Issue 10 – My Imposter Syndrome Story
Welcome back to The Modern Software Developer. This is the third part of my mini-series on Imposter syndrome. In this issue, we discover the very real impacts of imposter syndrome on software developers by weaving through my imposter syndrome story.
You can delve into more detail about what imposter syndrome is in part 1 – Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
And you can deep dive into where it comes from and how it takes hold in part 2 – Peeling Back the Layers: 5 Key Influences Behind Imposter Syndrome
Let’s recap briefly on what Imposter syndrome is with a definition and a brief summary.
To Summarise Imposter Syndrome
👉 It’s caused by HOW you think.
👉 This way of thinking is persistent.
👉 Evidence exists of your competence.
With that covered, let’s kick on.
My imposter syndrome story is a cocktail of a new job, smart developers, huge expectations, and a less-than-optimal environment and culture…
👉 And, of course, my own thinking!
It started with the interview; it went really well, maybe too well.
I’d worked for this guy several years earlier, and it was clear that he really respected me and my talents as a software engineer.
Of course, this should have been a massive positive, but instead,
I started down the rabbit hole of:
👉 “What if he thinks I’m better than I am?”
Next, the salary was higher than I’d ever earned before…
👉 They’ll be expecting perfection for that money; I’d better not mess up.
Then… “you’ll be working with some of the best developers around”…
This should be awesome right?
Lots to learn from awesome devs…
👉 What if they all know way more than me?
👉 I’ll look stupid if my solutions don’t match up to theirs…
👉 If I ask for help, they might think I’m not good enough…
It’s fair to say I was on edge. I’d been battling all kinds of thinking spirals for days before I arrived at the office…
In my first meeting about my work with my boss, who is also super smart, by the way, I was told about how there have already been two attempts at this project from two different developers, and both attempts have been thrown away because they couldn’t get it to work…
Now it was my turn… from scratch… gulp…
👉 If two developers have failed, how will I do any better?
👉 Can I even do this from scratch?
I’ll be honest, I was bricking it, even though it wasn’t my first time in an environment like this, and it wasn’t my first time taking on a project from scratch…
But I had conveniently forgotten that…
The physical environment was a fairly new office building but felt quite dark; I’m not sure if it was actually dark or whether this was just a reflection of my thinking at the time.
With an open plan, it felt like everyone could see my screen and felt paranoid that others were watching what I was doing.
There was a huge image projected on the wall in the centre of the room; it had 7 or 8 rectangles on it, all green.
It was the current build status of our frameworks projects.
My first thought:
👉 Ah, that’s cool…
My second thought:
👉 Oh god, everyone will know if I break the build…
The office is quiet; all the devs are head down, headphones on, cracking on with their work, like the “best developers around” would be!
Before I started coding, I had to plan it out with a tech spec that had to be approved by two other members of the team…
You know, the team of some of the “best developers around”…
It felt like a test; I spent far too long writing it and just as long avoiding sharing it…
The judgement I felt at the time was crushing.
The same happened when it came to pushing my code. I was sitting at my desk, sweating at the thought of breaking the build and someone pointing it out as if it had never been broken before…
I delayed it, and delayed it, and delayed it…
Until I pushed it and left the room as I couldn’t bear to sit and watch the build turn red…
After getting through the first few tech specs and code commits, I felt a little more comfortable, but the weight of expectation was still heavy.
I found myself staying later, constantly thinking about issues while not at work and eventually dreaming about everything failing disastrously over and over…
I know what you’re probably thinking, but you were a junior, right?
Nope, I had close to 10 years of experience at this point…
For a good while, I was anxious, stressed, and felt out of my depth. I was just waiting for my boss to call me into the office and tell me how things were not working out and how I wasn’t as good as he had thought.
In the office, I worked alone, kept my head down, and made little contribution to the wider team. I didn’t socialise much; I kept quiet during meetings, and any updates were as short as I could make them.
Outside of work, I was distracted, my relationships suffered, and I leaned heavily on physical exercise for an escape.
