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Discussion on: Doing my bit to tackle imposter syndrome

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Peter Ellis

I've been coding one way or another since I was 10, the last 20 or so years professionally. I studied this at university and yes, I'm a white, middle-aged bloke, so in theory I've won the lottery of life and should never have had imposter syndrome.

But I do, every single day.

Early on in my career I was hoping that one day I'll get rid of it but now I'm not so sure this is even possible, not in general at least.

Weirdly enough, accepting that it is just something I need to deal with has helped. What also helps, again rather counterintuitively is looking at my old code. Even stuff I wrote a year ago I can look at and spot many mistakes I know I wouldn't be making today.

I remember that I was pretty happy with that code when I wrote it, so I must have improved since. And yes, it also means that I'm always aware code I'm writing today and I'm happy with will also look full of tiny holes in a year's time. But that's actually fine.

Another thing that helps is concentrating on the stuff I've done well enough. Fixed a bug? Great! Finished all the expected tasks in a sprint? Great! Was the work perfect? No, of course it wasn't. But it was good enough.

Admitting that you're new to something is another thing I learnt to be useful. By vocalising it you lower your own expectations of yourself.

Of course the jackpot is, as you say, to talk about it to others, and to realise that most if not all people around you suffer from similar bouts of self-doubt from time to time.

Like everyone else, I don't know why this is happening in our industry so much more often than others. But I can make a few guesses:

  1. Often you're expected to solve unique problems. Not entirely unique of course, but with just enough variation to keep you on your toes. That's not something that happens in many other professions.
  2. The cult of the "rockstar developer". It isn't healthy. Stop it.
  3. No universally agreed upon vocabulary. I don't mean dev wise but how every company attaches a slightly different meaning to terms such as "senior developer" or "tech lead".
  4. This might be unfair and I have to stress it's only my observation and could be entirely wrong, but what I see is that people who treat this as "just a job" are far less likely to have imposter syndrome. The ultimate reason you're worried about "being found out" is that you care and you've invested a lot of your self-worth into it. Which raises the mental stakes quite a bit.

Sorry for the rambling comment, I know it's a bit of a brain dump but maybe someone may find titbits in it that are useful for their own mental well-being.

And naturally I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. :)