DEV Community

Shanelle Webster
Shanelle Webster

Posted on


Behind the Mask: Impostor Syndrome in Tech Careers

Recently, I was hired at a FinTech company that has a reputation for hiring only the most qualified Software Engineers in the Dallas area. The environment is fast paced, collaborative, and if we are being honest, the office is by far the nicest office I’ve ever seen, and they pay me a lot of money. I have an electric standing desk, y’all. Why they hired me? I’m not sure. I learned to code a year ago. I feel like I don’t belong. Not because anyone has made me feel unwelcome, but because I have Impostor Syndrome.

It turns out that 58% of tech employees have felt the same feeling, feelings of painful perfectionism and self doubt, otherwise known as Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is that intrusive inner voice that says, “What am I doing here? They all know more than me”.

Why? Why do we reduce our accomplishments to luck, chance, or a mistake? The answer is complicated, but it can be reduced to this: you’ve probably been treated like one.

For most of us, it starts during our childhood. It can be our parents, our teachers, our friends, our bullies, society, etc. Has anyone asked you, “You’re a Cowboys fan? Name 3 players” or “You work here? For how long?”. Further, the average American is exposed to 15.5 hours of media each day. That’s nearly ⅔ of each day being exposed to others at the peak of their success. Over time, perhaps unsurprisingly, we start to feel inadequate. In response we spend the rest of our lifetimes trying to prove that we are competent. Left unchecked, Impostor Syndrome will lead to depression, anxiety, missed opportunities, less income, poor work-life balance, etc.

Minorities are the most susceptible to feelings that result in Impostor Syndrome. Being in an environment where very few people, if any, look like you will leave you with less people to identify with. There are half as many African Americans and Hispanics in tech as in the rest of the private sector. Only 20% of computer science professionals are women. While there is still a long way for the tech industry to go, companies seem to be making large strides to add diversity to their workforce. If you are a person of color, a person with a disability, LGBTQ, and/or a woman, the time to jump in is now. Leadership teams are consistently seeking out people who will bring a new perspective to their groups.

What can I expect in my first junior role?

Most managers don’t expect any newly hired engineer to be consistently productive for around 3 months, depending on the company. They give each developer ample time to get acquainted with the code base, learn their systems, read documentation related to the product they will be working on, and set up their environment. For entry level engineers, they can sometimes even expect this to take up to a year.

To help you get acquainted with the environment, they will give you small tasks that potentially have little negative impact on the environment. My first task as a professional developer was to add a checkbox that saved a value to a database. This took me about 2 full days. My team appeared to be impressed by how little time it took me to figure the task out.

The coolest part of the software engineering culture is that there is a heavy importance placed on mentorship. In most companies, there will be a team of people that are hoping that you succeed. If your workplace is excellent, you will never have to feel guilty about asking for help, simply because they are expecting you to take up some of their time. They’ve prepared for that, they hope for that, they are excited for that. The idea behind this is simple, the quicker that you understand your job, the faster that their team is productive, the better developer that you are. Someday, there will be a new junior on your team that you can return the favor to. Hopefully, you’ll be excited, too.

Lastly, they know your general skill level when they decide to hire you. They’ve creeped your GitHub. They’ve evaluated your LinkedIn. It’s likely they are able to guess what you know before they even called you on the phone. Spoiler: it’s not about your skill level. You don’t know enough to work there. But, they are willing to help you learn because they are banking on the fact that you’ll learn quickly, enjoy working there, and stay there long enough to get a return on their investment.

What is the solution?

Impostor syndrome will never go away, and is heightened in times of transition. If you think about it, we are all impostors. We often omit that. We are the only ones who truly know what is going on in our own minds, often forgetting that we only know about others what they tell us. Only you know about that time that you Googled answers on your online test, or when you ate your siblings leftovers and pretended that you didn’t. You live with your own mistakes and shortcomings, but you don’t live with anyone else's.

Accept that we are all out here, making it up as we go. We can make our environments more inclusive for people of color, people with disabilities, our LGBTQ friends, and women. We can compliment our friends when they do something extraordinary, and call them out when they are being hard on themselves.

Ask yourself, “Who am I? What do I want my identity to be?”. Once you’ve landed on something, break it down into a few new habits that you can do each day to help yourself believe that you are what you set out to be. For example, if you want your identity to be “Senior Software Engineer”, you might want to set aside an hour a day to study application design and architecture. Eventually, if you stick to these small habits every day, the effects will compound until you’ve separated yourself from the crowd, and suddenly, you are the most qualified candidate for that position.

Some of the best character traits will come out of feelings of Impostor Syndrome, if utilized correctly. Feelings of self doubt can often signal that you are challenging yourself, gaining experience, and encouraging discussion with teammates.

To wrap up, I want to leave you with a final thought: Your career will not save you from feeling like an impostor. There will never be that final accomplishment that will make you feel as though you can finally say, “I’m here, I earned this”. The best hope for easing anxiety is to embrace it. Be humble in your efforts, admit when you don’t know something, and collaborate constantly.


This can vary from company to company.

Top comments (2)

wendko profile image
Wendy Kong

Very lovely post, thanks for this :)

adenashameem profile image
Adena Shameem

Thankyou for this post. As an engineering student and especially as a woman hoping to join the tech workforce soon, this gives me a lot of confidence.