As a recent Computer Science graduate I've gotten a position as a Junior Dev. My team has 6 people, a BA, two Senior devs, a tester, and a team lead (Dev background), all of whom have 10+ years of experience. In addition to my everyday dev work I've been given some independent projects directly from my PO and the CEO, neither of whom are from a technical background.

My issue is I've been getting really really good feedback. This has somewhat snowballed resulting in particularly positive feedback from a lot of people. Both within my team and tribe (Collection of teams (4) working in our office).

While I realise this sounds like a good issue to have, it is undeserved. The work I did was average and the Senior devs could've done it better and in less time. This is starting to concern me as people are developing the view that I'm a genius or have particular expertise in the fields I've been working on and this isn't the case. I want to end this view but I'm entirely unsure how to do it without intentionally sabotaging myself.

Any attempt I make at stating that the work was not particularly above standard seems to be taken as humbleness or modesty when its actually just honesty.

(Unsure if it's relevant but I live in Christchurch, New Zealand and the projects given to me were in Data Visualization and Data Warehousing.)

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    Apart from offer protestations that you are simply a part of the team, just let it go. I'm sure they'll forget your "superkid" status once you've made a mistake or two ;) – Jane S May 28 '15 at 0:14
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    Imposter syndrome is very common amongst professionals Don't worry about it everyone feels like they don't deserve their success – Richard Tingle May 28 '15 at 7:24
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    Not really important, but what is PO? The only thing I can think of is Parole Officer, which really doesn't make sense. – Daniel May 28 '15 at 13:16
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    @DanielCook Product Owner is my bet. – mgarciaisaia May 28 '15 at 14:06
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    Forced humility will come off as arrogance. Do not talk against or downplay the praise directed at you, but instead, give your coworkers and teammate some credit too: "Thanks, I couldn't have done it without the help of XY!" – René Roth May 28 '15 at 19:01
up vote 124 down vote accepted

Stop selling yourself short: the positive feedback is deserved.

The expectations for junior developers hired fresh out of university are generally very low, you're a single step above an intern on the totem pole. Most companies hire them as a bit of a gamble, expecting that they'll be dead weight for a year or more, but will with some luck blossom into usable (but still cheap!) devs later on.

But if you're "recently" hired (months?), are already producing reasonable quality code and doing it independently, odds are you're genuinely exceeding everybody's expectations, and hence you're getting lavished with praise. This doesn't mean you're coding better or faster than the senior dev, or that you'd be trusted with the architecture for the product that will make or break the company. It just means you're doing better than they expected you to do.

Enjoy it while it lasts — the better you do, the higher expectations will be! And start talking with your manager about what it would take for you to get a promotion and a raise.

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    I had a 1-on-1 with my Team Lead today and told him my worries, he more or less reiterated what you've said. Also yeah recently as in 4 months. – MapReduceFilter May 28 '15 at 4:32
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    In short, you've made a common rookie mistake of thinking you're better able to judge your competency than the rest of your team is, with all their experience. If you need to believe you're bad at something, believe you're bad at that ;-) – Steve Jessop May 28 '15 at 8:21
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    @SteveJessop There is scientific evidence that in Western cultures, the more skilled you are at something, the more likely you are to underestimate your true performance and vice versa. Interestingly, it's the opposite in Eastern cultures. So your point about deferring to the more experienced folks' judgement is a good one. – ColleenV May 28 '15 at 17:42
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    Four months? Most new hires four months in are still learning the ropes, and performing well below eventual expectations. In many positions it takes years to be able to perform at par in terms of efficiency. If I hired someone and saw four months later he or she were doing 80% of the work of my senior staff, I'd be head over heels happy. – Joe May 28 '15 at 22:56
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    @ColleenV I've heard of impostor syndrome before, but this is the first time I've heard of the East-West divide on this. Any source on this? – Rystraum May 29 '15 at 7:07

While I realise this sounds like a good issue to have, it is undeserved. The work i did was average and the Senior devs could've done it better and in less time.

You've missed the point here. If you're a junior dev getting praise from seniors it's a clear demonstration that they're recognising your talents and it is 100% deserved. That they should be able to do it better and faster is somewhat expected: they're more experienced than you.

In all honesty I don't think it's a developer's place to truly judge the quality of their own work. Of course we should be critical of it and always strive to improve, but if several other people are telling you it's good, then chances are it's very good.

If you really want to get something positive out of all this, ask others what could be done better.

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    "In all honesty I don't think it's a developer's place to truly judge the quality if their own work." This makes a lot of sense. – MapReduceFilter May 28 '15 at 4:32
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    It's a dangerous thing to think your own code is good, but hearing it from others is a hell of an endorsement. Remember, even the best developers make incredibly stupid mistakes from time to time :) – Matt Lacey May 28 '15 at 4:47
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    It's not just developers -- judging your own work is hard enough even when you've been in the field some time, let alone when you're new. – Chris H May 28 '15 at 12:57

What you're feeling is a relatively common psychological phenomenon called Imposter syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. It is not considered a psychological disorder.

