Impostor Syndrome in a New Programming Career
We’re currently winding down Mod4 at the Flatiron school, which means that our job search will start in a little over three weeks. Many of us, myself included, only learned how to code this year by doing pre-work in the spring and starting bootcamp in the summer. The idea that I can go out into the world this fall and get paid for my new skills seems crazy to me — I feel far from an expert in my field.
Although it’s true that I know the basics for a career in software engineering, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel like an expert. The feeling I have is known as impostor syndrome. By definition, impostor syndrome is when an individual doubts accomplishments or talents and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. It’s estimated to have impacted 70% of the population at one point or another. There’s no single answer as to why it impacts some people and not others — reasons range from personality traits, to upbringing, to other outside circumstances.
It doesn’t look the same for everybody. Expert Dr. Valerie Young identified five patterns in people who experience this:
- Perfectionists — those who set abnormally high expectations for themselves, and feel like failures if they only meet 99% of their goal. The remaining 1% will make them question their own competence.
- Experts — those who need to know every piece of information before they start a project and are constantly looking for new ways to improve their skills, to the point where they will not apply for a job unless they have all of the criteria in the posting. They do not like to ask questions out of fear of looking stupid.
- Natural geniuses — when things usually come easily, it may be difficult to know how to put in effort
- Soloists — those who feel like they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and they feel that if they ask for help, they are a failure or fraud.
- Supermen/Superwomen — those who push themselves to work harder than their peers to prove they’re not impostors. They’re more likely to feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life.
The patterns can bring on anxiety, depressive symptoms, and lack of self confidence, and can eventually lead to burnout. This is not to say that you should not work hard and avoid going above and beyond. Rather, it’s about recognizing when the patterns are becoming destructive and holding you back and impacting your health.
It’s not difficult to fall into these patterns while in a coding bootcamp. It’s important to manage before you end up living in a pit of despair and prevent yourself from succeeding.
Once you’ve recognized that you may be experiencing impostor syndrome, here are some suggestions to get yourself back on track:
- Step back and understand what’s driving the behavior
- Recognize your accomplishments — Think back to day 1 of bootcamp (or even the mod you’re in) and realize how much you have learned and how much hard work you’ve put in to get where you are.
- Reach out to your classmates — many of them are likely experiencing what you are
- Try not to compare yourself — everybody has different strengths and experience
- And last, but probably one of the most important: Trust the process of learning. It’s impossible to know everything in programming, and that is okay. Enjoy where you are now and look forward to learning something new.