Thoughts on Impostor Syndrome from VP of Engineering at Dropbox

Akhil Gupta, VP of Engineering

Impostor syndrome.

What does it mean and who suffers from it? Feeling like a fraud, doubting your skills and accomplishments, thinking your career is a series of luck — these are just some of the symptoms of impostor syndrome. The truth is, impostor syndrome is pretty universal. Most people at some point in their careers will fear their success is undeserved and that what they hope to achieve is unattainable. We’re all susceptible, but some things like age, race, education, and gender often play a big part too.

At a recent event hosting a group of college students at Dropbox, Akhil Gupta, Vice President of Engineering, came face to face with a tough question regarding the issue. He gave the best answer he could in the moment, but after reflecting, realized there was a lot more to say.

On Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 3:45 PM, Akhil Gupta wrote to Engineering:

A week back, Dropbox hosted CSKickstart, a student group at UC Berkeley that helps women who are interested in STEM get hands-on experience in programming. Myself, along with Chang Liu, gave presentations about what it’s like to work in tech, specifically engineering at Dropbox. At the end of the talk we had a short Q&A and the question that’s stuck with me is, “Do you know what impostor syndrome is and have you ever felt it?”

I told her that as an Indian male in tech, I had not experienced impostor syndrome as severely as some of my colleagues, particularly women in this industry. I recommended talking it through and finding solutions with a mentor or ally should any of these young women experience it during school or in their careers. I emphasized that they are not alone and things are improving.

I wish I had been better prepared to provide a more in-depth response that day, but I’ve spent the past week thinking and reading about the topic and wanted to share my thoughts with this group.

Impostor syndrome is defined as an individual doubting their accomplishments and having persistent fears of being exposed as a “fraud”. It is typically felt by those who “don’t match” the majority culture of their school, company or industry and struggle to feel legitimate or belong. This feeling is very common, whether it’s due to gender, race, sexuality, religion or background and is surprisingly suffered by many smart, successful individuals.

The way I have personally experienced impostor syndrome is when I moved from being an IC [individual contributor] to management and felt self-conscious about my communication skills and background. Though my demographic has been highly represented at the companies I’ve worked at(Google and Dropbox), I’ve had moments of feeling out of place with English being my second language and other leaders not sharing the same cultural upbringing as me. This impacted my confidence as a leader and was something that only got better as I felt more experienced in my role.

While I do think that allies and mentors are helpful in overcoming the feeling of impostor syndrome, it’s something that can negatively effect you no matter how far you get, and I want to empower all of us to recognize this is likely impacting someone in our team and take part in making them feel like they belong. A few ideas that have proven to be helpful are:

* Treat people fairly and hold everyone to the same bar

* Speak up when you sense someone is feeling isolated.

* Include everybody in the conversation.

* Reach out when someone deserves recognition or reassurance, whether it’s in a meeting, team event or even something as small as an email [Gratitude Mailbox is located on BRN 4].

These things are top of mind for me to ensure that Dropbox continues to strive to be the best workplace for every employee and something that can be a key driver for our continued success .



At Dropbox, we look for people who have the talent to propel us all forward and make each other better. That also includes recognizing people for their contributions along the way.

People can help others around them feel better about their accomplishments and affirm their value on their team, but it’s most important and most impactful when value is recognized in oneself.

We can’t claim to be the experts in helping others and ourselves to overcome impostor syndrome, but it’s shared thoughts like this one that help get the conversation going.

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