I think the best way to start this is to define impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the feeling of not belonging or feeling as though you are a fraud among others within a group, team or community. For me this is directly applied to my chosen career path in software development and more recently in the teaching and mentoring space. This is a feeling that I know all too well and for years have tried to hide and ignore these feelings. Here in this post I just want to talk about this a little and hopefully give someone reading this post a few ideas about how to deal.
So impostor syndrome, am I an impostor? I have felt this way from the start of my career. The first days being in a software development company I felt like I had no business in the building and especially no business working with developers, quality assurance or any other department. I was severely intimidate by the developers, even those just starting on the job. I always felt my skills were inferior and I would never be as smart, as good as them. I continuously felt like I was always trying to catch up and was just falling behind. Now as my career progressed this feeling didn’t really get better, I still felt the intimidation and the feeling of being inferior. The difference is that I didn’t give up trying and knew that even if I felt I wasn’t as good as them I could still contribute to the team in some way.
This is the first piece of advice I have: Find a way to feel like you are contributing
When you are contributing to the cause and you feel accomplished at the end of the day it is a little easier to get through each day and not worry about any feeling of being an impostor. In the course of my career I have always found those tasks and things that other developers didn’t want to do and did those. This would include things like resizing dialogs, creating sales demonstration forms, and writing preprocessors. Starting here allowed me to not only contribute but earn better tasks as time passed.
Next I would tell someone Never give up learning
If you are forever a student, whether you are at someone else’s level or not, you are willing to put in the time and effort to learn you belong. I am a firm believer that you are never done learning. Anyone willing to learn and continue to grow has a place on a team somewhere.
The surprising thing is that Others feel the same way
I am currently working with some of the top people in the field, mentoring and training developers. I was SHOCKED to learn that some of them have this same feeling. I was especially taken back when a coworker admitted to this feeling when I felt it around them. Although never directly working with them before I never would have guessed they felt this way. The more I am around my coworkers the more I am trying to find ways to impress and just meet their level of knowledge. I constantly feel like I am going to be found out to be fraud. Knowing they feel it too I think this has given a level of acceptance of this feeling and knowing that this feeling is not unique to me.
Feeling like an impostor doesn’t make you any less worthy of the title you have or the right to do what it is you do. Feeling like an impostor may even help you stay humble and hungry for more knowledge. I currently use this feeling to learn everything I can and at least stay in the conversations around me. I try to learn a little of everything and dive deeper where I can to really make a good contribution.
This probably leads to my last piece of advice Find your niche
Finding something to specialize in is always a good idea. Also don’t be intimidated when someone else has the same knowledge. Instead use them to bounce ideas off of and figure out how you can further the knowledge even further. Even then, they probably know some things where you know something else in the topic and together you have a more well rounded knowledge.