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Sharna J
Sharna J

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Programmer Imposter Syndrome and How to Kick it's Butt

I struggled with imposter syndrome for a long time.

Even after I would code something really sick and cool, I would feel like a fraud. "I still have more to go until I'm a Software Developer™," I would say to myself. Whenever I told others what my passion was, I would feel the faint twinge of being fraudulent when I would say "I'm a programmer." Sometimes I wouldn't even say it. I didn't feel like I had "earned" the title yet.

That sucked, because I was a programmer. I had earned that right to call myself as such, and so have all of you.

Even if all you have learned so far is HTML/CSS and the basics of JavaScript, you are a bonafide, full-blooded programmer. PLEASE throw yourself a party with all of the works if you were able to learn HTML, CSS, or an Object Oriented Programming Language like JavaScript.

You are officially in the game. You're just leveling up from here on out.

I know there can be a cognitive dissonance between understanding these concepts and still feeling like an imposter nonetheless.

Here are 8 quick and easy tips to deflect the feelings of imposter syndrome that worked for me:

  • Positive Daily Affirmations: This is a quick CBT trick that is actually very helpful. All you have to do is take time out of your day, every single day, just to tell yourself that you are a programmer. You can say it in your head, out loud, or to the mirror - whichever way works best for you. Rewire your brain to identify yourself as a programmer.

  • Write it down: Write "I am a programmer," or something similar on a post-it or piece of paper and hang it somewhere that you can see everyday. I pinned mine to my bulletin board, and it serves as a positive reminder for myself. The subliminal message will also help to rewire your thinking patterns when you think of yourself. It's the little things that matter.

  • Identify your symptoms: I suggest breaking your symptoms down into a cognitive and physical group to get a full scope of what you are experiencing. For me, in my cognitive group, I will start to feel frustrated by my code, disassociate as a coder, and think negatively about my future as a coder. In my physical group, I will start to sweat, feel anxious, and sometimes I will get a headache. Everyone is different, so it will be different for everyone. Listen to your body and keep an eye out for your symptoms so you can be prepared to fight.

  • Create a plan: Create a plan for yourself when you start to feel the symptoms from the previous bullet. The personal plan I made for myself is that I will step away from my laptop to breath and refer to a piece of paper on which I've written reasons why I am a programmer, listed all of my coding achievements, and why I love to program. Your plan will be your recourse during the times that you would have otherwise felt helpless. Keep it in a place that you can access easily, like in your phone or on your laptop desktop.

  • Restructure how you think of programming: If the reason you think you aren't a Programmer™ is because you haven't created the next Facebook or hacked Google yet (I kid), please throwaway this thinking process. Although you should shoot for the stars, you won't get anywhere if you can't validate yourself where you stand. Mark Zuckerberg identified himself as a programmer even before Facebook went live for the first time, after all.

  • You are not the only one: "Programmer Imposter Syndrome" has 131,000 hits on Google. There are hundreds of thousands of programmers like yourself who feel the same way that you are feeling. Programmers are also not the only ones who experience imposter syndrome. This is an issue that afflicts people in almost every single field that you can think of. Please do not feel like you are the only one, and reach out.

  • Mistakes === Progress: Often, people feel the effects of imposter syndrome the most intensely after they've made a mistake. But that is only because they don't realize that making mistakes is a vital part of a programmer's identity. Programmers learn their most important lessons from bugs and troubleshooting. Programmers are problem solvers, and making a mistake is a huge milestone in their coding journey. It teaches them how to think creatively to solve their problems, and it teaches them how to connect with other programmers to solve their problems.

  • Don't subscribe to stereotypes: I am super guilty of this. I thought that Real Programmers™ were people who shut themselves in their rooms, coded all day and night, and lived for nothing but code, and anyone who couldn't do that (me) just wasn't up to snuff. That obviously was not true and that was a very unhealthy standard I was setting for myself. Not all programmers are reclusive workaholics, nor are they Star Wars fanatics. There are programmers who are pageant winners, Instagram models, artists, chefs, receptionists, and more. To be a programmer is to have a love for coding and actively pursue it - not a specific persona.

There are so many other ways to combat imposter syndrome - I have only scratched the surface with this post. I hope this helps anyone who is struggling with this. Please keep coding, because you are a Programmer™.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, self-harm, or hurting others, please call the National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

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