You're Not An Impostor

Andrew on February 26, 2019

Hey you. Yes, you, the reader. You clicked on this article because you have some degree of impostor syndrome. That feeling where you think you've s... [Read Full]
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"Someone will always know something that you don't know, because everyone has a different perspective."

I think that's why I love computers, you'll never know everything there is to know and in any moment someone can appear in your life and tell you something you never heard before.


The people who don't have impostor syndrome are the ones you want to avoid.



What about people who don't have imposter syndrome precisely because they're aware of how much they know, what they are capable of, what they don't know, that they need to learn and that they need to improve?


I'm sure there are a few people lacking imposter syndrome who don't fall into that warning category, but in my experience, they're the exception. Imposter syndrome is pretty widespread among creative disciplines, including programming, writing, music, and art, partially because it is fueled by an errant perception (gestalt) of one's own abilities versus everyone else's. I think it is pretty safe to say, the overwhelming majority of programmers struggle with imposter syndrome; a number have just learned how to control it, but it never really totally goes away, since the gestalt is based on perception, not facts.

Case in point, I am very aware of how much I know, what I'm capable of, what I don't know, what I need to learn, and what I need to improve. But I still have to regularly counter my own imposter syndrome with the truth to keep it in check. I've yet to meet a successful (and non-egotistical) programmer, author, or artist who doesn't have the same struggle.

"Imposter Syndrome" is a common and widespread glitch in human psychology. Often (although not always), the ones who lack that glitch have a different gestalt: they swap the labels on the first diagram by David Whittaker in the post. Their perception is honestly that they know far more than everyone else, and act accordingly. They don't have imposter syndrome because they believe almost everyone except them is an imposter!

So, yes, there is the rare breed of programmer who is so grounded in reality, they have a realistic view of their own abilities and knowledge and a realistic view of others' abilities and knowledge. They just don't come along very often! Caution is still advisable, as little can do more harm to someone with imposter syndrome than to meet with an egotist.


I struggled with Imposter Syndrome for awhile, particularly since I was always kind of lagging behind my peers in college (but was somehow one of the first to land a Software job). I figured I just tricked the hiring manager and eventually they'd figure me out.

It has gotten better though, as I've begun to find my groove and tackled problems well beyond any level I'd seen in academics. Now I've accepted that I don't know everything I need to know, and that's actually re-ignited my insatiable hunger for learning. I'm always doing an online course now, be it in my current programming language, a new programming language, Salesforce, or the business/project management side (où Français!).

I've also already experienced knowing some things others more senior to me don't know, so that's helped as well. As long as I can bring value, I'm pretty happy.


I figured I just tricked the hiring manager and eventually they'd figure me out.

I feel like this is a common sentiment. But I also think that most people with sway over hiring decisions have a good idea of the knowledge (or at least potential for learning) that the candidate should have. And if they hire someone out of their depth, it's kind of on them, isn't it?


With fresh candidates you look for; enthusiasm, considered intelligence and fundamentally whether or not they listen.

They will always need to learn a lot, but you look for the capability of that learning. Not what they think they already know.

The main issue with fresh recruits, especially graduates, is arrogance.

They've got their degree and think they know it all. Typically the higher the grade, the worse the arrogance.


I am of the opinion that you will always find someone better than you at anything you do.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't strive to improve by any means, nor does it stop me from suffering from imposter syndrome for that matter but it's always worth remembering.


Yes! Especially for "gifted kids", I think this is something that takes some time to accept. You may be the biggest fish in your small pond in grade school or college, but the rest of the world is an awfully big pond.


I think alike. I also believe that the reason why it's hard to realize that is because you must leave behind the idea that being the best in something might make you unique. It's accepting that we are just no more (and no less) than another developer/human being, and it's OK!


Very very true. There's always someone who's better at one thing you do, and probably better at a few other things you don't do. On the flip-side, there are always some things you're better than that person at, and possibly a few other things they don't do at all.

Some people possess a combination of skills that unlocks a door to millions of dollars or a prize or a scholarship. But those of us who don't possess that combination almost certainly possess a different combination that unlocks many other doors, some which we may have discovered already, others which we have yet to discover in the future.


I actually have been dealing with this for a while now. As someone who is coming from a different field it was challenging for me when I recently landed my first dev job. I get intimidated and nervous picking up new tasks even though I’ve done something similar in school. What’s helped me so far is that my manager knows of my skills. They support me and know that I’m still learning but they really liked my attitude and personality. He said you can teach the technical stuff and that will come through time but you can’t teach personalities and attitudes.


I struggled with it for the 2-years I was learning my stack. The lead dev seemed to know the answer to everything and it demoralized me at times. But after a year or so I started asking questions he didn't know the answer to, so I had to go deep delve into it. And after a year and a half, he was asking questions about what I knew, and that's when I started to feel better about myself.

The real change was when I moved jobs to a more lead position. The guy that I work with has had more formal training, but due to the fact I had to learn everything myself and push myself, I feel like I definitely feel more qualified than him. And it was finding this position where my opinion was trusted that really made me think "Yknow, I actually do belong here".

But it's an ever going battle. I learned how to code, now I need to learn how to do the business side.


It's interesting how you describe this development in your career. It seems like what you've built up over the years is not just in the specific tech stack you've learned, but also the subtle and unteachable aspects of learning, problem-solving and collaborating with others.

You're now even more challenged in a non-technical role, because of the skills you built up in the more technically-focussed role. In a sense, you've moved to a new level by mastering the prior level.

This seems to be the way in which developers secure their career and move forward. It's not always in outward or superficially technical aspects, such as which particular languages or frameworks we use, but also in the more inward and intangible aspects, which are none-the-less hugely important, like working with stakeholders, critical thinking or communication skills. These kinds of skills take years of experience and work to build up and can't easily be taught in a 4-year degree program, let alone a boot camp!


Thanks for your article. This is a great piece for confidence building.

Confidence in yourself and your abilities is important for fuelling motivation. That confidence can be built up gradually over time, through successes, small and large.

Recognising that there's always room for improvement and growth is a great mindset to have. But since we are constantly improving and constantly facing new challenges, we need more than just a "trickle" of small, momentary confidence boosts, from overcoming day-to-day problems. Especially being, as many of us are, in this game "for the long haul".

We need a deeper, longer-term confidence in ourselves and our overall abilities – to cope with anything, not just with the problem facing us right here and now.

That confidence comes from facing problems and overcoming them and never giving up or compromising on our values. Celebrating the wins but also staying the course. Thinking 10-20 years ahead, not just 2.


Yes because in every field of expertise the only one who get hired is the better in that field.
[Sarcasm mode: off]
Anyone has the telephone of the better car mechanics in the world please?

hahaha, jokes aside, even when you aren't the best (you should always aim to be your best version of yourself) you will found the spot where you can work, improve and be an "impostor" again.


Great perspective on a recurring topic. I shared mine here.


You can be free of impostor-syndrome and still be aware of how much you don't know in your field.


Fair point! Perhaps I should have said "those without humility" are the kind of people you should avoid.


Sweet article man!
And you know nobody else really can prove they found Dark matter either 😎


Just because impostor syndrome is something that people talk about, doesn't mean that any random person is not a fraud.


True! But anyone with great enough capacity for introspection to be interested in reading an article on impostor syndrome probably has enough self-awareness to understand that there are limits to their own knowledge. "Known unknowns" and all that.

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