Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as a Tech Professional
Right off the bat, you may be wondering, what is imposter syndrome? It’s a feeling of insecurity based on a person’s internal sense of inadequacy that occurs when their achievements don’t make them feel successful. Imposter syndrome in tech is a fairly common problem.
If you’re a tech professional, you may be curious to know how imposter syndrome affects people in the industry, what its causes are, and most importantly, what some avenues are for overcoming imposter syndrome in tech. In this article, we’ll address all of these concerns.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome refers to the feeling that your success has been fraudulently acquired. You also feel like you might eventually be discovered and exposed for being less successful or smart than people perceive you to be.
Thus, through this negative self-image, you convince yourself that you are unworthy of your own success. The term was developed by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the late 1970s. They were exploring what they called the imposter phenomenon and particularly, how it affected high-achieving women.
Is Imposter Syndrome Common in Tech?
Yes. In fact, according to a study conducted at the University of California, San Diego, 57 percent of computer science students experienced imposter syndrome. Tech careers tend to be highly demanding, so people working in a tech company can experience bouts of imposter syndrome. Some experience it consistently while others experience it when they are struggling with a particularly difficult project.
How Imposter Syndrome Affects Tech Professionals
There are several ways in which insecurity can affect tech workers. They can be split into five types of imposter syndrome, as you’ll see below.
This type of imposter syndrome is manifested in overworking. In Silicon Valley, the competition between technology companies is high and the workload can be quite demanding. However, due to their desire to be the best, employees can become overworked. This is because they’re concerned that if they take a break or miss a deadline, their colleagues will realize they are incapable or underqualified.
Another display of how this phenomenon affects tech professionals is when, for example, a software engineer who is an expert in their field feels that their expertise is insufficient. They will constantly be dissatisfied with their level of knowledge although their work demonstrates that they’re highly skilled.
Going It Alone
Women in tech are very talented people, but they may struggle through their tasks or experience anxiety because they are afraid of asking for help. In their mind, asking for help could reveal that they are incompetent or weak. In order to avoid enforcing a stereotype, they choose to work alone to avoid being “exposed.”
Perfectionism often affects people in tech. For example, a programmer may fixate on the errors and shortcomings in their code. Feeling that they do not match up to their other colleagues, they rarely acknowledge the good work that they are doing, even when they’re given positive feedback.
It’s been said that there is a thin line between genius and madness. Tech workers are bright people and will often experience this because they tend to set extremely high goals for themselves. This ventures into the realm of imposter syndrome because they end up feeling deeply disappointed if they don’t meet their lofty goals the first time around.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
It is important to highlight that imposter syndrome is not a mental disorder, but rather a response to stimuli. Therefore, there is no precise way to measure whether someone has imposter syndrome. A person may not always be able to predict when they are about to be hit by an occurrence of the syndrome. The list below, though by no means exhaustive, will point out some of these stimuli.
A report published by the Brookings Institution revealed that black and Hispanic communities are underrepresented in tech. Cultural biases in tech such as racism, xenophobia, and archaic beliefs regarding what certain groups of people can and can’t achieve can cause people to experience imposter syndrome.
Smart tech workers may experience mild anxiety or second-guess themselves when faced with important projects. Some of these feelings may stem from their cultural background, making them feel like their colleagues will give negative feedback.
Societal expectations can come from a person’s family, community, or social network. If you come from a community where people do not make it far in life due to financial and economic limitations, and you make it beyond what is expected, you may second guess whether you’re worthy of your role.
Perhaps you have been overlooked most of your life and you grew up expecting to be excluded from activities or team projects and games. Then, later in life, your inclusion in a major role of a tech hub can cause you to be filled with self-doubt. This lack of self-confidence may impair your ability to perform because you carry intense feelings that perhaps this is all too good to be true.
To understand why women are underrepresented in fields where success is believed to require brilliance, the psychology departments of Otterbein University, University of Illinois, and Princeton University conducted a study. They found that women are underrepresented in fields such as tech because of the stereotype that women possess less raw intellectual talent than men.
The world we live in is rapidly becoming more globalized, and the dynamics of how we define what is normal are under immense pressure to adapt. The longer we fail to adapt, the more people continue to feel anxious, depressed, stressed, and self-conscious.
Cornell University conducted research into understanding the causes of women’s underrepresentation in science. The study revealed that discrimination against women in science isn’t due to discriminatory workplace policies. Instead, it found that women are less represented because they choose not to participate, showing the need for education and policy changes that will encourage women to join the science industry.
