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A confession

By: Peter Yao

I am a computer programmer. For over 20 years, my job has provided me with a decent salary, a stable work environment with low stress, and even perks such as working from home during the last six years. As a first-generation immigrant who came to this county without much, I am content and grateful for my current comfortable life.

However, I hardly spend one extra minute thinking about programming after work (except at the very beginning of my career). What I do doesn’t excite me, partly because I’d rather do Yoga, read books, travel, etc., and partly because I was traumatized by those super brains I encountered in my undergraduate years and later professional experiences. In terms of competency, I am like a kindergartener who has no interest in what those Ph. D.s with superb brain powers do and will never be able to catch up. As a result, I became a mediocre programmer despite the fact that I usually got good ratings in all teams I worked for. (Hopefully, my boss will never see this essay.)

Initially, my apathy toward computer science led to a couple of failed attempts to escape. Like a lamb that survived dancing with the wolves (my classmates were great people except that they were too smart) for five years, I graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1991 and worked at a lab for three years. Then I pursued another bachelor’s degree in international business at UIBE, supposedly the best business school in China, hoping to become a businessman. But the two-year education was a big let-down – the courses were outdated, the teachers were more interested in making money for themselves, and the job prospects changed dramatically for the worse when we graduated.

[I think this could be a good place to break up this long paragraph] Disappointed at the UIBE experience and still hoping to find an alternative to computer programming in 1998, I applied and was accepted by the MBA program at the University of Maryland. However, I soon realized that a career in business is a worse fit for me than computer programming since I didn’t have the courage to promote something I didn’t believe in or make any promises that I might not be able to keep. Additionally, things had changed in the world of technology. ECommerce was all the rage in 1999 and seemed very interesting. Picking the lesser of two evils, I became a web integration consultant in 2000, right before the Dotcom bust. I survived many rounds of layoffs and accepted the fate of being a programmer. It was not so bad compared with being a businessman.

But one can’t fight nature. I still didn’t like computer programming. Just an example, I once was in a nice church group whose members borrowed books from church. I offered to help the group build a small application to track the books. The technology was simple and I knew how to do it. But one week passed, two weeks passed, and more. I usually get things done at the first chance but in this case, I just couldn’t muster the energy to work on this mini-project I proposed. The weight on my shoulders became heavier by the day. Eventually, with great humiliation, I had to tell the group that I was sorry that I couldn’t accomplish my goal.

With ups and downs in my career, I finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, having suffered from imposter syndrome for over 20 years. I am planning to retire in three years and stop worrying about being caught as a fraud professionally. Freedom is calling.

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