Impostor Syndrome is defined as:
A psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.
Does this sound like you? Many people at one time or another are plagued with a case of impostor syndrome, especially in their professional life. The feeling that you’re a fraud, a phony, don’t have a clue what you’re doing – and at any moment people are going to catch on – is enough to cause anxiety and panic.
Even those considered successful and experts in their field confess to feelings of being a fraud from time to time:
“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” – Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “ – Maya Angelou.
Factors that lead to impostor syndrome in web development
Impostor syndrome can hit anyone at any time, no matter how experienced or knowledgeable they are in their field. And web developers are no exception. The worry that the developers you work with are more talented and have better coding skills than you is fairly common. Women in particular are vulnerable to these feelings of inadequacy – and the fact that there are far fewer women than men in technology doesn’t help.
Let’s look at some possible factors that could contribute to impostor syndrome in the web development industry:
Fear of the Unknown
Some people who are thinking of becoming a web developer might go through some sense of trepidation and anxiety over it. Here at Code Institute, we get calls from people who want to join our coding bootcamp, but aren’t sure if they have what it takes. They’re afraid they don’t know enough now and aren’t smart enough to succeed later.
They’re already suffering from impostor syndrome and haven’t even started the programme yet!
For those of you who are thinking about becoming a web developer, either through a coding bootcamp or some other type of education, hear this:
You are smart enough.
Is learning how to code a walk in the park? No. You’re learning unfamiliar languages, being exposed to new technologies, frameworks, GitHub (Git what??), SQL, and a bunch of other acronyms you’ve (maybe) seen somewhere along the way. It’s going to take some brain power to learn how to program – learning anything new does.
But learning to code isn’t that difficult either. If it was, there wouldn’t be over 18 million software developers worldwide. The chance of 18 million people being so much more intelligent than you, able to do a job that you couldn’t possibly figure out, is pretty slim.
The realisation of what you do and don’t know
As time goes on and you gain experience, you’ll discover what you do know – and all that you don’t know. Web developers are in a state of constant learning and there’s always something new to master. You feel like you can never catch up and this can cause anxiety and a sense of inadequacy. But understand this:
You will never know everything.
With how fast technology evolves, it’s impossible for one person to know it all. And that’s true for a lot of professions. Take a cardiovascular surgeon, for instance. He may be brilliant, but he doesn’t know how to perform knee replacement surgery and isn’t the doctor you’d go to when you catch the flu.
There’s so much information in this world to process that it has to be segregated into reasonable-sized chunks so we can effectively use the information to do our jobs. And this means that different people know different things.
So relax and let yourself off the hook. No one expects you to know it all. Quiet down that pesky voice of doubt in your head and focus on how you can improve upon the knowledge you do have.
Comparing yourself to others
What’s worse than thinking you should know everything is feeling that you have to keep up with what other developers are doing.
It’s pretty common for people to compare themselves to others – but it’s not always helpful. Think of the example of Facebook. How many times have you scrolled through your timeline to look at the status updates of your friends and think, “All these other people are having the time of their lives! My life is so bland and boring compared to them.”
Do you really think John is always sunning himself on the beach with a bucket of beers by his side? Or that Mary’s life is a constant stream of glamorous parties and photo-ops on a rooftop overlooking the city at sunset? Of course you don’t.
It’s easy to feel a lack of confidence when faced with a coding problem you don’t know how to solve. And if you’re a developer just starting out, this will happen a lot.
Don’t get discouraged. There will always be someone more experienced than you, so stop comparing yourself to them and focus on your own work. Comparing your current abilities to your own past abilities – instead of to someone else’s – will show your improvement over time and encourage you to keep improving.
What you can do to prevent impostor syndrome
It’s good to point out that a bit of self-doubt is not a bad thing. It makes you evaluate your strengths/weaknesses and take stock in what you do well and not so well. Becoming aware of impostor syndrome in yourself will help ease your anxiety and propel you to take steps towards improving in the areas that need work – instead of beating yourself up.
Here are some tips to help increase your confidence and shed the feeling of being a fraud:
Give yourself some credit for your success
Many of us too often credit our successes in life to pure luck or to other people who helped us along the way. You should show gratitude to those who lent you a hand and luck can play a part. But realise that it’s the person who recognises the opportunity – whether due to luck or other factors – and takes the initiative to make the most of that opportunity that should get the most credit.
You could have the best luck in the world or be handed opportunities on a silver platter – but it’s still you who has to take action and turn those opportunities into something meaningful. You just as easily could have squandered your good fortune.
So don’t discredit the part you play in your success, because it’s a big part. And know that you do deserve to be where you are.
Put yourself out there
We all can learn something from everyone. And we all can teach something to everyone.
It can be hard to speak up or show your work when you’re new to coding. But the best way to learn and improve is by collaboration with your peers. Github is a great way to get involved with the community of web development. The purpose of Github is to share code so that developers can learn from each other. Look at other developers’ coding projects to get ideas and inspiration – and don’t be intimidated to upload your own and receive constructive feedback.
Don’t be afraid that your code isn’t good enough or that someone will point out your errors and show you a better way. Maybe there is a better way – but you’ll never know if you’re not willing to reach out to others for help and advice.
Realise that nobody knows what they’re doing
Everyone no matter how “expert” they are in their field now, at one time had little to no knowledge of their topic of expertise. They had to start at the beginning and work hard, just like you do.
Many more startup businesses fail than succeed. But they try anyway. And those that do succeed still had to take the chance – they didn’t have a crystal ball telling them they were on the winning path. No one knows exactly what’s going to end in success and what’s going to end in a total flop.
We’re all making it up as we go – some of us are just better at faking it.