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Stanford Female CS Student: I Fight Impostor Syndrome (ladycoders.com)
99 points by tarahmarie 1612 days ago | hide | past | web | 115 comments | favorite



This has absolutely nothing to do with anybody's X or Y chromosomes, genitalia, or gender identity. It's part of growing up and people of all university majors, professions, genders, shapes, colours and sizes experience it.


According to wikipedia: "The impostor syndrome was once thought to be particularly common among women who are successful in their given careers, but has since been shown to occur for an equal number of men."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

They provide a citation for this, but here it is again (definitely worth going straight to the source rather than taking the one-line summary):

http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/-Langford.pdf

"Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Lang- ford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differ- ences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors."

I would be inclined to think this syndrome is higher among programmers, because we don't have as clearly defined an education system as something like medicine. But thing is, I've known (yes, male) physicians who never felt confident, felt like they were faking it, even though they had gone to top medical schools and residencies in their specialty. So maybe it's best not to assume our own experience are unique and don't happen to other people.


I wrote this deeper in this comment thread, but the fact that both genders suffer from it in equal numbers does not mean they suffer from it in an equal manner.

Towards the end of the paper, it says that men with IS are much more likely to take risks, so either women with IS are more affected by it or that view society has on their capabilities - that is mentioned at the beginning of the paper - actually does come into play here.


Is this the part?

"When Beard (1990) compared the PRF traits associated with impostor feelings in men and women, he found differing patterns which suggest that, though both male and female impostors are high in defendence and untrusting of others, they may respond differently to this perception of threat from others in achievement situations. For females, impostor, feelings had low correlations with impulsivity and need for change, consistent with the usual description of impostors as cautious and unlikely to engage in risk-taking. For males, on the other hand, impostor feelings were associated with high impulsivity and a strong need for change, as well as a low need for order. Beard (1990) speculated that, instead of dealing with their sense of inadequacy in the withdrawing style typical of females impostors, male impostors may tend to compensate by pushing themselves in a frenetic manner in order to prove their competency."


Yup, and the final sentence of that paragraph as well:

> Beard speculated that the primacy of relationships in females' value systems might prevent them from putting relationships at risk by taking the kinds of chances that males might take in order to prove themselves through achievements.

[Most] men who feel like imposters try harder, and [most] women who feel like imposters buckle. This correlates strongly with women being less likely to negotiate salary and ask for a raise, due to how it could change their perception.

Anyhow, I found it interesting, relatable and worth noting.


[Most] men who feel like imposters try harder, and [most] women who feel like imposters buckle.

I don't find nearly as much support for this point of view in the paragraph.

The authors used the words "frenetically" rather than "harder" to describe the way the men work. It also suggested that women avoid risk, but not that they buckle. Too much risk aversion can be destructive, but I could also see the identified male pattern here as being very destructive to a career as well. Perhaps losing confidence, working frenetically, and using rapid change (impulsive job hopping) to escape a situation that actually doesn't need to be escaped, abandoning good relationships with people who don't think he's incompetent at all?


It does. Women and minorities are primed to think that they suck anyway - and tech is a place where most of the ancient masters are white men. It takes a bit longer to learn to think of yourself as like those people, rather than a bargain replacement for them.

Everybody can feel like an impostor when objectively competent; it could have been your parents or your older brother who primed you to think that any success you have comes from faking it, but that's not the same as saying that sex or race has "absolutely nothing" to do with it.


Impostor syndrom happens not because somebody was "primed", but because one knows one's own limits of competency and internal doubts better than anyone, but of course in others such things are not noticeable, so comparing oneself to others causes the person to self-doubt since everybody seems to be lacking internal struggles, deficiencies and doubts that are so clearly obvious to self.

Of course, various "positive discrimination" programs won't help this too, since once one belongs to a group which such a program targets, one has yet another - in this case, externally validated - cause to doubt if one's achievements are of one's own merit or were just bestowed by somebody else due to the fact of belonging to the targeted identity group. In this case, if the identity group is gender- or race-specific, of course this component is very prominent.


Yes! I find myself dealing with this issue really frequently. I have to remind myself that, while I can't see it, everybody's got their own internal crap they're working through and I just can't see it...so I need to stop comparing my internal bs to external achievements of others.


Absolutely. When I also derived that commonly known idea for myself (seems the only way to have a hope of internalizing it and having it stick), I tried to think of a pithy way to say it, so I would have a better chance of remembering it when in the moment. The version that won by being remembered the most, "They didn't take pictures of Lincoln's messy closets."


If that's the case, then everybody would experience impostor syndrome equally; we are all more aware of our internal struggles than those of others.

Note that there are plenty of things one can do to fight structural sexism besides positive discrimination, so picking that out of the blue to discuss is a bit of red herring.


Not really, the dependence on the external validation and on comparison with other people is different for different people, and so is the self-esteem and reflexiveness. So everybody would be feeling or not feeling it in a different way. The fact that some psychological problem has objective background does not mean everybody would have it the same way - people are different.

>>>> Note that there are plenty of things one can do to fight structural sexism besides positive discrimination, so picking that out of the blue to discuss is a bit of red herring.

I did not pick it "out of the blue", I chose it specifically because presence of such thing can support Impostor syndrome. I quite agree that there are better ways to go than discrimination, but I was not suggesting any and I wasn't discussing it, I was discussing possible causes for Impostor syndrome.


We actually have good data on this. 4 studies have been made on the prevalence of the impostor syndrome, none of them revealed any difference between the genders, even in fields considered to be heavily male dominated. Beegee posted references higher up on this thread.


Which study are you thinking is most relevant to this? I read the Langford and Clance paper (but not the source papers, and I didn't see anything that I would consider as "good data" for answering this question).

From what I read, I might go as far as saying we have some reason to think that impostor syndrome might be equally prevalent in men and women in tech. On the other hand, if research found the opposite, I could come up with a half-dozen reasons why that wouldn't be surprising.

