Beating Impostor-Syndrome as a Programmer in Times of Radical Change
impostor syndrome programming

Written by Philipp Lackner

28. June 2020

What is up-to-date today might not be up-to-date tomorrow. That’s how it is in the tech world and especially as programmers, we have to learn to deal with these rapid changes. While that might seem easy for some people, not everybody is blessed with the ability to handle this rapid change that easily.

What Is Impostor-Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenonimpostorismfraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

Wait, what? Let’s declutter that a little. People who suffer from Impostor-Syndrome have a lack of self-confidence. That can show in many areas of life. It starts with small self-doubts and goes over to the view that you are not good enough and others can do everything better. Also fear of rejection and fear of failure play a big role.

Even Albert Einstein Suffered from Impostor-Syndrome

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

Albert Einstein

This example of Albert Einstein shows very well that even people who accomplished exceptional achievements during their lifetime can live a life of self-doubt. I guess, we all would agree that Albert Einstein had zero reasons to feel like he didn’t accomplish anything worthy. But why does that still happen? Sadly, we can’t look into Einstein’s head, but it’s likely that his exceptional cleverness caused this. The more you know the more you know that you don’t know. Stupid people usually feel much smarter than they actually are, while smart people usually feel dumber than they actually are.

How Does Impostor-Syndrome Affect Us Programmers?

I don’t think there is a single programmer who never thought that most other people are way better programmers than yourself. At least, I used to think that often and I know, many of you also did or still do.

The reason why Impostor-Syndrome is so common among programmers is on the one hand the rapidly changing tech world and on the other hand tools like Stackoverflow and online coding challenges.

Why Does Stackoverflow Support Impostor-Syndrome?

Don’t get me wrong here, Stackoverflow is my favorite programming website in the internet and #1 learning source. But, especially if you’re a programming beginner, it can quickly lead you to the thinking that everybody else knows programming way better than you. The fact that you usually would’ve never found out the solution from Stackoverflow by yourself makes you think that the reason for that must be that you’re a bad programmer.

But, what many people don’t see is the relation of people seeking help to the relation of people offering help. I’m honest, I never answered a single question on Stackoverflow in my entire life. And I would bet, most of you didn’t either. I estimate that on 99 questions on Stackoverflow there comes a single high-quality answer. And those high-quality answers usually come from people who have an exceptional knowledge in a very specific area. If someone gives such a good answer to an Android development topic, it doesn’t mean he could also give a good answer to a machine learning question. It’s just the result of focusing on a specific topic over years and becoming an expert at it.

Why Do Coding Challenges Support Impostor-Syndrome?

Online coding challenges are a great way to learn algorithms and prepare for coding interviews. I love to use them to learn a new programming language. But, often these pages have the feature that you can see the solutions of other people and then you can rank these solutions in categories like “Clever” or “Best Practices” (such as on Codewars). That’s a great way to learn, no doubt. The problem is that people who have a little lack of self-confidence can easily think all other solutions are better than the solution you posted. Especially, if you take a look at the one-line solutions in the clever category.

Does that Mean, I Should Avoid Stackoverflow and Coding Challenges?

No, please don’t! Those are great ways to become a better programmer. By avoiding awesome tools like those, you are just removing some of the symptoms of Impostor-Syndrome. But, you don’t eliminate the cause of the real problem.

How Can I Beat Impostor-Syndrome as a Programmer?

The root of Impostor-Syndrome lies in your personality. It has nothing to do with programming, that is just an area where it can develop really well. I’m not a psychologist, but I can tell you what helped me to NEVER have those negative thoughts again in regards to programming. I’m serious, nowadays, I know that I’m a very good programmer, especially for my age. There are better programmers out there than me, but there are also a lot of programmers that are worse.

1. Social Media

As you probably know, I’m very active on my Instagram page and on my YouTube channel. Both these tools helped me SO MUCH to deal with these self-doubts. The reason is that you get to know the side that you don’t get to know on Stackoverflow that well. You will have contact with so many people who ask you questions, who tell you that you inspire them and who perceive you as someone who knows what he is doing. And it doesn’t matter if all that what people tell you is true or not, what matters is that it gives you the feeling that it’s true.

I can highly recommend anyone to share your work online, whether it be Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or something else. You will see that what you do is something not everybody is able to do.

2. Personal Development

The other big life changer in my life was that I spend time with personal development. This includes reading inspirational books like The Slight Edge, Unscripted or Deep Work, but also watching videos and listening to personal development podcasts. I don’t lie, when I say it completely changed my life. Consuming such content (and applying it!!) improves your self-confidence, your clarity about what you want in life and what is really important for you, your productivity and your overall attitude towards life by so much.

3. Talk to Other Programmers

There are plenty of possibilities online to meet other programmers. If you don’t know any, you can join my Discord server. Talking to other programmers will make you realize that you are not the only one with these problems and self-doubts. So many people out there think like you and so many people don’t have any reason to think like that.

11 Comments

  1. javogp

    Great article! It’s very important to know the signals to beat the syndrome, thank you!

  2. Mak

    Being aware of oneself is the solution I guess. Knowing your SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunity, Threats)
    I never felt the heat of Impostor Syndrome

  3. gazzu

    Thanks phillipe, I am really happy after this article. It will surely now gonna make me a better learner.

  4. jrtiberius

    Very inspirational! Your website and Youtube videos have been a real asset. Thank you for your hard work.

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