Do you find yourself doubting your abilities or having a hard time taking pride in your accomplishments? If so, you might be experiencing impostor syndrome. But, on the bright side, you're not alone.
Impostor syndrome is incredibly prevalent. Research around the topic shows that up to 82% of people experience it at some point. For many, it's more consistent, and they spend a good portion of their lives worrying about being "found out" as a fraud.
To help you get over your self-doubt, several members of the Codecademy team have shared their experiences with impostor syndrome. Below, we explore impostor syndrome in more detail and provide tips on how to overcome it.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is characterized by feelings of self-doubt regarding your capabilities and achievements. You might find yourself dismissing recognition you received for your hard work as undeserved or believing that you're less qualified or skilled than your peers.
Sarai G., one of our Senior Curriculum Developers, explains how impostor syndrome almost kept her from giving a presentation at a CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association) conference:
"It felt like I was "faking" my expertise even after several years of successfully teaching engaging computer science classes. I felt like I was 'too young' and too new to the field for anyone to care what I had to say on the topic."
Clearly, even experts can feel insecure about their knowledge. One of our Software Engineers, Zeb. G., explains how he experienced impostor syndrome while teaching a course on web development. He describes the feeling as:
"A sort of "analysis paralysis" where I tried to say as little as possible, to give very few opportunities for students to expose my fraud. I would lose feeling in my feet and hands, have trouble speaking, get dry mouth/throat (I drank a pint of water every 30-45 minutes). I also felt an urgent need for approval from my co-teacher that I haven't felt since (at least nowhere near as intensely)."
How to overcome impostor syndrome
Impostor syndrome can be especially difficult for developers as there are always new tools, new concepts, and new functions to learn. People who switch to development later in their careers might also feel insecure about their lack of experience compared to their coworkers. Below, several members of the Codecademy team offer advice for developers with impostor syndrome.
1. Remember that you're not alone
The next time you find yourself doubting your capabilities, remind yourself that it's normal. Almost everyone you know is likely to have experienced it at some point. At our recent Women in Tech Panel event, one of our Curriculum Developers, Sophie S., speaks more on the subject:
“This feeling of being overwhelmed is really common in tech because there’s just so much that you can learn. So it’s really easy to feel like you don’t know enough. One thing I try to remember is that everybody is in the same boat. If you keep in mind that tech is changing so quickly, that everybody is going to have to keep learning, and everybody is not going to know the next new thing, then maybe that feels a little less overwhelming to try to keep up with.”
2. Welcome help from others
Some people with impostor syndrome have a hard time accepting help from other people, often believing that they should be completely self-reliant. But this isn't the case. Collaboration is the key to our success. Our society wouldn't be what it is today without people relying on each other.
If you're feeling doubtful about your performance at work, ask a coworker or mentor for tips or guidance. Or, try reaching out to other learners on our forum.
3. Address your areas of opportunity
Impostor syndrome can intensify our fears and concerns, but that doesn't mean they're entirely unwarranted. If you find yourself obsessing over a gap in your knowledge or a skill you've yet to learn, fix it. Take a course. Read up on the issue.
Zeb, who we heard from earlier, shares several practices that helped him manage his impostor syndrome:
"Getting used to saying, “I don’t know,” and researching answers during breaks. LOTS of preparation, going through labs and lessons sometimes thrice before presenting anything. Refusing to lean on other people or online resources when I knew I could figure out the answer on my own."
4. Stop comparing yourself to others
Other people's successes aren't your failures. Instead of wasting time and energy comparing yourself to others, focus on your strengths and capitalize on them.
5. Reflect on your achievements
When you next find yourself spiraling, force yourself to stop and take a look at your surroundings. Remember how far you've come and all the obstacles and challenges you've surmounted along the way. Go through any awards or certifications you might've earned. Try to remember any positive feedback you may have received.
Impostor syndrome causes us to doubt our own accomplishments and insists that whatever successes we've achieved arose from forces outside of our control. But that's not true. Not entirely, anyway. Luck always plays a role, but your achievements were brought about mainly by your own efforts.
