Think you’re unqualified for the work you do? It’s called imposter syndrome and here’s how to handle it.
Do you beat yourself up for making simple mistakes? Or maybe you get completely lost in a meeting about a new project because you don’t know half the technologies the other devs are talking about. And to make matters worse, you constantly feel like you’re falling farther and farther behind the next, hot framework or language.
Welcome to software development! Enjoy your stay!
Kidding aside, these negative emotions are very common (you’re not alone!). It’s called imposter syndrome: the constant feeling of not being good enough or knowing enough to do your job well. Everyone has experienced these emotions at some point in their life, whether personal or professional—and not just within software development. It’s human nature. The most successful and productive people are often very effective at minimizing the occurrences of imposter syndrome in their lives.
From my personal experience as a software developer and the advice of mentors I’ve worked with, in this blog post I’ll be breaking down the common root causes of these emotions and actionable steps towards overcoming imposter syndrome.
Why you feel like a fraud
- Software development never stops evolving. It’s a large field and it’s only getting bigger. Not only are there more people entering as new developers, but the use of software is expanding, which means the demand for devs is going up. This encourages the frequent creation of new languages, frameworks, and tools. This means there’s more to learn and it’s only going to get more complex as the industry matures. With this mind, you may feel overwhelmed at times as a developer.
- Furthermore, the media creates unrealistic perceptions around the tech industry. Software specifically, gets a lot of attention and glory in the media. Given how often new tech startups get covered in the media and how their founders are portrayed as brilliant and uniquely creative, it’s no wonder that so many people feel that they can never make it as a top-tier developer. Software development also has a mythos that’s grown up around it that says only the super-smart people are able to grasp it. While that may have been true once, programming languages and tools have come a long way and made programming a lot easier and more approachable.
In total, this misconception of brilliance being a prerequisite for developers, and the pressure to stay current on the latest trends—a product of the industry’s rapid growth—can lead you to focus on what you don’t know, and fuels the feeling of inadequacy. Soon enough you’re a victim of imposter syndrome. You’ll be feeling like a fraud and start to work harder and longer, obsess over small details, and downplay your future achievements. You may even find yourself crediting luck or coincidence for your successes, instead of your skill and knowledge as a developer.
Does this sound like you? Let’s go over the various ways to combat this.
How to take charge of programmer imposter syndrome
Here are a few tips to combat the imposter syndrome that lives in every developer…
1. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
You need to realize and accept that imposter syndrome never truly goes away. The crux of imposter syndrome is that you’re comparing what you know to what you think other people know. You don’t see other people struggling and you don’t know what they don’t know. It’s like perusing Facebook or Instagram: you see everyone else’s vacations, new cars, new homes, new phones, new significant others, etc. But you’ll sparingly see their doubts and low points on a frequent basis. You’re comparing an ideal view of Facebook life to your whole life, both the good and bad parts.
This is the essence of imposter syndrome. You see everyone else’s success and intelligence, and then you fear that you don’t have that or know that concept or technology. The focus on your own weaknesses is understandable and natural. None of us want to be the worst developer in a company. Most developers love to learn and there’s so much to learn in development. So it’s natural to look at what you still have yet to learn, compare yourself to people who already know all of it, and feel inferior and that you’ll never be an expert.
To be honest, you never really will be an expert in software development. There will always be more to learn. There will always be new languages, or processes, or technologies to learn. There will always be someone who knows something you don’t. There will always be someone who knows more than you do. There will always be someone who’s a better developer.
That thought may be depressing right now, but I feel it’s actually liberating. You can focus on getting better and growing. Focus on what you can control: your skills and your knowledge. Accept that there will never be a point where you’ll feel completely knowledgeable and completely comfortable.
In short, as one developer I talked with said: get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Embrace your ignorance and use that to fuel your growth, not your self-doubt.