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How to overcome impostor syndrome in tech, and other practical career tips from Technical.ly’s Developers Conference

Find your tribe, build out a personal "board of directors," embrace failure when it comes, and keep a list of your wins, engineering manager Ashley Griffin says.

At Philly Tech Week 2023's Developers Conference. (Paige Gross/Technical.ly)
In a fast-paced, ever-changing industry like tech, and especially in the world of engineering where the trending language can change by the month, it’s common to feel unprepared or out of place.

Ashley Griffin, an engineering manager at HealthVerity, has dealt with impostor syndrome throughout her career, even when earning a master’s degree and landing her managerial role.

“It’s a false belief that you’re not as intelligent and as capable as others see you, despite evidence supporting that you have those capabilities and intelligence,” she said Wednesday at Technical.ly’s annual Developers Conference during Philly Tech Week 2023 presented by Comcast.

Those who experience it are not alone: As many as 82% of professionals report feeling impostor syndrome at some point in their career, and women are even more likely to feel it. If it’s an inevitable hurdle a majority of us will face in our careers, it’s best to know some tips and tricks for managing those feelings. Griffin crafted a few based on advice from others and her own personal experience.

First, the technologist said, surround yourself with a tribe of people who can support you. They don’t all have to look like you or have a really similar set of experiences, but they can talk you down on a personal and professional level.

Second, find mentors who can act as your personal “board of directors.” These people can do what a board of directors for a company does — help you meet organizational goals, navigate choices and make introductions. On this board of directors, you should have a few roles, including an “expert” who is super knowledgable in your field, and an “advocator” who has a seat at the table and will speak your accolades.

To fight imposter syndrome, recruit a personal “board of directors” — people who can help you meet organizational goals, navigate choices and make introductions.

“Having that advocator, especially early on in my career when I was still developing my voice, was extremely important,” Griffin said. “This person, when they talk, should know your strengths, and they should know your skill set. So if a position comes up, there’s someone that can advocate for you to have that position.”

Your board should also include a “connector” — someone whose network is huge, and can introduce you to people who will help you meet your goals. They’re a little different from an advocator, who will speak on your behalf. They’ll introduce you to the people who may be decision makers or career advancers.

Another tip for those moments of deep impostor syndrome: Keep an inventory of your accomplishments. For Griffin, that’s a literal vision board of moments like earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and getting great jobs. Some people collect Post-it notes or screenshots of accolades they receive at work.

Griffin also advised tech pros to embrace failure as it comes. She said she always tries to find three positives out of a negative situation, say, if a dream company didn’t offer her a role. Maybe there was a culture fit that wouldn’t have worked out, and now she’s landed at a company that’s smaller, and she can meet with the CEO or get on a managerial track faster.

Lastly, to keep her impostor syndrome in check, challenge negativity as it comes up. Griffin told a story of initially enrolling in a life sciences program in college despite loving technology because she didn’t think she could pass the computer science courses. In each tech-focused class she did take later, she was convinced she wouldn’t pass — until she did.

“When I took my last course in my master’s program, I was suffering with imposter syndrome so bad that I was like, ‘I’m just not gonna take this last class because I’m gonna fail that class,'” she said. “I’m not gonna finish my master’s. And I did — I took the last class, I passed it, and it actually was one of the classes that I did the best in. But I think it’s important to share that when you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, it comes in waves.”

More tactical tech tips from the Technical.ly Developers Conference

Throughout our five-hour Developers Conference Wednesday, Technical.ly heard from an array of folks on how to manage a tech career. Here’s a snippet from a few sessions:

In a similar vein to Griffin, Fearless‘ TJ Famodu tells attendees: “Let go of perfectionism.”

During a session about music and eduction technology, Don McDuffie tells folks that tech’s purpose “is to make easy things easier so we can focus on making the hard things doable.”

Crossbeam’s Rebecca Stark talked about building a career as an independent contributor. For one, early in your career, learn from others as much as possible. A bigger organization can help you develop a variety of skills and get mentorship from different levels, she said.

Also: “Enjoying ‘management’ tasks doesn’t mean you need to switch.”

And Nick McAvoy, who was laid off from Crossbeam in March, gave some practical advice for “having a good layoff.” First, working for a good company will make for a better exit experience. Second, he advised, get connected to your peers outside of the company Slack, and don’t rush your next steps.

Companies: Crossbeam / HealthVerity

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