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How to ignore imposter syndrome and become a better developer

Feel like you might be in the wrong place? You might be experiencing imposter syndrome.

When we talk to people who are thinking about becoming a Northcoder, sometimes they wonder whether this career is really right for them. They could feel this way for lots of reasons. I've not worked in this field before. I don't think I'm clever enough. Other people deserve this more than me.

This is really common, especially among software developers. Whether you compare your work to others who you feel are better than you, or think that praise you're receiving is unearned or fraudulent, you're not alone in feeling like this.

A recent study carried out by Blind found that a whopping 58% of tech employees feel like imposters and 70% of people experience it at some point in their lives. In a Huffington Post article, Lily Chen explained how she conquered these feelings when starting her journey into tech, and summed the point up nicely:

"No one is born talented or even good at software engineering. Knowing that there is a long road ahead doesn’t mean your life is any less accomplished at the present moment." - Lily Chen

Overcoming or working with imposter syndrome

Look back at where you've come from

When you're feeling this way, it's good to look at what you've achieved so far and look at your progress from another point of view. If you're just starting out, maybe making a career change to working in tech, focus on what brought you to the start of your journey you're about to travel on. If you've already taken that step, thinking about the training you've been through to get you where you are will help to realise your passions so you can get a clear vision for your goals. Northcoders tutor Alex said:

"Imposter syndrome in development can start when you begin the course, and can often run on into your future career" - Alex

His number one advice was that talking to the Northcoders team can genuinely help.

"A lot of the tutors have been through it themselves or are still going through it. We encourage the right community by helping to make people feel more inclusive."

Take pride in your work.

It's common to compartmentalise your working life and your working achievements and separate them from your everyday life. But you deserve to be proud of the things you achieve, and that pride should carry through to your everyday life. Think about the praise you've received for your work and the little differences you're making. You can really benefit from adding positive emotional value when trying to overcome imposter syndrome.

The only person you should be comparing yourself to is you!

It's healthy to look at someone else's successes and admire where they are, but it's more important to look at your own. There will have been points in your career where you were thinking "I have no idea how to do this!" about something that you now consider second nature. It's quite easy to fall into that pattern. Chances are whoever you're comparing your work to has been through the same thing. Think about the steps you took to tackle old problems and consider it your personal journey. Don't think "I can't do it like they do", think "I can do it like I do," to add worth to your triumphs.

"Self comparison is a hard problem to deal with, because everyone is different" - Shaq

Our tutor Shaq talks about comparing your work to others.

"People aren't numbers, there's no universal standard, what works for some people might not work for others. Everyone should know that it's OK to be living with imposter syndrome, in ways it makes sense! I've spoken to company directors who still feel like they might have to Google something to get the job done. It's nothing to be scared of, it's OK to ask questions. You need to embrace the fact that you're not going to understand it all but acknowledge that communication is important."

You deserve to be where you are

Whether you're taking the first step into development and thinking about starting your journey with help from Northcoders, or you've already established your career, know that you are where you are for a reason. Everybody's favourite mellow-voiced landscape painter Bob Ross once said "talent is pursued interest," it's more than likely that somebody has acknowledged your talent and sees your potential. Recognising this is a simple way to help tackle the fear of feeling like a fraud in your position, someone has faith in your abilities and wants you onboard.

"You wouldn't be here if you weren't capable" - Felicia

Northcoders tutor Felicia wanted to tell us about how it can feel when you're in a position you don't think you deserve.

"The feelings of incapability are not limited to the beginning stages of the course, it could carry on through to the next stages of the course too. People get constant reassurance throughout school or uni, but sometimes there's not as much for people who are considering a career change. Our students should know that they're not alone in how they're feeling as a lot of the tutors are going through it too – in fact, many industry professionals will."

If at first you don't succeed...

It's more important to try and fail, than to not try at all. Think about what you could be starving the world of if something you're holding back on didn't happen. Most people with ambitions similar to yours have also experienced the same things. It's OK to try something that might not work, mistakes can be made and learned from. This is especially important to come to terms with when you're just starting out, so many people don't have a clue what they're doing when they're taking the first steps! It's only through practice and sticking to it that hurdles can be conquered.

"Self doubt is something that often comes from being challenged" - Suneet

Suneet, one of our newest tutors, adds that:

"Persistence is a characteristic that can be developed by reassurance from someone more experienced and the opportunity to make mistakes so you can work on them. It's something that can be worked on with the right support, but you might also need to take some time, focus on what you can do and ask questions about what you can't."

Speak up!

Another interesting take on imposter syndrome is the feeling of knowing something to be correct and no one else acknowledging it. Maybe you spot a glaring error in your workplace, but because a team with more experience or more authority than you hasn't brought it up, you might feel like you need to step down and not raise it as an issue. Take the case of Morgana Carter, a data scientist at Intel. When speaking to ImpostHER, she said "I was the only woman on the project and there was some serious flaws with what we were rolling out in terms of how the program was designed. I kept looking around thinking 'does anyone else notice this? Should I speak up and point out these problems?'

I was in a room full of all the gentlemen who had decades of experience on top of me and here I am this self-taught homegrown data person. - Morgana Carter

I'm glad I did eventually speak up because it ended up saving a lot of money on the overall project. I think it's so important to think of yourself less of an imposter and more of someone who can bring in a different view."

If you feel like you're experiencing imposter syndrome and need some resources to help you work through it, you might want to talk to someone you trust about your thoughts. There's also a variety of fantastic TED talks covering the subject and loads of articles including specific ones for people working in the tech industry. ImpostHER is also a great YouTube channel that shares stories of imposter syndrome as told by women in tech.

Frankie Buttons
Frankie helps our students kick-start their tech careers by creating helpful content to help them navigate their first few months of code!

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