How I Effectively Overcame Impostor Syndrome As A Software Engineer
Feel like you a fraud?
Not good enough?
Not deserved your job position or salary?
Worry that other people will find these out?
This is called an imposter syndrome.
And you are not alone.
I felt it too and tried to get rid of it.
I've read tons of articles on how to overcome impostor syndrome, and honestly, some of the advice helped me, but 95%+ didn’t. So I just accepted the fact that I couldn't get over it completely and went on with my life.
What happened next was the answer on how to overcome it, came from a place where I didn't expect to find it. From studying human behavior and neuroscience.
The answer I found helped me overcome impostor syndrome in a few weeks and I finally understand the roots of it.
6 Years Ago
I started my career as a programmer 6 years ago. After 2 years working as a Software Engineer I was invited for an interview for the position “Frontend Team Lead.”
And you know, when you read Twitter of random “real developer from the internet” who are saying that you can’t lead the team if you don’t have 5+ years of experience, you start to feel like a fraud and that you wouldn't be able to handle it.
But in truth, when I accepted the offer (and yes, felt like a fraud) it was...not that hard.
For sure, I wasn't a great team leader unlike developers who started leading the team after 5+ years of experience, but it didn’t prevent me from doing my job well.
But even the fact that everyone was satisfied with my job, I still suffer from imposter syndrome, because of public opinion. It has formed in my mind a kind of “standard” when you can be a leader.
Now, 4 years later, hundreds of books, papers, and talks with different people, I understand the real reason why people suffering from imposter syndrome.
I found the answer.
The real reason we suffer from impostor syndrome is that we are afraid of being kicked out of the group.
“Nick, what group are you talking about?”
To answer this question, let's first go back thousands of years.
Thousands of Years Ago
The time when we lived in small groups, in caves, was a hard time to survive. People could only be sure of the future if they killed a large animal that could feed the whole tribe. It was only possible if they hunted in groups. Because you cannot kill a mammoth alone. And if you for some reason was kicked out from the group, you probably would die. By hunger or by some predatory animal.
A survival program was formed:
I have more chances to survive in a group → I can’t be kicked out from the group to survive
During this time, this program has settled in our heads. Even now, when we don’t need a group to survive (hey freelancers) we are still guided by this survival program.
Ancient tribes became our coworkers, family, friends, and any other group we belong to. And that feeling of being kicked out of one causes a sense of fear in our bodies.
Here is an example of how this basic survival program connected to imposter syndrome:
For example, when you think that all your colleagues know technology X and you know nothing about it, you feel the fear of being caught that you don't know it. You think that when you get caught, you will be labeled as an impostor. And an impostor cannot be part of the group, so they will kick you out of it (you will be fired or won't get a bonus at the end of the month, for example)
This is how a basic survival program creates fear in your body. And imposter syndrome revolves around this program.
“Okay, so how to overcome it?”
You may have noticed that I highlighted the words "you think" above. This means that only you think that not knowing something is the same as being an impostor and being kicked out of the group.
The impostor syndrome exists only in your head.
And it’s the key to get rid of it.
How to Get Over Imposter Syndrome
You should reprogram yourself.
I don’t know how much you on this Earth, but you probably noticed that our life is not linear.
You could have bought 1,000 bitcoins in 2013 just for the fun, after reading about them on Reddit, and drink pina coladas on a beach in Mexico now, and not work the rest of your life.
You can join a startup as one of the first developers, negotiate to get shares as part of your salary, and 5 years later, when the startup comes to IPO, you're a multimillionaire.
You can work on a side project in the evenings, release it to the public, it can gain traction because some public feature is published about it on Twitter, and the next day you get an email from Facebook that they want to acquire you.
Examples are endless.
That is why life is not linear and not working like:
You work X time you get X in return. I work 2X time I get 2X in return.
You can get 1000X in return for working X time and I can get 0.5X in return for working 2X time.
You can hate it, but that is how it works.
Life is not linear.
The same principle of non-linearity applies to software engineering jobs.
You can become a Junior, Middle, Senior, Lead, Architect, Principal, CTO, name any position here, at any age and with any amount of skills. How effective it will be to become a CTO in 18 years is another question, but you absolutely can.
Other people may be angry about it and will hate you, just because they got the same position with 3X skills and 5X experience of what you have.
But if you handle it right, if you look at this situation from the perspective that life is not linear, that fear is created by your basic survival program, then the imposter syndrome disappears.
Remember, the basic survival program will constantly create fear and get in the way, but everything is in your head and you can control it.
In the end...
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Have a great one!
– Nick Bull
And also before I forget, every week I send out a "3–2–1" newsletter with 3 tech news, 2 articles, and 1 piece of advice for you.
Thank you for opening this topic.
I have this problem (imposter syndrome) on and off about every 3 months or so.
I think it just comes with the trade (being a dev). You define yourself only with your success at coding. Once you are stumped on a particular problem and don't get it to run your self estimation begins to falter and eventually implodes.
One other problem with this occupation is that you never ever create something that you can touch, something that is really real. It's all so ephemeral.