Impostor Syndrome has been studied by workplace psychologists for over 40 years, dating back to 1978. It is a feeling of phoniness held by professionals in higher positions who believe they are not intelligent, capable or creative enough, despite the fact they earned their title based on merit. In a 2011 study published by the International Journal of Behavioural Science, it was estimated that 70% of people experience imposture syndrome at some point of their life. And, although originally thought to be something unique to women, more studies prove that it is common for everyone (although still more prevalent among females).
IT professionals are not immune to Impostor Syndrome. In an informal study by Blind last year, it was discovered that 58% of people with a technology-focused career suffer from it. Furthermore, in the 2018 Stack Overflow Developer Survey, nearly 40% of new IT professionals said they felt as though they were not as good at programming as most of their peers. As developers earned years of experience, these rates did drop; however, even 10% of developers with 20 years of experience — 20 years coding! — still felt as though they had inferior skills.
How Can IT Contractors Overcome Impostor Syndrome?
There are various reasons you may experience Impostor Syndrome at some point in your career. There are external factors, including high competition for jobs or overly competitive work environments, but it is mostly internal matters that can be solved with some self-awareness. Once you understand and overcome your own shortcomings contributing to your Impostor Syndrome, the rest gets easier with time. Consider some of these steps:
- Acknowledge It. Like anything, you can’t improve until you acknowledge that you’re suffering from Impostor Syndrome and have taken the time to understand why. We often experience it due to perfectionism, relying on external validation, expecting to learn too quickly, or refusing to ask for help.
- Accept That You’re Not Perfect at Everything. Especially in the technology industry, there are so many areas to specialize and there is no chance you can be perfect at all of it. If you consider yourself a generalist with a big picture, then you will lack specific knowledge about technologies. Vice-versa, if you have a niche skill, then you will not be proficient in other areas.
- Know What You Don’t Know. Further to the previous point, knowing what you do not know is the first step to being more comfortable with your situation and improving yourself. Some items you do not need to know… it’s not your job. For the other skills, invest in learning and ask questions to improve.
- Ask for Help. Find a mentor who has been in your shoes before. You will quickly learn that most people felt they did not belong in their position originally and you will learn how they overcame it. One word of caution, although vulnerability is often praised, opening too much to subordinates about this could be harmful to your position.
- Remember Why You Are Where You Are. Assuming you did not completely lie on your resume, your client selected you for the gig because of your past experiences and accomplishments. Be proud of those, brag about them a bit, and use what you learned in the past to grow.
- Stop Comparing Yourself to Others. Regardless of how much Arrogant Annie or Pretentious Pete think they know… they do not know everything either. Even if Suck-Up Sally is more accomplished and smarter than you, please refer to the previous point. You are not in your position by mistake.
If you’re not satisfied or inspired by the information in this post, have a read through this Huffington Post article written by Lily Chen, a female software engineer who overcame Impostor Syndrome. Whatever you do, embrace the challenges and don’t let this common demon stop you from excelling in your technology career.