Imposter syndrome can affect people across positions and across industries, but it seems to be especially prevalent in tech and software engineering. Those affected might find that they avoid taking risks, speaking up in meetings, or networking with other professionals.
It can pose a number of challenges to someone’s professional growth, but it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. With the correct tools and support, anyone can overcome imposter syndrome and build a successful career in software engineering.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that’s characterized by feelings of self-doubt, insecurity, and inadequacy, often despite evidence to the contrary. Those who experience imposter syndrome doubt their accomplishments and feel like frauds who do not actually have the skills to do their jobs.
The term was first published in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. In their paper, “Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Implications,” they found that many high-achieving women feel like imposters and fear being exposed as frauds.
Since then, imposter syndrome has been studied extensively, and it’s now known to affect men and women across industries. Research shows that up to 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point.
Imposter syndrome is often described as a “fixed mindset.” This means you believe your skills and talents are set in stone and can’t be improved, which can lead to feeling powerless or anxious when confronted with new challenges.
Why is Imposter Syndrome so Widespread in Software Engineering?
Software engineers are constantly learning new things and pushing themselves to their limits. They also work in an industry that’s notoriously competitive and male-dominated.
According to the ACM Digital Library, imposter syndrome is often more common among women in male-dominated fields, such as computer science and engineering. Studies have shown that up to 70% of women in these fields suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their careers, and around 58% of software engineers at leading tech companies say they feel they don’t deserve their jobs.
But there are a variety of factors that can contribute to imposter syndrome in software engineering.
Receiving a promotion can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s an acknowledgement of your skills and experience. On the other hand, it can bring new responsibilities and expectations you might not feel prepared to handle.
In software engineering, there’s always room for improvement. Those who are more prone to a perfectionist mindset might fall into the belief that they or their work will never be good enough.
Coming from a Non-Traditional Computer Science Background
If you didn’t major in computer science during your undergraduate studies, or you didn’t attend a top engineering school, or your path to becoming a software engineer was otherwise unique, you might feel like you’re somehow at a disadvantage.
Comparing Oneself to Peers
It’s easy to compare yourself to others in the industry and feel like you’re falling behind, especially in such a competitive industry that also often encourages teamwork and collaboration. You might have more exposure to “elite” engineers who seem like they have it all figured out.
Lack of Diversity
Although many different programs and companies are taking steps to try and combat the lack of diversity in the software industry, it’s still apparent that it’s a relatively homogenous field. This lack of diversity can make some feel like an outsider, especially for women or other underrepresented groups.
Wanting to Stay Relevant in the Industry
Imposter syndrome in coding can also be caused by the constant need to stay relevant to the industry. With new technologies and frameworks constantly being developed, it can feel hard to keep up.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
Although self-doubt can be difficult to overcome, it’s not impossible. Here are some steps you can take to build your confidence and ease imposter syndrome as a software engineer.
1. Keep Learning
One of the critical things you can do to overcome imposter syndrome is to keep learning. You can:
- Take on new challenges at work
- Attend workshops and conferences
- Work on side projects
- Complete online courses
This can help you keep your skills sharp and stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the industry. Learning allows you to understand and crush any imposter syndrome coding fears.
Showing yourself that you can always keep learning also gives you the confidence to approach problems you might be completely unfamiliar with. You’ve solved new problems before, and you can do it again.
2. Adopt a Growth Mindset
A growth mindset is a belief that your skills and abilities can be improved with effort. This is in contrast to a fixed mindset, which is the idea that your talents are set in stone.
With a fixed mindset, you might be more likely to give up or avoid taking risks when faced with difficult challenges. With a growth mindset, on the other hand, you can see challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. You’re more likely to take risks because you understand that failure can be part of the learning process.
Adopting a growth mindset can help subdue imposter syndrome by changing how you think about your abilities. It can also help you bolster your resilience and improve how you face setbacks.
One method for nurturing a growth mindset is practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion has been shown to:
- Increase motivation
- Improve performance
- Reduce stress
It’s important to recognize how much effort you’re putting into improving, even if your path of progress isn’t necessarily smooth.
3. Keep Track of Your Accomplishments
It can be easy to focus on your failures and forget about your successes. This can skew how you think of yourself, making yourself believe you’re less competent than you are.
Keep track of your accomplishments, both big and small, to try and keep sight of the whole picture. This could include:
- Creating a list of things your proud of
- Journaling about your successes
- Asking for feedback from others, peers or senior managers
It might seem minor, but having a record of your accomplishments can help you feel more competent and confident.
4. Look at Those Who Are Successful
It’s crucial to remember that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has areas where they can improve.
You can look to those who are successful in your field and see how they’ve dealt with their challenges or setbacks. It can help you realize that everyone, even the most successful, are always working to be better.
In fact, those in your field who are the most successful are often those who made the most mistakes and took the time to understand why. They thought through how those mistakes happened so they could learn from them and continue to improve with time. Successful people are usually good role models for growth mindsets, since they continue to work toward their goals, even from setbacks or mistakes.
5. Challenge Your Thoughts
With imposter syndrome, your thoughts or beliefs might be distorted. You might see yourself negatively, even with little evidence to support this view.
It can be important to challenge these thought patterns. If you have a thought like, “I’m not good enough,” take a moment to ask yourself:
- Is there evidence to support this?
- What would I say to a peer, if they said this to me about themselves?
- How can I reframe this in a more positive way?
Answering these questions might help you shift your perspective and see your situation more objectively.
6. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
If you focus only on the outcome, you’re more likely to become anxious and stressed. You’re more likely to be disproportionately worried about failing or not meeting your goals.
Focusing on the process means being present in the moment and concentrating on the immediate task at hand. This can help you stay calm and focused, even when faced with difficult challenges. You’re also more likely to see mistakes as part of learning. This might encourage you to take risks and experiment with new ideas.
7. Share and Acknowledge Your Failures
Just like keeping track of your accomplishments can show you what you’ve achieved, acknowledging your failures can help you see that you’re not alone. Everyone experiences failure at some point, and, even if you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, it’s important to remember you’re not the only one who’s had challenges or setbacks.
Being open about your mistakes and learning from them or sharing your stories with others who might be going through similar experiences can build connections and continue to encourage you to grow.
App Academy Has Your Back
If you’ve experienced imposter syndrome in the coding world, we want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling this way. Some of our alumni have been affected by it, and they’ve gone on to become successful and work at leading companies.
We provide career resources and support from the moment you graduate from one of our bootcamps until you land your first job. Our comprehensive curriculum and experienced instructors give you the skills and confidence you need to succeed in your career, all the way from your interview to your first day.
Learn more about how you can build the foundation of your future career with App Academy.