And I didn't see anything related to impact. It could well be that in tech men and women experience it with the same frequency, but it has more impact for women (or other people easily perceived as outsiders).


Likewise, I don't think a study that simply states that both genders are affected equally actually answers the question here; there's a depth that needs to be calculated, rather than just a yes/no.

The Langford study also says that men afflicted with Imposter Syndrome are much more likely to take risks than their female counterparts. I think that says a lot more about how women interpret themselves due to the societal expectations they mention in the beginning of the paper than the final results the study infers.

Do both genders feel this way? Yes. Are you less likely to act on something because of it? If you're a woman, yes.


What we have is one study that say that when faced with imposter syndrome, correlations show that women tend to have extra low impulsivity and a need for stability and order in their life. Men on other hand when facing imposter syndrome had extra high impulsivity with a low need for order and stability.

I don't see how either type of reaction can be consider good, bad, worse or better. Both has potential strong negative consequences. Too high impulsivity can lead to anything from death, bankruptcy, failure, or in rare occasions: success. Too low impulsivity can lead to an downward spiral, inaction, disadvantages, failure, or in rare occasions: success.


You are correct. Just because the author says "this experience applies to women who are learning to code", that does not preclude the experience from applying to anyone either. She isn't trying to imply that though.

Certainly, the author addresses "girls learning how to code" specifically because her intended audience, on a website named "Lady Coders" is women who are interested in coding.


If somebody would write "this experience applies to men", most people would certainly see it as non-inclusive, and one would be reminded that it is better to write "applies to people" or something like that.


It's non-inclusive because men tend to be included and women tend to be excluded on an unequal basis. So "this experience applies to women" is a reminder that the experience also applies to women, which is usually forgotten.


While the inclusiveness issue you cite is reasonable enough, the conclusion that "x applies to normally-excluded group y" does not signal "x applies to y in addition to unmentioned but related group z."

If you mean "also," use "also." I don't know if you're the author, but regardless, composing based on your perception of the way your audience thinks assumes too much about your audience and their perceptions of the issues you're writing around without being clear.


In other words, males will feel slighted if you don't explicitly include them in a piece directed towards women? Is it so terrible that males might not be amongst your audience?

Here is the only gendered sentence in the entire OP:

> So to all the girls learning how to code, and not sure where you stand: screw it, and just call yourself a developer already.

Is it really so insulting that she didn't say, "girls and boys"? There are only two other gendered words, and they're both pronouns referring to a specific individual.


It's in no way insulting to me, personally, and I am not in a slightest way demanding the author to change and to write differently, I am quite content with it as is. I am just noting if there would be a man writing it, and he wrote something like "For all men learning to code, do this and that" he would very soon be reminded to avoid using non-inclusive language. I do not feel insulted by that either, just noting this phenomenon.


> I am just noting if there would be a man writing it, and he wrote something like "For all men learning to code, do this and that" he would very soon be reminded to avoid using non-inclusive language.

And such a reminder would be completely appropriate. If someone else didn't remind him, then you should step up and do so yourself.


Postmodern feminists are so transparently Orwellian.

Could a particular essay make men feel less than included, many of whom are disenfranchised by the specifics of their situation? Yes? That's perfectly fine! Not all essays' audiences have to include men, so stop being so selfish and demanding.

Could a particular essay make disenfranchised women feel less than included, many of whom are disenfranchised by the specifics of their situation? Yes? Oh, that's just wrong. Step up, make a difference, and accuse that author of casual misogyny.


I'm bored. Let's Godwin this.

Dear Anne Frank, why do you only write about the situation of Jewish folk? Why don't you write about the Germans, many of whom didn't have a posh lifestyle, who had terrible working conditions while building tanks, and were occasionally shot back at by the French? It's really scary being shot at! Sometimes you get hit and bleed and die and everything! You should make sure to be inclusive when you write. Think of all those dead Germans. Don't they deserve to be included in your diary?


Agreed.

People have no obligation to include anyone in their writings. It's not immoral or wrong for someone to use language that does not include 100% of people.

It was you who wrote:

> And such a reminder would be completely appropriate. If someone else didn't remind him, then you should step up and do so yourself.

That said, your comparison is absurd, especially considering young women handily beat young men in college graduation rates and beat them in pay, even taking into account the predominance of young men in tech.


> People have no obligation to include anyone in their writings.

Except this isn't the point I was making.

People in a privileged position are obligated to be more inclusive, because their position is different. This is why, for instance, it is problematic that the POTUS explicitly endorses Christianity as a matter of state. While I concede that it would waste political capital to be inclusive, it remains "immoral and wrong" for him to exclude non-Christians, atheist or Hindu or whatever, simply by weight of tradition.

In this case, males are in a privileged position. Failing to be inclusive, even by omission, is exclusive. We could make this about browser wars and point out how problematic it is that rendering engines are becoming monocultural. We could make this about the predominance of Windows and the implicit assumption that everyone who uses a computer must have a two-button mouse. We could make this about economics and ask why anyone would find it in their self-interest to not increase their disposable income.

It is a responsibility of those with the privilege of dominance to actively seek out ways to be inclusive. It is similarly the right of those who are disadvantaged to protect themselves when excluded, even if it's through exclusion themselves. Both actions are stepping stones towards a stronger egalitarianism.


> Failing to be inclusive, even by omission, is exclusive.

> People in a privileged position are obligated to be more inclusive, because their position is different.

> immoral and wrong

If you're not with us, you're against us. And you're obligated to be with us.

Postmodern feminism is a remarkably authoritarian ideology, leaving very little room for individual choice and expression.

The world is not as absurdly simple as you make it out to be. The world cannot be easily broken down into neat, calming, convenient divisions of "oppressed" and "privileged", "good" and "ungood". That sort of worldview is great for sewing division, segregation, and hatred, but it's awful for accurately modeling society or for setting policy.

