Everyone has an imposter syndrome

Amir Shevat
Sep 27, 2018 · 5 min read

I don’t know how I got here; I feel like I cheated fate most of the way. Many people ask me how I made the career choices that led me to the rapid growth of my career — how did I end up managing a multi-tier engineering, product, partnerships, and developer relations org in one of the biggest companies on the planet? I truly think it was 10 percent skills, 40 percent grit and passion, and 50 percent luck.

They always give me this look when I tell them about this ratio — the “you are being modest” or “you don’t know how much you are wrong” look. But it is true to the core of my existence, and it is scary how common it is.

For most of my adult life, I did not have the perfect tools to do my job. I had to improvise, to guess, to hack, and to compensate for lack of experience. Basically, to constantly deal with my imposter syndrome.

The imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” You learn about it in places like Google where most people who join get this syndrome in the first year (a fact that is mentioned in the new-hire training, on your first week). The voice in your head is constantly telling you, “And they accepted you here?!? Are they nuts?” That lovely voice continues to whisper in your ear, “Soon, they will find out and kick you out of here…”

My first job was pure luck. I only managed to score my first serious job as a software engineer by knowing a little more than my hiring manager, who really did not know much. We were both lost for the first two to three months until we slowly found our bearings. Today, I work as the VP of Developer Experience at Twitch — the reason I choose the job I have right now is that I feel that there are so many things we need to figure out, that my entire work experience right now is one big fat fascinating challenge.

The imposter syndrome is exasperated by modern tech life

Once upon a time, humans learned slowly — they joined a guild, they spent five years learning the ropes of the business, and another five years of apprenticeship, where you learned from the experienced master who was already 20 years in the business. After these 10 years of experience, you were allowed to practice for 20 to 30 years. You knew you had the right tools and paid your dues to “join the club” as a senior member of the guild. In many cultures and traditional professions, that is still the case.

Traditional career

After 20 to 30 years of work, you might become irrelevant because your skills are obsolete, your knowledge is outdated, or you are too old to do the job.

In the modern tech world, reality changes faster than this model can support. If you learn and train for three or four years, your knowledge is already obsolete, even before you hit the market. Moreover, many areas of expertise are so new that you cannot learn and train for them, because you are the first person to do that job.

Here is how careers might look like in tech today:

Modern Tech Career

In the modern tech world, you need to constantly innovate, learn, and grow — or else this wave of rapid deprecation will swallow you. If you are proficient in something today, chances are that you will be irrelevant in five years.

This means that for the majority of your work life, you are unprepared and constantly challenged to keep up. You are trained to look like you know what you are doing, but deep inside you know you are a fraud. You look at the others and they seem to really know what they are doing.

There are several upsides to this crazy race:

  1. You never get bored.
  2. You learn how to deal with uncertainty.
  3. Your career can advance faster.
  4. You do not end up working many years for a job you hate.
  5. You have a chance to change career paths several times in your lifetime

The best way I found to deal with the imposter syndrome is to embrace it, and to use grit to power through the painful growth period. After you do it long enough, you realize that everyone has this imposter syndrome; everyone is struggling to grow and adjust to this new and rapid reality. You develop skills to deal with unknown situations and to use common sense, data, and experimentation to invent a new path to a solution for the challenge at hand.

You need to embrace uncertainty and a growth mindset. You need to jump into the pool, head first, and only on the way down check if there is water in it. If there is no water in the pool, you will need to grow wings before you hit the floor. But hey! If you do it fast enough, you end up with wings — and that is freaking awesome. Right?

Another great way to deal with the imposter syndrome is to work with an amazing team. Working with the right people makes it easier and more fun to deal with big, difficult, and unknown challenges. When you feel that you cannot trust yourself, there is nothing like a good team to get your creative spirit going. The imposter syndrome sometimes makes you feel very alone, and a good team can help you feel that you are not alone in this.

Case in point…

Today, I am holding my second new book, which I wrote with an amazing team, embracing the new career I just started and feeling, like always, like an imposter.