WHAT IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME?
Have you ever had the feeling you aren’t a “real” software engineer in the same way that those around you are? Have you carried a sinking feeling that you would be “found out”, in some way? This, in a nutshell, is Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is discussed heavily in the software engineering community, though I have realized that it exists everywhere. Friends in entirely different lines of work and industries have shared similar anxieties. There is just something about the nature of software engineering that makes it much more acute.
These apprehensions feel incredibly real, and can weigh heavy on our work. They can cause us to miss out on opportunities for fear of failure, and to waste time second-guessing our code. Left unchecked, we become our own barrier to growth. So, how do we overcome it? How do we get out of our own way?
ACCEPT THAT YOU AREN’T ALONE
Everyone has imposter syndrome at times, and it isn’t just something that junior engineers deal with. It might be overcome at one engineering level, and then come storming back after leveling up to the next. This is normal, and recognizing that others are in the same boat helps to shake the feeling that you somehow tricked all of these actual engineers into thinking you are one of them.
REDEFINE YOUR DEFINITIONS
What makes someone a software engineer? Where exactly do we draw the line between fraud and the real deal? For something that feels so intuitively concrete, these are hard questions to actually answer. There is a funny perception that software engineers hold some secret power — some inherent magic that others don’t possess. The truth is, engineering is a skill like any other. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Is it magic? Definitely not.
Like in most career paths, software engineers exist at many different levels and have a variety of experience, but even the most senior were once the most junior. Viewing the role as a spectrum rather than a binary can help shake the feeling that you are a 0 in a sea of 1’s.
REFLECT ON YOUR GROWTH
Think back to the day before you started software engineering, and imagine if you tried to explain to that person the work you are currently doing. My guess is they would understand maybe 25% of the explanation.
It is so easy to focus on everything we don’t know in our field. The nature of the job is such that we are often solving a new problem, therefore figuring out something that we don’t already know. Inherently this leaves us thinking about how much there is that we don’t know, while ignoring what we do. The truth is, this is just part of being a software engineer. The job is as much about solving new problems as it is flexing existing knowledge, and this only becomes more true as you advance. It isn’t a bad thing, and the feeling likely means you are growing. Framing it as such while also looking back at everything you have learned helps to quell the feeling that you, for lack of a better way of saying it, don’t know what you’re doing.
FACE IT HEAD ON
Facing rather than hiding from this feeling is very difficult, but also crucially important to overcoming it. This inner critic, the voice saying that you aren’t real, is bolstered every time you change course because of it. Changing course could be not applying to a job you want, or shying away from a challenging ticket. When it starts to speak up, recognize it for what it is, which is just a feeling. It is real, it is there, but it is just a feeling. Giving credence to it is no more valid than fearing a doll after watching Chucky. Face it, head on, the way you would any other fear in your life.
Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing, but it can be managed. It might not go away, but that doesn’t mean we need to give it power. When it starts to turn up its volume, don’t be apprehensive but instead talk back 10 times louder.
Based in Los Angeles, CA, Bryn is a full-stack engineer with a background in the music industry. Her career started at Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group, where she worked with artists such as System Of A Down, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains, and others.
After leaving to pursue software engineering, she joined the Syntx team as a full-stack engineer. Here, she used Node and React to build applications from the ground up, as well as collaborated with other teams to add new functionality to existing software. Bryn now works at a stealth startup in the FinTech space, building cool but secret stuff.