The Lake Wobegon effect in Psychology involves a systematic bias to see yourself as better than average, see also here.

What does this mean for developers? Well, every developer thinks of course that he is terrific. Developers view themselves as much better than average: you cannot get rid of the impression that we think of ourselves as way better than the rest. This “self-serving bias”, as the psychologists say, leads to a number of things:

  • we underestimate the work of others in a team
  • by hindsight, we tend so say we have done it alone, and downplay the importance of tools, languages, frameworks, libraries and plugins which we have used
  • we prefer to do it alone and like to start from scratch, because the unknown code from others smells always a bit more than the well-known code from oneself

If we want to overcome this effect, it is important to respect the work of others, even if it looks and smells different. And it is important to examine the work from others, in order to learn new tricks and techniques. We tend to prefer our own work, because we know our own code so well, but barely know the code from others.

Yet we know that statistically, only a few are really better than the average. And if you are new to a tool pr a language, chances are good that you are not among them. If you have used a tool or a language for a long time, you probably do belong to the exceptional few, but then your knowledge will be outdated, too, because a new tool or language already has appeared.

To sum it up, I think the I-am-better-than-average illusion is especially strong among developers, although there is always a new tool or a new language around the corner which needs to be learnt. Thinking of yourself as better than the rest is not helpful here. The best developers may be the ones who think they are not better than the average: the outlier, the outsider, the newcomer, or the late starter. They are curious, open-minded and willing to learn new things – maybe the most important traits for a developer.

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