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  • Writer's pictureTim Buchalka

What Is Impostor Syndrome and How to Overcome It?

Today I wanna talk about something called Impostor Syndrome. Now this is a condition that does affect people in the industry and it's not just programming. I've certainly met people who are affected by this and I've had those feelings from time to time as well. So let's talk about Impostor Syndrome, what it is, but more importantly how to overcome it.

We're talking about impostor syndrome today. Let's start with our sort of rough definition of what it is.

Well really what it is, is a feeling that you've got where you feel that - for whatever reason -you're not worthy enough or that other people, other programmers are smarter than you or perhaps you're not smart enough. You're feeling that you're a fraud and you're gonna be exposed as a fraud and just in general you've got these feelings that any other, any success you've had, perhaps it's been attributed to luck. In other words, you're not really giving yourself any credit for any achievements you might have.

This is a real condition. Wikipedia has got a link about it, a page about it. First thing to recognize is the fact that there's information out there on Impostor Syndrome. It should actually be a good thing for you to realize because it means that it's a recognized condition that people do actually have and it's not necessarily the truth.

So yeah, it's particularly, probably prevalent when you're just starting out. So if you're feeling a little bit uncertain because you're not on the stage where you're really comfortable as a programmer and everything comes to you sort of without having to think too hard about it, that's probably where it's gonna really affect you the worst.

Then if you're starting your first programming job, you might feel intimidated, you might be feeling overwhelmed. It's your first programming job or just talking to your peers because the reality with programming (and with most things) is, you're gonna find guru programmers that you work with, people who you will look up to and think, "Wow! How do they know so much?" If you're actually comparing yourself to them all the time, that can really be a negative thing for you and it can really sort of dent your self-confidence.

Instead, I think what you need to do is just focus on what you have achieved and recognize that there's going to be always someone who's got more knowledge than you and always someone who's got less knowledge than you, and people who are at your level. That's the reality of life in general, in virtually any skill and when you're starting out programming of course you'll be coming into your first job as a junior programmer, then probably a lot of people you're gonna perceive to be at that high level and it may not necessarily be true. It might just be that they actually know the particular company and the procedures and the systems that have been developed for that company better than you because of course you haven't worked there before. So recognizing that and trying to focus on what you've achieved is very important.

I like to do that if I ever have those feelings and look, I have had those feelings in the past, I have to be completely honest. When I first started releasing programming courses on Udemy going way back in 2015, I actually wondered, "Can I pull this off? Would people like to code? Am I worthy enough to produce courses like this?" So it's a real condition that affects people. So again I would focus on the fact and recognize that there is a condition out there and focusing on achievements.

Now if you haven't got a programming job and perhaps you're feeling these things, wondering whether you're gonna ever be able to get a programming job, firstly, check my post here on persistence. It's very important for you to check that. That's actually going to probably help you if you've got these feelings if you can actually become a programmer. But also recognize, focus on what you've already succeeded at.

To give you an example of that, let's say you're starting out learning how to program. You've been through one of my courses, say the Java Masterclass course. You get to, say Section Two, and you're getting frustrated and thinking, "Oh! How am I gonna understand this or Section Three?" In other words, you've done the basic things but you're getting stuck on something. Now what you could do is you could look at that and think, "Oh! I'm never gonna understand programming" and you get frustrated and you give up or throw the monitor out the window or whatever it is or take a step back and go, "Okay, I'm having some trouble with this at the moment. I'm feeling a bit frustrated. What have I actually achieved?" So you go back and actually have a look at what you've already started: You've learned the basics of programming. Chances are you've already really built up your skills without realizing it, and you're not really focusing on what you've already achieved, what you've already learned in the course. You're focusing on what's coming up.

I would actually celebrate the achievements. So celebrate what you do know and give yourself a bit of credit and say, "Okay, great! Well I've learned the basics of programming now. Now I just need to get over this next roadblock, this next hurdle". This really equates back to Impostor Syndrome as well because if you're recognizing what you can do and focusing on the skills that you've achieved and you've succeeded at, you're going to feel less and less like this impostor and look, you're not gonna be exposed as a fraud in your first programming job because you do have the information.

Now obviously, if you're going into a programming job and you don't know anything about programming and you've tricked the interviewer to get a programming job, okay, you probably are gonna be recognized or exposed rather as a fraud, because you are in that scenario. But if you're someone who's been through a programming course, you've got the skills and you're now workin, then look, you are a programmer! That's the reality.

Have you got some other skills you need to acquire? Yes. Are there things you need to learn? Yes, absolutely! So do all programmers. Just remember this: the final thing I wanna say here is that all programmers were at a point, at one point in their life, where they didn't know how to code. No one is actually born a programmer. No one wakes up and is suddenly like a programmer. You've gotta learn it. It's a journey to learn it. Just keep all that in mind and focus on your accomplishments and what you've done and just realize that you are gonna meet people with different skill levels and that's not to say that that's a bad thing.

If you haven't got the skill of another person, you haven't built up to their level of skill, they might have been doing it for 20 years and you might have been programming for one year so they should be better - they should be a lot better than you. But you're always gonna find people (and I've found this in my career), I've got people who I absolutely look up to and think, "Man, they are really good programmers. Will I ever get to that level?" They're absolutely gurus in my eyes. But I've got other people that I've met at all stages as well.

We all work together as a team when you get into a programming job and you'll find that generally, most people are nice and work with you. It's very rare for people to look down on other people. I mean, it does happen, but it's very rare. So the point is, focus on your accomplishments, and just realize that you're not a fraud. You just need to work on those skills. You've got a lot of things to learn, and that's the reality of being a programmer. There's always something more to learn.

So that's it. Thanks for reading and I hope that helped. If you've got any questions feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you.

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