I too am a developer who struggles with receiving praise. It was a great relief to me just to know that other people, even people wildly more successful than I, commonly feel inadequate in the face of praise. At the end of the day, I try to remember that my employer is the one paying the bills; if they're happy with your work, that's all that really matters.

In a broader sense, you'll be a much happier and successful professional if you learn to take all feedback at the sincere face value. I'm not saying that everyone you encounter in the workplace (or in life) is sincere and wholesome, but undervaluing your contributions will not help you recognize or cope with adversarial personalities. On the contrary, if you don't internalize your accomplishments and respond to feedback (both positive and negative), it will harm your professional relationships and your job satisfaction.

Edit to clearly say that the other answers are wholly correct that you are deserving of the praise you're receiving. Just because (nearly) everyone feels that way from time to time at all levels of professional achievement doesn't mean they're right. Besides, whose opinion would you believe: the consensus of the experienced team members, bosses and company owner or the lone new guy? You might be tempted to chalk that up as an argument from authority, but consider that the people whose job it is to evaluate your work are all in agreement that you are doing well. That's not as strong as a scientific consensus, but you can't dismiss it either.

In this sense, your boss (manager, project lead, CEO, etc.) is your customer: your employer pays you a salary in exchange for your work. As we know about customers, they're always (usually, mostly) right. This cuts both ways: if you ever receive what you feel to be undeservedly negative feedback, you need to react to it with sincerity and professionalism as well.

If you can't overcome your sense of under-accomplishment through willpower, then consider drawing upon it to drive your own productivity. Set for yourself what you consider to be a truly difficult goal. This can be a professional milestone, but you might want to start out with a simple, task related incremental improvement. If you weren't satisfied with your last project, set aside an hour in a work day or free time to quantify how you think it could be improved, translate that into individual tasks, and come up with a realistic estimate of effort required. (Note that these steps are difficult skills to master in and of themselves, so even just taking it this far will improve your value as an employee.)

Once you have a plan, consider how realistic your expectations are. Would it take a truly enormous amount of effort to improve upon what you've done? Stop there and reflect upon what you've already accomplished and try to take to heart the praise of others. Is this a series of minor, incremental improvements that you're interested in doing for building your own skills or easing the future workload? Consider making it official and turning your personal goals into your work goals. If your project goals provide real value to the company, they may prioritize it over another project and assign more resources to it, in which case you've just contributed technical leadership and ownership, both very valuable resources to any team.

Then set about your task. Continue to push yourself until you've accomplished the improvement. Keep a realistic perspective and remember that you're going the extra mile so you don't get discouraged. It may take longer than you think, it may be harder than you think, you may have extreme difficulty tackling a side project and staying on top of your regular work. If you aren't making the kind of progress you expect, step back and reevaluate your estimates both for accuracy and realism with regard to your other responsibilities.

In any case, whenever you make progress on your own goals, take a moment to reflect that you really have accomplished something you yourself thought was difficult and worthwhile. That should put your mind at rest that your accomplishments are noteworthy and you are deserving of praise.

Note that it is possible to take this drive too far. If your mood or job performance start being impacted negatively, then you may be working yourself too hard. Low self esteem can be a serious and chronic condition; with regard to a career, it can drive some people to workaholism and depression.

Everyone (...) has a feeling of inferiority. But the feeling of inferiority is not a disease; it is rather a stimulant to healthy, normal striving and development. It becomes a pathological condition only when the sense of inadequacy overwhelms the individual and, far from stimulating him to useful activity, makes him depressed and incapable of development.

Alfred W. Adler, MD and Psychotherapist in The Science of Living

Keep being critical of your own work, but don't let it slow you down.

As a new hire, your expectations as a developer are low, and when you perform at or above average for what you'd 'expect' from a developer, you're exceeding those expectations. The praise you're getting right now is deserved.

But don't let yourself get comfortable with that praise either - you know that you have room for improvement, so keep improving. Do your job as expected, but study coding practices and get to know the application you're working on so that you can be an expert.

Positive feedback is good for your standing in the workplace. Enjoy it while it lasts, and work on improving your own talents so that you keep getting positive feedback - you won't always. You will eventually make a mistake if you're working hard, but if your supervisors understand coding, they'll understand that, as long as you learn from those mistakes and keep trying.

