that they’re good? Are they good enough to sell? You don’t know. But notice through that description that I never once said that you looked at other people’s photographs. You never studied Ansel Adams or any of the people that came before or after him. You didn’t join a community and discuss photography. You just did it, and that’s awesome. But when you start to do it professionally, there is a big change. Someone is paying you for skills, and unless you’ve worked to acquire those skills, you don’t have them. In this case, you might not even know they exist.

The photographer in question might very well be determined to have Dunning Kruger. Not only do they not have skills, they don’t know that the skills they need even exist!

Now, lets suppose you (the photographer), in the course of looking into how to start a photography business, see some pictures that catch your eye. They’re kind of similar in terms of style to yours, but they’re better. Way better. So you research the photographer who took those, and you dive in deep. It’s like a gateway drug, and you come up for air six months later in an art museum somewhere in Brussels, and you have had a revelation. You suck.

You decide that you want to not suck any more, so you take photography classes, you join local photography groups. You take lots of pictures, you exchange stories and tips and you learn with each other. But something is wrong. The more you learn and practice, the better your pictures get, but the more you think you suck. You look at other people’s photography and recognize it a being amazing when it is, in fact, amazing, but you’ve lost objectivity to your own work. You compare it to the masters of the art, because you now know about the masters of the art, and you realize that your skill level doesn’t even come close. You might academically recognize that your pictures are far superior to what you used to take, and that even though you’ve placed in some photography contests in the past couple of years, you just don’t stack up against everyone else and you see yourself as a failure, despite your successes.

You now have Impostor Syndrome.

These conditions are directly related to not only your skill level, but the people you surround yourselves with. My boss and I were talking the other day about how attending something like the LISA conference really does skew your perspective.

If you are a system administrator in a vacuum, irrespective of your own absolute skill level, you might think that you’re very skilled compared to how you used to be (and you probably are), but when you cease to live in a vacuum and start to compare yourself against others, two things happen. First, you start to get better because you see what is possible and that other people are doing it. And second, you start to compare yourself against them as opposed to your past self.

How do you reconcile this? I’m honestly not sure. It may be an unavoidable side effect of the learning and socialization process when you start out on your own, or in a small group of similarly-skilled people. I bet the people who were the best slingshot wielders around thought they were awesome until they saw people riding horses and shooting bows and arrows.

What you CAN do is remain aware of it. All of us have cognitive biases that we can fall victim to if we aren’t careful. Knowing about them is most of the battle, honestly. Just remember that you have these tendencies and try to stay objective about your accomplishments, and remain positive. No matter what your skill level is right now, it can be better in the future.

Incidentally, if you love reading and learning about cognitive biases like I do, check out the list of cognitive biases at Rational Wiki. It’s eye-opening!

LOPSA San Diego proto-chapter meeting this Thursday

Just an update on the LOPSA San Diego chapter that’s spinning up…

Hi all,

Once again I’d like to invite you to a meeting of our new San Diego
chapter of LOPSA. We had a good turnout last month, and we’d love to
see even more come out this time!

Our plan with this meeting is to again be primarily social, but also
to talk about what our purpose as a local LOPSA organization will
be… presentations, sharing work in progress, technical discussion,
or anything else. Come with your own ideas of what we can do for you!

We’ll be meeting at Callahan’s on Mira Mesa Blvd. at 6PM this Thursday
(2/28). Please RSVP so we can estimate attendance:

LOPSA SD Monthly Meeting

Thursday, Feb 28, 2013, 6:00 PM

Callahan’s Pub & Brewery
8111 Mira Mesa Boulevard San Diego, CA

11 SysAdmins Went

Let’s get together again! One more time, we’ll be hanging out over great beer and good food at Callahan’s Pub & Brewery on Mira Mesa Blvd.

Check out this Meetup →

I look forward to seeing you there!

Brad Beyenhof . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
LOPSA SD Co-Organizer

If you’re in San Diego, make sure to join the mailing list and RSVP at MeetUp for the second planning meeting. They’re going to be working on getting provisional LOPSA Chapter status soon, so make sure to get over there and give them a hand!

I’ve also added their meetings to the SysAdmin Events calendar, which has all kinds of sysadmin-y things. If you know of something that isn’t on the calendar, email me and I’ll add it!

God Made a SysAdmin

If you watched the SuperBowl (or, more likely, watched the commercials the next day on the net), you probably saw the Dodge commercial, Farmer, the audio of which was taken from a speech made by Paul Harvey, So God Made a Farmer.

I actually really liked the commercial, and it really struck a chord with a lot of people.

It wasn’t long before someone on /r/sysadmin write a parody of it, called God Made a SysAdmin. I read it, and thought, “That would make an awesome parody commercial”.

I got in touch with Chester Gifford, the guy who wrote it, and asked if he minded if I made a video to accompany it. He didn’t, so that was the first step.

Next, I needed a lot of pictures. I went to the LOPSA Board, explained what I wanted to do, and asked if they minded if I emailed pretty much all of the local chapter mailing lists requesting pictures. They didn’t. So that was the next step.

Now, I just needed someone to read it. I had no idea who I was going to get, but as luck would have it, when I emailed the Columbus LOPSA chapter, my buddy Drew Stemen asked me if I had anyone to record the voice yet. Funny you should mention it… so that was the third step.

Yesterday, I spent some serious hours getting things arranged. It took serious hours because I’m really not good with iMovie. Like, I’m bad at it. Which is fine, since I don’t actually do it for my day job. But if you notice any oddities, it’s probably because I’m bad at iMovie. Sorry about that.

So without further ado or apologies, I present God Made a SysAdmin

If you can’t see the iframe, you can also watch on YouTube. If you like the video, please share with your friends! Thanks!