Most of my developer friends who have achieved any amount of public recognition or notoriety have reported experiencing some measure of impostor syndrome. They feel that they have garnered a reputation that surpasses their actual level of competence and contribution. It always brings me great comfort to hear this, because I feel the same way. Or am I just pretending so that I’ll feel more like one of them? 😉

Well, I recently went beyond the syndrome and proved myself an actual impostor, a fraud, a phony. A plagiarist, to be specific. One evening last month I was sitting at home doing something useless on my laptop when my eldest spawn told me a geeky math joke. I thought it was very clever. I thought my geeky friends would appreciate it as well. So I tweeted it.

The next morning I awoke to a deluge of notifications of responses, likes, and retweets beyond anything I’ve ever experienced on Twitter. This tweet had taken flight for some reason. I got replies from some of my geek heroes who neither know me nor follow me.

I was at work when I saw the notification that I had been retweeted by Australian comedian Tim Minchin.

What was happening? I guess it was my twenty minutes of Twitter fame. I started looking through the responses. One that caught my eye (and my stomach) was addressed to @sigfpe and said simply,

Oh, no. I had stolen this man’s tweet. In retrospect I suppose I could have googled the joke so I could attribute it properly, but I wasn’t writing a research paper, and I had no idea anyone other than my geeky friends would even see it. I composed a quick explanation/apology tweet to @sigfpe, confessing that I owed him a large number of retweets. It was one those times that 140 characters did not feel like enough, but he could not have been more gracious about it, and I am very grateful.

Such social media points mean nothing to some people but an awful lot to others, and I had just collected someone else’s jackpot. So @sigfpe, thank you for being so cool about this whole thing and seeing it for the inadvertent act that it was. I really liked your joke, and I clearly am not alone.

Man, Twitter is kind of frightening. It’s fortunate that important people don’t use it to talk about real things.