3 min read

Curing Programming Impostor Syndrome

Every software engineer is familiar with the impostor phenomenon, also known as self Impostor syndrome. I have collected 13 curing approaches to it.
Self impostor syndrome programmers
Self impostor syndrome programmers

Impostor phenomenon and software engineers

The impostor phenomenon, a persistent companion throughout my 18-year career as a software engineer, is a widespread experience. My theory: our brains aren't evolutionarily trained for programming.

Additionally, the expansive nature of the profession contributes to this phenomenon. Unlike bakers who can compare two breads they've baked, programmers rarely encounter similar tasks throughout their careers, making it challenging to gauge how others would approach the same work. This lack of comparative reference can intensify the impostor phenomenon in the field of software development.

Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon, is a psychological occurrence in which people doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds.

Imposter syndrome what to do?

There are 13 ways to think about yourself to handle those feelings:

  1. Demystify External Dependencies: The feeling of imposter syndrome often stems from viewing complex external code as something magical and beyond understanding. However, all code, no matter how complex, is written by humans. Familiarize yourself with different codebases and try to understand and even improve upon them. This can help you realize that there's nothing out there that you cannot understand or handle.
  2. Code Review: Reading and reviewing other developers' code can be a valuable exercise. You may find that the techniques and strategies used by others are similar to your own or learn new ways of doing things. This process of comparative learning can alleviate feelings of imposter syndrome and strengthen your confidence in your own abilities.
  3. Self-Honesty: Being honest with yourself is a crucial part of overcoming imposter syndrome. Acknowledge your areas of expertise and be proud of them. At the same time, understand that being an expert in one area doesn't make you infallible in all areas. Maintain humility by recognizing that no matter how good you are at something, there's always someone who's better, and that's okay.
  4. Embrace the Learning Curve: If you're not feeling somewhat uncomfortable, you're probably not learning or growing. Embrace the discomfort that comes with being a novice at something. It's a sign that you're stepping out of your comfort zone, acquiring new skills, and growing as a developer.
  5. Enjoy the Output: Seeing users appreciate and benefit from your work can be a significant confidence booster. Even a simple CRUD application can seem magical to the average user if it serves a purpose they haven't seen addressed in software before.
  6. Customer Feedback: Positive feedback from users can validate your efforts and skill set. The first customer who appreciates your work can profoundly impact your self-confidence and affirm that you're making a difference through your work.
  7. Bug Fixing: Fixing bugs in others' code, especially code written by more experienced developers, can be an enlightening experience. Not only does it help you understand different coding styles and approaches, but it also improves your problem-solving skills and boosts your self-confidence.
  8. Ask Questions: Initially, you may hesitate to ask questions for fear of seeming unknowledgeable. However, asking questions and collaborating with others is a crucial part of professional growth. It does not reflect poorly on you as an engineer; rather, it shows your eagerness to learn and grow.
  9. Continuous Learning(and sharing): Investing time in constant learning and self-improvement can work wonders for your confidence. Read books, listen to podcasts, engage in coding exercises at home, and examine code histories. This practice not only enhances your skills but also helps you gauge your growth by comparing your work with that of your peers.
  10. Take Small Steps: Career growth is more of a marathon than a sprint. Appreciate the small victories and incremental improvements you make along the way. Those who have worked with many beginners understand this and value individuals who show steady growth and improvement.
  11. Early Learning: Learning programming early in life, even without formal instruction, can provide a firm foundation for software development skills. The transition from a tinkerer to a skilled craftsman becomes smoother once you realize that there's a whole field dedicated to manipulating systems to achieve desired results.
  12. Iterative Problem Solving: The realization that code is not an immutable edifice, but something that is progressively improved upon, can be a game-changer. Starting with a basic, potentially flawed solution and iterating upon it to increase its correctness and complexity can help develop a robust understanding of the system and increase your confidence.
  13. Mentoring: The experience of mentoring newcomers can be a significant confidence booster. It reinforces your knowledge and givesyou a practical measure of how much you've grown. When you find yourself able to answer questions and guide others, it becomes evident how much you've learned and grown in your field.

Final words

  • Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".
  • Practice, patience, and embracing the fact that coding solutions are not always linear also play crucial roles in overcoming this syndrome.
  • Everyone, from the most junior to the most senior, is learning and improving.
  • Asking questions and making mistakes are essential parts of the learning process. It can be helpful to discuss these feelings with colleagues.