Impostor Syndrome in the Tech Industry

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First identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, impostor syndrome is now a recognized phenomenon. Also, philosopher Betrand Russel has dubbed it a real mind-trap, preventing people from believing in themselves, to the detriment of many others.

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts,” he wrote in an article on the subject published in The Guardian.


Unlike other forms of anxiety that affect confidence, the syndrome’s insidious nature means that external success heightens rather that soothes the effects, as sufferers believe they are only ramping up the confidence trick they are playing on everyone. Studies have revealed that up to 70% of successful people have experienced impostor syndrome, including brilliant minds like Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou or Meryl Streep.

It affects people from all ranks and domains and developers are no exception. David Walsh who is a Senior Software Engineer at Mozilla talks openly about it in this article from his blog.

He mentions that as a developer, you can feel that you are competing with people all around the world, who could probably write a routine a lot more efficiently, with efficiency being an easy-measurable aspect for programmers. You can feel the pressure of trying to keep up because APIs change all the time and that making promises about project deliverability because of that is difficult.

And that is only the tip of the iceberg. But guess what? The fact that you are thinking about this is a good sign, it means that you’re aware of how much you don’t know. And you probably read blogs to learn new things and you actually get paid for your work, right?

Let’s take a look at five major types of impostor syndrome that have been identified so far, according to The Fast Company and see if they strike a chord with you:

1. The Perfectionist

Perfectionism and impostor syndrome go hand-in-hand most times. People who share this trait set very high goals for themselves, and if they fail to achieve them, they deal with major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.

2. The Superwoman/Superman

In this particular cases, people are convinced that they aren’t as good as their colleagues, so they end up pushing themselves to work harder and harder, in order to catch up. However, this is just a way to cover their insecurities, while the work overload can actually harm them in multiple ways.

3. The Natural Genius

People who deal with this type of impostor syndrome are naturally gifted and they judge their success based on their abilities, as opposed to their efforts. The idea is simple: they are bad at something if they must work hard for it.

Usually, they set very high standards and judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. Otherwise, when they’re not able to do something quickly, that raises big question marks.

4. The Rugged Individualist

This is specific for people who have issues when it comes to asking for help. They’re way more than independent, because they end up in situations in which they refuse assistance, just to prove their worth.

5. The Expert

People who suffer from this type of impostor syndrome sometimes feel like they tricked their employer into giving them a chance. They live with the fear of being exposed as inexperienced or a fraud.

What are the dangers of feeling like an impostor?

According to HBR, there is a particular category of neurotic impostors who feel more fraudulent and alone than most people do. To them, success is worse than meaningless, it becomes a burden.

Any type of impostor syndrome can affect the quality of your work and of the relationships you form with the people around you. Even though it can ironically push you to achieve more than people who aren’t affected by it, it can also make you go into hiding.

Especially if you work in a large company, the fear of exposure may keep you from being an integral part of the team. Even if you are truly knowledgeable, it can keep you from contributing or sharing your expertise in face-to-face meetings and even internal chats or knowledge bases.

Have you had an encounter with impostor syndrome? If so, consider lending a helping hand to your peers who are going through the same situation. Drop us a tweet @QuandoraQA with the hashtag #Imanimpostor and share your experience.

Looking for a great way to ask questions and build knowledge with your co-workers? Quandora enables simple, efficient knowledge sharing with your team, way more fun than a mailing list or a forum. Try Quandora

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