Dealing with Imposter Syndrome in your First Job

When you’re new to a career–or even just to a job–it’s common to feel like you don’t belong, or that you don’t have the skills or knowledge to succeed.  This feeling is known as “imposter syndrome,” and it can be debilitating if you don’t know how to deal with it.  In this article, I’ll discuss what imposter syndrome is, why it’s especially common amongst software developers, and how you can deal with it. 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

If you’re experiencing a lot of self-doubt and feel like you’re a fraud at work, you may have imposter syndrome–especially if there’s no evidence of you being unable to adequately perform your job duties. Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern that affects people from all walks of life, regardless of their level of success or achievement–in other words, you can experience imposter syndrome at any time, whether you’re the CEO or a brand-new intern.

Imposter syndrome refers to feelings of anxiety and inadequacy where individuals feel like they will be exposed as a fraud and do not deserve their accomplishments.  If left unchecked, these feelings can be extremely distressing and negatively affect work performance, confidence, and overall mental health.

Why is Imposter Syndrome Common Among Software Developers?

A man hunched over a laptop computer, one hand in his hair. He is obviously frustrated.
Photo by Tim Gouw

Imposter syndrome is common amongst people who consider themselves “high achievers”, and in people working in competitive fields.  It’s very common in software development, where we tend to think of ourselves as being smart, capable, and highly skilled when it comes to telling computers what to do.

Part of the reason imposter syndrome is so common in the software industry is because the field is constantly changing.  New programming languages, frameworks, and other technologies are being released all the time, and it can be overwhelming to try and keep up.  Software development also requires a lot of problem-solving, and those problems can be hard!  Complex problems often require creative solutions, and it’s easy to feel like you’re not up to the task or that it took you too long to find an answer. 

Additionally, software is a highly collaborative field, and teams are often made up of individuals at different skill levels.  As a junior developer, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself negatively to a more experienced developer.  (Keep in mind, it’s also very easy for a more experienced developer to feel they are not knowledgeable enough or helping you learn well enough!)

How To Deal with Imposter Syndrome

If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, know that you’re not alone–most software developers have experienced it at some point in their career! Here are some management strategies you can use when you start to feel inadequate: 

Recognize that imposter syndrome is common

The first step in dealing with imposter syndrome is to recognize that it’s a common experience among software developers. You’re not the only one who has ever felt this way, and you’re not alone in your struggles.  Try reaching out to other developers on your team and ask about times they’ve experienced imposter syndrome–they can help you readjust your perspective and offer you advice. 

Separate your feelings from reality

When you’re experiencing imposter syndrome, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your feelings reflect reality.  You may feel as though you’re not qualified for your job, or that you’re not as skilled as your peers.  It’s important to recognize that these feelings are not necessarily based in reality.  If you were good enough to be hired into a job, you’re good enough to be there and do work!

Celebrate your successes

When you’re feeling like an imposter, it can be easy to focus on your perceived failures and shortcomings instead of the things you are actually accomplishing.  Take some time to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far, and give yourself credit for your hard work!  If you feel as though you’re not contributing to your team, take a look at the tasks or tickets you’ve finished in the past month.  Write out a list of your work accomplishments–large and small–and use them to remind yourself of your value and expertise.  

Embrace your unique perspective

As a junior developer, you have a unique perspective that can be valuable to your team. You probably don’t have all the answers, but you can contribute by asking questions and providing your insight. Remember, it’s okay to not know everything–and the question you ask might inspire a more experienced developer to think about a problem or task in a different way.

Impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon that affects many people in the software industry, but it can be especially overwhelming when you’re a new developer. It’s important to understand that it’s normal to experience feelings of inadequacy, especially when you’re just starting out. By talking to your colleagues, asking for help, focusing on your strengths, celebrating your successes, and reminding yourself of what situations really look like instead of what you think they are, you can manage your impostor syndrome and become a confident and successful developer.

Remember, it’s okay to make mistakes and not know everything, as long as you’re willing to learn and grow!  Keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.

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