Don’t look at me… my struggle is showing!

At my software development bootcamp (Epicodus), we work in a style called “pair programming.”  Pair programming refers to a practice where two people share the same computer, working together to write and debug their code.  Each person in the pair takes turns on the keyboard and each person contributes by talking through the code whether typing or not.  It makes a great collaborative relationship and is a fabulous way to learn.  This approach has allowed me to see alternate logic to my own when attacking a code challenge, find bugs in our code much quicker because of the additional set of eyes, and benefit from a wider knowledge base than would be there if I was just on my own.  It has been a great way to learn… until the other day, when my code buddy pushed me.

Not physically- that would have been easier.  Instead he pushed me to redo part of the code on my own that he could tell I didn’t understand well.  That seems simple enough; we had just gone through it and it made sense to me.  All I had to do was replicate what we had just talked through and typed out 30 seconds earlier.  The problem was I knew I was completely blank.  I could understand it when I looked at it and I was pretty sure I could come up with it again if I went home and did it again very slowly, but faced with the empty screen and someone beside me, I felt completely exposed and vulnerable.  He was being very supportive and encouraging, telling me that I should try it on my own so I could really get it.  He wasn’t mean or condescending; he emphasized that it was hard for everyone at the beginning.  But, I hated the feeling of him watching me struggle and fail.

Prior to this I believed I was okay with letting others see me not be good at something and comfortable with admitting I don’t know.  I have even preached this to my children, explaining that it’s way easier not to pretend to be all and know all- then you can let people love you for who you really are even with the less than perfect parts, and there’s no fear of being “found out.”  I really believe that and thought I was able to do that, but it turns out I only can sometimes.  I can admit I am not great at throwing a frisbee, understanding economics, or organizing my digital photos.  Those are no big deal and there are a lot of things I’m not great at doing that I could shout from the rooftops with no feeling of vulnerability.  So, I’ve been trying to figure out what the difference is this time; because it is a LOT different… and I don’t like this feeling. Hiding-Face Reflecting back on this, I felt exposed because my computer partner was seeing me struggle with something that mattered to me and I felt was a reflection of my intelligence.  This experience has made me realize a pretty big chunk of my ego is tied to believing I’m bright and I learn quickly and easily.  I mean, I’ve certainly had to put in time to accomplish things, but can think of only a handful of times when I just didn’t understand something I felt I should.  I know not to compare myself with others but I’m now realizing that comparison in academic situations has typically given me a sense of security in myself.  Now, though, I’ve had the experience of feeling slow and inadequate while my coding partner watched me work through the code.  I wanted that struggle to be private at home and then to show the competent quick thinking version of me at school.

However, when my partner pushed me, I grew because of it.  I felt so humbled and exposed and, I think, embarrassed, by my lack of competence, but it gave me a completely new empathy.  I am ashamed of the feeling of superiority I think I subconsciously had in those situations.  I never consciously thought I was better than the other person, but I think on some deeper self-value kind of level, that’s exactly what was happening.   Intentional or not, that’s an ugly thing to see in myself.  I now have a whole new appreciation for the courage it takes to NOT know… and not just be able to admit it, but be vulnerable and willing to let someone else actually witness the struggle.  I’m not saying I want it to happen again, but I hope when it does I won’t try quite so desperately to hide it.

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5 thoughts on “Don’t look at me… my struggle is showing!

  1. What a valuable and “awful” thing to learn. I remember playing a computer game with my son and daughter-in-law many years ago. I understood the concept, but I couldn’t do it at the same pace as the others. I kept being left behind and feeling more and more incompetent, i.e. stupid! My “take” from that lesson was that this is the continual experience of students with learning disabilities. When they are hanging on by fingernails or less and everyone else is getting it, the negative emotional side completely takes over and the rest of the person shuts down, only exacerbating the cycle. I think that I wish every educator would have this same experience and learn from it. Learning disabilities so often are merely learning differences. You’re learning things in this “camp” that you never expected. Well done!

  2. That is so true of me, too. And I’m finding these situations occur more and more as I get older and memory gets worse. Seems like we do almost anything to hide the weaknesses that show up in our “worth areas”. I’m glad you are showing more of who you are because you’re wonderful!

  3. Hi, good to read this. A valuable lesson indeed. I found your article while searching for women who are mothers who have completed the Epicodus boot camp. Are your children in school? I’m having a hard time trying to figure out how I would juggle everything, not to mention paying for childcare in order to attend. Would love to hear your opinion.

    • Hi there! First of all, let me say that Epicodus was a fabulous decision for me and I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience. I would definitely recommend it and am happy to talk with you more about it. I’d also recommend coming to our next Jr Dev meetup (http://www.meetup.com/Portland-JR-DEVELOPER-Meetup/) on Thursday, Sept 24 at 7:00. It’s a brand new meetup we started to provide community for people getting into the tech field, and there are a number of us who are recent or current Epicodus (and other) code school students. So, it would be a good place to get other peoples’ opinions in addition to my mine.

      As for your question about children… my kids are in high school, so I didn’t have a childcare issue. However, there were people in my class who had young kids and seemed to manage it well. I do feel like it was easier for people who didn’t have families they were juggling, because they could go to more meetups and more fully devote their time to school. That said, my family was very supportive, but I still definitely felt the pull of both family and coding. I’m happy to answer any other questions you have and can email you directly if that would be easier/better. Good luck with your decision!

  4. Pingback: whoami: I’m a web developer | Twyste

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