I remember when I first heard the term imposter syndrome at a conference and it was a real revelation for me; in a room full of hundreds of talented lead developers, only a handful had never experienced this.
Imposter syndrome is essentially the feeling that you’re not good enough and you’ve got to where you have by accident. It sounds ridiculous when you say that; how could you have faked years of experience and delivering great projects? But it’s a very real feeling.
The thing I’ve learnt during my time in industry, is that imposter syndrome is usually the sign of a great developer. A developer can never know everything, technology is constantly changing, there are multiple correct ways to solve problems and we’re surrounded by people who know things that we don’t. A developer that thinks that they know everything isn’t usually someone that you want to work with.
Although imposter syndrome usually means a person is aware that they need to keep learning, it can also really hold people back. I’ve had friends who are amazing developers that I’ve really looked up to tell me that they fear interviews and that they don’t think they’re good enough for roles. It’s not simply a confidence thing either, as these are people who are really confident when they’re working on projects. It’s the awareness that people will know more than you on particular topics.
So how can we overcome this feeling? I’m not sure we can ever overcome it completely, it’s the price we pay for being in an industry surrounded by really intelligent people and endless things to learn. One thing that’s really helped me over the years though is to embrace the knowledge of others, learn from them and you’ll find that they also learn from you. I remember years ago doing pair programming for the first time in a large company and I was terrified because I thought I’d look stupid in front of them. In the end we had great fun and we learnt from each other.
Tell your colleagues and friends that they are great, go to them for help when they know something you don’t and don’t be afraid of someone being better than you. A collaborative environment is far better than a competitive environment that just exacerbates imposter syndrome.