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Google taught me to turn Impostor Syndrome into an Advantage (zainrizvi.io)
107 points by FactCore on Sept 4, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 24 comments

I've been coding off and on professionally for over a decade and I STILL feel like an imposter.

I still have to look stuff up constantly.

I still watch how-to code videos everywhere.

Don't know if I'm alone or other people just can't bring themselves to admit that.

The OP is not talking about mundane things, such as remember the difference between implode and explode in PHP. They are talking about a a deep feeling of incompetence. I believe that imposter syndrome is more prevalent in the software world because, unlike auto mechanics or surgeons for example, we are not give a chance to watch the process actually take place, we only see the results. We see the finished code and don't know how it was derived. Imagine all we got was: car works again, now you fix the next one

If someone writing a novel has to look up the spelling of a particularly useful word that fits the situation perfectly, but they can never manage to spell it right without aid, does that make them an impostor?

No brain can contain the exact right way to do x, y and z - and it needn't, because we have a magic box that we can ask and get great help when we need it.

IMO, being a developer isn't about being 100% amazing with your syntax or being able to recite the ES2015 spec by heart; it's about knowing what tools to use when.

You are definitely not alone.

You say that you have to keep looking stuff up and watching tutorials. I hear that you're constantly learning and that's never a bad thing. You should be worried when there comes a day when you feel like you know everything because that's definitely not normal.

“Over a decade” is a small time being a professional. You’re what, about 35 on average?

I'm 53. I have a 25 year IT career and the last 10 of it has been coding and sql server mostly.

Thank you for intensifying my impostor syndrome ;)

I work with developers and I sometimes joke with them claiming that they’re not “real” developers because they don’t know every function in the standard library and constantly have to look things up. This is such a nonsensical level of expectation on a developer (that they would know all functions by heart) and is also a really dangerous way to work, because it breeds complacency and, in time, deviations from the norm (because the norm changes).

There are many things that perhaps legitimately should make people feel like “impostors” even when they aren’t, but the need to use reference material definitely shouldn’t be one of them.

Unfortunately many people in our business still equate knowledge or competence with “knowing things by heart” which is really unfortunate, because I think at best it tells you very little about the person, and in the worst case you may be hiring someone that through arrogance will make mistakes because they don’t care about double checking crucial parts of their code because they too feel that they “should” know what’s going on.

What if you are actually an impostor and write such to convince yourself you aren't ?

Shhhh, I’m trying to convince myself that’s not true (author here)

Well, I would say that if you are an 'actual impostor', it would become much more clear very quickly and create an impasse. I think impostor syndrome is much more about the feeling that behind your back, people think you're dumb which is just a much more unlikely situation.

I was an academic, but not a particularly successful one, and constantly felt imposter syndrome. Over time I realized a few things- most people in my cohort had a similar amount of trouble establishing their careers, and when I look upon their academic careers, and also see how much fakery is involved in modern PR-focused science, I actually think I dodged a bullet.

Instead I went to industry where I felt like an imposter for years, then built a system that worked really well, and got to work with some absolutely fantastic people who were far smarter than me. I still felt like an imposter, but at least I was well paid and respected.

Finally, now in my career I get paid huge amounts to debug complex ML systems in production when they break. Almost nobody else has the skills to do this; almost nobody has the interest in doing it; but I've spent 20+ years focusing on exactly this kind of problem. I don't feel like an imposter any more.

I liked this. I also like how the moral of the story wasn't "You're not an imposter, you had it in you the whole time and just needed confidence", but rather "Yeah, you're an imposter. But you're always going to be an imposter and so is everybody else, so get used to it"

And yet I might be a real imposter %)

Imposter syndrome, n. 1. To suffer from delusions of mediocrity.


I liked this article, aside from the "I'm totally getting fired" it echoes how I felt in most jobs I had.

I like to think that it's something anyone who isn't absolutely full of himself will experience.

I suspect anyone who tries to stretch themselves past their comfort zone experiences this

But different people have different comfort zones

(author here)

Interesting, but some of this might be someone who's made it far enough that they can reason out of imposters syndrome, rather than it being wrong those first few years.

Author here. For what it’s worth, that first promo I talk about was when I was just two years out of college.

It was many years later that I started realizing that maybe it wasn’t a fluke mistake

I never have worked a job like that but I definitely think I came out of MIT with that attitude. Maybe mostly by luck and falling at so many things I tried, but I was convinced that basically the world is made up of people about as stupid as me, each of us in our own unique and special way. Liberating. Sophomore level philosophy but still, the world is made up of stupid people collectively doing our best to not blow it all up.

I definitely also use the "if I have this question at least ten other people do but are afraid to ask" logic lots of times, true or not. It's a lot easier to be unafraid of failure if you don't consider yourself good at it ^_^. Way easier to learn if you're willing to look like an idiot, the hard part is getting people you already know to change the context in which they interact with you. That is the main reason I switched labs between undergrad and grad school - not being the "undergrad helper" for the first three years of grad school. I bet moving over to Google did similarly for you.

Dude, so much wisdom in this comment. I’m saving it

Yeah, regarding perception, yeah, I have definitely noticed a jump in responsibilities every time I’ve switched teams, and a bigger jump each time I switched companies. But I hadn’t quite realized why that was happening until my previous manager mentioned out the perception bit when I was preparing to leave Google

You can't reason out of a fundamental design feature of the brain.

Great article. Resonated within me.

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