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.
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.
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 ♥️.