Jon Kuperman

Working with people who are smarter than you

February 27, 2020

When I was just starting in tech, every job was brimming with people smarter than me! I couldn’t imagine anything better. I was young, new to programming and so eager to learn.

As the years went by, I did pretty well for myself. I was lucky enough to work at several great tech companies such as Twitter, Brave, and Adobe. Eventually, I was promoted to Senior Software Engineer and even put on a few teams as Tech Lead.

Somewhere along the line, my mentality shifted. I went from eager to learn from all of my smart, talented peers to afraid of getting fired when my manager realizes I’m a lot less smart than other people at my level.

Sometimes, working with a smarter coworker is easy to justify. They’ve been at the company a lot longer, they’re older, they’ve been coding for more years, etc. Other times, they’re just a lot better than I am.

A lot of this is honestly just my insecurity and imposter syndrome. But I thought it might be nice for me to share some of the ways I cope with these feelings.

Adding Value

As I get older, I spend more and more time thinking about the value I’m able to add at work. For some people, a lot of the value they add is by writing code. Others add value by writing documentation, mentoring new hires or interfacing with other teams. I try to focus on the areas where I can add the most value and work hard on improving those!

When I work with someone better at coding than I am, I try to find other necessary tasks that come with the work we’re doing. I put extra effort into taking care of those and let the other person excel where they shine while I try to do the same.

A Rising Tide

Another important lesson is getting away from having a Scarcity Mindset. Something in my brain feels threatened by working with people better at my job than me. But there’s nothing to feel threatened by. It always amazes me how giving honest, appreciative feedback to my managers about the excellence of my coworkers not only doesn’t affect me negatively but often comes back to me in the form of positive feedback from my coworkers.

A rising tide lifts all boats. One of my goals for 2020 is to get back to my beginner mindset. Feeling lucky to get to work with a ton of smart people and being earnestly excited to learn from them!

Do you struggle with having a scarcity mindset? Do you feel threatened working with folks that are a lot smarter? How do you cope with it? Let me know in the comments!


Written by Jon Kuperman living in Florida working on Adobe's Creative Cloud. You should follow him on Twitter

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© 2020, Jon Kuperman