Imposter Syndrome and Hero Worship
January 02, 2019
There is perhaps no industry that talks about imposter syndrome quite so much as the software development industry.
We bring up imposter syndrome in blog posts and conference talks; we even build communities to help each other deal with the effects. Imposter syndrome seems to afflict every developer on this planet, at some point or another.
I think, to a degree, imposter syndrome will always be prevalent in software development (mostly because writing software is hard). However, I believe a lot of imposter syndrome is ultimately the result of misinformation.
The first year of my career as a developer was one of the most challenging periods in my life. I struggled endlessly. I felt imposter syndrome daily for twelve months, and I didn’t know how to get help.
I don’t think I’m unique. In fact, I’m certain that I’m not unique. Working in an industry in which people identify so closely with their output, it’s not hard to imagine that many us feel self-conscious about our ability to make software. Even more so, being surrounded by intelligent colleagues and accomplished peers makes it difficult to internalize successes.
Imposter syndrome is rampant in the software profession.
There is another epidemic the software industry deals with, that we don’t talk about very much: Hero Worship.
Think about it. There are probably a handful of engineers that you hold in high esteem, above the rest.
Because of my Ruby background, I think immediately of people like Steve Klabinik, Avdi Grimm, Sandi Metz, and Yukihiro Matsumoto.
When I was dealing with imposter syndrome, I sought out role models, to help me overcome my imposter syndrome, people I could mimic to convince myself I was a better, more qualified engineer. Unfortunately, I unwittingly made my struggle even worse.
One of the things that made my imposter syndrome almost unbearable was the feeling that so many in my industry seemed to know what they were doing. Everyone else seemed to have it together.
The thing about hero worship is that it inherently lends itself to disassociating yourself with your heroes. You don’t think of your heroes as peers or in some cases, even humans. They take on demi-god likenesses in your mind. In turn, it becomes very discouraging to see your icons succeed because without seeing their struggles, you can’t visualize yourself emulating their qualities that you most admire.
After surviving my first year in software development, and moving to a much healthier environment, I realized just how ubiquitous imposter syndrome has become (or maybe always was).
I am moving past daily imposter syndrome: The constant dread, and anxiety that I could be ousted as a fraud, that hiring me was a mistake, or that I can’t reason about code on the same level as my peers.
Today, I’m outspoken about my thoughts. I share my expertise as well as my inadequacies, which has made me a better engineer and teammate. Most days, I feel like I belong, and I’m proud of the things I can add to a team.
Now, I feel the need to help others who are still in the early steps of the same journey out of imposter syndrome and anxiety. So I’ve set out to humanize my heroes and document it for others.
To help combat the disconnect between our communal imposter syndrome and hero worship, I’ve been recording conversations with experienced and well-known engineers (my heroes). I’m documenting candid and honest answers about their successes and their failures.
Personally, hearing people that I’ve built into Herculean superstars in my head admit to dealing with imposter syndrome and honestly share their weaknesses has been incredibly therapeutic. Similarly, learning from their career victories and hearing their advice has been invaluable.
I hope that others will find the same reassurance in their honesty and equal value in their words of wisdom.
Going into 2019, I plan to release a new interview each week. The purpose of these interviews is not only to reveal the best methods for finding success in software development but also to shine a light on the struggles and failures that plague even the most heroic of engineers.
If you’re dealing with imposter syndrome or just looking for advice on leveling up your career in this industry, feel free follow along.