Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like everyone around you is smarter than you?

In a recent Hacker News post, a commenter said “… every day I run across articles here and comments that make me feel incredibly useless and inexperienced.”

Another anecdote: once while I was discussing algorithms with a friend, he confessed “I don’t know much about algorithms or software design. I always feel like I don’t know as much as I’m supposed to.” In contrast, I felt the same way, but about network operations and network analysis – in which he was an expert. Each of the two of us had a specialty in a narrow field, and recognized that the other knew more about “something” whatever that something might be.

This feeling happens to accomplished engineers again and again and again.

Why is that?

There is a whole world of things to know in the field of software engineering. More than that, there is a multitude of aspects of software engineering, each one of which is yet another world unto itself. In the end, there is so much to know in the field that it is literally impossible to master every aspect.

Because of this situation, it’s exceedingly likely the sum of everybody around you knows more about everything than you do. If you look around and only see people who know things that you don’t, you might think that they know what you know, and they know all these extra things on top of that. You might get the false impression that everybody is an expert and you are not, that you are an imposter and don’t know as much as you should, and it is only a matter of time until your terrible secret is revealed. Oh No!

You don’t have to feel this way. This feeling is called the Imposter Syndrome. This is a normal feeling and can happen to anybody.

The way out of this feeling is to use that analytical rational mind that you pride yourself on. Use it to challenge these thoughts and feelings with facts. Have you ever been fired for gross incompetence? No? Maybe you’re not grossly incompetent. Have you ever answered questions for other developers? Yes? Maybe you know things others don’t and not just the other way around. Have you ever accomplished anything by developing software? Maybe you are an accomplished software developer.

You do have much to learn. But we all do.

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