In the tech industry, imposter syndrome gets talked about a lot. I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned about imposter syndrome since receiving my first promotion and what I wish I’d known sooner. Maybe you’ll be able to relate or maybe you’ll be able to learn something that will prepare you for the future too.
To be honest, even though it’s such a common term I’m not sure if I’m fully on board with “imposter syndrome”. Check out this great article, “I haven’t experienced imposter syndrome, and maybe you haven’t either” by Rachel Smith for some solid reasons against it. For the sake of this post though, I am going to use it to refer to the fear that you’re not good enough and don’t belong in your job or even the industry as a whole.
I’m what’s called a “career-changer”, an ex-confectioner turned developer after completing a coding bootcamp. While I’d taught myself basic HTML and CSS as a kid, I never considered it as a career. It was not a thought in my mind that I could learn an actual programming language. That was for people who were good at maths and science. I was definitely not one of those people.
Fast forward to learning how to code and I’m not going to lie, it was hard. Imposter syndrome came and went at different times depending on how much I was struggling. As I completed my coding bootcamp and started my first role at Finder, this continued.
Some days were really hard but I also knew that as a junior developer it was my job to learn. I was allowed to make mistakes. I had plenty of support. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know everything. If I was struggling I would remind myself that “It’s okay, you’re a junior”. The more I learned, the more value I was able to provide to the company and thankfully the less often imposter syndrome appeared. I finally started feeling more confident in my abilities.
Then a wonderful (surprising) day came when my manager offered me a promotion to “engineer”. I was shocked, excited and really proud of myself. I’d learned so much and come so far considering 18 months earlier I was making candy for a living. I was so excited to tackle this new phase of my career.
That’s when the imposter syndrome re-appeared. I was completely overwhelmed to discover that not only was it back, it was worse than I’d ever experienced before. For some reason, I’d expected to feel much more capable once I wasn’t a junior anymore. What actually happened was that I realised that now that I was an “engineer” I was expected to know things. When I came across a problem I didn’t know how to solve or a technology I wasn’t familiar with my brain screamed at me “You’re a fraud! How dare you have the title of engineer.”.
So that’s where I’m at. I shared a tweet about it at the time:
The most interesting part of this story was once I started talking about how I was feeling I found that people way more senior than I were experiencing the same thing.
What I’ve slowly started to realise is that imposter syndrome isn’t something just inexperienced people feel. Senior engineers feel it. Managers feel it. Chief technology officers feel it. It’s not just me. It’s not just you. It doesn’t matter what level we’re at and maybe if you don’t feel a bit of imposter syndrome you aren’t really challenging and learning in your role. But either way I wish I’d known sooner that imposter syndrome is felt all the way up.
When I feel imposter syndrome now I like to remind myself that these feelings are normal and to not be afraid to talk about them or ask for support when I need it. We really are all in this together.