Why Programmers Get Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling like you’re a fraud and a little bit of fear that the “real” experts around you will somehow figure it out. It can be common for people in any industry or field to experience this, but tech may be particularly susceptible. Here’s why….

Full Transcript Below:

Andrew:

Once they find out that I can’t do what they think I can do, they’re going to give me the boot.

Cris:

“I’m just going to slip in there and see if anyone notices” kind of stuff.

Andrew:

You’re always going to be surrounded by people who are smarter than you at something.

Cris:

Why do you think people in our industry can suffer from imposter syndrome?

Andrew:

Because there’s too much to know.

Cris:

Andrew, we’re going to sit down today, and we are going to talk about imposter syndrome. I think this could be, obviously, a bit of a back and forth conversation, but what is imposter syndrome?

Andrew:

I mean, it’s essentially when you have an inaccurate view of your abilities, and you feel like you’re a fraud, and so it’s this feeling of, once they find out that I can’t do what they think I can do, they’re going to give me the boot.

Cris:

Yeah. I always even liken it to… I think of the movie, Catch Me If You Can, with Leonardo DiCaprio, it’s almost like a little bit conman-y.

Andrew:

Oh, yeah. Yes.

Cris:

“I’m just going to slip in there and see if anyone notices” kind of stuff, so yeah. This is something, and the reason we’re talking about it, that I think, I wouldn’t say that it’s prevalent, but it happens with, I think, programmers, designers, people in tech in general. Why is that? Why do you think people in our industry can suffer from imposter syndrome?

Andrew:

Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of reasons, the whole fake it till you make it mantra is pretty common, and I think there’s some wisdom and truth to that. In tech, I mean, you’re surrounded by a lot of really smart people, and they’re constantly showing what they know, solving problems, and then there’s such a wide breadth of just different technologies out there. It’s not practical that you’re going to know all of them, and so there’s always going to be gaps in your knowledge, you’re always going to be surrounded by people who are smarter than you at something, and also technologies move so fast, too. You’ve got a lot of high-achieving, smart people learning lots of new things, sharing that knowledge, but yeah, because there’s too much to know, it’s really prevalent.

Cris:

Yeah, I mean, I know I find myself in a room sometimes, you’re walking that line of where does my confidence end, where does my knowledge of this topic end, and then when does it just go into, like you said, I’m just going to fake it till I make it?

Andrew:

And what are the consequences if I can’t demonstrate this knowledge?

Cris:

Right.

Andrew:

Or pull it out on the spot? Are they going to kick me out? Are people going to think I’m stupid?

Cris:

Yeah. Are there any tips that you have, and I think that tailors into, I mean, is this something that you felt like you’ve ever suffered with? What are some tips maybe for dealing with imposter syndrome?

Andrew:

Right, right. Well, I mean, probably the pace one is to have a humble mindset, and also just a growth oriented mindset. The analogy I was thinking of was, if we go to the gym to work, we go there to grow and get stronger. If you go there with the mindset of, my objective going here is to show off to everyone how strong I am and how I’m stronger than everyone else, that could be a potentially stressful experience, but that’s not why most people go to the gym. Maybe they do, I don’t know.

Cris:

It’s usually just to look in the mirrors and just do this a lot.

Andrew:

Right, but we go there to grow and get stronger, but I think when we go to work, a lot of times our mindset can be like, well, we’re constantly being measured, we’re constantly being compared to everyone else, and so, we’re not here to grow. We’re here to show off and look good so we can get a raise, get a promotion, all those things. Having this mindset that, yeah, I have a job to do, but also I have lots of growing and knowledge to acquire. And when you just constantly keep reframing it. It’s just a much more productive mindset, but it does require that you be humble and be willing to admit that you don’t know everything.

Cris:

Yeah.

Andrew:

And that you can be real and transparent with people.

Cris:

Yeah, and it focuses it less on trying to, again, show off to those people, and focuses it more on yourself, and how can I grow and achieve and be better?

Andrew:

Right, and you could also, I mean, things like, if you have a mentor that you trust, they can give you insight on holes from what they see, or if you have a manager that you trust, you can go to and ask what areas you need to improve, maybe what areas you need to improve in to get that next promotion, that’s productive way of asking that question. But just people that you trust that see you, that they can give you feedback and let you know how to improve. And also just being introspective too about this thing went wrong, what could I put in place so it doesn’t go wrong next time, or what skill do I need?

