I don't know anyone except the Ivy League crowd that's never felt like an imposter. But I can remember the exact second that I realized I was a real programmer. I hid in my cubicle because I was scared I was going to cry.
When you become a real programmer there will be no doubt in your or anyone else's mind. It's not about skills or syntax or anything like that. It's about quality. It's when you realize that you can solve any problem. Sterilize any mess. Debug any bug. You know that anything you make will not only exemplify world-class workmanship, but you will know the second it is truly complete. All it takes is 10,000 or so hours of deliberate learning - just ask Malcolm Gladwell :)
I don't think your second paragraph is correct at all. I've been doing this for 10 years, I have an easy 10,000 hours under my belt and I still don't feel like some sort of untouchable god of programming. I'm pretty decent but still make dumb mistakes, still get into messes and still spend endless hours debugging bugs I've never seen before. I still feel like an imposter whenever I'm working with people of equal seniority until we've worked together for a while and I feel better about what I know. Insecurity and imposter syndrome don't just disappear.
I'm a bit confused, is the second paragraph an example of what the Ivy League crowd thinks?
Hey, Ivy Leaguers get imposter syndrome too.
Your case sounds particularly bad, but you fought your way out of it. Way to go! It's always encouraging for people still going through it to hear a story like yours.
What Evan said, Ivy Leaguers get it too!
I think a lot of people won't talk about it or brush it off instead of facing it head on. I would bet at in one way or another it happens to everyone! At some point we are all beginners. Even years into our career, if we decide to learn a new technology, we are back to being a beginner and having that feeling of flailing around aimlessly not knowing which way is up. But when you can push through that discomfort, thats when you learn the most. Coming out the other side is so rewarding.
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