Senior engineers might not be so bad

I’ve talked before about my ambivalence toward senior engineers.  As members of the department with 4+ years’ experience, senior engineers often come across as know-it-alls, eager to criticize whatever you do before you’ve even had time to explain it.  No matter how hard you work, how many annoying little bugs you fix, how many features you contribute of your own initiative, in the end nothing you do impresses or surprises them, because they could do your job better and faster anyway.

It’s easy to resent senior engineers — people who are significantly younger and less organized than I am but make significantly more $$ (because, let’s face it, they are significantly more skilled than I am) — but I’ve seen some great sides of senior engineers over the past few months that have softened my critiques.

One of these glimpses happened a few weeks ago.  I was having a conversation with my senior engineer friend Brent about how overwhelmed I feel about next steps in learning computer science — I want to take a couple of classes, but all of them seem to require Python.  After the year-long slog that was learning JS basics, I lamented, how could I commit the time to learn Python?

At this point, my stereotypical senior engineer would have been like, “Yeah, it’s probably out of your reach.  I program fluently in all languages, and 99% of them are so much more better than Python anyway.  Let me further offer some choice critiques of OOP that only I have thought of.”  And then I would have gone back to my downtrodden and discouraged state.

But Brent is not your stereotypical senior engineer.  He took a breath, and said, “Yeah, but you know, once you’ve learned one language, they’re really not that hard to pick up.  I wouldn’t let that stop you.”

In that moment, I felt a newfound capability as the whole world of programming opened up to me.  My thoughts raced: Is it possible that learning Python — learning any language — might not be such a big deal?  What if I can do it without much fuss?  What if I can learn anything I need to learn?

Since that conversation, I’ve been devouring the Python.org tutorial and even started a Python-based Data Structures course!  Brent was right — it’s really not that difficult to learn a new language, and the time investment is so much lower than it was for my first language.

But my bigger takeaway from this experience is about reserving judgement until I’ve really given something a good try.  Python terrified me at first because I had it in my head that learning it would be a huge time sink.  It continued to loom over me until I tried it out.  Likewise, senior engineers — who I’d all but written off after a few terrible experiences — turned out to be not all bad and maybe even a little bit good.  It’s all a matter of being open to new experiences and not letting pre-conceived notions get the better of me.

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