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The Imposter Syndrome. Why you feel like a fake.

lewismenelaws profile image Lewis Menelaws ・3 min read

Here’s a funny story.

When I went to college, I had a teacher that had awards up on his walls for some sort of IBM database development. He taught us how to use different legacy database softwares as well as SQL. I learned a lot from him but when I finished school and it was time to find a job, I found myself having qualifications that weren’t even relevant towards modern day programming. Why was this?

I felt like I possibly maybe just wasn’t qualified for any jobs. Considering that the college I went to was out of town and most places would want to hire in town right? Well that couldn’t be it.

To make ends meet, I did freelancing with the skills that I have developed. Eventually my friends and I started a company that I still work at full-time to this day. As we started to get more clients, their demands started to get a lot bigger. Sure, the pay check was really nice but I started to get insecure. Almost as if, I was pretending to be something I wasn’t.

I had the Imposted Syndrome.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

Being exposed as a fraud is the perfect definition. How can I charge clients or accept pay when I have no idea what I am doing? Am I even considered a professional?

The answer is yes. You are a professional. I asked lots of people even outside of the software community and they thought the same thing. Why is this such a common occurrence with people getting into their industry? Here are a couple of reasons.

They compare themselves with others.

Everyone goes through a different journey. Some people need to create a couple of projects in order to really get something while others can just read some documentation and call it a day. Either way, it allows people to get the wrong idea of the scope of a project as well as their own technical ability to just get shit done. As a business-person myself, I sometimes look at these Zuckerberg-Musk type people and think that because I am not working 12 hour days that I am just wasting my time in this industry. Clearly I have lost my mind.

Refusing to celebrate your successes.

So many different people have different opinions on “success”. What does it even mean? Well that’s for you to decide. Some people think creating an MVP of a product is a success for them and they can drink some beers after and not feel any guilt. Others can just fix a bug and feel the same level of success. This is where you need to determine where your “success” truly is. Stop comparing yourself to others and realize when you work hard for things.

They sabotage themselves.

People who suffer from the imposter syndrome are really scared of failure but are also scared of success. Studies show that if you internally struggle with imposted syndrome, you are more likely to self-sabotage by ruining your chances of achievement.

Remember when I brought up my old professors IBM database awards he got in the 90’s?

This is how people deal with imposter syndrome in a rapidly growing industry like the software industry. They stay attached to what was relevant at the time to escape the feeling of constantly learning and realizing that the projects being built are bigger than all of us.

Keep Learning

Having the imposter syndrome is healthy. In an industry that keeps evolving and one-upping itself, learning is all we have as developers. That’s why always feeling like we might not know everything or being the complete experts that we strive for make us better developers as well as better people in general. If you keep learning and realize that the imposter syndrome IS JUST the imposter syndrome, you will realize that this industry has lots to offer and that we are constantly being blessed with an outstanding community that only developers will understand.

Maybe that’s what we are being paid for as developers.

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Discussion (4)

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jselbie profile image
John Selbie

I've been following this site pretty regularly (via FB) for the past few months and occasionally send links to some of the well written posts out to my team that I manage.

I've been in the business a while as a software engineer and manager. Where I work, a lot of issues pertaining to tech life get discussed openly in the hallway and in private 1:1 meetings. This includes health, depression, personal feelings, family issues, relationships, job satisfaction, and career goals. But I've never had anyone discuss "imposter syndrome" as it pertains to them or someone they knew. And I never heard of it until I started frequenting this site.

And the closest I've ever come to experiencing anything like IC is described as was when I was starting out in my first job. I got thrown into a code base that was 250K lines of C++ and started feeling overwhelmed and doubting myself. But that feeling went away after about a week when I started checking in code.

This has got me wondering:

  1. Is Imposter Syndrome actually a thing? :) Honestly, I'm not trying to troll, it's just I had NEVER heard of IC until I started frequenting this site.

  2. Is IC something that is unique or predominant in the tech industry as compared to other professions?

  3. There are almost as many posts about IC found on this site as there are about SQL and React.js. Is this topic of personal importance to the founders of dev.to, or did it organically grow as a topic here?

  4. Most important. I lead a team of engineers with various levels of experience and success. New hires from college and industry are starting up on my team all the time. How would I go about recognizing someone as experiencing Imposter Syndrome and what can I do as a team lead and manager to coach them through it?

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lewismenelaws profile image
Lewis Menelaws Author

Loved the reply John. Also, welcome to the community. Let me answer each question in the order you sent me :)

  1. Yes Imposter Syndrome is actually a thing. Primarily it's a thing when first entering the field or job like you said above or when a big change happens within yourself. Sometimes it's anti-climactic which makes us think that this line of work isn't for us, especially considering that today you might do well while the next day you don't.

  2. It is not exclusive to the tech industry. It happens in lots of different fields. It's a scary thing.

  3. Since dev.to is a community of developers, a lot of range of topics come up. My last post about burnout as a developer went huge on this website and I think it's mostly because as developers we want to feel similar as well as we learn new languages. Sometimes learning is best when you can also reflect on yourself (or the whole industry).

  4. Although it can be dangerous, I do think that every developer needs to feel the imposter syndrome on some level. However, you as a manager need to realise that sometimes devs will run into times where they feel like they aren't qualified or aren't right for the job. When you spend too much time on a problem, it's easier to give up rather than taking a break and thinking about it from an outside perspective.

Thanks for the comment John, it really made me step away from my keyboard and think through it all.

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upendramanve profile image
upendramanve

This was so insightful, I can totally relate to every word of what you said. Being in this industry I too feel the same about me, But it's good that it drives me to learn more and never settle for what I have now.
Thanks so much, man!!!

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lewismenelaws profile image
Lewis Menelaws Author

Always happy to help :)