The Antidote to Impostor Syndrome in the Software Development World

I recently saw a TikTok video from Scott Hanselman (vm.tiktok.com/ZMJvks9Hm/) in which he admits that even he, an educator and prolific writer in the tech space, feels Impostor Syndrome. His video struck a chord with me, and it has been going around and around in my brain for days.

Impostor Syndrome, according to Webster, is “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”

I doubt Hanselman means he suffers from a clinical, debilitating condition, but rather that he frequently feels that his is “in the deep end of the pool… and he can’t quite touch the bottom.” He says that this is perfectly normal and indicates that you are growing.

Software development is the ultimate environment to make you feel like you don’t know what you are doing. The technology evolves very quickly – every year it seems like there is a new JavaScript framework that everyone is using, or a new way to do Agile, or a new philosophy on how to architect an application. If you are employed and working on your projects each day, there is absolutely no way to keep up with every new thing.

On the teams you work with, there are probably one or two individuals who are considered the “rock stars”. They seem to know just what they are doing and don’t appear to struggle with their tasks. When you need help, they are the ones you turn to.

Ask yourself, “How did the ‘rock stars’ get to be that way?”

Some of that is training. Some of that is years of experience. And some of that is attitude.

You can address all of those things. You can use some of your spare time to take courses from Pluralsight, Udemy, Corsera, LinkedIn Learning, or any of dozens of technology training schools. You can study for and obtain certifications. You can work on personal coding projects. You can volunteer to work on open-source projects. You can attend conferences.

All of these things will help you reduce that “I don’t belong” feeling. The hardest thing to address is attitude, because Imposter Syndrome can be paralyzing. You have to make yourself sign up for training, certifications, or volunteering and then follow through.

And you have to stop comparing yourself to everyone else. For some reason, this profession seems to have more than its share of people who need to show that they are on the cutting-edge. You can have a conversation with a small group of people about a technical topic and come away feeling like everyone knew far more than you did. I guarantee that you are not the only one in those discussions with that feeling.

I find that the antidote is to ask questions. Admit that you don’t know everything. Let those who do know something teach you. You probably have knowledge in areas they don’t that you can teach them, too. Everyone benefits. And if you are relatively new to programming, ask even more questions!

So how do you deal with Imposter Syndrome in your professional life?

(But watch out for “zealots” – see my article at https://jimmcmullen.com/2018/05/23/programming-zealots/).

 

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