On Humility

Learning from critique and swallowing your pride

This post was originally published on my Medium page

One of the biggest challenges I’ve come across in terms of my personal development is a sense of humility. I think of humility as the ability to swallow your pride, and to accept your own mistakes. Coming from a generation where “everyone is special”, humility has been a difficult bridge to cross for me.

Something I come across a lot as a developer is the process of code review. This process usually entails coworkers analyzing, verifying, and critiquing new code someone has written. Code review is not unlike the peer reviews mandated by teachers and professors throughout my education, but with a vastly increased sense of purpose. In school, peer review was a chore. It was mundane, rote, and lackluster. More often than not, the classmates reviewing my essay or work had no real stake in what I had done. The review process was part of everyone’s grade, and no one really cared about anyone else’s work, or so it seemed. With code review it’s different. Everyone performing the review typically has some stake in the process. If poorly written code makes its way through review, the reviewers take some responsibility. So the motivation around code review is, in my experience, substantially higher than any peer review process I ever underwent in school.

Code review sucks. Or at least it does at first. My first experience with a very strict code review left my pride stung and bruised. Critique was a difficult pill to swallow for me, and I found myself in uncharted territory emotionally. I was a bad student, and I rarely took pride in my schoolwork — something I deeply regret. With my career, though, my motivations are much more clear, and the pride I take in my work has been much more substantial. I was inexperienced with being proud, and I lacked the emotional maturity to know how to swallow my pride. It was very difficult not to take all of the critique and feedback on my work personally. Anything a reviewer said about my code formatting or the way I had implemented some chunk of logic was a slight against me — or so my proud, millennial mind told me. I found myself frequently frustrated, at first. Any time I had to submit code for review I found myself anxious, and I resigned to refactoring my code after every review. These concerns made me second guess myself, and my work suffered for it.

It got better, though.

Over time, I started to get less and less negative feedback or requests for changes on my code reviews. It turns out all of that feedback was never intended to personally offend me or to insinuate that I was a bad programmer — it was actually intended to help me become a better programmer. I started to realize the value of humility in the context of my career. Taking pride in your work is important in motivating yourself to solve problems and make somebody’s life easier, but there are times where pride gets in the way. Everyone can always stand to get better at something, right? Whatever your job may be, there will doubtless be times where somebody who cares about the work you produce will offer feedback or advice, and it may seem like they’re disparaging the quality of your work. Most likely, though (unless they’re just an asshole, I guess), they have some stake in the work you produce, and they want to make sure the product at the end of the road is the best it can be.

I try my best to the younger developers and interns with whom I work never take critique on their work personally. Maybe it’s because I was wholly uninterested and regrettably uninvested in my schoolwork, but I never had a chance to learn how to navigate my own sense of pride. Entering a profession full of pretentious, stubborn people with a lot to say was certainly a trial by fire for me, but I’m glad I’ve been able to roll with the punches and mature emotionally from it.

If pride is a deadly sin, let humility be your absolution.