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I feel destined for mediocrity. Is there a way out?

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Senior Software Engineer at Pinterest9 months ago

I have been working in the industry for almost 8 years, but I often feel like an average engineer. I spend most of my time working, but I haven't achieved any significant accomplishments in my career.

I was able to get jobs at Pinterest and the company that used to be called Meta because I memorized coding interview questions and exaggerated my achievements. However, I don't have the motivation to aim for promotions, and I worry that I don't have what it takes to be an outstanding engineer in the tech industry. I work every day, but I feel lost and unsure about where my career is going.

I'm worried about my future career growth and whether I will find fulfillment. Are there other people who have felt the same way but managed to overcome it and succeed?

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(4 comments)
  • 47
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    Android Engineer @ Robinhood
    9 months ago

    If you don't have the motivation to grow your career and you're comfortably able to sustain your current level, maybe you should look to find a hobby that'll motivate and fulfill you outside of work. Even though careers are generally a big part of our lives, it doesn't necessarily have to be the only thing in our life. Senior level at big tech pays very handsomely, so perhaps you can use that to give yourself the flexibility to explore.

    For an ancedotal story that might give some perspective: when I joined Robinhood (when it was ~500 people and was one of the hottest startups at the time), I had a coffee buddy with a very senior Android engineer and one of the conversations we had was around career goals. He mentioned that at this point in his life, he wasn't really as passionate in software engineering and that he was only in it still because the pay was really high. He also mentioned that if software engineering didn't pay as much, he'd gladly pivot to another profession that would.

  • 34
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    Startup Engineer
    9 months ago

    I definitely echo Jonathan's post: I'm passionate about programming because there's a nice big bag of gold for the person who's able to master it. If the same was true for Math or Physics (what I'm truly passionate about), I'd quickly pivot as well.

    I worry that I don't have what it takes to be an outstanding engineer in the tech industry. I work every day, but I feel lost and unsure about where my career is going.

    Maybe you were meant to be the world's greatest post-modern art critic. I think when we see things happen to other people in the world, we want that for ourselves but miss that the actual big opportunities are the ones where no one but you could have done that thing.

    Maybe the question to ask is: is being an outstanding engineer your ultimate purpose in life? Why is it so important to you, and what are the things that happened in your life that make it so important?

  • 42
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    Mid/Senior Software Engineer
    9 months ago

    First off, it's perfectly ok and normal to be a software engineer just because it pays the bills and you're good at it, not necessarily because you're passionate about it. It's the classic question of "work to live" or "live to work" - both are valid ways to live your life.

    Are you software engineer because you genuinely love programming and solving complex problems that change the world? That's awesome! Are you a software engineer because it pays well and you need to support your family, or you want to retire early to escape the corporate rat race? That's also awesome! There are plenty of people who fall in either one of those camps, and neither path is "better" or "worse" than the other. You just need to know your why, and fully accept it.

    I don't have what it takes to be an outstanding engineer in the tech industry.

    No matter what, there will always be someone who is smarter and/or more experienced than you. Even if you're an L7 at FAANG. In tech, there's this collective hyper-competitive mindset that you have to be the best in your field to be "successful" (whatever that means), but really... you don't. Yes, there is a level of corporate pressure to go from L3->L4->L5 (that's a discussion for another time). But at a certain point, it's okay to just be good enough. And perhaps what you think is "average" really is "good enough". This relates to my previous point on understanding your "why", and owning it.

    I was able to get jobs at Pinterest and the company that used to be called Meta because I memorized coding interview questions and exaggerated my achievements.

    This is more a testament to how broken the interview process is at most tech companies than you as a person. Let's be honest, many people (I would even speculate most) have done the same exact thing. People tend to underestimate that there is a HUGE amount of luck involved in interviewing, and interviewing in itself is a skill that's separate from the job itself.

  • 59
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    9 months ago

    I was able to get jobs at Pinterest and the company that used to be called Meta because I memorized coding interview questions and exaggerated my achievements.

    Don't hate the player, hate the game. It's not your fault the game is broken, and these Big Tech companies ask arbitrary DSA problems to evaluate candidates. Like all of us, you did your best to be a winning player in the game (and you won!) - There's nothing wrong with that and you shouldn't feel bad about yourself at all for doing this.

    That being said, being able to pass these interviews still shows several impressive traits:

    1. Grit
    2. Consistency
    3. Communication
    4. General hard-work and persistence

    While these traits aren't engineering specific, they do carry over. I'm sure you have a good amount of these - The question is how much you want to apply them and to what.

    However, I don't have the motivation to aim for promotions, and I worry that I don't have what it takes to be an outstanding engineer in the tech industry.

    Even if you're "just" an average senior software engineer at Pinterest, you are already an outstanding engineer, congratulations! Passing these Big Tech interviews and then actually surviving at these companies is very hard - 90%+ of engineers can't do it. Pinterest is an incredible tech company - Both my cofounders Rahul and Charlie came from there, and they're 2 of the best engineers I have ever worked with.

    For your scenario, I recommend doing some soul searching and really figure out how you want to structure and prioritize your life as others here. have recommended. Life direction isn't something I or anyone else can hand to you. However, I can share these resources on how to have better WLB and handle pressure so you can carve out that reflection time for yourself:

    Best of luck! I am rooting for your happiness. 😊