Confessions of a Non-Super Rockstar Ninja

06 Jan
January 6, 2015

Does it seem like all of the developer job openings are looking for a superstar in javascript, a back-end code ninja, or a front-end rockstar? Do you read the skill descriptions with more and more dread since while you know some, or even all of, those technologies, you consider yourself to be an expert in all of them. It’s easy to feel discouraged and frustrated.

Hi, My name is Joe and I am NOT a Super Rockstar Ninja

It may seem like a difficult thing to admit, but I rarely fall into the superstar/rockstar/ninja categories. In fact, if this were a Harry Potter book, the Sorting Hat would probably have put me in Hufflepuff, and that’s okay. Hufflepuffs were known for being trustworthy, loyal and hardworking, but maybe not the most clever. So I am not a super rockstar ninja, and I probably won’t ever be, but that doesn’t mean that I am not good at what I do.

I am a self-taught C# developer, specializing in back-end web development using the Ektron CMS platform. I never really learned JavaScript, my CSS is rusty, and the only bootstraps I am familiar with belong on saddles.

Being self-taught, I don’t have the benefits, or the hang-ups, of receiving a formal education in programming. A “Salt of the Earth Programmer”, to coin a new term, more methodical than intuitive. I don’t grasp new concepts quickly or easily, and it often seems like I have to fight them into submission before I eventually understand them. But what I do know, I know very well. And once in a while I surprise even myself and come up with a clever solution to a problem.

Social Media and Your Self-Image

One of the best things about the modern social world is that you can get access to an astoundingly wide variety of people. By reading blogs, listening to podcasts, and interacting with people on Twitter, you can gain insights from some of the most brilliant and innovative minds in the business. I feel a continual sense of awe at some of the incredible ideas that these people come up with, and I am inspired to do more.

The downside to this easy access to such creative and innovative minds, is that it is easy to judge yourself against the high standards that these experts have set on their chosen topics, and come up short. You start to think that because you don’t have the same answers that they have, that you aren’t worthwhile—that if you can’t solve all of the problems, that you are a failure.

You’re not! That’s just your ego talking. And let me tell you, your ego can be an idiot!

Ego (Everyone’s Got One)

Your ego is the thing telling you that you have to have all the answers. That your solutions are the right ones, and the only ones that need to be considered. It’s okay to know that you are good at something, and have confidence in your abilities, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that if you are good in one area, that you are good in all areas. That way lies arrogance, a sure sign of an out of control ego. It’s so easy to go down that path when you have a few successes behind you.

But then you run into an issue that you can’t solve without help, and your ego takes a huge blow. You start to feel like a hack, like a failure. As high as you felt before, you now feel as low. Your confidence is shaken, and and now you’re fragile. But life is full successes and failures. And something is only truly a failure if you don’t learn from it. Plus, failures keep you humble, and willing to learn.

Be a Student and a Teacher

No one is a expert in everything, but everyone is good at something. Every person you meet is going to be better than you are at something, and every person you meet is an opportunity to learn something, if you are willing to be a student.

As Saron Yitbarek ( said in her interview on we need to be students more. We should always be learning, and never be in a hurry to be the “expert” on anything. I know that most days, I feel like more of a than I do an expert.

But the inverse is also true. You are going to be better at something than everyone else you meet. It might be something simple, or something complicated. Every time you meet someone you have an opportunity to be a teacher, if they are ready to be a student.

I suspect that there are more developers out there like me, than there are the super rockstar ninjas. I also suspect that if you talk to many of those brilliant, innovative people I mentioned earlier, they would probably argue with you about their brilliance, and point out that they have struggles and failures just like we all do. As a general rule, the things people share online are the best that they have come up with, not the first. We don’t see the hard work that it took to get to the point of posting something online.

I build solid, workable code; wrestle with new concepts and ideas; and try to reign in my ego enough to be humble and willing to learn when the opportunity comes my way. I know that I can be successful using my strengths. I am not a superstar, a rockstar, or a ninja, but most days I am satisfied with being good at what I do, and with who I am.

3 replies
  1. Dustin Sier says:

    I’ve always been a proponent that good developers (and people in general) look at themselves in the light of “what can I learn today” as well as “what can I help someone else with today”. Very rarely is someone who “knows everything” going to get much out of the day-to-day interaction they might get with coworkers or on social media.

    We’re never going to be masters of every domain we dabble in, but being really good at a few things (and sharing that along the way) is what makes for excellent developers and coworkers.

    • jayburling says:

      Everything Dustin said!

      To me the most important traits of a good developer are the ability and desire to learn. Self taught and classically trained are most different right out of college. As time and experience grow, the things that set you apart are the things you teach yourself.

      Don’t say you’re not a rockstar though, normal mortals don’t get their faces turned into Popsicle stick masks.


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