Allata hosted a virtual networking event a few months ago centered around the imposter syndrome. The topic was popular and resonated with not only our own employees, but attendees outside as well. It was clear not only junior developers, but also seasoned developers, deal with imposter syndrome on a regular basis. Thus begs the question, where did imposter syndrome begin?
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is defined as a feeling of fear of being found out as a fraud, even when you aren’t one and possibly that you don’t deserve success and doubt your own accomplishments.
The term imposter syndrome (or impostor phenomenon for the issue) was introduced by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A Imes in 1978 in an article they authored after interviewing 150 high achievers who couldn’t internalize their own successes. Clance and Imes submitted in their article only women suffered from imposter syndrome but as the issue has been further researched, it seems to occur equally across all genders, careers, and ages. Subsequently, imposter syndrome is prevalent in the tech industry, Blind sent out a survey in 2018 asking a single question: “Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?” The results showed that over half of the total respondents experience it. Clearly, imposter syndrome is common in the tech industry.
So, what type of imposter are you?
Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome, defined five different categories of imposter syndrome and Grammarly.com has created a quick quiz around these archetypes, to help people determine what type of imposter syndrome they may have:
- The Perfectionist – considers themself a failure if they miss the mark, even a little.
- The Expert – needs to know everything before moving forward, afraid to ask questions
- The Natural Genius – has not struggled with problem solving, views not immediately knowing the answer as failure
- The Soloist – feels asking for help will cause others to see them as a fraud
- The Superwoman/man – Pushes themselves to work harder than anyone else to prove their worth
Retrain Your Brain and Make Imposter Syndrome Work for You.
How do you get over imposter syndrome? The simple answer is you do not, but you can retrain your brain to make imposter syndrome work in your favor. Ask yourself, “Does this thought help or hinder me?” An intrusive thought often faced by developers is “I know nothing about this framework.” Occasionally intrusive thoughts can cause spiraling. Spiraling occurs when one intrusive thought leads to a worse intrusive thought like, “I don’t know this framework. Therefore, I will not get anything done. Therefore, I will lose my job …” Spiraling occurs rapidly, so it is important to put your thoughts into perspective and catch these intrusive thoughts early. However, you can reframe your initial thought as follows, “I know nothing about this framework, and this would be an amazing learning opportunity.” This reframing turns a potentially hindering thought into a helpful one. Additionally, when you reframe your thoughts in this manner it allows you to accept being wrong because you have turned an obstacle into a learning opportunity.
So, you have reframed your thought process and should now be cured of imposter syndrome, right? Unfortunately, in fields such as software development there is always new technology. The goal of knowing everything about everything is impossible. So, while you can become skilled at one framework, language, etc., said framework could become deprecated or be replaced by a new industry standard. Therefore, be willing to accept what you do know and what you do not know. Additionally, connect with your peers and find out how they can fill your knowledge gaps. Knowing who to approach for help can help fight imposter syndrome by turning the intrusive thought of “I am not sure how to use this framework,” into “I am not sure how to use this framework but I know who does.”
Imposter syndrome is common because it preys on the desire to belong, fit in and contribute to meaningful work. Try to remind yourself other people feel this way too, and learning new skills is always challenging. However, the feelings of imposter syndrome are signs of your intelligence and drive to succeed. You can utilize the knowledge you now have about why you feel like an imposter and implement reframing techniques to help pull yourself out of the spiral of intrusive thoughts. Imposter syndrome may never fully go away, but you can make sure it doesn’t stand in your way.