It's absurdly difficult for a non-authoritarian to have a coherent discussion with a postmodern feminist, because PMFs dishonestly redefine words (such as "society", "group", "privilege", and "oppression") in an attempt to impose their ideology on the discussion. Both sides end up talking past each other, but I'm going to do my best.

Anyone could construct a "group" to which they belong that is "oppressed" according to PMF ideology. Gluten-intolerant people are oppressed and excluded by a society that markets wheat products to them at every turn, for example. Instead of living in a free society, we could all construct chains by which to bind everyone else to our particular differences.

As I pointed out, young women have significantly higher college graduation rates and are paid better than young men, even taking into account young men's. Is it the right (your words) of young men to use exclusion (your word) to young women when it comes to college or money?


>Is it really so insulting that she didn't say "girls and boys"

Agree. There's nothing in the article that even suggests that this phenomenon only applies to, or more often applies to women.

The "to all the girls" part is clearly due to the fact that the article is written by a woman and posted on a site mostly directed towards women.

EDIT: It looks like the article's been edited since it was originally posted, and that it used the wording "this experience applies to women (...)." I still don't think this is a major issue since the article was meant to assuage the concerns of someone who's experiencing impostor syndrome, and again, the article is written by a woman and posted on a site mostly directed towards women.


No, it is not terrible to aim an article (or a site) primarily at one gender or another.


If the article did indeed say "this experience applies to women (...)", it now appears to've been edited for clarity.


One of my favorite books, Managing the Professional Services Firm by David Maister, talks about how professionals of all kinds tend to need acknowledgement and recognition of their accomplishments, and as soon as they accomplish one thing they move the goal posts further out. I don't recall whether he invokes impostor syndrome explicitly, but that's what it sounds like. No matter how accomplished/experienced you are, you always have a further goal and are seeking proof of your expertise.


Yeah, I was going to say... "I have no doubt that women in the field face unique challenges and prejudices, but this article doesn't really even scratch the surface of them. If you did s/female/male/ on that headline the statement would cover the vast majority of CS students at Stanford. Heck, I'm sure most people around her age fight impostor syndrome --it kind of comes with that stage of development."


I don't think this is limited to women. I suffer from this "syndrome" too. I went to work at one startup several years ago (geez almost a decade now) where I was surrounded by the most brilliant developers I had ever encountered. Definitely my experience wasn't up to par, but they hired me anyways. To combat the imposter syndrome, I worked my tail off learning all I could about their architecture and filling in my programming gaps. I'd like to say the imposter feeling goes away, but even today I get twangs of it when confronted by other brilliant developers (male and female BTW).


Impostor syndrome as a new computer-science/engineering student is a sign that you have self-introspection and successfully recognize your limitations. It will be cured when you get a Real Job [tm] one day and realize that most programmers are as dumb as you are (or worse ;)


Worse. Definitely worse. ;)


Yep, the worst douches I ever met across programmers are the one who think they are really good, while producing some really really crappy code.


"Definitely my experience wasn't up to par, but they hired me anyways."

Looks like you still seem to be suffering from said syndrome :)


There's so much braggadocio in programming that it's easy to develop feelings of inadequacy for everyone. It' just not a "social problem" if you're a male victim.


To clarify, it is still a social problem for you. It just isn't an ideological cause, because you're male.


I think that it's probably easier for women to feel this way. More specifically, I think it's probably easier for men to shed these feelings. As a guy, there are a lot of social opportunities as a CS student; from clubs to just friends. In my classes the ratio of women to men were something like 1 to 30, so I can imagine when a woman's hanging out with her girl friends, they're probably not CS majors. And when a woman is involved in a CS club, she's probably one of the only women, and feels a bit like an outsider anyways.

I think that sort of feeling is helped along when you are recognized by your peers. If you feel like you are "Just a person learning to code" but you think your friend is an awesome programmer, and one day you're working on a project together, and you realize that actually, you write better code faster than he does, or he compliments you, or you solve a problem he has been stuck on; eventually you start to realize the people you thought were pros are really not any different than you.

But if you never get that feedback, or if when you do get that feedback you feel like you are an exception to the group, it's harder to shed that yoke. If you go to girl friends, who have no experience with CS and they tell you "wow, you're really smart, I could never program." that's pretty meaningless. If you're in a club where you're the only girl in a group of guys, and a guy says "You did a really great job" you mentally affix "... for a girl" to the end, or you wonder about his sincerity.

As more women take CS, and as more communities like the blog above develop, I think there will be more opportunities for women to find that confidence.


>>I think that it's probably easier for women to feel this way. More specifically, I think it's probably easier for men to shed these feelings. As a guy, there are a lot of social opportunities as a CS student; from clubs to just friends.

More importantly, in male-dominated fields men receive praise and validation much more easily than women do, which makes it easier for them to get over their impostor syndrome. For women the situation is quite different. I work for a private software company and our owner and CEO is female. She once explained it like this: women in tech are not taken seriously until after they have become successful.


I'm a man that started to code in my mid 20s, and it is hard to shake the feeling that I'm a decade behind the curve.


I'll skip the gender issues in this discussion, not because they aren't central, just because I only have so much time in the day :)

I'm not sure I agree with the OP on this: > So to all the girls learning how to code, and not sure where you stand: screw it, and just call yourself a developer already.

Replace "girls" with "people" for now (again, I'm not saying gender is irrelevant, I'm just focusing on a tangent for now)...I know there is virtually no concept of "licensing" for the fields of "developer" or "hacker" in the way lawyers and doctors have it (i.e. you can't call yourself a lawyer just because you're reading case law for fun)...and that's a good thing. But there's something in me that wants to say, "Well, you have to have built something, and watched it either succeed or fail". It doesn't have to be something big. It just has to be something you invested your time in and that you put out there because you thought the world might be interested...at that point, even with a small project, you know what it's like to "ship" and be invested.

To me, that's the difference between learning to code and calling yourself a developer.

