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Ali Spittel
Ali Spittel

Posted on • Originally published at on

Managing Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like you just aren’t smart enough or like you’re incapable of being a programmer? Have you ever felt like an imposter and that someone’s going to figure out you aren’t actually qualified to do what you do? You may be struggling with imposter syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling of "inadequacy that persists despite evident success." People struggling with imposter syndrome often minimize their accomplishments and feel a lot of self-doubts even when they are objectively are good at what they do.

Almost all developers struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, especially those who are members of underrepresented groups in tech. It’s natural with the amount there is to learn, the diverse educational experience of people in the field, and the ever-evolving landscape of programming. Knowing that imposter syndrome is widespread is part of the battle -- you aren’t alone in this, and it doesn’t mean you are actually unqualified.

I'm years into my programming career, have held multiple senior titles, and I still worry that I know way less than everyone else. To be honest, being visible on social media exacerbates that feeling of fraudulence. So does moving into a new role or receiving new opportunities.

Tips for Overcoming It

Reframing your thoughts to blame imposter syndrome rather than that you’re actually incapable is one strategy for managing it. In fact, imposter syndrome may act as a motivator for you and drive you to keep learning. Sharing your experiences may help as well, chances are the person you share your feelings with has felt something similar and can empathize with you.

Also, only compare yourself to your previous self. Nobody else. Focus on your growth. Everyone else is starting with different base knowledge and experience. It’s unfair to hold yourself to anyone else’s speed or level of knowledge. You’re different, and that should be celebrated. You have awesome skills and experiences that are unique to you.

It can be helpful to keep track of your progress. There are a few strategies for doing this. One is to look back on old projects: how much has your code improved? Probably a lot. Or, keep track of your wins. I keep a document on my computer with accomplishments, screenshots of nice things people have said, and positive performance reviews. You can then look back on that when you have a tough day. It’s so important to remember your successes, especially when you’re at a difficult point in your learning or at work.

In addition, work on facilitating a growth mindset, a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck. It’s pretty cool that as programmers we can keep challenging ourselves and learning new things all the time. Your knowledge level isn’t fixed - you can keep expanding it and learning more. Believing that is a huge part of the battle. Be persistent through challenges and when programming gets hard, that’s how you grow. If you aren’t challenging yourself, you probably aren’t growing. Having that mindset can be another way to push through imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome often leads to a fear of failure. But, in programming, failure is necessary. There isn't a developer out there who hasn't programmed a bug at some point, and red error messages are nearly constant. I remember when I started coding thinking that I was messing up every time I got one. Nobody is perfect, and your error messages are

Therapy and mental health professionals can also help with overcoming these feelings, especially if they are significantly impacting your mental health or your career.

Programming is hard, finding the right answer won’t always be immediate. Getting used to failing, getting stuck, seeing error messages, and battling with a difficult bug is all a huge challenge. So is navigating an industry where everyone’s knowledge is different and always expanding. imposter syndrome is very widespread, you aren't the first or last person to struggle with it. Come up with strategies to help you cope with it, and be kind to yourself ♥️.

Top comments (24)

perpetual_education profile image
perpetual . education • Edited

inadequacy that persists despite evident success

In this description: 'evident success' is key / and well, subjective!

We teach many students who have worked for years to learn programming through online courses that gave them the 'feeling of success' - but really... they didn't learn anything they could use outside of the proprietary IDE. It seems like this industry's education platforms are giving people a false sense of security and success - instead of real-world tools and experience to actually build things. Once you've spent hundreds of hours in tutorial purgatory, you feel like you're owed some success. Just because you spin up some netlify portfolio site from github... doesn't mean you know what the heck just happened. There are a lot of people who feel like impostors - because / they are. "I learned HTML and CSS, now what should I do..." - is a clear giveaway. That's a bummer.

And then - for sure - there are people who are well above in their skills who are just too humble to realize their $ value to companies. In another way / that's because they also haven't been taught how to measure that value. That's a very key part in the design process - so, in both cases - we are seeing the people in this field under prepared.

These are all helpful tips to navigate those feelings. At the end of the day - you should be able to measure your value at any point in your career - and stick to the facts instead of your feelings.

If people read these books:

and used MDN as a toolbox / they'd be able to measure their success in an objective way.

Bakers don't wonder "can I really bake a cake?" - because you can just - see if there is a cake on the counter or not.

