I've just had a lovely week off with the fam and have returned with enough spare energy/time to squeeze out an article.
Imposter Syndrome seems to affect a lot of programmers and if you knew my history you may think I should really suffer from it, but I don't. Is it irredeemable arrogance and can it be taught?
"Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a 'fraud'"
I work with a lot of extremely clever people in a field chock-full of opinions (a fair proportion of which I don't agree), and I'm just an old punk who pretty much gave up going to school from the age of 13 and started working in a factory at age 16. Academically I got the bare minimum I needed to skip a foundation year in my apprenticeship.
I reckon I must be a good petri-dish for growing a culture of Imposter Syndrome. Yet I haven't really struggled with it at all.
Accept you cannot be good at everything
In my career I've been a test engineer, production manager, Principle Test engineer, test engineering manager (sort-of), software designer (<-- what I call myself now).
In my opinion I'm a much better engineer/designer than I am a manager. So even tho' I failed at being a manager did I ever feel like an impostor?
Not really, I was doing the best I could in near impossible conditions, perhaps if I had carried on my feeling may have changed. In the end I decided I hated being a manager and quit. I think this is lesson #1, if you suck at something perhaps you should quit. Being honest with yourself is a good path I think.
Be Selfish When Presenting Your Ideas
The next area of fragility is when you start presenting your ideas to others. Standing on stage to present how you write software to a group of your peers is a good test of whether you feel you deserve to be there. If you run a small business you can get pushed into this as part of your marketing effort, this was my motivation.
For the first few times I was positively phobic about presenting, mortified, terrified and frozen with fear.... but I never thought I didn't deserve to be there. There could be another lesson here, I present completely selfishly, only on things that interest me. I think selfishness gets a bad name, for me it invokes the punk ethos of just doing something for yourself. If other people like it...bonus!
Manage Your Own Expectations
Earlier I mentioned I was not a very good student and this may contribute to why I don't suffer from Impostor Syndrome. I just feel lucky to be invited to the party. I never worry about stopping a conversation and asking people to explain something I don't understand, I have no self-expectation that I'm the most knowledgeable person in the room.
This is where a bit of CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy) may help. If your self-expectation is that you should know everything, perhaps it is your thinking that is wrong.
Delivery is all, Delivery is freedom from self-doubt
My work is extremely transactional and I like this purity.
I get asked to do a job.
I put a cost on it.
When my customer is happy I get paid.
There's no room for impostors in this arrangement, line item 3. deals with that.
Heh! I was so pleased to have something to write about I forgot to put in 2 of the main points I wanted to make.
1) a positive use for Impostor Syndrome is to motivate you to learn
2) most of the problems in the world of software do not come from peeps with Impostor Syndrome ... <-- I'll leave that statement hanging there!
Anyways you're all brilliant, better than 99.999% of all life that has lived before.