If I were to try learning guitar, does that make me a musician? If I read the works of George Carlin and think of one-liners of my own during the day, does that make me a comedian? I would argue 'no'. But once you practice and refined yourself to the point that you book a gig, or even do an open mic, then the labels of "musician" and "comedian" seem more applicable.

---

OK, now for me to be really catty: Why does any modern blog (this is not the OP's fault, obviously), in this day and age, think it acceptable to use 13px as the body font for articles? Sorry, had to get that off my chest.


I'm one of the owners of this blog, and genuinely interested in your input on the font size. I don't have great vision, and tend to browse everything at 110-120%, depending on the site. Is your complaint the specific pixel size, or do you think we should have used a different measurement?

As for the developer argument, the problem is that there is no hard line. How big of a project must one complete before they're a developer? You said even a small one, but Hello World is a small "project" and certainly isn't enough.

I completely agree that there is a difference between learning to code and calling yourself a developer. One problem here is that the industry uses developer, coder, and programmer interchangeably, although programmer seems to be currently falling out of favor. (I was once at a party where someone thought that I meant I was a "party programmer" or something.) Obviously they don't mean the same thing, but it's kind of like arguing over the difference between a geek and a nerd at this point.


I wonder if the real litmus test is "ship a project and talk to the satisfied customer after fixing a few production bugs". Arbitrarily I'd say that the project would be at least a couple weeks personal time investment at least, and then also maybe a month of follow-up for bugs. And by "talk" I mean even just indirectly be part of a team to sign off on a project as done.

An experience like that really affects one's coding habits and makes them structure things in a more future-proof way: things like having loggable errors, even basic usability sense cannot realistically come from anywhere but hearing real user reports, going through the most basic deployment process, finding an issue on a live system.

In addition, certain naive over-engineering impulses get tempered by real shipping experience - because YAGNI is honed as well.

It's been described that anyone creative/constructive plays both a "writer/implementer" role and an "editor" role (using a book analogy here). Writing code is what we learn in school - but editing and directing and culling that output is something that takes real exposure to user problems to get better at.


Thanks for replying...the 13px size is the main issue...i don't have great vision but I don't think any recent design guide would argue at 13 px is suitable in today's design standards.

One other metric is letters per line...guidelines recommend roughly 70 to 80 characters, because as lines get wider, it's harder to track which line you were on when your eyes go from the end to the beginning of the next line. It looks like your site is at around 100 characters despite it not having an extremely wide article body size.

Anyway, just my rant...this post on typography I've found to be useful: http://www.vanseodesign.com/web-design/typographic-choices/

As for what kind of project makes a developer, well, that's definitely open for discussion. I have no idea, but was just looking for a litmus test beyond just learning or being interested in code.


Thanks for your input. I have access to a typography nerd and will ask for a recommendation :)


>I know there is virtually no concept of "licensing" for the fields of "developer" or "hacker" in the way lawyers and doctors have it (i.e. you can't call yourself a lawyer just because you're reading case law for fun)

Very rarely will you hear an attorney/lawyer so tongue and cheek refer to themselves as a such, more generally they will reference "I practice law". I know the term is used for Doctors as well, "practicing medicine". The idea is the medical and legal professions and their standards are constantly changing, but the professionals are constantly continuing their education of the profession as well as incorporating the latest advances/techniques. If a CS student described what they do as the "practice of coding" instead of describing themselves as a coder/hacker/developer I think it would be a clear and professional description.

However, I see your point unlike a "practicing" doctor or lawyer, whom you know is licensed from the very term, "there is virtually no concept of "licensing" for the fields of "developer" or "hacker" in the way lawyers and doctors have it". I do not know how practical this is, but perhaps there should be licensing for various programming languages like MS has certificates for MSCE, after all lawyers did not always have to go to law school to become members of state bars and in fact some of the best US Supreme Court Justices, and most well written, never went to law school - nevertheless bar requirements evolved to raise the standards of the profession.


Pretty much all engineers have some kind of professional licensing equivalent to doctors and lawyers, except in software.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_engineering_profession...


Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook gave a talk about this at the 2011 Grace Hopper conference. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMVCSrm65kg

In my experience, lots of girls in CS feel this way. I convinced my ex girlfriend to major in computer science. She didn't think she could do it because she had never programmed or anything before college. I told her that it didn't matter, and that she had in fact programmed before. She used to love making myspace layouts.

As she neared graduation, she was constantly telling me how she felt like she couldn't do it. That she was faking her way through all of her classes and that if anyone actually hired her she would be a miserable failure. Honestly, a lot of that feeling was probably my fault. I was a few years older and already out of college. The amount of help I gave her on assignments would probably be considered cheating at most universities. I always tried to make sure she understood what was happening though. So she really felt like a fraud.

She had an internship writing code though, and even got a few raises while she was working there. I knew her coworkers and they never even hinted that she didn't know what she was doing. I just tried to keep encouraging her and telling her she knew what she was doing (even though I had doubts)

So what happened? She's a developer at Amazon now. As far as I know, she's doing quite well.


That's so cool for your friend :) I hope you've taken some of the credit, encouragement is such a huge part of success.

I'm a girl doing a CS degree and also often think that the amount of help I get from my boyfriend (who has graduated by now) borders on cheating which really makes me feel miserable from time to time, and constantly having someone next to you who you know can complete any task you have with so much less effort doesn't help a lot either.

Other times, however, I acknowledge that as long as he isn't plainly handing the solutions over to me (which he never does) but just kind of acts as my rubber duck, all that can really be said is that it's just a fortunate situation where you constantly have someone to bounce ideas off of. It's also a question of not becoming dependent of that person -- at first I felt that he literally always knew the answer to whatever I was struggling with, but by now I've realised that it's simply about the ability to think out loud and make conclusions as you go along, and I know that I have all the potential to do that on my own as well.

I guess it's kind of what the article is saying as well -- if you're used to someone being better than you and kind of like a mentor, it's difficult to adjust to a situation where you might just have caught up with them in terms of skill and expertise.


