profile

🥷🏽 Notes From an Imposter Programmer

Thankfully, persistence is a great substitute for talent

Published about 1 month ago • 4 min read

The subject of this email is a quote from Steve Martin, one of my favorite people. I grew up in the 70s, listening to Wild and Crazy Guy religiously. I could quote just about every joke from that album, and I was only 12, which caused problems for my parents. One of my favorite jokes was about meeting a lady and falling for her cat... I won't repeat it here but I didn't stop laughing for hours. Here's a link, but volume down and be wary of little ears.

Anyway, I just finished watching the Steve Martin biography on AppleTV, and every time I see a documentary about him, it always feels a bit dark. Steve was a lonely, isolated man (by his own admission) and his approach to comedy was, in a word: methodical.

Steve studied philosophy in college, and loved the idea of deconstructing ideas and putting them back together in weird ways. Comedy, at the time, was very formulaic: you start a joke in a sentence or two, add a little buildup for the tension, then deliver a punch line to break the tension, and move on to the next joke. Steve wondered what would happen if you drew the tension out, never fully breaking it, keeping the energy going.

This is the formula behind Martin's success. His "jokes" go on for minutes and seem to never end.

The Journal as a Tool

To make this process happen, Steve had to rely on his diary. He talks about his journaling process a lot in his various biographies and documentaries, but, in short: it's a tool he uses to reflect and improve. Here's a fun clip of him talking about his diary on the Tonight Show back in 1989.

This is also the focus of the Bullet Journal method: you document what you did, the outcome, and you ditch the things you didn't get around to doing. That's probably a lame summary, but go have a look if you're interested.

One quote from the Apple documentary that stuck with me was when Steve was talking about his journal as he was reading an entry. I can't remember exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of "I don't know why I wrote this stuff here... I should have been documenting the important things, like what my apartment looked like, what I was eating, and who I was hanging out with".

He was serious, and I think I can relate. I've been journaling off and on since I was 18, and I love looking back at the snapshots of my life, especially when I described exactly what Steve suggested: my room, my friends, and what I had to eat! These things trigger memories and remind me of who I was at the time.

Quite the opposite happens when I spill my guts in my journal, which I do often, treating it as a friend that I can vent to without them rolling their eyes at me as they listen to the same old "greatest hits". Unfortunately, it's the future me that will do the eye-rolling. As good as it feels to vent, reliving the negative stuff can be draining.

And then there's the idea of using your journal for your career, which is what Steve did. He used his journal as if it was a long-running A/B test, killing off the (assumed) large percent of his jokes that were "OK" (or worse), and focusing on the smaller percent that got the most laughs. Constant refinement and focus, and if you're curious about his journal and writing method, he discusses it more in his 2007 memoir, Born Standing Up.

I see value in this process, but often I just give in to my "creative muse" and go for it, doing what I feel like doing. While this might sound dandy and fun, it can also be frustrating when your muse wastes your time.

Let's See What Happens

I love doing what I do, which I see as telling stories and trying to help people improve. I was thinking about this after I watched the Steve Martin documentary, and I wondered how much attention I give to the actual results of my work.

Probably not enough. I tend to do whatever I feel like doing. For instance: the latest video production I just finished this last weekend.

I just released my new Revisiting Rails video, based on my recent experience working with Rails, which you can see here if you're interested. I had lots of fun making it, and I hope you enjoy it.

I don't know if I would have ever done such a thing if I was as methodical as Steve Martin. Let's be honest: Ruby on Rails is pretty old, and there are a lot of resources online that describe how to use it.

That said: I do think there's value in documenting a rollover process, which is what this video is all about (moving from Vue/Express to Rails). Or maybe not? I have no idea, and I probably should have some idea if I'm spending my time on this stuff.

I'm honestly torn on this. The "best" work I've done, to date, is The Imposter's Handbook. At least that's the thing that I get the most email and comments on, and it's also (by a massive margin) my best-selling effort. If I was being methodical, I suppose I would keep making "Imposter stuff", to use a term, but I find that's the opposite of creativity.

That's much more of a business focus.

I'm genuinely curious what y'all do, if you run a thing on the side or own your own business. Do you follow your creative inspiration, or methodically refine?

Either way: journaling what you do with your days, at work and at home, is a wonderful practice. Future you will be so grateful to know what current you is up to. How you spent your days and with whom - paint yourself a picture with words! Actual pictures are great, but you tend to lose the context as years go by. Your words, however, are a true gift.

After all...

Some people have a way with words, and other people... uh, not have way

🥷🏽 Notes From an Imposter Programmer

Hi! I'm Rob Conery and I help self-taught programmers like me overcome doubt and build their career. Join me and over 15,000 other programmers who are learning new things, every day.

I taught myself to code in 1998 and within 7 years had a client list that included Google, Microsoft, Starbucks, Ameritech, KLA-Tencor, PayPal, and Visa. In 2014 I decided that I really needed to understand core Computer Science concepts, so I dove in, using the free resources from MIT and Stanford. In 2016 I shared what I learned with The Imposter's Handbook.

Read more from 🥷🏽 Notes From an Imposter Programmer

Most people aren't aware of the power of constraints in a database. They're there to enforce data rules, and you're probably familiar with a few of them, including: The null constraint, which won't allow null values. The unique constraint, which ensures a record is always unique. The primary key constraint, which I don't need to explain. Assuming you've used these before, let me ask you a question: is this business logic? I think it's fair to say that some logic is being used here in the form...

14 days ago • 4 min read

In my last post I mentioned that I have been reading a lot of personal growth and business books, which I enjoy. Finance, emotional health, non-slimy marketing, etc. A few weeks ago I started listening to listening to Take Control of Your Life by Mel Robbins because my niece recommended it. To be honest: I didn't really want to listen to this. The title is too broad and, if I'm being extremely honest, I highly doubt a single book is going to enable me to feel like I've gained "control" of my...

about 2 months ago • 5 min read

Retirement is one thing, being where you want to be and doing what you want to do when your current job is finished in another thing entirely. What’s your exit strategy? It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself, at a startup, or in a massive enterprise environment: knowing what you’re going to do when it’s over is incredibly important to your career. I work at Microsoft currently and before I started there in 2018 I pondered my “end game” – where do I want to be when it’s over and what do I...

2 months ago • 5 min read
Share this post