6. Accept failure as an option
Too often, we find ourselves paralyzed by the fear of failure. Imaginary ridicule and embarrassment stifle our ambitions before they even get off the ground. How many opportunities do we let slip through our hands because we're too worried about a worst-case scenario? And the worst part about it is — failure isn't even that bad.
Sarai explains how learning to cope with the idea of failure helped her overcome her impostor syndrome:
"One mental reframe I now use: If I try and fail, I'll be in the same place I would have been if I didn't try at all. At least, if I try, there's a chance at success. Realizing that failure usually has the same exact result as not trying at all has helped trying and failure seem less 'scary' to me. After all, not trying isn't scary, so why should failure be?"
7. Recognize your own bias
What we believe and what's actually true are often two different things. Dane H., one of our Senior Software Engineers, recommends:
"Trust that the people around you want to see you succeed. That your judgment of yourself is only one perspective, one biased, clouded perspective, and it's unlikely you're right and everyone else is wrong."
It's okay to be nervous at your new job, but remind yourself that you earned it. Hiring managers don't hire people out of pity. If they chose you, it's because they recognized your capabilities and believe you can add value to their team. Prove them right.
8. Take pride in your skills
Many new programmers hesitate to call themselves developers, believing they fall short of some imagined criteria (e.g., knowing multiple programming languages, building full applications, etc.). This hesitance can be just as paralyzing as the fear of failure. It can keep you from applying to new jobs, taking on new projects, and more.
Zeb recommends taking the Am I a Real Developer? quiz when you're feeling uncertain of your abilities. This quick quiz will help you determine whether or not you're a developer, but to save you a bit of time — if you code, the answer's yes. As Zeb explains:
"It's the doing of some task that makes one a "developer," "engineer," "salesperson," etc. — not some preconceived set of boxes to tick. So, to a new developer: Have you made, or are you currently making things with software? If so, you're a developer. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
9. Be confident
You don't need to know everything to be a valuable resource. Every member of a team has their own specialization, and while they can sometimes overlap, this diversity of skills allows us to support each other and collaborate effectively. Sarai recommends being confident in your own knowledge:
"Speak with confidence about the things that you know and ask questions about the things that you don't. Even if you don't always feel confident, practice speaking with confidence. This doesn't mean pretending you know things when you don't, it means speaking like you know your thoughts and opinions have value."
Randal V., our VP of People, expresses a similar sentiment:
"Recognize that you know what you know, and whatever you know is valuable. Be honest, judge yourself on whether you did your best, and commit to learning when you get it wrong. And if you've done that, you have every right to be proud of yourself."
10. Remember why you started coding
When you’re constantly worrying about whether or not your skills are up to par, it’s easy to lose sight of why you started programming in the first place. In our Women in Tech Panel, Shirley L., another of our Software Engineers, explains how reaffirming your passion for the field can help you manage your impostor syndrome:
“Imposter syndrome is something that is very common and it never goes away — I still feel it sometimes. For me, it’s really important to remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. Whether that’s taking a step back and just taking a break from it, or doing something that’s fun and that reminds you of why you love coding or why you want to become a software engineer — I think that’s really important.
Because it’s really easy to get burnt out when you’re trying to solve the same loop problem five times a day. It’s important to take a step back and remember the big picture. Remember why it’s fun, why you love it.”
11. Brush up on your skills
The best way to combat impostor syndrome is to make sure you're well-prepared for any of the tasks you may undertake. To help ensure your skills are up to par, check out our Career Paths. Each Path is designed to teach you the knowledge and skills you'll need to land an entry-level position in roles such as:
As you complete your Path, you'll also build projects that'll help illustrate your skills to potential employers (and yourself, when you're feeling insecure about your abilities).
Hopefully, this article will help you identify and cope with your impostor syndrome. Have any tips you'd like to share? Leave them in a comment below.