I've heard from many women a concern that they haven't worked on any "real" projects. They might be a college grad who did a very complex senior project, they might have built websites for a volunteer organization, there was even one that had been on a team which developed an app for a contest. They seem to think that unless they've been paid to code, the work somehow doesn't count.


I think the real imposters are the developers who act like they know what they are doing!


That's the Dunning-Kruger Effect.


I like this comment, experts so rarely are :)


You need to embrace that while you frequently feel like you have no idea what you are doing, most folks feel the same way.

It takes time to become aware of what you know, and to know what you don't know. That's why true craftsmen take thousands of hours to master their craft. It's also why we build procedures and process -- it allows people with limited mastery to keep things going.

My first day as a professional full time IT person was a DBA role about 3 days after my college graduation. The guy who hired me had left for another job, one person was on vacation, and the other was out sick due to a car accident. I got my HR paperwork done, found my cube, and someone dropped by to say "Oh, you're the new DBA, good. The system is down."

Did I know what I was doing? Hell no. But we got an SA from another office on the phone and some helpdesk techs together, stepped through it, got things working and got things resolved in a few hours. The next time it happened, we restored service in about 15 minutes and found the root cause.

The point is, you eventually know what you are doing. But you have to do stuff first.


I had similar feelings when I started to use 'programmer' and 'developer' on my CV, and when I started my first IT contracting job. I had done programming in my previous job, but it was in no way acknowledged in my job description or grade. Similarly when I started to earn more than I had previously, I questioned whether I deserved it.

The chicken-and-egg situation with job experience and employability makes it inevitable that you will be in positions where you 'don't know what you're doing'. But if you have the determination to seek out answers and fill the gaps in your knowledge, you'll become that expert you think you aren't.


How to fight feelings of impostor syndrome:

1. Look back rather than forward. Consider where you were even just 2-3 years ago. How much more you know now about X,Y,Z. The next goal will always stretch out in front of you. When looking forward so you'll never measure up to 'future you'. 'Past you' is a much easier comparison.

2. Look down rather than up. Consider how much you know about your domain. A Stanford CS student is probably in the top 0.0001% of people with CS knowledge. Don't compare yourself to the small number of people ahead of you, think of all the people who are behind.

3. Examine your track record. Remind yourself of all the challenges you've overcome, the hard problems you've solved. Think of how rarely (if ever) you've failed when the chips were down. Even if you can't solve [current problem X] right now, be confident that you will solve it.

tl;dr Even if you're the slowest runner in the marathon, you can still run a marathon.


I found the following quote to be helpful, "I may not know what I'm doing, but at least I have no idea what's going on..."


I think I can relate... As I write this, I am sitting in the first class of my Compsci study abroad in Israel (Analysis of big data) which I now find out is mainly for master's students. So, I'm a 19 year old that looks closer to 16, surrounded by bearded, army-hardened Israeli's in their mid 20's. The class is also being taught in Hebrew and I don't speak a lick.

'Imposter Syndrome' is my life right now, but I kinda love it.


Genuine question: How are you able to follow a class in which you don't speak the language? Are you just following the examples and the book?


People who are saying this is not related to gender are wrong. It is very related. While both men and women can suffer from the impostor syndrome, men get over it much more quickly and easily than women. The reason is simple: in male-dominated fields men receive praise and validation much more easily than women do, which can help them overcome their feelings of self-doubt. For women the situation is quite different. I work for a private software company and our owner and CEO is female. She once explained it like this: women in tech are not taken seriously until after they have become successful.


It was posted elsewhere here, but I'll reference it:

http://www.paulineroseclance.com/pdf/-Langford.pdf

"Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Lang- ford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differ- ences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors."

Furthermore:

"in male-dominated fields men receive praise and validation much more easily than women do"

Do you have anything to back this up?

Finally, anecdotal evidence is just that, anecdotal.

> "women in tech are not taken seriously until after they have become successful"

I see men dealing with the same thing. They aren't taken seriously until they accomplish something (success being defined as accomplishing something).

I'm not saying you are wrong, mind you. You just haven't shown that you are right.


> women in tech are not taken seriously until after they have become successful.

Neither are men, so I don't really see what you are getting at.


No, it's very different. Men often times are taken seriously just because they are men. The odd thing about it however is that if you are a man, then this is not immediately obvious, because you have always been treated this way and have taken it for granted. But ask any woman in a tech field and they will give you lots of data points about how their male counterparts are always praised by their peers and superiors for minor accomplishments whereas women are either not given much credit or the stuff they do are ignored completely.

I was getting lunch with a female coworker/friend last week and we ended up talking about this very topic. We work for a software company and she's in sales. She recounted that back when she first started, other salespeople treated her like crap and blamed her for things that weren't her fault. Even when she exceeded her daily or weekly goals, she didn't receive any praise. Whereas the male salespeople who started around the same time as her were getting rewarded for performing half as well. It was only after she dominated the quarterly metrics over and over that people started to pay her any attention. Nowadays she's very highly regarded, but had to work extra hard to get that.


I have an anecdote about a guy who wasn't given recognition while female coworkers were. Want to anecduel? Or shall we actually look for hard data rather than relying on hand-waving and stories about women we've known?

More importantly, though I agree that women have to fight harder for recognition in many fields, there is no evidence that this means they are more subject to impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is an internal thing, not something somebody else tells you to have.


This constant insistence on "hard data" is extremely tiresome, and throws a wrench in what would otherwise be interesting debates. I think, as intelligent people, we should be able to reason ourselves out of a disagreement without relying on data that may or may not exist.


Logic is a wonderful vehicle for arriving at good conclusions, but without the fuel of accurate data, it is mostly useless for going anywhere but downhill.

We cannot confidently reason about reality without some hard data to use as a premise. We need that connection to reality. By trying to go without it, we are essentially constructing a fantasy universe. It might be a very elaborate and intelligently constructed fantasy, but it is still ultimately disconnected from reality.