Cris:

Yeah, so always stepping back from feeling like you’re an imposter, because you’re not. You deserve to be in the room, you should be in the room, you bring knowledge to the table, and here’s what that knowledge is.

Andrew:

Yeah.

Cris:

And being able to… You already touched on not always just worrying about, oh, showing off to this person or that I can do this or can I do that, it’s important though, I think, for you to track and for me to track the things that I do know, so when I do step into a room and we’re talking about something in particular, I can liken back to something else that’s in a similar space, or again, that I know that I know.

Andrew:

Right.

Cris:

And so tracking those metrics, again, not for other people, but for yourself and continually growing, I think is a way of knowing that you’re actually achieving these things.

Andrew:

Yeah.

Cris:

So you don’t go, do I know this? I don’t know that. Do I know that?

Andrew:

Yeah, definitely being realistic about your progress and looking at your achievements, I think that’s great. And also too, just by, again, being real with people and admitting you don’t know everything, that’s going to create a culture where other people feel safe to be like, oh man, my manager or my CEO didn’t know that, so I can now admit that I don’t know this thing, and we can get better sort of thing.

Cris:

Yeah.

Andrew:

Yeah. Nobody likes to be around a know-it-all, right?

Cris:

No, no one like to be

Andrew:

You don’t want to be that guy. You don’t want to be around that guy.

Cris:

Yeah.

Andrew:

Yeah.

Cris:

So being the person in the room that maybe steps out and is a little vulnerable and that, they’re like, “Yeah. I don’t really know this.” It lets other people be like, okay, I’m good. I can let the guard down a little bit, and I don’t have to feel like an imposter, because none of us are imposters. We all know a lot of things, but none of us knows everything.

Andrew:

Yeah, right. Well, and there’s tactful ways we can admit we don’t know something, right? We can say, oh, that’s interesting, things like that.

Cris:

It’s such a classic one, oh yeah, I’ve heard of that before. So good, my mind is just going off into all the things that I’ve said at some point in a meeting somewhere that was like, please don’t dig deeper on that. What do you think — closing thoughts, as we’re talking imposter syndrome? We’ve talked about obviously what it is, how you can combat it, ways to not let it get to you so much, but other closing thoughts?

Andrew:

Yeah, I mean, I would just say, I touched on it a little bit, but if you don’t know something and somebody is talking about something that you feel like you would like to know, you can just say something like, “Hey, that’s interesting. Tell me more about that.” Because people like to show off what they know, so you’re not saying I’m a moron, you’re saying, what you’re telling me is something interesting that I don’t have all that knowledge. Would you please share that with me?

Cris:

Yeah.

Andrew:

It’s going to make them feel good. They get to share their knowledge, and you get to benefit from it. Yeah, I would say, volunteer when you have something you need to learn, and ask people for info on it.

Cris:

Yeah, and it’s validation too, because you can validate, because you might even think you know this thing, you’re not a hundred percent certain, and just by posing the question, instead of saying, yeah, yeah, totally, pose the question to them, they will be able to A, show that they are either the expert or at least teach what they know, which helps them reinstill the knowledge, and then you get to glean something, and hopefully validate along the way.

Andrew:

Yeah, I think we’ve all been talking to someone before and then had these [inaudible 00:07:47] where they’re like, I know, I know, I know, which is basically saying shut up. You know?

Cris:

Yes.

Andrew:

And so nobody wants to have a conversation with someone like that, so yeah.

Cris:

No one does. Well, I think it’s very important for us, obviously, in this industry to continue to grow, continue to help people learn, and hopefully, after watching this video, everyone else out there or at least someone out there will realize that it’s okay that they don’t know everything. You deserve to be in the room, but also make sure you come prepared.

Andrew:

There we go.

Alexandra:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Bixly Tech Tuesday, where Andrew and Cris talked all about imposter syndrome and how it can affect you maybe as a programmer or a designer as you’re growing and developing your career in tech. I hope you got a lot out of this episode, and don’t forget to check out the links down below in our description. You can find our custom software guide, which is completely free, and we’ll walk you through the journey of figuring out how to develop your own application. And on top of that, you can check out our website, bixly.com. There’s even a button there where you can sign up for a free app validation meeting with Cris to talk about your app idea.

Originally published at https://blog.bixly.com on June 15, 2021.

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