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Trevor Lasn
Trevor Lasn

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Coping with imposter syndrome

There are two types of engineers: (1) Those who’ve experienced the infamous imposter syndrome and (2) those who won’t admit it. Imposter syndrome is extremely prevalent in the developer community.

Imposter syndrome robs you out of confidence and joy. People suffering from imposter syndrome often feel like they’re not good enough to do the work they’re assigned to do.

Are there cases where you feel at work that you’re not good enough? That’s imposter syndrome. Carrying this constant anxiety and dread ain’t easy.

If this all is too familiar to you— this article is just for you. Here are ways to cope with imposter syndrome and eventually beat it. Hopefully, as a result, you’ll become a more confident and happier person.

Just Because It’s Hard Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Good at It

Programming is hard. Like really, really hard. There, I’ve said it.

I’m not a prodigy at coding, but I never gave up, and neither should you. Programming is humbling — there’s so much to know. Accept the fact that it’s not possible to know everything about everything when it comes to programming.

We work better in teams. The more complicated the project, the bigger the team. Accept the fact that it’s not possible for you to know everything. Trust your teammates and have a support system in place.

Why do we put so much burden on ourselves to know everything? This causes the inevitable cascade of imposter syndrome effects when we cringe at the whimsical job requirements.

Learn to Say No

What do you say when a friend asks you to build the following?

“It’s like Tinder, but for cats”

You’d probably be wise to say no to that. How come we have such a difficult time doing that?

It’s difficult to say no to a person who is excited about a project. Agreeable people tend to struggle with this more than less agreeable personalities.

Saying no wakens up intensely negative emotions—embarrassment and guilt. We have to get over that and move on. We can’t work on every project.

Knowing when to say ‘no’ is a skill. Like with all skills, it’s trainable and you’ll become better at it.

You should always keep your ears open and be open to new ideas. Just learn to say no when you feel the time is not right or you’re already working on something.

As a developer, we’re students for life, and we shouldn’t forget that.

A decision-making framework: Here’s how I decide between a ‘no’ and a ‘yes’
Here are a couple of questions that should reveal how you feel about a project and whether you’re tilting more toward a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’

Without lying to myself — Can I honestly commit to this project full-time for at least six months?

What happens if I get bored or tired of the project? Am I able to continue and push through when things get tough?

Am I getting paid? Do the bills get paid or do I have to live on previous savings?

What happens if a co-founder leaves— Will the project die overnight? Who will be the captain if a storm approaches?

Am I excited about the future of the project? Do I dream about the project and can’t stop writing code?

I bet if you take the time and go through the questions, you’ll find some clarity as to what to do.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

I’m a big advocate of consistent exercise routines. We’re not genetically born to live stationary lives.

Imagine if you could buy only one car for the rest of your life — You would take good care of that car. You would change the tires and oil and bring it to maintenance more than you normally would, right?

Well, if you agree with the above, think about this for a moment. We only get one body for the rest of our lives. Let me say that once more — one body, per life. That’s it, no refunds, no swaps, everyone has to deal with the cards they’re dealt with.

We only get one body for the rest of our lives. It would be foolish to not maintain it.

It doesn’t have to be a frenzy. Start small, but most importantly, start today. Like a well-known brand says, “Just do it.”

Take the time to take care of your body and well-being.

Remember middle school? Can you remember what your favorite sport was? Go and reignite your favorite game memories.

Become a Mentor, Teach Kids or Junior Developers

When I started coding, I wished someone took me under their wing and showed me the way. I’m a self-taught programmer and I had no mentors to ask for help.

Fortunately, I know English and have two programming buddies, Stackoverflow and Google.

Teaching is humbling — there’s something about it that makes you appreciate what you’ve accomplished.

If you're like me and your modus operandi tilts more industrial — I have to work every day to feel normal — teaching helps with that.

Teaching also trains your patience, a priceless skill to attain.

The next time you go to work, school, or contribute to open source— pick up someone's code, review it, and leave positive notes and ways to improve.

When it comes to reviewing code and other people's work—It’s super easy to be insensitive.

If every pull request or bug report is a friendly note saying how much the users like using your application, and they include some pointers on how to improve. Those notes would be appreciated and motivate you to work harder, wouldn’t they?

Be the mentor you wish you had.

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Top comments (4)

khidr9 profile image
Rich Frankel

This is a really solid post. I dont' know if the advice totally hits on imposter syndrome, but it is useful for feeling more settled in your role. The problem with imposter syndrome has more to do with flow and turning something into a habit. The Dunning Kruger effect (pic) holds some truth. The best way to get through it is deliberate practice and repetition. I like the idea of mentoring too. It builds confidence and gives you a strong feedback loop about what you actually know. Thanks for the post.

ruannawrites profile image

Great post! Loved the parts about exercising and mentoring/teaching. Especially with remote work, it's easy to forget to exercise and move as much as I normally would so been paying more attention to that lately. Also agree that mentoring is fulfilling and I would add that teaching also helps strengthen your skills - to know and understand something is one thing but to be able to teach it to someone takes it a step further/deeper. :)

galoisgirl profile image

There are two types of engineers: (1) Those who’ve experienced the infamous imposter syndrome and (2) those who won’t admit it.

Not to diminish anyone's struggles, but I'm pretty sure I don't have it.

What I think helped me was my school experience, which was very mixed: I was good at math and bad at physics, two seemingly similar subjects. So was I good or bad?

Nowadays, I prefer to say "I have experience with X" instead of "I'm good at X". Not having experience in an area doesn't carry the moral load of not being good - I was just busy gaining experience in other things. It also doesn't invite competition: so I've worked in front-end for 5 years - that's it. It doesn't mean I can't learn anything new, even from my juniors.

Maybe I should write an article on that. 🙂

guryashzone profile image
Guryash Singh

I suffered the same. Even though others say I am excellent at my work and I also did the work but I still don't feel confident about that I can do a particular work. :(