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Juan F Gonzalez
Juan F Gonzalez

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How to forget about Imposter Syndrome

Hey friends!

I want to start tackling a subject that pretty much all of us have experienced one way or another, that is Imposter Syndrome. I'll share my perspective about the topic and the reason why none of us should care that much about it and maybe you can forget about it altogether!

We all have a notion of what this syndrome is but I think it's better if we start with a common definition so we all are on the same page.

So what's Imposter Syndrome anyway?

The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Ok so that makes sense, we have done important things and have a level of knowledge but we think it's not good enough and because we're living in society we see others around that are much farther than us in terms of accomplishment usually close (like in the same company or same department).

And indeed it's true that some things we've done in the past may feel like a lucky strike, like being in the right place at the right time and surely we wouldn't be able to repeat the accomplishment again if we were given the chance.

I remember since August of 2018 I was applying to jobs left and right trying to get into a company that had a good balance of work and compensation (most offers in my country required a laundry list of skills and paid peanuts as salary).
In great measure thanks to I got a job as a Junior Web UI dev after doing a crash course in Reactjs. I studied and reviewed a lot of concepts for the interview and technical task and the first contact with the company was with a group of the other applicants for the job in which we all had to talk a little about who we are, relevant experience and what we liked to do.

I remember feeling like a fly on the wall in a room of engineers and then after presenting the technical tasks much of the others did the whole thing faster and pretty sure better than I did. I guess I was able to stay because I've just barely got enough points to proceed to the final presentation of a project that we all had to develop using Reactjs.

And in the presentation, several of the other guys' projects were much more polished, well developed, with clean code practices (some guy even made a full-stack app). My project was as simple as consuming an external API and create an interface for a chat application.

Now, once you get assigned to a project and you see that all the team members you get paired up with have much more experience, or have done nifty apps, or participated in big client's projects is another thing more for your feeling of impostor and that perhaps the recruiters just slipped up with you and there are far more qualified candidates out there that should be in your position instead of you because they could be bringing much more to the table than you can.

How to turn the tables

Ok so now that we're down in the dumps feeling like crap because there's a lot of things that we don't know and the project we're in requires several skills that we don't have and need to be developed in a fraction of the time that a normal person would (like for instance only knowing about React and being in a project that uses Angular.js and PHP template views or being in a project that is being built with Angular 7, RxJs, Sass, Typescript, Jasmine and again you ONLY know about React and its associated technologies).

Learning things at breakneck speed while coping with the feeling of you being the lowest performing member of the team it's quite a challenge on itself.

What to do then?

Well for starters, how about we stop thinking too much about ourselves and think more "big picture". In my case, I was trained in college to be a backend developer and know some things about DevOps and System Administration, so going to UI development is a big change but that is what I wanted to do so I had to teach myself how to develop the skills that frontend developers have.

So in a way, I AM an Impostor.
Yes, I probably don't belong where I am.
Yes, there are others who are much more qualified than I am.
Yes, I should be on a role more according to my academic background.
No, I don't care about any of those previous statements

Let's make this little thought experiment. What if what we feel is right? what if what they say is right? (in case someone has hinted to you that you shouldn't be where you are)
What would we be doing if it wasn't for coding or being in the role that we are?
Probably some of you have other options or other career paths but for the ones of us that never thought about anything different than computer science is pretty much what we're doing or what we're doing.
Will it come a time where we feel more accomplished, more confident in our skills and willing to take steps to further our career?

There's a lot to unpack here regarding this subject so I'll leave you with some resources you can read on your spare time (or your learning time that you should be having)

First off, one of my favorites, the Dunning-Kruger effect here and here basically what it says is that people that aren't very skilled yet think they know and the ones who really know realize they still have a lot to learn.
That reminds me of the quote

“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts. While the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
Charles Bukowski

Next thing is that you have to stop believing in everything you see and hear (yes even what your mind tells you). The fact that you think you're an imposter playing a role that shouldn't be yours doesn't mean it's true.

When you feel overwhelmed with such thoughts, first realize that it happens to all of us (even people who have been in the industry for years)
Acknowledge the thought but don't pay it attention if is not useful for you, just say to your mind "thanks for sharing" and move on.
I know this is easier said than done, especially when our self-talk is negative by default (we're our own worst critics) but you have to start doing it. Start breaking the negative self-talk cycle and replace it with positive things that actually help you and not deter you from what you want to do.
At first, is going to be difficult but just take it one step at a time and train that mind-muscle until it becomes strong💪

Now, if it's not just your mind but there are people that have told you or at least hinted that you don't have the skill, knowledge or experience to be in the role you are, that's actually easier. Talk with some of your friends about it or family members or someone in a leadership position where you work and also realize that a) you can't please everyone and b) others will be projecting their insecurities to you.

For that, I recommend reading this book or look up a summary like this one.
In essence, it says "the more you care about what others say about you, the fewer others will care about what you have to say" (in a much more colorful language actually).

Putting it all together

So now, you have a better understanding of what Imposter Syndrome actually is and have a reference that's a common theme amongst all of us in the tech industry regarding titles and years of experience. Remember that you need to be aware of when the sneaky feeling of "I'm a fraud" will creep in and catch yourself in the moment so that it doesn't claim any more mental space.

Other practical things that you can use to stop the syndrome dead in its tracks.

Find other references: Often we feel like impostors because we only know about our current situation and we don't any other points of reference to compare when we start feeling like that. Use the internet to find about others (your personal favorite devs) and see that they also struggle sometimes with the feeling. You're not alone and by applying the things in this post you'll probably be better off than the majority of devs out there (who haven't read this post 😜)

Remember giving value: Like one wise dev from here told me once:
"Do not think you don't belong where you are. If you got hired for the role it means that the person that recruited you saw something of value you could bring to the organization and that's why you are where you are right now"
If you're constantly learning new things and putting the effort in the work you're doing and using your skills to provide value for your team and the company you're in. You'll always be a valuable asset that they will not want to be without. That is if you're making sure you're doing a good job and being recognized by it. (That reminds of this book that you might want to read)

Help others recognize the same: I've already mentioned before about talking with others to find support and encouragement when you don't feel like much or that your work is not helping at all. But it's also worth mentioning that while you're working on developing that positive self-talk muscle, others might be feeling the same and that a "real" dev should replace them.
Be that friend that gives them encouragement. Share experiences and see that even when we all have different stories and backgrounds our struggles and insecurities are often very similar and we don't have to worry about putting a show of being perfect for the rest of people. It's okay to relieve that pressure. It's okay to make mistakes. It's okay to be a Human.

This post truly went much longer than I anticipated but I hope to have been clear enough about the "problem" and the practical things you can use to overcome it.
I'll keep working and doing the best I can to make seemingly big and unsolvable issues like this a simple thing that won't keep taking more mental space and drain our energy so we can focus on more important stuff.

If you read all the way here, I appreciate you and thank you for giving me some of your time. I hope this has been helpful for you and wish that you keep taking steps forward into your future. Getting better over time.
Now go out there and crush it!

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