What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like in the Workplace
It can come as a result of external stimuli like gender microaggressions and assumptions based on stereotypes. In the tech workplace, imposter syndrome can have many faces. External stimuli include racial or gender microaggressions, assumptions formed by stereotypes, and expectations formed by biases. These can lead to unpleasant workplace dynamics such as co-workers undermining each other.
Imposter syndrome can also take root as a result of internal stimuli, such as a person’s upbringing or personality type, which can result in low self-esteem, self-doubt, and panic attacks.
The overall result, regardless of where the stimulus comes from, is that a person’s sense of pride and self-worth is damaged, leading to disillusionment, lack of motivation, and depression.
Can Imposter Syndrome Be Cured?
Yes. Although imposter syndrome is not a mental disorder, the symptoms can lead to mental illnesses. But since the syndrome itself is a response to stimuli, it can be managed. There are different ways this can be done, starting with self-care or getting professional advice when needed. The external or internal stimuli need to be identified and addressed.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Tech
Acknowledge the Problem
The first step in resolving any problem is acknowledging its existence. Acknowledging your feelings of inadequacy at work will enable you to better understand the causes.
Challenge Your Own Beliefs
A lack of knowledge can be equally crippling to the mind and perpetuates negative cycles. It is important to challenge beliefs, biases, and stereotypes with the right kind of knowledge.
Note That Comparison Kills
There is nothing that is more damaging to self-esteem and self-worth than comparing yourself to other people at work. It creates room for you to think of yourself as less worthy than someone else and unworthy of your job. Breaking that thought pattern will allow you to defeat imposter syndrome.
Turn to Your Support Network
A strong and healthy network of colleagues, family, friends, and people experiencing the same feelings can help you manage your imposter syndrome. A strong network will enable you to master the art of being an imposter without giving in to the emotional pressure.
Updating what you already know about your specific tech role is helpful in managing the symptoms of imposter syndrome. If you’re feeling inadequate because you’re worried that your skills are outdated, learning new techniques can help you gain back your confidence.
How a Coding Bootcamp Can Help You Get Over Imposter Syndrome
Apart from upskilling, you may also want to consider reskilling. Perhaps you have reached a dead-end in your current role or your interests have changed. As a result, you may be experiencing a lack of motivation and low self-esteem. Dealing with imposter syndrome by learning a new tech skill might be just what you need to start a new chapter in your tech career.
Taking on a new role later in your career is not unheard of and it is often the boost that you need to get that pep back in your step. Bootcamp programs are less costly and take less time to complete than degrees do. Plus, some bootcamps like Brainstation offer flexible bootcamp schedules, so you can change your career without sacrificing your day job. You can also find bootcamps specifically aimed at women and other minority groups in tech.
Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?
Yes. Although we have been addressing the negative causes and effects of imposter syndrome, when properly managed, it can actually help you achieve your work goals.
Why Imposter Syndrome Is Good
- Continuous learning. If your imposter syndrome manifests in expertise, the advantage is that you will continuously be learning and improving. This is good because you will always take advantage of opportunities for growth in your career.
- Achieving excellence. If you are a perfectionist, you will always be striving for excellence. This is good because it means you will continually produce high-quality work, which means you will be a valuable asset to any tech company.
- High standards. If you are a natural genius or a superhero at work, it means you have high standards. This desire to produce the best possible work will certainly be noticed by your superiors.
Why Imposter Syndrome Is Bad
- Depression. Imposter syndrome can lead to depression. Unmanaged depression can lead to decisions and lifestyle choices that are harmful.
- Self-doubt. Self-doubt can sometimes be a normal response to new situations and challenges. However, if it isn’t checked, it can also lead to a lack of inspiration and motivation, which can cause you to give up on your career path.
- Isolation. Isolation at work can sometimes be triggered by fear. If you are afraid of asking for help, appearing weak, or looking or feeling foolish, it can hinder your personal and professional growth.
Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back
Imposter syndrome can be managed and overcome. With the right knowledge, tools, and support system, you can still have a successful career in the tech industry. Signing up for a coding bootcamp and challenging yourself to conquer your coding bootcamp fears is one way to defeat the syndrome and find new opportunities.
Imposter Syndrome in Tech FAQ
One way to find out is to take an online imposter syndrome quiz from reliable professional sources such as imposter syndrome expert Valerie Young’s website.
Yes. Imposter syndrome does affect some groups more than others. Some studies have shown that imposter syndrome hits women and women of color harder than it does caucasian males.
No. Once you know what your triggers are, you can learn how to manage them. With the right tools, it is possible to overcome imposter syndrome altogether.
If you have an underlying mental health problem, you should seek professional help to manage it. You can manage your specific imposter syndrome symptoms separately.