Everyone’s career sounds more impressive than yours

This is something I’ve observed ever since I started working. Everyone else’s job always sounds way more interesting, technical, or impactful than mine.

For example, when I worked at Trail of Bits, I spent years working on a research project for automatically finding crashes in computer programs using a technique called symbolic execution. Sounds hard! Oh, and the technique is designed for programs where you don’t have source code (sounds extra hard!).

In many ways the job was cool, hard, and technical but what was really uninspiring was that 1. the tool wasn’t actually that effective and 2. we didn’t have any users (probably because of #1). As my colleague Yan once joked, it sometimes felt like we were working on a “Fisher-Price Symbolic Executor”. I often felt like an imposter “playing” software engineer/researcher.

When I visited my old colleagues at Drift, who were working on a web product with thousands of users, I felt inferior. It seemed like they were all working on such impactful and real-world problems. Maybe it wasn’t quite as “novel” as what I was doing but it sounded pretty technical and not easy to me!

However, the way they introduced me to other colleagues that didn’t know me was “This is Mark, he’s moved on and now works on the real hard stuff.” I can only speculate that they felt the same thing that I was feeling. From their perspective, I was working on a super hard, technical, sexy research problem โ€” unlike their boring, run of the mill web app.

This has happened more times than I can count in all sorts of settings, especially conferences, where you’re meeting a lot of strangers who all seem to be smarter than you and do very impressive things at highly functional organizations. (Unlike stupid me, doing unimportant stuff at the dysfunctional dumpster fire of a company I work for!)

The point is familiarity breeds contempt. Being so close to your work dulls the good parts and makes the bad parts stand out sharply in relief. Chances are if you joined their team or organization you wouldn’t find it as rosy as you picture it now.

Any thoughts?