Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

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You’re sitting at your desk, staring at your computer screen without a clue about what you’re looking at. You’re typing away furiously but find yourself completely lost in your own code.

Have you ever felt like you don’t deserve your job? Maybe you spend every day waiting for someone to realize that hey, they hired the wrong person. Anyone who has these feelings of inadequacy is dealing with what’s known as “imposter syndrome.”

This happens often in tech, where competition for jobs can be intense, especially for software developers. Some people may feel like they’re imposters and somehow landed their job through a mistake, oversight, or just dumb luck. They surely don’t have the programming skills, technical know-how, or intelligence to do the job they have, right?

If you’ve ever felt this way, well, you’re not alone. And there are ways of overcoming this feeling. Let’s take a look at some of these methods so that next time you start to feel like a fraud, you’ll know that’s not true.

Know You’re Not Alone

Landing your dream job does not guarantee happiness.

In the workplace, the reality is that many people may feel like they’re the only ones suffering from some sort of illness or problem, including imposter syndrome. One study from a few decades ago estimated that approximately 70 percent of people could experience the imposter syndrome at least once in their lives, so knowing you’re not alone often helps. You’re probably not the only one who feels like you may not have earned what you received, that you didn’t land your job because of your problem-solving skills or coding abilities, but by accident.

It’s not just fresh graduates or career-changers either—many celebrities, CEOs, and award winners have dealt with imposter syndrome. Celebrities like Tom Hanks, web developers like Scott Hanselman, and even famed poet Maya Angelou have all dealt with imposter syndrome. Dr. Angelou has been quoted as saying that every time she submitted a book for publication—even after having ten published—she always felt like that was going to be the time someone discovered she was a fraud.

One thing to do if you’re feeling like an imposter is to reach out to someone close to you, like a friend or colleague, and ask if they’ve ever felt the same. You may be surprised to learn that some of the most confident, talented people you know may feel like they’ve somehow “faked” their way to where they are. You may even be surprised that despite being responsible for deploying important features or making significant contributions to projects, they may believe that they’re still somehow in a job they don’t deserve.

Simply Acknowledge It

Sometimes giving voice to a problem immediately makes it a little less scary, less intimidating, and less powerful. If you’ve read the symptoms of imposter syndrome and realize that they match up with what you’re feeling, then say it out loud: “I’m dealing with imposter syndrome.”

Say it even if you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the one person who is truly a fraud. Once you’ve named it and admitted that it’s there, you can start to get a handle on it.

If you keep acknowledging that you feel this way, you may start to feel that imposter syndrome will slowly start to lose its hold on you. You’ll come to realize that you have earned your place in the company through your education, hard work, and dedication to your job.

Realize You Did Something to Achieve Success

People don’t just stumble into success—that only comes at the end of a chain of events, and you must have had some control over those events. Maybe you had dozens of opportunities that no one else did, but you made the choice to take advantage of them. You had to either say “yes” or decide not to do something.

Woody Allen is often credited for the quote: “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” Well, you made the decision to show up, so you can at least claim that. And chances are, you did a lot more than just show up: you had an impressive portfolio that helped you land your job, your code is readable and well-structured, or you came up with that one idea that grew into the driving concept behind an application or module.

If you ask someone else, perhaps they will be able to help you realize how you made success happen. As part of a web development team, everything you do plays a part in making the overall application come together. Without your part, the project would be incomplete.

Find a Mentor

Having a mentor is a great way of overcoming impostor syndrome. Finding a senior web developer to look up to and learn from is much more than just a great way to get ahead in the industry. A great mentor could be one whom you can trust to peer review your code, provide helpful feedback, encourage you, and help diminish any uncertainties you have about your abilities.

Mentors can also highlight what you’ve done to make your projects succeed, and point out some of the innovative ideas you’ve had. A mentor’s positive reinforcement can help you come to realize that you do deserve to be where you are and that you do contribute to the team.

Let Your Work Speak for You

A lot of the negativity connected with imposter syndrome comes from thinking about how people view you: “I’m a fraud. I’m not as smart as they think. I have no idea what I’m doing.” You get caught up in what people think about you, not what they think about the actual code that you wrote.

Try to let your work do the talking. You may think that, because you are a junior developer or just starting off your tech career, anyone could do your job, but that’s not really the right line of thinking. Instead, look at is this way: you did that job, and furthermore, you did it well. If you do a genuinely good job on the work assigned to you, then no one is going to think you’re a fraud. At the end of the day, you can look at projects you’ve worked on and know that your code runs some of the app’s functions.

You might still have that little voice inside telling you that you are an imposter, but you’ll have irrefutable proof that you’re capable of doing your job.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

Stop holding yourself up to others, especially those who you think are more successful than you. You’re not them; their success isn’t going to be your success. In many ways, your success will be even better because it will be yours, unique to your life and your situation. Stop looking at what others have and thinking that you’re not good enough because you don’t have it. They could very well be looking at your life and thinking the same thing.

Thinking that you should simply give up because of someone else’s success isn’t going to get you anywhere, especially since you never know what opportunities that person had or what challenges they’ve faced. You’re a unique person, and there’s no one else on the planet who’s had the exact same experiences as you have.

If a fellow junior developer gets a promotion before you do, it can be aggravating, especially if it seems like you deserved one. But don’t compare your skills or talents to theirs. Instead, look at yourself. Did you have a good grasp of the tools you used? Do you have a good work ethic? Do others recognize your contributions to the team? If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you should have a good shot, as well.

Know That No One is Perfect

No one knows everything about a topic, not even CEOs or those with multiple doctoral degrees. Being put on the spot may add to the stress of feeling like an imposter, but so can being the new hire who everyone praises from the rooftops: “This is our sharp new developer is going to go far in this company!”

You don’t have to know it all. Pretending you do is only going to turn you into the fraud you thought you were. If someone asks you a question about coding and you attempt to make up an answer, stop and realize that you’re about to become the imposter you’re afraid of becoming.

Instead, say you don’t know or aren’t certain; also say that you know where to find the answer and that you’ll get back to them on it. Being honest up-front and following through will earn you more respect than trying to make up an answer on the spot.

This is especially true in web development, where coming up with an answer on the fly to a technical question is going to come back to bite you when that person tries to implement whatever coding technique you just made up. Web development is a very precise field, and it’s much harder to fake your way through it. You can’t really fake programming, and doing so won’t get you anywhere. Instead of making up an answer, find a resource that helps, whether it’s the official documentation of a certain technology, Stack Overflow, Codementor, or good ol’ Google.

As a junior web developer, you may feel like you’re at the bottom and deserve to stay there. But you’ve earned your place on the team. As you watch more and more code you’ve worked on go live or hear clients praise your work, you can tell that little voice that keeps saying you’re a fraud to go away. Look at the tangible proof that you have something to offer, listen to your mentor’s thoughts, and talk to other web developers about imposter syndrome. All of these things can help you believe that you’re right where you should be.

 

Debbie Chew loves writing about topics that help those who want to become a web developer or just learn to code. She’s also Head of Operations at Codementor.io, a platform for live 1-on-1 help with coding.

Image Credit: Ollyy/Shutterstock.com

Comments

One Response to “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome”

May 09, 2016 at 12:43 pm, Victor said:

This is perfect, exactly what I needed to hear. There are some days I feel like the ‘dog sitting at the machine gun’ meme & that I have no idea what I’m doing. But the reality is I wouldn’t be where I am today if that were true. Thank you!

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