9-11 May 2018

thestudio, Manchester

Let’s not make people feel stupid

Session type:
Case Study

Session duration:
60 minutes

Presented by:

Clare Sudbery


About this Case Study

“I know nothing.”
“I know less than nothing.”
“I am an impostor.”

Have you ever had these thoughts? Have you wondered why? Would you like to reduce the frequency of those thoughts for yourself, your colleagues and people who are yet to even consider joining your profession?

Have you ever heard people say things like this:

“Wow, I just discovered my colleague doesn’t understand Y. I’m shocked.”
“Can you believe, I just interviewed this dev, and they didn’t even know what a Z was?”

Over my 18-year software career, those last two have been said to me countless times. They are said derisively, scornfully, impatiently. And every time those words are said, we lose both existing and potential members of our profession. We lose them because they feel stupid; because they believe they can’t keep up; because they’re terrified that people are saying the same things about them.

If somebody already feels like they don't fit in, then this kind of pressure and insecurity can be the final shove that persuades them to leave the profession or not try and join in the first place. Women and non-binary people, people of colour, older people, LGBT people and many other under-represented groups are strongly impacted by intellectual elitism. Indeed ALL software professionals are impacted.

We know that everybody has knowledge gaps. There are thousands of different paths through software development, touching thousands of different combinations of technologies and skills. On a day-to-day level we have to specialise in one task at a time. The skills we don’t need right now are necessarily forgotten, or delegated to someone else. And that’s fine.

Instead of knowledge, let’s focus on aptitude. Instead of judging people on what they don’t know, let’s help them to feel excited about all the new things they’re going to discover. We want to build strong, capable, diverse, multi-functional teams that can happily embrace any challenge. To do this, we need to nurture our teams by building confidence and eradicating insecurity.

Instead of saying, “For God’s sake, do you really not know about X?” let’s say “Fantastic, you don’t know about X! Lucky you. That means you get to learn it. What can I do to help?”

About the Speaker

Clare Sudbery is a lead consultant developer with ThoughtWorks. She is a maths graduate with 18 years of software engineering experience, and a particular interest in teaching and mentoring; encouraging more women into IT; and banishing impostor syndrome.

Seven years ago she returned to IT with a sigh of relief after a few years as a secondary school maths teacher. Since then she has embraced all things XP. She is on a mission to awaken the inner geek in clever women (and men) everywhere.

Clare is a published novelist, and regularly blogs at A Woman in Technology and In Simple Terms. She loves her job.


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