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Overcoming Impostor Syndrome

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Coding

Alicia Liu
Published in
5 min readJun 10, 2013

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From the outside, it would appear I was on the textbook path of programming. Started making websites at 15. Took programming and web design classes in my tech-oriented high school. Was accepted by my first choice school and majored in Computer Engineering. Had great internships at a tech giant. Wrote code that was used by millions of people. Graduated with distinction. Cofounded a software startup.

And yet despite doing everything right, I didn’t think of myself as a good programmer.

On the inside, a different narrative played out. I got into university due to affirmative action. I had a good GPA because we didn’t have “weeder” classes and I didn’t take the really hardcore CS courses. I got my job because my interview only covered things I knew. I got excellent performance evaluations because I was given manageable assignments. I did well in school and work projects because friends who were good programmers helped me out.

I managed to get that far through sheer dumb luck and managed to keep everyone from finding out I’m not great at programming. I was constantly in fear that I would encounter some task I wouldn’t be able to code or a bug I couldn’t resolve, despite a track record of successfully using new languages and frameworks, completing projects and meeting deadlines.

Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the impostor belief.

Some research suggest that women are more susceptible to Impostor Syndrome. I don’t think it’s conclusive generally, but within a field like computing where women are vastly underrepresented, it is especially likely for someone in the minority to feel like she got in by some fluke and doesn’t truly belong there.

In my head I held a definition of a good programmer, and I didn’t fit it. My repertoire of keyboard shortcuts was relatively pathetic. I was not a fount of esoteric details of various programming…

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Alicia Liu
Counter Intuition

Wanderer above the sea of fog // programmer beneath the sweat of brow