But anyway, there is some hard data for this, so we don't need to worry about it not existing. It's already been offered earlier in the thread.


My post is off topic, but anecdotes are data. Poor data to make decisions about systemic changes, but good data to make decisions about individual choices and policies. A single instance of a wrong is enough to discuss how it might have been avoided.


Yes, it's possible to have a conversation without data. Yes, sometimes it's all you can do, if the hard data doesn't exist, so "hard data or GTFO" is untenable. But you started slinging anecdotes, and that's a path to sloppy reasoning. Either stick to the abstract, or provide data that's useful. No reasonable person would be persuaded by your "I was getting lunch with a female coworker/friend" story. It was obviously selected with bias, by both your friend and yourself. It doesn't make you wrong... it makes your reasoning unconvincing.


>>No reasonable person would be persuaded by your "I was getting lunch with a female coworker/friend" story.

No reasonable person would dismiss it as just an anecdote, because no reasonable person would be so blind to the fact that this type of stuff is extremely common. Providing data to state just how common is unnecessary for a good discussion.


What I find especially tiresome in the sexism discussions here is that hard data only seems to be a requirement for those saying something that questions the status quo.

It's never, "Well, there's no hard data on this, but we are just coming out from a multi-millennial period of discrimination against women, so let's assume we have a little further to go."

Instead, all I see is on the order of, "You have no hard data that women are treated poorly this month so I'm going act like there couldn't possibly be a problem."


>It's never, "Well, there's no hard data on this, but we are just coming out from a multi-millennial period of discrimination against women, so let's assume we have a little further to go."

That's because you have to start with a false premise, and then make a completely arbitrary leap in logic. It seems entirely reasonable to consider the possibility that given the evidence shows equality, that baring evidence to the contrary, things are probably pretty equal.


The evidence shows that there is no gender difference in how seriously people are taken in all professional situations? I look forward to you posting links.


This is about how likely people are to suffer from impostor syndrome, not "how seriously people are taken in all professional situations."

From my comment that you seem to have been calling "tiresome"†:

> though I agree that women have to fight harder for recognition in many fields, there is no evidence that this means they are more subject to impostor syndrome.

† At least, it was the parent of the comment you were sympathizing with.


It shows that men and women have equal prevalence of imposter syndrome, which is the discussion at hand. Links had already been provided before you posted.


That is not in fact the discussion at hand.

Enraged_camel complained that men are taken more seriously than women, and gave an anectote in support:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5280061

Chc responded that anecdotes were not hard data:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5280329

Enraged_camel called requests like that tiresome:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5280329

I agreed and shared my observation that on HN, requests for data in sexism discussions are generally used to defend the status quo:

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5281860

Then you chimed in to suggest that evidence showed equality.

Do you have it? I'm guessing not.


>That is not in fact the discussion at hand

Yes it is.

>Then you chimed in to suggest that evidence showed equality.

Read the post I replied to again.


>>>> Men often times are taken seriously just because they are men

That doesn't sound right. Given that pretty much everybody in certain fields are men, that would imply anybody there is taken seriously. But it seems to be obviously wrong - no one would just accept just any guy coming from the street as a master in any domain just because he's male. If somebody pretends to be a serious practitioner of the field, he would never be accepted as such without demonstrating some proof. I can come in and say, e.g., "I am a seasoned game developer", but people would immediately as "nice, which games did you develop?", not say "are you male? oh, then we believe you".

>>>> how their male counterparts are always praised by their peers and superiors for minor accomplishments

Being praised for minor accomplishments does not actually mean one is taken seriously - children are often praised for the smallest of accomplishments, but treating one like a child is exactly the opposite of taking seriously.


Perhaps I am being too literal here. But plenty of men are men, and yet are not taken seriously. So merely being a man does not mean you are taken seriously. In other words, no, men are not taken seriously "just because they are men".


Perhaps it would help to think of it this way: Most men are accorded a neutral rating from the get go and proving themselves puts them ahead of that. Women tend to start with a negative rating and have to work their way up to neutral. Yes, if a man screws up he can drop into the negatives. But he is much less likely to start there.


I'm sorry, but this just isn't true. (White) men in general are given the benefit of the doubt. They are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise. Women and minorities often times have to prove competence before being taken seriously. I have witnessed this first hand in many forms.


> (White) men in general are given the benefit of the doubt. They are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise.

Based on everything I have ever seen in my life, you are either completely off-base or overstating your case so wildly it's almost unrecognizable. If this were true, I could walk into any company around here that is hiring, tell them I'd like the job and instantly land it without so much as an interview because I'm white and male and thus "assumed to be competent." That is very much not the case. I have to prove competence first.


No. The benefit of the doubt is that you get an interview, and that if you get the job they'll offer you more money.

cite 1: male names on an application vs female names: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/unofficial-prognosis/201...

cite 2: 'white' names on an application vs 'black' names: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&#...


[deleted]


Do I have to read these studies to you aloud?

"Results found that the “female” applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in competence, "


The bar for you is much lower. It may not even occur at the interview stage -- many studies have been done that demonstrate a lower rate of interviews granted to identical applications with a "foreign-sounding" name.

The insistence on "hard data" and derision of anecdotes (when, unlike e.g. sending out resumes with different names on them, most of this is essentially impossible to study) when discussing the very real experiences of women and minorities is a mechanism to deny the reality of their experiences -- a way of saying that their perception of the world is incorrect and yours, as a privileged individual, is correct. It's not a rebuttal of racism or sexism, it's a symptom of it.


These studies do not show that white men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise. It shows that people are less inclined to give interviews to racial minorities.

You seem to think I'm denying the existence of discrimination. I'm not. That was not the topic of my comment at all. I was responding to a specific comment that I felt vastly overstated its case, not to a broad issue.


See the studies I cited and quoted from on another branch of this thread.