Be kind to yourself. By being kind - you should also tell yourself the truth - and get the tools to find that truth.

usaidpeerzada profile image

Started my first job as an intern full-stack dev one month ago, I feel like I don't know anything every morning I wake up feeling like what if I'm not able to fix that bug or create that feature, imposter syndrome is really hard to get around with as it takes a lot of energy. When I fix a bug I feel fine but if a bug takes time to fix it feels like I'm not going to make it.

stoyanystoyanov profile image

As an intern you should focus on absorbing as much knowledge and "tricks" from other developers and learning the ways of the business. I am pretty sure that you have higher expectations of yourself and your skills than the company is expecting from you, so try not to focus on how much time a bug takes to fix, but on what is the best apporach for identifying and resolving it.

Good luck!

hinasoftwareengineer profile image

I have started an internship three weeks ago as a Full-stack developer and Passing from the same situation. Daily, I wake up and start thinking, how much I have completed that task. Have I resolve this error or not. and this feature takes a lot of time to implement. This post helps me a lot and comments. Now, I realized the only thing i have to think is that how much I learned not how much it takes. Thanks to you all.

seesethcode profile image
Seth T.

As an intern, it isn't your job to know the answer. So don't worry about it if you don't, because your job is just to learn and absorb. If you've learned anything, then you've done your job!

ecyrbe profile image

Really nice written article.
I'm programming for 20 years and still learning.

Programming is a journey, you can't know everything and never will.

One of my teacher at the time told us that we would need to keep updating our skills continuously, so he said that the whole focus of what he would be teaching us was to learn how to learn.

That was the most usefull skill i learned.

jwp profile image
John Peters • Edited

At some point in our career, perhaps even daily; when we are learning new things, there is a sick feeling of "I don't know this, I'm tired of constant learning, Everybody but me knows this, I feel dumb...etc."

The constant change of the latest best practice, best way, best framework, best tool, best thing since chewing gum is ultimately disheartening. There's too much to know. Don't waste time on noise, rather...

Follow the StackOverflow surveys and focus on just one or two languages, a CSS tool, and 1 other thing for 6 months. Repeat forever...

Today the top techs are.

-Javascript and Typescript
-And Cloud

While the feelings of inadequacy are real, stay laser focused on these areas.

The best skill is, learning to learn and staying persistent. Don't let anyone fool you it takes at least 8-10 weeks to get comfortable and 1 year to become a Subject Matter Expert.

Finally don't compare yourself with anyone else just keep improving.

imcheesecake profile image

Thank you for this. I graduated from a vocational university 6 months ago and got a job pretty fast at a fairly big corporation and everyone in my team have 10+ years of experience. I feel the negative side of imposter syndrome everyday, not only because I KNOW that I know less than everyone, but also because the project im in have thousands of files and several different side projects which makes it really intimidating to make changes or add something new.
And because of the situation in the world right now I'm working from home which makes it even harder to ask for help when needed, or to get someone who can show me the ropes so to speak.

I needed to see that even seniors can feel the same way. So once again, thank you for this.

kewbish profile image
Emilie Ma

Really interesting post. The growth mindset is pretty effective, I find - have any resources about that?

aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

Yeah! Here's a whole book on it

kewbish profile image
Emilie Ma

Ah - great resource, thanks!

jmfayard profile image
Jean-Michel 🕵🏻‍♂️ Fayard

Hello Ali, I am glad that you now recognize how talented you are as a developer, a writer and a teacher.

I kept your article 3 years in mind before writing this follow up

jessicagarson profile image
Jessica Garson • Edited

💖💖, This is so helpful.

angelfirenze profile image
Nicole A. Moore • Edited

Thank you for writing the tips you listed.

For me, I show myself what I’ve learned because every time I review the Web Design track at Team Treehouse, I’ve started skipping certain videos and going through to the objectives I have to complete.

If I can do so without needing to rewatch the video, then I’m knowledgeable about this part of the eventual project.

aesther2012 profile image
Abbi Devins-Suresh

Thank you so much for this thoughtful article and these tips! I have definitely been going through this recently

rickluevanos profile image
Ricardo Luevanos

Excellent tips Ali, this part has proven true for me many times - "imposter syndrome may act as a motivator for you and drive you to keep learning". Thank you for sharing :)

thedaveamour profile image
David Amour

I still have this after 21 years working pretty much 7 days a week!

hussein_ouda profile image
Hussein Ouda

Cool topic and helps to evolve
Thank you

grahammorby profile image
Graham Morby

I adore this article and really needed to read it today! Thank you

jvarness profile image
Jake Varness

I still get imposter syndrome every now and again.

For me, the way I overcome it is by meeting the internal adversity head-on: proving to myself and others that yes, I actually CAN walk the walk.