How to deal with developer imposter syndrome

9 months ago

Every developer thinks they are an imposter at some point. Even if you have worked in the field 20 plus years, made companies millions of dollars.

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Being a developer is difficult. Most of the learning you do in school doesn’t apply to the career you will have in the future. The skills you have today will become obsolete. The training you receive at your company wont prepare you for all that is necessary in completing certain tasks. However the greatest difficulty is the way we think about ourselves.

Solving Problems

Before talking about the dreaded imposter syndrome lets talk about solving problems. It’s true, no matter how much you know, how much you have learned, all the schooling you have, there will come a time where you are faced with a problem you don’t know how to solve.

You are in luck if you have a job where your employer trusts you enough to solve problems even though you don’t really know how right off the bat. For the community of freelancers, you need to know how to solve problems, or at least talk yourself up so much, that you can make people believe in you.

Either way, if you know or don’t know how to solve a problem you can follow these steps to at least get you into the same playing field.

  • Research — This is by far the most important thing you can do. It takes learning to a whole new level. If you don’t know something, then take the time to research all the current knowledge about it. At least you will be able to talk about it. If you apply for a job that requires C++, go research the language, the history, how to use it.
  • Building — Once you kind of know what needs to be done you can get your feet wet by building something. Failure is there to guide you to know what to do next time. The thing with people now days is they expect everything handed to them instantaneously. The best way to figure it out is to try building something with what you currently know.
  • Feedback — Once you have researched and built something, go tell someone about it. Get feedback. What went wrong? What went right? Have a conversation. Even though things aren’t always perfect, feedback is a way to continuously improve. Make notes how to improve.
  • Repeat — Just like growing a garden, you don’t just water it for a day and expect results. Take your time and repeat the process. Once you have completed these steps many times you can build up your own process for solving problems.

Imposter Syndrome

Now let’s talk about imposter syndrome. This is a topic that every developer faces many times during their career. Imposter syndrome is when a developer feels like they are wasting time and money from their employer because they either don’t know enough, and thus can’t solve the problem, or the employer has unrealistic expectations.

There are two ways you can view yourself as a developer.

  • Even though you don’t know enough you are still a developer that can solve problems and provide value.
  • I can’t provide value and I question my career choice.

The number one thing you can do is believe in yourself and talk with the employer about the task, ask questions, do your research, find ways to solve the problems the employer are facing. Do everything to talk your skills up and give them the confidence that you can solve their problems.

Even if you can’t solve the problem right away, talking with confidence can buy you time.

Every developer thinks they are an imposter at some point. Even if you have worked in the field 20 plus years, made companies millions of dollars.

Hang in there and believe in yourself. Take the time needed to research, study, and build out solutions. You can do it!

The opposite of imposter syndrome

I would like to take this time to talk about the opposite of imposter syndrome. Actually being an imposter. There are developers that have figured this out. They can talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk. They get employers to believe in them so much they can get them to raise their compensation without any more added benefits.

I knew a few developers that coded in such a horrible way that when asked to improve the system they quit and went to another company asking for more money. They kept doing this, saying, I made so much money at the previous position, until they achieved senior pay while still being very junior.

Pretending to be a senior developer only to make money for a short time and then move onto the next employer is the true imposter. Sure they may be able to get a product out there to make it seem like it will be a viable solution. However the true test of the developer is the slow process listed above.

Being humble, accepting your flaws, and know you can do better are the signs of a great developer.

Just remember life is a process that you can change. Believe in yourself and other will also. You can do it! Don’t give up because of your failures. Use them as valuable feedback to improve.

9 months ago