The paradox of following the crowd

Afsal Thaj
6 min readJan 2, 2023

The boring Pre Statement

What follows here could be a simple retake on how people like Elon or Jobs were thinking of “success”, while any individual can have their own opinion and definition for success. Looooong long ago, Greek philosopher Sextus Empiricus replied “Nothing” to the question of “What it was possible to know”, and the mere reason is, a rational discussion around anything is absurd. For the same reason, it is impossible to have a common definition for the success of our life and our career.

At this point, I recommend the yellowness of the book “Stop being Reasonable” !

So let’s get into this unreasonable Paradox of thoughts inspired from reasonable people.

The paradox!

It’s hard to make it not sound like preaching. Yet!

Are you someone who thinks you are early in your career? Then try not to blindly follow the crowd — because you might be stepping forward with them, while it’s already a red signal !

Or, are you someone who thinks you are facing the so called mid-career crisis? Then please be mindful that you might be getting older even faster than your age.

So for those who blindly follow the crowd, please don’t follow the crowd, and to those who are adamant on their believes, then may be you could please follow the crowd. Yes! turn 360 degrees and see if you are in a fork and choose! And that’s where the beautiful paradox of following the crowd kicks in!

Who defines the success of your career? Yourself !

The moment we think we are doing mediocre work, regardless of how rocket science it is for the outside world — that means we are descending in our career. Same way, the moment we believe that our belief is the heat of the industry, we might still be descending in our career. The former is evident because you defined the state yourself, and the latter is dangerously implicit. A mere repeat of “paradox”!

That said, the moment we think we are in a different wing as such, completely immersed in a field or multiple fields that we are so passionate about, and still watching out for what’s happening around and validating it, then we may end up doing something awesome, something special, and in-fact something that can change your life.

PS: I know that is a cup of subjective terms spilling now!

Strong Vision and High Flexibility in Details — the summary of Jeff’s advice.

In 2016, my Iranian friend in Sydney, replied to me “trust me, this will change your life”, when I said “I am reading a book” (the name of the book doesn’t matter here). I was baffled by his advice as response, because I know, hardly any of my friends or colleagues read it, and they are leading a life (career) too.

However, for some weird reason, that voice reverberated many times in my life. He was a voice that’s least heard in the company, that’s least popular in the company, and in-fact someone who is no-one for the Eagle out there — yet I started to believe in his words!

I kept reading and skipped many night dinners with friends and kept developing my simple humble learning repository in Github. I believed in it and I wasn’t ready to change the opinion about it. The workplace and surroundings kept disbelieving in what the book says. But I kept going due to my ignorance, later to realise it was my strong passion. The subject doesn’t matter anymore but the point is I had that vision, a conviction that this, this is going to keep me going for years.

To an extent I started having the opportunity to pair up with well known people from different countries, writing Open Source Projects. I started giving talks in my own work place, and in many other places, and I was clearly having a good time. I considered that as an achievement, because until then, I was only a listener to great talks, and a user of great libraries. That’s my definition of a small success which is not super relevant to what I am trying to say!

Without much delay, I started getting better offers, and people who taught me concept X, started taking my advice on the new X. I got my constant hikes without much drama — and I saw a flip of how I was perceived. And that’s all backed by reading and re-reading (only) that single book for years — but the difference here is I took it to my heart and I was beautifully stuck in the corals.

Yet, I was happy to change the details of the book, in my own ways. I was happy to learn varying opinions about the same book from experts. I listened to people with an open mind, ready to change the details around the vision, while keeping the vision strong and intact. In other words, that single book forked itself to a sea of knowledge+++ on the subject, and the derived confidence killed my imposter syndrome — the villain in many people’s career. Yes, I was still not sending any rockets yet :)

What next ? Take away

“What to learn in 2023" ? That could be useful yea?

I can copy paste a few content from Internet and talk about Web 3.0, Internet Computer, Decentralised Apps, Open AI, ML, AR, VR, the big picture of Functional Programming & Design and the list is infinite !

Instead of following the crowd and listing a few new technology let me point out a few steps that I took in my career knowingly or unknowingly that kept me going. Note that I have also made mistakes and had my lows in my life. This by no means, trying to be “success tip”’ of Afsal.

Bumping into something interesting

See if you bumped into something interesting (tech) even if it’s for a short period. See if you are sort of loving it. Remember, taste and passion are different. You may not be so passionate about it until you drill more to find more details.

Basic Research

Basic research on your interested area is required but often abused. Note that this research is NOT the infamous Google search of “how many users are currently using this tech”. Instead a better one could be “where is my interest currently being used” . Example, Python is dominating the market, but my interested language Erlang is used to develop WhatsApp. Or my current fascination Haskell is used to develop Cardano and why?.

Don’t follow the crowd

Prioritise your own thoughts on your technology or area of interest over the crowd. What crowd thinks may invoke false confirmations in your brain. Following the crowd is the biggest contributor to confirmation bias in tech industry.

Deep dive, find passion and kill mediocrity

Deep dive on to your area of interest regardless of other interesting tech advancements that could distract you. Be aware of advancements but don’t be distracted. Example: don’t stop learning vanila JS with direct DOM manipulation straight away because ReactJs came in. Remember, advancement is most of the times a detail of fundamentals.

Deep dive also reinforces your interest and transform itself into a passion. Passion kills mediocrity in what you do.

Be flexible in details

Be flexible in details while deep diving. A detail, for example, can be an advancement of your current interested technology which you came to know from your colleague. Good that you were learning the fundamentals, and now you are ready to take in the details.

Space and time to acknowledge the details as early as possible also kill mediocrity in what you do right now. If you are not fast enough to acknowledge the advancement that are deceived as mere details, then you are always stagnant and devoid of necessary tools, techniques and muscle memory to tackle a tricky problem with high efficiency and uncompromising quality. Keep learning but be focussed is another way to put it.

Stop, validate with the crowd and be ready to unlearn

Here goes the most toughest part. Be ready to move on regardless of how far you dived into your field of interest or passion, by validating with the outside world. This is an informed decision to move on to the next technology or area of interest.

That said, the frequency of validation shouldn’t be neither too high nor too low. Too high results in overly scattered data points in your brain resulting in distraction and it only increases your imposter syndrome. It also results in facing your own mediocrity, because you kept moving around than being focussed.

Same time, it shouldn’t be too low to be completely isolated and lose the direction in your career. At this stage, you are fully prepared to unlearn and invert your thought process and unlearn what you learned until now to imbibe something more interesting with a higher potential to be more passionate about. This is where , we sort of flip the advice of not follow the crowd.

Keep repeating in this your career and have fun. Have a great career ahead!

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Afsal Thaj

A software engineer, traveller, fitness trainer, hiker, skydiver and I write at times.