""Results found that the “female” applicants were rated significantly lower than the “males” in competence, "


This is getting a little tiring. Does this prove the claim "White men are assumed to be competent"? No, it does not. People really seem to want me to be arguing something other than what I actually said, but I'm not. My comment was very specific and not all that grand in its claims, and I find it amazing that people are this desperate to fight over it.

In case you have forgotten, my claim this whole time has just been that hackinthebochs was overstating his case — that the situation is not so crazy that being white exempts you from the need to demonstrate competence. Anything that does not prove white men are generally assumed to be competent is a red herring.


Well, hackinthebochs never said that the assumption of competence was strong enough to prompt a job offer, you introduced that as a silly hyperbolic statement, so ridiculously grand in its claim - that 'an assumption of competence' can only be shown if it results in an instant job offer - that it appeared you were building a strawman with which to attack the idea that anyone had any kind of bias in favour of white males.

An assumption of competence doesn't imply that it will be allowed to stand untested in a high stakes scenario such as offering a job. However it will far too often stand untested in smaller scenarios, and it is exactly this assumption behind statements like "did you have your boyfriend help you with that assignment?" addressed to female students and not males, "you must be the graphic designer!" etc etc.


Your mistake was that you were arguing against my point as if my statement included a universal qualifier. Somehow in these discussions, the nuances and implied ambiguities of language go out the window and every statement is taken to the absolute extreme.

You were arguing against a universal statement that I never intended to make, and now people are arguing against you as if you were denying that white men are generally assumed to be competent compared to other groups.

These discussions could go a lot more smoothly if we would all just cut each other a little slack and assume good faith.


Are you being serious? Yes, when you're trying to get a job, you generally still have to prove competency (in tech fields at least). But the assumptions are still comparatively in your favor. What I'm referring to is more about casual settings, where there isn't already a process in place to judge competency. When people must make a snap judgement based on little or no information, a white man will have all the assumptions in his favor.


>men get over it much more quickly and easily than women. The reason is simple: in male-dominated fields men receive praise and validation much more easily than women do, which can help them overcome their feelings of self-doubt. For women the situation is quite different

It sounds as though you suggesting that these claims are factual, is that the case? I can find no evidence to support them, and evidence that indicates you are incorrect (men are equally likely to have imposter syndrome, if they got over it faster you wouldn't see equal numbers).


I often hear beginner programmers state they cannot program, only write code that will work. I hear this commonly among Elec. and Mech. E fields, where coding is secondary in the education.

It takes reading other peoples code to realize plenty of poor code has shipped and generated revenue. Yours may not be so bad.


I personally find question-answering great for helping me feel like not-an-impostor. Answering questions helps you recognize both that you have valuable skills and knowledge and that your coworkers are not the brilliant godlings you think you're just impersonating. They're smart, capable people, just like you, who know some things and don't know other things.

Now, you can't force people to ask you questions (although you can avoid discouraging it), but you can ask more questions. Even if you're stubbornly certain you can find the answer to your question if you only dig into the poorly documented codebase for another 45 minutes, occasionally giving up and asking one of your coworkers can (a) save you time, (b) maybe make them feel less like an impostor, and (c) make you more approachable so they'll come to you for help.


I'm a female developer, and I fought this my whole career. It is real. I even bought several books on it, which are mostly outdated. It used to happen more in fields like law/medicine.

I don't think I ever experienced outright sexism, but the group dynamic of all males often had to try adapt to be less abrupt/rude/direct, which was difficult for me to manage. And if you're going to post that I should have been the one adapting (and I was, in every way) - you don't get this post. It frustrates me to see many males posting here that this "doesn't exist". It's something you can't see or experience until you've been through it.


... The good thing is you want to learn, and that’s all that matters.

That's the best advice to anyone: never stop learning. Working hard isn't always fun, but it's - in my opinion - the best way to succeed.


I (male) had exactly the same experience when I started at a software company straight out of a Physics degree (only breif experience in Fortran..) I was asserting to (someone senior, can't remember meaningless job titles) that I was "not really a developer yet," and he told me off - "you sit at a desk and do developer-y things all day!" At that point, I got over the label, and when I left 2.5 years later I noticed I had put "developer" on my twitter profile - clearly my brain had accepted it by then!


"Imposter Syndrome", so I understand it, is not even an issue in any regard or form. This is the 'humbleness' that stereotypically exist among Asians. It is a trait that tells us to never be content with oneself and always be on the search for self betterment.

The only place where I see this is an issue is if one decides that himself or herself is worse than other people and loses self-confidence. However, for people with real success and accomplishments I just really don't see this happening. They may deem their success to be lucky, but if they are aware that it was still a success, they will continue to try harder to make it 'not luck' the next time. Dismissing at the same time the false notion that he or she did not achieve.

I would even go as far to call out that Imposter Syndrome exists mostly among perfectionists. They'll get this sort of feeling whenever they sense that someone else is better than them at one particular thing. Internally they try to achieve in all aspects of life. This might not necessarily be a good mental state since it diverges one's attention depending on the current social context one is in. However with a correct mindset then one should be able to utilize this trait to his or her advantage. The idea is to know there are things to learn, but not that I am worse than others.

Therefore I know I have the 'Imposter Syndrome'. However I don't fight it, I use it.


I don't know if men have an easier time or not. But I am female and inherently am untrusting of most praise that comes from men. It usually comes across as a blatant pat on the head of a sort they wouldn't likely do to a man, which strikes me as belittling. Because it is delivered differently from what seems to be the norm between two men, it strikes me as either a form of tokenism/pity or makes me wonder if the real intent is to butter me up because he is attracted. Both are big problems, not any kind of leg up or meaningful assurance that I am perceived as competent. It is relatively rare for me to get backing of a sort which suggests to me that it is based on genuine esteem for my ability.

Edit: My point is I can see that being a source of self doubt which men might experience less of in a male dominant environment. So I can see this being tough to overcome for a woman surrounded by men.

