If you were trying to paint a picture of who was the likely candidate to suffer from imposter syndrome then it would likely be me.
I was a serial under-achiever at school and an anxiety sufferer. Feedback from teachers was always "he could be doing so much better if he applied himself some more" and really I was lucky to scrape myself through secondary education into sixth-form college. I remember sitting in Computer Science, stuck again on some minor issue that others seemingly were just understanding. A lad next to me said "people like you and I don't belong here". That comment stuck with me for a long time and sapped my confidence to an all time low.
Meanwhile, I was excelling at things I was interested in and things that people had no expectation of me to succeed in. By the time I was 13; I had reached Grade 6 piano, I held the school record for long jump which hadn't been broken in 16 years, I was a sponsored gamer who had been published in Playstation magazine and I had made and sold numerous websites from scratch. I felt I wasn't recognised for these accomplishments though, I was held accountable for my studies and my studies alone and just accepted the fact that I wasn't MEANT to be a good student. In that mindset I became a bad student.
I worked numerous technical jobs followed by some manual labour jobs over the years after leaving school and had generally a low view of myself. I had failed as far as I was concerned, I hadn't gotten a degree and therefore I had failed at life.
To cut an extremely long story short I ended up becoming a web developer through self-study and perseverance. That had many challenges of its own that I would love to dive in to at some point but that is a story for another time...
I guess looking back I had always suffered with imposter syndrome one way or another in life, which probably explains my low confidence and lack of effort. The first I ever become aware of it though was on seeing another person in the dev community mention it. It clicked at that point, this was EXACTLY what I was experiencing.
My intro to the development world was through freelancing and contracting. I did short term contracts on and off for a couple of years whilst filling the time in between with freelance work for smallish companies and anything I could get my hands on. Sure, I suffered with low confidence during this time, but I am sure I never experienced "full-on" imposter syndrome.
It wasn't until I landed my first full time job, at a Data Science consultancy, that it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was working amongst
people with PhD's and Masters and I have never felt so in-superior. My best method of attack was to try and ignore it, although in hindsight
I should have spoken to someone about the way I was feeling, after all, I did the interview the same as everyone else, I had as much right to be there as anyone else.
Every morning was intensely hard. I thought everyday was going to be the day I was "found out" and sacked from the job. Every PR I submitted would be done so with the expectation that whoever was doing a code review would think "this code is absolutely shit, what is this guy doing here?".
Every issue ticket that was assigned to me was a massive weight pressing down on me. If I didn't know exactly how to solve it at first glance I would become overwhelmed with panic and I would furiously try and solve it, even if it meant doing extra hours. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't do something.
In July I applied for what I would consider my dream job as an Engineering Manager at a company that have been voted LinkedIn's UK Top Startup for several years in a row. I never in a million years thought I would be accepted as it has been documented that only 1% of applicants actually get hired, and every stage of the interview was torturous and massively anxiety inducing, however I was successful and accepted the job and am coming to the end of my first month.
You would have thought that I would have been really struggling with my anxiety and imposter syndrome but that actually isn't the case. I have put this down to three things:
Firstly, the company understands imposter syndrome, and are therefore able to address it. Any anxieties I have had I openly talk about with
my manager and my team mates. Having people surrounding you who understand what you are going through is massively reassuring. If you are a long time sufferer, maybe ask potential companies about how they address issues like this. If they aren't understanding, maybe this isn't the environment you want to be in.
Secondly, I have openly started talking about my past. I'm proud of the fact I am a second career developer and came from humble beginnings. I tell people the story proudly and focus on the achievement and work I put in to get this far. Trying to hide my past and come across like everyone else is not a good strategy to improve my mental health. I unduly worried that I would be judged about my background but every single response I have had from people has been extremely positive and many people are interested in my story!
Thirdly, I feel more comfortable than ever talking to people about how I am feeling. Anxieties aren't supposed to be bottled up. Find someone you
trust, whether it is your partner, a family member, a colleague or even a member of the Dev community. Talk about how you are feeling! I promise you it will make you feel much better to share your problems.