How to Fight Impostor Syndrome as a Software Engineer?

How to Fight Impostor Syndrome as a Software Engineer?

Milan Milanović
4 min read
How to Fight Impostor Syndrome Everyone in the co

Everyone in the complex field of software engineering has been hit by impostor syndrome at least once in their career. It is especially felt with high-achievers.

Experiencing a feeling that you are not good enough at doing your job may affect your self-confidence, and productivity and influence your career growth.

This blog post is intended to help developers understand and overcome impostor syndrome, mapping approaches to how to deal with it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is the inability to accept that your daily efforts to learn and advance your talents should make you deserving of attention or keeping your position. 

Instead, it could give you the impression that you're deceiving people into thinking you're better at your job than you are (E.g., “I’m not good enough to be a senior engineer.”)—a faker with no right to be there.

While it could make sense at the start of a career, it could be a burden later. Even though you're a senior engineer, it doesn’t mean you have answers to all questions. In software engineering, there is often a high level of pressure to perform at a high level, to be productive, and to keep up with new technologies and tools. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, common impostor syndrome symptoms.

Additionally, impostor syndrome can lead to burnout, stress, and anxiety, seriously affecting a software engineer's physical and mental health. By acknowledging and addressing impostor syndrome, software engineers can take steps to boost their confidence, manage their stress levels, and develop their skills and knowledge.

The opposite: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

If you want to understand Impostor syndrome better, another effect can help, called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the cognitive bias of illusory superiority.

It is located on the other side of the pendulum - those who perform poorly on a task tend to overrate their performance. 

The issue is dual since it also has some limitations, and people also need help to accept such restrictions, leading them to overestimate their skills. This effect says that your confidence in your abilities and knowledge declines as you learn more about a subject and, more significantly, become aware of how much more you still need to know.

There is Always More to Learn

“The More You Know, The More You Realize You Don’t Know” - this sentence said by the famous philosopher Aristotle reflects the concept of intellectual humility and the recognition that there is always more to learn. It is particularly relevant in the rapidly evolving world of software engineering, where new technologies, tools, and methodologies are constantly emerging.

Yet, many of us usually tend to overestimate the extent of our knowledge, especially when we are beginners in something. The effect can be compared to a metaphor of an expanding circle, where our knowledge is inside the process, while everything we don't know is outside. As our contact with things we don't yet know increases, we discover more and more things there. As our experience expands, the more things you know, the more you know that you don't know.

How to Deal With The Impostor Syndrome

To deal with these extremes and biases, some meta-cognitive skills need to be developed. Here are some of them:

Self-reflection - The first step in dealing with impostor syndrome is recognizing that you're experiencing it. Be honest about your feelings, and don't be afraid to discuss them with someone you trust.

Taking smart notes - It's easier to notice gaps in your knowledge when it is visualized. By building this habit, you can identify thought patterns more easily.

Challenging your thoughts - Impostor syndrome is often driven by negative self-talk and self-doubt. Challenge those thoughts by asking yourself if they're based on fact or your perceptions. Look for evidence that supports your competence and achievements. Coaching can be helpful here.

Sharing your experience - Talking about your feelings with others who have experienced impostor syndrome can help you feel less alone. You may also find it helpful to find a mentor or coach who can guide and support you.

You are using second-level thinking to make decisions. You can practice thinking about your thought processes and knowledge. Don't just jump to the most obvious conclusion.

Celebrating your success - It's essential to recognize and celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may be. Remember to acknowledge your achievements and credit yourself for your hard work.

Focusing on learning and growth - Instead of worrying about perfection, focus on learning and growing. Embrace challenges and view mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve. It is essential to have a Growth mindset here.

Seeking feedback - Actively seek feedback from others, especially those who are more knowledgeable or skilled in a particular area.

Do not compare yourself to others - This is the source of all unhappiness for people. Everyone has their path, and you need to follow yours.

Eventually, it is crucial to realize that impostor syndrome is a common problem for many developers. You are not alone.

Final thoughts

Moments of self-doubt about your achievements and bad feelings when you don’t know something are completely normal. In situations when you doubt your capabilities or work performance, recognizing the indicators of imposter syndrome and accepting that it's impossible to be knowledgeable about everything at all times is crucial.

Instead of mistrust and questioning your programming ability, be aware of your strengths and weaknesses and view them as an opportunity to gain new knowledge. 

What truly makes you a good developer is your curiosity, a passion for technology, and willingness to tackle challenges and learn new skills and technologies. And you can always ask for advice from fellow developers on Joberty Community.

We are leaving you a link to Milan's blog. If you would like to check out more of Milan's text, feel free to subscribe to his NL.

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