Imposter syndrome: When you think you’re unqualified for the work you do
If you answer YES to any of the following, you need to read this blog:
Do you ever get frustrated with yourself for making simple mistakes?
Do you ever feel completely lost in a meeting about a new project because you don’t know half the technologies the other developers are talking about?
Do you constantly feel like you’re falling further and futher behind the next, hot framework or language?
Welcome to software development!
You’re not alone, these negative emotions are very common. It’s called imposter syndrome: the constant feeling of not being good enough or knowing enough to do your job well. Everyone has experienced these emotions at some point in their life, whether personal or professional—and not just within software development. It’s human nature. The most successful and productive people are often very effective at minimising the occurrences of imposter syndrome in their lives.
In this blog post we’ll be breaking down the common root causes of these emotions and actionable steps towards overcoming imposter syndrome.
Why you feel like a fraud
Software development never stops evolving. It’s a large field and it’s only getting bigger. Not only are there more people entering as new developers, but the use of software is expanding, which means the demand for developers is going up. This encourages the frequent creation of new languages, frameworks, and tools. This means there’s more to learn and it’s only going to get more complex as the industry matures. With this mind, you may feel overwhelmed at times as a developer.
The media creates unrealistic perceptions around the tech industry. Software specifically, gets a lot of attention and glory in the media. Given how often new tech startups get covered in the media and how their founders are portrayed as brilliant and uniquely creative, it’s no wonder that so many people feel that they can never make it as a top-tier developer. Software development also has a mythos that’s grown up around it that says only the super-smart people are able to grasp it. While that may have been true once, programming languages and tools have come a long way and made programming a lot easier and more approachable.
In total, this misconception of brilliance being a prerequisite for developers, and the pressure to stay current on the latest trends—a product of the industry’s rapid growth—can lead you to focus on what you don’t know, and fuels the feeling of inadequacy. Soon enough you’re a victim of imposter syndrome. You’ll be feeling like a fraud and start to work harder and longer, obsess over small details, and downplay your future achievements. You may even find yourself crediting luck or coincidence for your successes, instead of your skill and knowledge as a developer.
Does this sound like you? Let’s go over the various ways to combat this.
Here are a few tips to combat the imposter syndrome that lives in every developer…
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
You need to realize and accept that imposter syndrome never truly goes away. The crux of imposter syndrome is that you’re comparing what you know to what you think other people know. You don’t see other people struggling and you don’t know what they don’t know. It’s like perusing Facebook or Instagram: you see everyone else’s holidays, new cars, new homes, new phones, new significant others, etc. But you’ll sparingly see their doubts and low points on a frequent basis. You’re comparing an ideal view of Facebook life to your whole life, both the good and bad parts.
This is the essence of imposter syndrome. You see everyone else’s success and intelligence, and then you fear that you don’t have that or know that concept or technology. The focus on your own weaknesses is understandable and natural. None of us want to be the worst developer in a company. Most developers love to learn and there’s so much to learn in development. So it’s natural to look at what you still have yet to learn, compare yourself to people who already know all of it, and feel inferior and that you’ll never be an expert.
To be honest, you never really will be an expert in software development. There will always be more to learn. There will always be new languages, or processes, or technologies to learn. There will always be someone who knows something you don’t. There will always be someone who knows more than you do. There will always be someone who’s a better developer.
That thought may be depressing right now, but it can actually be liberating. You can focus on getting better and growing. Focus on what you can control: your skills and your knowledge. Accept that there will never be a point where you’ll feel completely knowledgeable and completely comfortable.
Keep track of your accomplishments
Regularly reflecting on your successes can help remind you of how far you’ve come and how good you really are. This will help balance the scales of positive vs negative self-talk that is at the heart of imposter syndrome.
One good way to do that is to make a recurring calendar appointment for the end of every month to add all accomplishments from that month to a “portfolio” of accomplishments. Even if something eventually failed, if you attempted something outside your comfort zone, write it down. It was a growth experience.
In addition to capturing your monthly accomplishments, you should also take a few minutes to reflect on past accomplishments and add any to previous months that you forgot. Also, don’t just write them down and read them. You need to truly reflect on what went into that accomplishment and how you felt about it.
This practice comes with a bonus too. You can take that portfolio to boost your CV or LinkedIn profile to help you get future jobs.
Find out how your manager thinks you’re doing
Imposter syndrome thrives when all you do is think. One of the things you need to do is get out of your own head to combat imposter syndrome. Your manager is the person who has control over your job and getting their input on how you’re doing is essential for getting a realistic view of your skills and effectiveness.
Ideally, you’ll be meeting with your manager in one-on-ones on a regular basis anyway, but if not, talk to them about setting it up. In these meetings I suggest that you discuss the following:
What do they feel you’re doing well? Make sure you keep doing this.
Is there anything specific they feel you need to work on in the short term? If so, what measurable goals can you both set to determine success?
What longer-term (3-6 months), measurable goals can you both set that will indicate success to your manager? This is useful when you’re just starting with a new company or on a new team to calibrate your progress expectations to theirs’.
Once you have some goals, discuss your progress with your manager at your regular meetings. Things change and so should goals, so don’t be afraid to refine or change goals as circumstances change.
Figure out how you learn the best
While there is now data showing that learning styles aren’t really a thing, everyone has ways that they prefer to learn. Using your preferred learning style can help instill confidence and push you further away from your imposter syndrome. Think back on what you’ve tried to learn in the past and what worked best. Think about which resources (books, videos, courses) seemed to make things clearer or what seemed to help you get to that “Ah-ha!” moment.
A lot of developers, and aspiring developers, learn best by doing. This learning method means using projects in books, courses, or that you make up, to drive your learning. If you can create a project that you’re personally very interested in, that desire can help you to power through the roadblocks and challenges you’ll run into.
Use this self-knowledge and experiment with alternatives to improve your learning going forward. As you refine your process you’ll speed up your learning and decrease the amount of that time you feel stuck and incompetent.
Plan your career goals to reduce doubt
A lot of self-induced impostor syndrome can be due to the unknown when looking ahead. To combat this, you should set goals and plan your career path. This will provide you confidence when making career decisions and deciding what skills to learn and focus on.
Instead of looking at how you learn, you need to look at what you want to do eventually — what industry, technology, language, company you want to work in or for. Then, using that information you find out what you need to learn.
You can find the required skills by viewing job requirements for the job you want to have. You can also find out what skills are necessary by finding developers who have your desired job on LinkedIn or via Meetups. Contact them and meet them for coffee, or lunch and talk to them about their job and what skills they use regularly. Find what books, tutorials, videos, and courses are most recommended for any skills you might need to work on and use them.
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