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Context:

  • I am a 43 yrs old developer and I come from a place where the IT industry is very underdeveloped, working mainly for small companies
  • The situation was so bad that most of my "senior" colleagues were really mid or just incompetent (impossible to "learn from the best"), the companies were years behind technology-wise and their workflow and processes were completely wrecked, if they existed at all (often no version control, no agile, no proper issue tracking, no peer review, no pull requests...). Other than that, most of the companies try to scam the employee in some way (unpaid hours, fake contracts, even threats and blackmail ...)
  • I am mostly self-taught. I've been always regarded as very curioius and smart and often I tried to be the main driving force for innovation, often with frustratingly little or no result

What happened:

  • Two years ago I moved in Germany in a big company and found a completely different situation
  • I honestly portrayed myself as a competent senior when interviewing and I landed the job and passed provation, but seeing the level of my colleagues, I realized that I was nowhere near where I thought I was. I was shocked: I realized I had huge gaps in experience, little knowledge of complex distributed system, and a lot of formal and theoretical gaps about patterns, data structures, etc. because I did not attend any university
  • I have an uncommon "horizontal knowledge" (often my colleagues are amazed on my knowledge over their own domain, be it ML or graphics or front-end or audio/multimedia), but I lack the "vertical" specialized know-how that is expected from a senior with almost 20yrs of career

What I did:

  • I am studying like crazy, and I feel I have vastly improved. These two years I learned more than the 15 previous years combined (but I am also super stressed as a result)
  • Also, working on complex systems and stellar colleagues made me more aware, I'm still nowhere I want to be but I made enormous leaps
  • In the company they're aware of my shortcomings, but every colleague likes me a lot on a personal level and for my eagerness to help and learn

Problem:

  • basically every colleague is 10 years younger than me and much more competent. I am having huge trust issues, a constant impostor syndrome, and the fear that I am "too old" to find a stable position in the IT industry
  • do you think this may be true? is there any advice that I can use to put me in a better spot for the future? Is there any advice on how I should address my situation in interviews, company feedbacks and so on?
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    The large company hired you, and it turns out that you believe most if not all your colleagues are much better than you are. At the same time, you say these same colleagues are amazed by how much different stuff you know. When you work in a place where you have to take care of everything, you learn about everything. That is an incredibly valuable skill to have. That company has hired you for a reason. A place with such a strong team doesn't hire at random. Have you considered that you're exactly the kind of person with exactly the kind of strengths they needed for their team? :) – simbabque Aug 20 at 9:20
  • @simbabque I don't think so, what is requested for me is a very deep knowledge of a particular domain, which I am acquiring now for the first time. This has caused me some stupid errors and my last team leader is visibly pissed off at my latest performance. – Czar Aug 20 at 11:13
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I don't think you are "too old" to find a "stable position" in the IT industry - it sounds like you already found one: you landed the job, passed probation, and your colleagues like you. In the meantime, you've recognized your gaps, and have been working hard to improve. That sounds like you have found and are succeeding at a stable position to me.

No one is born knowing how to develop software, and a formal education, though very useful, doesn't prepare us for the career. Some of us might get lucky and have an amazing mentor whom teaches us everything we need to know. But the vast majority of developers which have successfully grown in this field have done so because they have the ability to honestly ascertain their own skills and knowledge, create a plan to fill those gaps, and put the time and effort into doing so. It sounds like you are doing exactly this.

As an aside, I have spent my whole career in the United States (arguably the place where the IT industry was born, and continues to lead), and there are plenty of organizations here where:

my "senior" colleagues were really mid or just incompetent (impossible to "learn from the best"), the companies were years behind technology-wise and their workflow and processes were completely wrecked, if they existed at all (often no version control, no agile, no proper issue tracking, no peer review, no pull requests...).

One really important thing to note is that discussing "best practices" and practicing those same things are two different beasts - there is no organization or developer on earth which is doing every single thing "correctly". Just as you shouldn't compare your actual life with the vacation photos on your colleague's desk, you shouldn't compare you actual development skills/practices with the idealized things you read on the internet.

Good luck, and congrats on all the progress you've made.

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