There are many definitions of Impostor Syndrome, all of which dance around a central idea of feeling inadequate compared to others and receiving undeserved praise. Personally, I like the wording used in the Wikipedia article on Impostor Syndrome.
“Impostor syndrome is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.”
Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes’ original study focused on women, but every other demographic has begun to cite these feelings at an alarming rate. In the 1980’s, Dr. Clance released the results of a survey that estimated 70% of people have or will suffer from an episode of Impostor Syndrome. Despite these numbers, the more people I talk to about this subject, the more I realize how few of them have actually heard of or know what Impostor Syndrome is. Throughout this post, I offer my thoughts on sources of Impostor Syndrome and how to handle those situations.
The only widely accepted cause of Impostor Syndrome that I’ve found is peer-reviewed work. For developers, this comes in the form of code review in which we must remember that a developer’s coding style is as unique to them as their handwriting. We also have our own interests within software development, which results in attention bias during code reviews. If I like security and you like performance tuning, during a code review, we are going to tear each other’s pull requests apart based on our strengths not the author’s strengths. Additionally, we have best practices and coding standards to adhere to while trying to take availability and modularity into consideration. The point being, we cannot be an expert in everything so we need to take solace in our strengths. Next time you find yourself on the business end of a rough code review, remember to not judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.
We are all familiar with the Type A personality traits: ambitious, organized, structured, and proactive. We jokingly describe these people as perfectionists or workaholics, but in job postings we use terms like Self-Starter, Multi-Tasker, and Highly Motivated. While it’s great for businesses to hire these individuals, it can create a competitive culture. Throw in the stereotype that every programmer loves their work so much every night they go home and work on their pet project till 2 a.m. and you’ve got a work culture where Impostor Syndrome can run rampant. I encourage developers who feel like they are not measuring up to talk about it with their co-workers. You might be trying to outperform someone who is having the same fears and trying to outperform you in the same way. If you don’t feel comfortable talking with co-workers, try scheduling a regular time with your manager to evaluate your performance. A good manager will partner with you to achieve success not only for the business but for you as well.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis.
This article is a result of reading “21 Proven Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome.” In this article, it is suggested to try a stream of consciousness writing. My hope is not only to increase awareness of Impostor Syndrome, but also to uncover some causes unique to software developers. If this has sparked your interest, please take some time to take this survey to shed some light on Impostor Syndrome within software development. I have also included a link to the Clance IP Scale so you can determine if and how severe your Impostor Syndrome is.