58% of tech employees experience imposter syndrome. Here’s how to overcome it.
In an increasingly digital world, it’s no secret that the mounting pressure to be successful in tech is taking its toll on employees — especially at the larger and more well-known tech companies. According to a recent report by Blind (2018), a whopping 58% of tech employees report experiencing Imposter Syndrome currently in their careers. The research included employees from some of the worlds tech giants — including Apple, Facebook and Uber — highlighting just how far the rabbit hole of impostor syndrome goes. So why do over half of tech workers feel like they’re undeserving of a job in the field, despite their obvious merit? What’s the cause of this industry-wide epidemic in a lack of self-confidence?
In this piece, we’ll dive into the causes and effects of impostor syndrome and lay out an easy to follow action plan for how designers and developers can overcome self-doubt, deliver value to their employers and unlock their true potential in the field. Here’s what we’ll tackle:
- What is impostor syndrome?
- What causes impostor syndrome?
- What are the effects of impostor syndrome?
- How do I overcome impostor syndrome?
Let’s get started!
1. What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome stems from an acute sense of self-doubt and is generally described as something similar to the feeling of believing you are an impostor. In other words, someone who isn’t intelligent, creative or generally worthy of your own success despite evidence of your achievements. Impostor syndrome takes many different forms, but most people cite feeling like a fraud who is undeserving of their accomplishments, alongside the anxiety that you are somehow scamming or misleading your employers and colleagues.
Impostor syndrome was first documented in the ’70s in reference to successful working women who believed they’d somehow fooled everyone around them into thinking that they were intelligent, despite receiving professional recognition in their fields and garnering respect from colleagues. Since then, it’s become an epidemic across multiple industries — particularly in business and tech circles. The definition of imposter syndrome has also expanded to encompass people of any gender.
2. What causes impostor syndrome?
Oftentimes, a bout of impostor syndrome is brought on by a new milestone, such as a new job or the completion of a degree. Rather than feeling joy and congratulating yourself on the new accomplishment, negative thoughts about whether the success was well-earned can begin to manifest and evolve into doubts about your competency. It’s a similar story when it comes to acquiring new skills. In the first few months of a new job, for example, you’re still in the stage of conscious incompetence — where you’re aware that you’re still learning and therefore not excelling at your job yet.
While many experience impostor syndrome at the beginning of a new career, it can actually affect anyone with any amount of experience. One employee who took part in the Blind (2018) study said they experienced impostor syndrome even after 14 years of working in the field as an engineer. People who have been in the industry for a long time often develop impostor syndrome in response to a growing pressure to meet increasing expectations — even if those expectations are self-imposed. This could be triggered by a recent promotion or the taking on of additional responsibilities. Perhaps you were comfortably competent in your previous role, but you’ve recently been promoted to a level of incompetence which has catapulted you into a sea of self-doubt.
In an age where knowledge is something of its own currency, everyone’s career goal should be to constantly grow and advance by learning new skills. If you’re not being challenged in your job, it’s unlikely you’ll progress to where you want to be. But, in reality, it’s the challenge that some people find difficult. Some people feel like they’re not ready, or that they’re unprepared — or they might even feel like the challenge is too great and they’re already set up for failure. Rising to new challenges can often make people question their experience, credibility, and skillset, paving the way to impostor syndrome.
3. What are the effects of impostor syndrome?
People who experience impostor syndrome can often become deadlocked in an ‘impostor cycle’. Feeling like you’re a fraud in your career can lead to perfectionism, meaning you rarely ask for help and you end up procrastinating menial tasks because you feel it needs to be done perfectly — or even over-preparing, and spending too long on a task than necessary. If a task is completed with high success, this can lead to a sense of stage fright; a paralysis caused by pressure to perform well on the spot.
People who suffer from impostor syndrome perpetuate the notion that they have to work extra hard to achieve success, rather than attributing their success to their own natural talent. They do double the work as their peers in order to prove that they are worthy of being there. The result? A working life riddled with anxiety, exhaustion, and potentially even resulting in major burnout. This is particularly relevant in the tech industry, where its fast-paced and dynamic nature means many feel pressured to perform better than anyone else in order to stay in their jobs.
4. How do I overcome impostor syndrome?
If you’re a designer or a developer, you might be feeling a little discouraged by all the negative and counterproductive effects of impostor syndrome. But all is not lost! Here’s how to rediscover your true value and potential, and instill confidence both in yourself and your abilities.
There are 5 key ways to overcome impostor syndrome:
- Remember your training
- Draw from your past experiences
- Focus on understanding the organization
- Identify your priorities
- Find a mentor
Let’s look at these in more detail.
Firstly, remember your training. You’ve put in the work and learned all of the skills that have gotten you to this point. Despite what your instincts might tell you, you are fully qualified to be in this position — in fact, you wouldn’t have been hired if your employers weren’t confident that you were capable of taking on the challenges of the role.
Next, try to draw from your past experiences. This likely isn’t your first job — and even if it is, it won’t be the first time you’ve started in a new organization. Remember how overwhelmed you were when you first started school, compared to how accomplished you felt coming out of your education? Any job should be a similar journey of self growth and discovery. Trust yourself: you’ve done this before!
Thirdly, it’s good practice to identify your priorities. What is it that you want to get out of this job? What are you best at, and what do you need to work on? Identifying your priorities will help you to create a working process that gets the job done, rather than stressing about the work or product being perfect. If you’re unsure of what your priorities are, try scheduling in a chat with your manager or with your team. That way, you’ll be able to understand what your priorities should be — or maybe even rejig your responsibilities so that your priorities are made clear.
The fourth tip is to try to focus on understanding the organization. Rather than focusing on impressing everyone around you, take some time to gel with your co-workers or relax into the company culture. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or shadow people to gauge a better sense of how they like to do things. It might be a company that places more emphasis on process than deliverables, or that prioritizes professional growth. Learn the product, build a good business relationship with your immediate team so that you have a solid support system of people who understand your own personal process and evoke a sense of mutual trust.
This leads us into our final tip, which is to find a career mentor. Developing a mentoring relationship with a senior will allow you to become empowered in your personal development journey, and will help you to feel less alone when it comes to your negative self-view. A mentor will help you to identify gaps in your knowledge and develop a clear path towards achieving your career goals. Above all, a mentor will help you to become more confident at work by talking through your anxieties and career concerns.
Whether you’re changing jobs or embarking on a brand new career path, stepping out of your comfort zone can be daunting. CareerFoundry helps aspiring designers and developers to overcome this by providing continuing support from the Career Services team who works with the graduates to identify their skills and market themselves effectively — even after the graduates have started their new jobs. They also foster an active alumni community, meaning our graduates are able to support and elevate each other through the job searching process and well into their new careers — alongside priding themselves in developing strong one on one mentor-student relationships.
Overall, it pays to take pride in small tasks and focus on delivering your best work rather than your fastest work. Don’t compare yourself to others, and celebrate the small wins — they truly are just as important as the big ones! It helps to build up a trusted community of people around you who are in a similar situation, or who you trust enough to approach with your anxieties and issues.
Hopefully, this article will have shown you that not only is impostor syndrome extremely common in tech, but it’s also not as difficult as you think to overcome. Remember: you’re not an impostor, you earned the right to be in your position, and you totally got this!