👉 Insecure about myself and my job
👉 Consumed by self doubt
👉 Like I wasn’t in control
👉 A lack of confidence
👉 Anxious & Stressed
Some of this sounds like this was just a horrible job role, and although it was far from perfect, much of what I’ve described was largely down to my own mindset and ways of thinking.
I wasn’t doing it on purpose; I guess I didn’t know any better.
And just to add, I’m making this statement in hindsight; it’s not a blanket statement and definitely doesn’t excuse poor working practices and a poor culture.
The spoiler is that before leaving this role, it turned out to be one of my most challenging and enjoyable roles. It was a real turning point for me in terms of personal growth and prioritising my wellbeing.
Make positive changes for yourself – Sign up and start your wellbeing plan today.
Software Development Factors
It doesn’t take an awful lot of digging to see why so many people in software development might feel this way.
Software development has many factors that seem quite adept at triggering thought spirals which often lead to many of the feelings associated with imposter syndrome.
👉 Our field is huge, and there’s always more to learn – approached in the wrong way, this can be overwhelming and make you feel like you don’t know enough.
👉 It’s a rapidly changing environment – Easy to feel like you’re getting left behind.
👉 It’s competitive – It’s inevitable that you’ll end up comparing yourself to others.
👉 Aiming for high performance and productivity – Often creates an overly stressful environment.
And in many cases:
👉 Blame culture – Contributes massively to anxiety
👉 A lack of Empathy – Results in a lack of support
👉 Poor communication – Creates uncertainty
None of these causes imposter syndrome on their own, but they certainly contribute towards it.
They can encourage poor thinking habits that seep into your subconscious mind and spring to life when you least want them to.
The Impact On Software Developers
I’ve probably covered a lot of these in my story, but it’s important to highlight them front and centre. The impact on software developers is very real and can be extremely damaging.
If you are not mentally prepared to think about some of these factors in a way that is helpful to you, then you’ll naturally go the other way…
Your thoughts will ultimately manifest as feeling and behaviours, and this can lead to software developers who:
👉 Overwork to “catch up” with expectation
👉 Shy away from new projects
👉 Often doubt themselves
👉 Take enforced time off
👉 Experience Anxiety
👉 Never feel fulfilled
👉 Don’t speak up
👉 Feel stressed
With this in mind, it’s obvious that software developers are not going to build lasting relationships, contribute to a thriving culture, innovate or produce quality software while they’re feeling anxious, stressed and burned out…
They’re more likely to:
👉 Seem like they have a poor attitude
👉 Be difficult to get along with
👉 Avoid communication
👉 Want to work alone
👉 Not be very happy
👉 Be ill more often
👉 Feel victimised
👉 Be distracted
It’s not a recipe for a successful software developer, a high-performing and productive team, or a quality software product.
Imposter syndrome has a very real impact on software developers, and it’s not just a professional impact.
The thoughts, feelings and behaviours that ensue spill over into our personal lives too, impacting our ability to show up as our natural selves in our relationships with family and friends.
It not only sucks the life and enjoyment out of work, but it can do the same for your personal hobbies too.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Imposter syndrome isn’t inevitable.
In part 4, I’ll discuss how you can go about tackling imposter syndrome and what’s more, you can take this approach before imposter syndrome ever comes knocking.
Prevention is better than treatment.
It’s not selfish to put yourself first; there’s nothing more important than your own wellbeing!
Know someone that might find this helpful? Do them a favour and share it with them.
Until next time…
How I can help you
Software Development organisations:
- Issue 14 – Getting into software development
- Issue 13 – Software Developers – Your Wellbeing
- Issue 12 – Software Developers – What Do You Really Want?
- Issue 11 – How to Beat Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 10 – My Imposter Syndrome Story
- Issue 9 – Peeling Back the Layers: 5 Key Influences Behind Imposter Syndrome
- Issue 8 – Is it really Imposter Syndrome?
- Issue 7 – Taking responsibility: From personal growth to professional success
- Issue 6 – Misunderstanding Focus
- Issue 5 – Pair Programming is more about people than coding
- Issue 4 – You might regret not getting enough Sleep
- Issue 3 – Are your Beliefs holding you back?
Make positive changes for yourself – Sign up and start your wellbeing plan today.
Find out more about our software development team wellbeing health check