The positive aspects of “Imposter Syndrome”

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.

If you’re like me, someone who got into coding without a Computer Science background, you may have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point.

In my opinion Imposter Syndrome arises not only because of your own insecurity due to lack of experience, but because the coding world is full of VERY smart people who try their hardest to show you just how smart they are.

Have you ever been to a meetup or networking event with other programmers and within 30 seconds of meeting each other there comes some variation of the “So…what do you do?” question.

  • Where do you work?
  • What kind of projects are you working on?
  • Where’d you go to school?
  • How long have you been coding?

Sometimes these questions are just small talk, but a lot of the time I don’t think they are. I liken the coding world to a big giant health club or gym, but for your mind. Instead of wearing a barely-there tank top and showing off your delts or your pecs programmers like to brag about their degrees, or their co-workers, or what prestigious company they work for. In a sea of very smart people the individual programmer wants to stand out, so they start name dropping and rattling off a bunch of useless techno-jargon to prove how smart they think they are. I’m really not a fan of that.

When I help people with their code I try to speak in PLAIN ENGLISH, because I feel that techno-jargon laden explanations do not help people understand the material. I also like to compare code to something that is real and relevant in their lives. I’ve compared JavaScript functions to a carpenter building a table. I’ve compared Asynchronous vs Synchronous code to waiting in line at Starbucks vs waiting in line at a grocery store.

Explaining concepts like this requires two things:

  1. The ability to make a personal connection with someone so that they feel comfortable sharing a different side of their personality, aka “People Skills”
  2. Imagination

Imagination isn’t the problem for most programmers.

The Positive Aspects of Imposter Syndrome

Butterflies in your stomach. That empty feeling deep in your solar plexus. Anxiety. A symptom of Imposter Syndrome.

Anxiety is a normal human emotion. At times I’ve tried to do things that would completely remove anxiety, but I haven’t had much success. Instead I’ve decided to accept that anxiety is a part of being a programmer, and instead of trying to eradicate it I’ve decided to use it to my advantage.

When I get anxious I start running through a script:

  • Why do I have anxiety? What specific situation is causing it?
  • Have I experienced anxiety in this situation before? How did I deal with it?
  • Since I’ve had this type of anxiety before and I’m still alive that means it’s not fatal and that I have to make a decision on how to deal with it.

When I get anxious I like to watch the video I’ve embedded below. To quote from the video:

Whether or not you win this thing, you’ve got to decide how
you’re gonna walk out of here when it’s all said and done.
Because the game is going to go on.

The project you’re working on is GOING to be built. The code WILL be written, whether you’re a part of it or not. So YOU need to make a choice. Are you going to give your best effort regardless of the outcome, or are you going to run and hide?