For a slightly less formal version of the answer: In my personal experience, as a senior developer (and a reasonably good one, if I do say so myself :), what my mental process often runs into is something like these 3 lines of thinking, all of which may be helpful to explain to you where the praise comes from:

  1. Personal comparison:

    • This is what I remember my own skills/achievements to be at this stage in my career

    • This is what I observe this junior dev doing

    • The comparison seems to be in junior dev's favour. We'll leave aside the accuracy of my own "senior" memory aside :)

    • Thus, the junior dev clearly exceeds expectation and should be commended.

  2. Personal usefulness

    • It would take me X amount of pain to get this task done

    • Junior dev did it, and faster than a random junior dev would be expected to, saving me from having to bother with that implementation detail.

    • So, I praise them also in gratitude for making my professional life easier, and letting me concentrate on higher level design

  3. Experience with new technology benefitting the team and senior people

    • Frequently, a good junior dev knows some fancypants new technology I don't already know and haven't had time to master

    • They pilot that new technology in our environment (which would cost me a pretty big investment of my own resources due to unfamiliarity).

    • I get the benefit of both new technology, AND a much rapider and easier learning period for me, as I get to learn by watching the junior dev do it.

  4. Been there, experienced imposter syndrome myself

    • I very well remember being junior and knowing for sure I sucked and was nowhere as good as those god-like senior developers around me.

    • As such, I can empathize with you being where I was, and try to pre-emptively combat that feeling on your part.

  5. Wishing to offset the downside of junior dev work to keep a good developer happy

    • I remember what it was like being a junior dev. Crappy boring BAU projects that needed to be done. Hard to comprehend business context. Unclear expectations and conflicting demands. Boring monkey tasks, half the time dealing with idiotic organizational red tape (more idiotic as you're junior and lack the experience to realize why it may be needed/beneficial).

    • Now, you have a good developer (see above cases, and other answers for why "good". You as a senior dev or manager worry that the downsides in the previous bullet point would discourage, dispirit, and otherwise negatively affect a junior dev. Hell, it did for you back when.

    • So, you try to offset that possible negative pressure, but clearly explaining the employees' worth. This would hopefully make them happier, more satisfied with the job, and therefore more productive and longer-lasting on the team.

  • I also clearly can't count above 3. I should apply for PHB position. – user13655 May 28 '15 at 16:40
  • It's OK. Just start at 0 or 1, keep incrementing, and believe. – Jason C May 28 '15 at 20:19

Share the wealth!

When I've done a great job (and even when I haven't) I've usually had some help along the way. Did someone show you how the existing system works, where the documentation / wiki is, tell you about a good library to use or help you with a bug?

If you're working in a team, my general advice is to share credit as wide as possible. Then, you're spreading happiness - the person giving praise won't think any less of your effort, but the people you've called out will really appreciate it (and be more likely to help you in the future).

The senior devs should be better than you

The work i did was average and the Senior devs could've done it better and in less time.

As someone with relatively low experience, you should always try to work in an environment where you have good people to learn from. If that's not the case, yeah, you'll become the superstar, but you won't learn as much.

Expectations change

As you progress into more senior roles, people will expect more from you. As a mid-level dev, what you've done might only be viewed as acceptable, for example. If you were producing the same quality as the seniors, you'd probably be expect promotion into that role.

As a senior dev, my success criteria for a junior was that if I gave them work, overall it would save me time. A little clean-up and review time is fine. In contrast, if it took me longer to "fix" what they'd done than just do it myself == unhappy senior.

Stay critical

Let praise flow through you - enjoy the moment, then move on.

As others have mentioned, being self-critical is a driver for learning and improvement - keep going (just don't be too tough on yourself)!

To paraphrase the already stated, you are part of a team that's garnering praise for itself. Being part of a great team will make you better at whatever you do--generally in multiple ways. Simply being selected as a member of one is also indicative of worthiness. It's now up to you to not prove them wrong for believing in you.

I would have simply commented above, but I lack the rep yet: @ColeenV mentioned but did not name the Dunning-Kruger effect. I learned of it as reassurance from a coworker at a prior job. Of course, the awareness of the bias can have its own manic effects on your self-assessment.

Good work. You haven't crashed the plane yet.

If you're really not performing as well, then the critique will come soon enough when the quality of your work or the project managment timing isn't on par. As long as neither of those 2 is the case, there is no indication that your work is lacking anything.

Also note that starters, juniors and seniors are put on different scales. When you start out with no work experience anything you do without any problems and without help from others is seen as huge success.

Afterall searching for job candidates is tedious and not everyone who gets through the application process necessarily is a fit. As long as you're looking promising the company can be relieved to have found someone who does the job in a acceptable quality and quickness.

Also note that you need time to warm up to your enviroment and the project. So people will expect you to pick up the pace after some time.

As time goes on and pay rises, the qualities demanded of your work do aswell.

So don't slack or do anything unless there is a real problem.

You might come across as negative and prevent everyone from ever giving you positive feedback again. Trust me, you don't want to piss of anyone or prevent them from positive feedback.

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