23 Code Street
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23 Code Street

Stop imposter syndrome holding you back

“I don’t think I can do this. Am I good enough?”

Throughout your life how many times has this thought crossed your mind or, not even just crossed it but, totally taken over it?

Maybe it’s when you started a new job and, regardless of your long list of personal achievements, you felt incompetent. Or, perhaps, you were promoted to manage a new project but, instead of feeling excited, you worried about when someone would, finally, realise you couldn’t do it.

This is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome was coined by Pauline Rose Clance in the late 70’s after she felt like a fraud in grad school but wasn’t able to explain why. The official definition describes it as “‘high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

Interestingly, research shows that impostor syndrome is more likely to affect women and those who ‘excelled in areas that were not always accessible to them’. This could definitely apply to women working in the male dominated technology industry.

Just because women in tech could be more prone to imposter syndrome, this doesn’t mean this should be a barrier to them succeeding, especially when they already face barriers such as being the only female developer in a team, being second guessed, and/or undermined.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’ve asked six women who are currently making waves in the tech industry to share their personal tips on how to not let imposter syndrome hold you back.

Nikki Cochrane, co-founder of Digital Mums

Give up perfect! Comparing ourselves to a perfect, idealised version of ourselves or someone else is a sure fire way to feeling inadequate and like you don’t belong. Perfectionism though is a hard habit to break. At Digital Mums we teach our students to ‘Test, Measure, Reflect and Refine’. There is no one way to do things and no such thing as ‘failure’, just a new opportunity to try things out, learn and improve.

Nafisa Bakkar, co-founder of Amaliah.com

To be honest this is something that always seems to crop up so it is an ongoing battle. Recently, I had been asked to write an essay for an anthology and straight away I felt like an impostor for the fact that I was even being asked. I still feel a tad out of my depth but I have just learned to embrace it. If you feel like an impostor it’s normally because you’re being pushed out of your comfort zone. I try and surround myself with a strong support network for those “crisis” moments. Having my sister as my co-founder is a big help as she is one of my biggest cheerleaders and will always tell me to go for it!

Selina Bakkar, co-founder of Amaliah.com

I think, firstly, acknowledging that it was imposter syndrome was half the battle because once those thoughts entered my mind, usually after a big achievement or milestone or even compliment I knew any self-doubt needed to be ignored or fought with self-praise. Once you are aware of it then you can be purposeful in the way you tackle it, which is different for everyone.

One of the best ways to tackle imposter syndrome is to work on how you speak to yourself and start treating yourself as your best friend. Every time you speak to yourself make sure the interaction is positive. Much of our actions and thoughts stem from how we speak to ourselves.

Sharmadean Reid MBE, founder of WAH Nails and beautystack.com

I overcome imposter syndrome by making a mental list of all of my achievements and making it my mantra. For example, saying to yourself “I did this…, I did that … , I know this.., I won at this … , and no one know this market better than me, etc, etc.” and I repeat it like a meditative mantra and then I know that I’m not an imposter.

Anisah Osman Britton, founder of 23 Code Street

I feel like I’m not very nice to myself a lot of the time and I question everything that I am saying and doing, and why I’m so ridiculously stupid. I think this is a form of imposter syndrome. I know of only two ways of dealing with this:

  1. Read. The more I read, the more I know. Therefore, I feel I can stand in front of people and speak knowledgeably. How can I be an imposter if I know what I’m talking about?
  2. I write a list of what I’ve achieved. It sounds silly and infantile. But when I remember what I’m good at and what I’ve done, it reminds me that I deserve to be here.

Funmi Adewodu, software engineer at Starling Bank

Remember you are good enough!

When I started my first software engineering job, I kept asking myself “why did they hire me” and waiting to be exposed as a fraud, even though I had worked so hard to get there. It’s very easy to forget how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are now.

To overcome my impostor syndrome, I started keeping a list of my achievements, highlights, contributions at work and learnings. This has really helped me to see my growth overtime, it allows me to reflect on all my hard work every month and to have a reference for future purposes.

Funmi is on Twitter @ funmmi // @ StarlingBank

We hope these tips help you if imposter syndrome strikes. Follow us to read more about tech, coding, culture, and diversity.



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23 Code Street

A Coding School for Women. For every paying student, we teach a disadvantaged woman in India how to code.