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My Imposter Cure

The first company I worked for (that is, actually writing code) was many years after leaving college. Prior to that, I taught computers, starting with a decade as a Vocational Teacher in The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. I enjoyed teaching and actually became quite good at it ...

The Start

After teaching in various companies, I arrived at Select Sires (yes, a company that collects bull semen for artificial insemination). After about two years as a trainer, I had a supervisor there that "took a chance" on me and allowed me to join the team as a front-end developer.

There was some risk in taking this position. While I had a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, considered myself a reasonably good programmer, and had kept my skills up to date ... I had not actually worked as a developer, let alone with a team of developers. If this wasn't a setup for Imposter Syndrome, I don't know what is ...

For five years I worked under (what I considered at the time) ideal conditions ...

  • I thought I had an amazing boss.
  • I had friends I worked with.
  • We developed some pretty amazing applications.
  • I got to go to several conferences each year (I was even encouraged to speak).
  • I got to explore several emerging front-end technologies.

And above all, I got the chance to write code ... remembering very quickly that, while I liked teaching, I loved writing code.

Moving On

Five years after starting as a developer with Select Sires, I moved on. I found a new home with a company that had an amazing culture and a strong sense of values: Leading EDJE.

This is where "my imposter syndrome" kicked in and went into overdrive.

I was brought on as a Junior Developer and I had nothing to compare my skillset against, do I went with the flow.

The first project I started on with Leading EDJE was in the early phases and after a quick overview of the project, I found the elephant in the room, that code that was so daunting that it was being ignored. I dove in and after about a month, had something working.

I approached the team lead and scrum master to get permission to refactor what I had and generate test coverage. This is where I remember distinctly realizing the difference between the two companies ... I was actually afraid I wasn't going to be able to clean up this code and was shocked that I was immediately given permission to do what was right.

Not long after completing this code and its tests, I applied for and was made a Senior Developer.

Here's where I finally shook off most of my imposter syndrome. The culture under my previous company kept me from realizing the talent and skill I brought to the table.

  • I was the only front-end developer.
  • I had no exposure to good practices.
  • I was encouraged to learn while stuck in "Deadline Driven Development"

The Cure

My biggest takeaway has been realizing that I am able to write solid code, that I am able to solve problems, and that I can look at a problem and see a solution. I've begun to establish myself within the development community:

  • Larger: Writing articles and speaking at conferences.
  • Local: Participating in hackathons; using my skills in a high-stress environment.
  • Company: Mentoring, helping those around me grow.
  • Personal: Seeing those around me that are growing in some small part because of my help.

Now, I work with peers that are truly amazing. They challenge my skillset daily, pushing me to go further than I ever thought I could, while "[doing] the right thing, not the right now thing."

I still find my Imposter Syndrome pushing its way in at times; it will never truly be gone. Then, I get my head back into the code and it quickly dissipates.

Top comments (9)

rfornal profile image

LOL ... yeah ... assuming retirement is in your future. At 51, I have a daughter coming ... I'll be working until she's at least out of college. Also, I can't see myself without fingers on keys ... one of my valuable lessons throughout my career challenges was being reminded of how much I LOVE writing code. I don't see that ever going away.

underscorefunk profile image
John Funk

Thanks for sharing. I had some pretty bad imposter syndrome as the result of being self employed, working on projects start to finish for my clients totally solo, and being self taught.

I recently started teaching a friend of mine how to program and started talking to people about programming, and I started to realize that I know more than I thought I knew.

I think it's often hard to see our value because we live with ourselves and see our own skills as common place. I was really surprised how much perspective teaching brought. I highly recommend it to developers of any level.

rfornal profile image
bob.ts • Edited

John, I believe you nailed it in these comments ... "we live within ourselves" and the "perspective teaching brought."

I actually taught computers for many years before getting back to development ... so, when I had the opportunity, it came naturally to get back to teaching. I just wish I had the opportunity earlier; my sense of worth was much lower than it should have been.

Excellent points!

jbradford77 profile image
Jennifer Bradford

My manager at my last job is amazing. She has so many awards she kicks most of them under her desk in a box. She still gets nervous in her own code base. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to fully shake imposter syndrome

rfornal profile image

Jennifer, I agree that none of us will ever "fully shake imposter syndrome." It's an effect of being in an industry where the structure of what we do is constantly evolving. Because of this, even those of us with decades of experience are having to learn new things almost daily ... hence, Imposter Syndrome kicks in all over again.

I would use your previous manager as an example, only for the fact that we all get there ... make sure you're not comparing yourself to anyone else. Everything from skillset to how you handle pressure come in to play and we each handle the pressures differently.

Most of what I am getting at in the article, from my perspective, is that while Imposter Syndrome is always there, we can mitigate its impact and decrease our stress over time.

darkes profile image
Victor Darkes

Perspective helps a lot to do with imposter syndrome. As I just hit my year anniversary at work, I feel like there are things I know and there are things I don't know but I can learn.

rfornal profile image

Victor ... awesome perspective. What you do and don't know will change and evolve over time. Sometimes it's easy to miss how much value your knowledge should bring to the table. To me, the knowledge is only part of the equation ... don't forget that your ability to learn and grow is equally as important as sheer knowledge itself.