The tech industry isn’t necessarily known as an inclusive or friendly space, and the barrier to entry — though a little lower in recent years, thanks to rise of coding bootcamps and access initiatives — can still be high.
And for folks who maybe didn’t take a traditional path to the tech industry, are a new hire at a large company, or are taking on a new, more prominent role, imposter syndrome is natural. It’s the “How did I get here? Am I good enough to do this job?” feeling.
And it’s extremely common. In 2018, Blind surveyed more than 10,000 tech workers and found that nearly three-fifths of them were experiencing impostor syndrome in some form or another.
For an hour last week, a couple dozen of Technical.ly’s 2021 RealLIST Engineers from all five of our markets convened on our public Slack to discuss everything from professional development to mental health, Q&A style. Impostor syndrome came up while chatting about what we wish we knew at the beginning of our tech careers.
Baltimore’s Eric Solender, CTO of MindStand Technologies, told us he wish he knew that age doesn’t matter as much as we think it does.
“I started my career at 16 and always felt the imposter syndrome,” he wrote. “At 23 I’m usually still the youngest in the room and I have to remind myself that just because I am young doesn’t mean I’m out of place.”
Daniel Hunter, a senior frontend engineer for Philly’s Crossbeam, said he wishes he realized earlier in his career that its OK to admit when he didn’t know something. He used to act like he knew more than he did to cope with imposter syndrome, he said. But ultimately, “everyone around you will see right through it.”
Some words of advice instead? Be humble, let go of your fear and pride, and find a supportive environment.
“I think it’s critical to work in an encouraging environment. Without this, it’s difficult to overcome fear,” Hunter wrote. “When I was first starting out at P’unk Ave, I had ‘salt of the earth’ folks around me, helping me every step of the way. Crossbeam has a similar spirit. Environment is everything to me.”
NextFab Director of Product Development Matt Bell agreed about embracing honesty.
“I think showing up with humility goes a long way. As others have said, you aren’t expected to know everything, so don’t pretend you do. I’ve found that people embrace that honesty and welcome folks who do that,” he wrote.
For some, it’s not just a change in mindset, but also a change in your technical approach. Leemay Nassery, a Philly-based engineering manager at Dropbox, said she stopped trying to expose herself to everything in the tech world and instead focused on just a few areas.
“There was a good post on Twitter recently that said if you look at how people succeed in various fields, you’ll see there’s a common approach to learn a few ‘tricks,’ for instance comparing to those that practice Judo,” she wrote. “I feel like that’s how it is in tech.”
And Nico Westerdale came through with some incredibly actionable advice (read more about the fractional CTO-for-hire from this recent Slack AMA he did with us this summer). It includes talking out job-related anxiety and imposter feelings with a trusted friend or loved one or with a therapist.
“That’s often not talked about in the business world where perhaps it’s construed as a sign of weakness, but I feel quite the opposite about it,” he wrote.
Another tactic that’s helped, he said, is to stop the comparison games, even when its hard to see others make huge accomplishments. Being on a different path, is OK, he wrote. And one of the Slack chat’s favorite tactics was something Westerdale calls “Friday Feelz,” a weekly check-in with yourself to note accomplishments over time and write about how you’re feeling that week. It’s easier to fight off those imposter syndrome feelings with the hard evidence of what you’ve accomplished.
“I can then look back over time and see the growth,” he said.
Have you felt imposter syndrome in the past? What did you do to combat those feelings? Add your thoughts to the Slack chat over in the #ama channel:-30-