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I was in the right place at the right time...

Impostor syndrome: How to accept your achievements

Chris Stewart
impostor syndrome
© Shutterstock / Nuttapong

Do you ever feel like you don’t deserve your job? Do you ever feel like your achievements were just plain luck? Are you secretly afraid that your coworkers will realize you’re a fraud and actually have no idea what you’re doing? These feelings come from something called impostor syndrome. What is it and how should you deal with it? Read on to find out.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is that nagging feeling that you’re somehow not worthy of or responsible for your achievements, that you’re waiting for the world to notice you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s a feeling that somehow you don’t belong in the life that you somehow – through a combination of sheer dumb luck and miracles – find yourself living. This is an issue that has been shown to affect software developers more than other career paths.

SEE ALSO: “We need to increase the awareness of the benefits and challenges of diversity”

Who experiences impostor syndrome?

It is estimated that 70% of people will experience feelings of impostor syndrome at some point in their lives. And through the media we can see that people on all levels of society and fame can fall victim to it, though it tends to affect younger people more. Developers have talked about it and we’ve hosted talks about it at our conferences. Even Tom Hanks and Michelle Obama have talked about feelings of impostor syndrome, so if you’re suffering too, you’re not alone.

Men and women are just as likely to suffer from impostor syndrome, and it can grip you at the beginning of your career, after a big achievement, or simply every single day. But why can’t developers make peace with their achievements?

Why do developers suffer?

According to a survey conducted by Blind, 58% of 10,402 respondents from the tech industry said they suffer from impostor syndrome. In some ways it’s easy to see why; no other industry is changing as fast as the tech industry. Developers know that no matter how perfect their knowledge is today, in a few weeks or months they will start to fall behind if they don’t maintain their knowledge and stay curious about new developments. DevOps, while great, can actually make this worse as many DevOps positions require knowledge of a much wider array of tools and skills, both tech and soft.

Often, feelings of impostor syndrome can arise straight out of education, when newly minted developers fresh out of school or coding bootcamp start applying for jobs. How can any degree or course cover the sheer breadth and depth of possibilities – not just for right now, but also for whatever new technology is waiting just around the corner? Sure, a graduate has the fundamentals of Java down, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can take that and apply it immediately and effectively to the specific setup of any company. Some discourage graduates from thinking about careers in terms of junior and senior, suggesting instead to consider their first job as the first stepping stone in a longer apprenticeship.

It’s difficult, then, to feel like a developer, even if that’s what the certificate you earned by passing your exams says. The important thing to remember is that no company will expect you to walk into their open position and immediately know and understand everything. Development is a career where learning on the job is par for the course, and many say they learned more in the first few months working than they did in all their time at school.

SEE ALSO: “I think women in tech should try to step out of their comfort zone more, speak up more without having imposter syndrome.”

Ways of dealing with impostor syndrome

For some, dealing with these feelings is as simple as using them as a drive to improve; JAXenter interviewed Alison B. Lowndes from Artificial Intelligence Developer Relations at NVIDIA last year, and she told us:

A lot of people talk about impostor syndrome but in my opinion, it is a vital feeling to keep. Over confidence is bad and feelings of inadequacy just need to be handled with constant learning. If you feel you’re not up to something, learn about it, research it until you do feel you can contribute. Make the time. It’s for your own health & sanity and ultimately benefit. No one knows everything & life’s too short NOT to be content.

Having considered a number of resources, including psychology articles, it seems the best approach is the following four things:

  • Talk about it. You might just find you’re not alone.
  • Acknowledge your feelings. even if you think they’re stupid, simply acknowledging that they’re there and accepting them can help a lot.
  • Look at the facts. Realize that while luck might have played a role, it wasn’t the only variable in the equation.
  • Accept that you will never know everything, but you can learn anything. This is really important in a fast moving area like development. As Chris Noring says in his talk One Developer’s Journey to Fight the Impostor Syndrome, nobody ever went back to code they wrote three years ago and thought “Yeah! It looks great!”

There are also resources out there specifically to help people in tech not just struggling with impostor syndrome, but with all sorts of mental health issues. It’s really important to look after ourselves and make sure we’re doing OK; we can’t work to the best of our ability if we don’t get enough rest or we get stressed out.

If you are affected by any of the issues discussed here, places like Prompt and Dev Pressed offer support and resources.

Women in Tech

JAXenter also has a series of articles featuring women from the tech industry, and we’ve found over time that a LOT of them talk about impostor syndrome in one way or another:

And there is the impostor syndrome that many women suffer from: the fear that someone someday will find out that you are not good enough, which is something that you rarely see in men. –Fabiane Nardon, Chief Data Scientist at Tail

I think women in tech should try to step out of their comfort zone more, speak up more without having impostor syndrome. Once they get in the field, they will realize that it’s not just them, everyone is trying to figure it out. –Swarali Karkhani, software engineer intern at Exoscale

At times I will suffer from impostor syndrome and I counteract this by pushing myself to try things out and I believe this technique has opened the door to many opportunities. –Erica Tanti, Software Engineer

Check out the entire Women in Tech series here.

Final thoughts

Impostor syndrome is a serious topic and should not be ignored. Hopefully, this article has provided some useful information, but the most important thing to remember is not to keep these things to yourself. Once you give voice to your fears, you might realize they don’t sound so scary after all. Mental health can be a difficult topic to broach, but don’t let anyone take your achievements away from you – least of all yourself!

Author
Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart is an Online Editor for JAXenter.com. He studied French at Somerville College, Oxford before moving to Germany in 2011. He speaks too many languages, writes a blog, and dabbles in card tricks.

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