(Not that I view myself as a woman in tech. I run a few websites. I do some freelance writing. I know a smidgeon of html and css. I have a certificate in GIS. But I am a former homemaker who paid insurance claims for about five years. My self image is not "woman in tech." I really do not know what professional label would currently fit me. It is quite irksome at times, though I suppose there is no need to drone on further about that detail.)


I've experienced something similar to what you describe.

There are times when I am new to a group, that I will be constantly told how very valuable to the group I am, how awesome I am, how happy they are to have me, etc; often before I've been in the office for an hour or written a line of code.

After this sort of thing, I tend to be suspicious of praise from that group of people. Do they actually mean it? Did they even look at my code?


I have written a few blog posts about that sort of social dynamic. Some of them have gotten a tiny amount of attention on hn. I also had some interesting experiences in GIS school, which was 70% male. My male teachers seemed to have a little trouble with a woman being the strongest math person in the class. In one case, the professor asked me so often "how do you know that?" that a male student blurted in exasperation "she's obviously already worked it out in her head!" In another case, different professor, he bet me "lunch" that he was right and I was wrong. When he had to pay up, he thanked me for not letting him confuse the class. (He quietly gave me a twenty. I think he didn't want to eat lunch with a female student for fear it would look like a date.)


> "it is delivered differently from what seems to be the norm between two men"

As a man, it's hard to deliver praise to women who totally deserve it because of the worry that "she might just think I'm hitting on her" or "she might think I'm saying it out of pity".

Do you have suggestions for how I might give genuine praise that doesn't get misinterpreted as either of those?


I loathe public praise. I was one of the top three students of my graduating high school class. Everyone knew who I was and mostly hated me for it. My adult experiences have not been any better. I typically cringe when anyone, male or female, publically praises me. It's horrible. So I don't know if I can help with that issue per se.

What I have appreciated is when men in positions of power have taken action to genuinely back my work. When I worked at a big company, I managed to impress one of the top three people in the department. I had an entry level job. We barely interacted, but his interaction with me spoke volumes and had I stayed at the company I strongly suspect that would have eventually led to something professionally.

I won a departmental award for improving a reference source that was widely used. It was announced at a big meeting that my version of the reference material would be made available via intranet. Months went by and nothing happened. I began asking around and hitting one dead end after another. After much frustration and run around, I ran into this departmental head in the hallway. I looked his way and he realized I wanted to talk to him. He stopped and came to me and graciously gave me a moment of his time. It was clear to me it was a mark of personal respect. Then he told me to email him the question.

I was only hoping he would give me an idea of who else to ask. Instead, he pushed it through personally and it finally went up on the intranet a few days later. I realized after the fact that I made a lot of ignorant, unthinking social gaffs in the process, which he covered over smoothly. I made sure he got a thank you note from both me and a supervisor who ended up being involved (turns out she wrote the reference and unofficially updated it and was finally getting recognition because of my award). I made sure it came from the two of us so there would be zero suggestion that this was "personal." I did not want there to be any raised eyebrows over the incident because it was clear to me I had basically gotten a personal favor from on high. I did not want anyone to take any notice of that fact.

I knew other men at the company in positions of power. One, in another department, asked me on a date. Another, again in another department, behaved in a way which I interpretted as a mild form of sexual harrassment -- he was attracted but I think married. He looked for excuses to be "collegially affectionate" that struck me as motivated by attraction and carefully covered as "not sexual, honest!" No other man did anything of professional value for me. I valued that small act of respect and of lending me his professional backing far more than any praise he could have given me. I find that being taken seriously by a man and engaged like that in a meaningful way is much harder to come by than sweet words, which are often essentially empty.


> "But I am female and inherently am untrusting of most praise that comes from men"

So on the one hand, male engineers are creating a hostile environment by not recognizing the achievements of female colleagues (the 'she just got hired because they wanted a woman' phenomenon) but now male engineers are creating a hostile environment by recognizing the achievements of female engineers because of the inherit biases of the engineer receiving the praise.


I didn't say anything like that. This doublebind you are accusing me of bitchily creating is called the human condition. You put heterosexual men and heterosexual women together in a work environment and it gets tricky to navigate. That has absolutely nothing to do with me blaming men, something I generally am disinclined to do.


This is a fascinating topic. I haven't heard of this in the past, but I certainly can relate. I hate talking about things I (do/have done) and usually tend to prefer to just wait and talk about things "once I actually do something worthwhile."


Something neglected in this discussion is the role of hostile interactions from others in this field. Impostor syndrome is not always something with a strictly internal origin. If people are dominating you and making you feel bad, and you become submissive, that is a pattern as old as primates and it shouldn't surprise us when it happens also when you are working with people who are extremely concerned with proving they or their clique are better than others. Which is super common in CS and a large part of why many women have a bad experience.


What caught my attention in the article is the friend who always says, she is "learning to code" and people look down on her. This reminds me of the legal profession - when someone asks what a lawyer does, they should not respond with their title, I am a lawyer or attorney, rather explain that "they practice law".

What does the HN community think about that? Would you respond to career questions by answering, "I practice computer coding"? As a non-tech it sounds professional and badass.


I simply think that Vinamrata is particularly courageous to put her name and voice to an experience that all too many people of any variety are unable or unwilling to disclose.


What Impostor Syndrome? We're talking about a CS freshman interviewing for their first internship. Be happy that your first internship interview had any challenging technical questions at all and stop belittling yourself. Heck, when i was a CS major in school, internships didn't even kick in until 3rd year. This has nothing to do with gender. As the top commenter says, it has everything to do with growing up.


I am reminded of this interesting talk by Amy Cuddy on body language: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ks-_Mh1QhMc

Most of it is not directly related (still worth watching!), but at about 15:42 in she gives her personal anecdote of impostor syndrome and "faking it til you make it". Which, incidentally, I think applies well to entrepreneurs.


HN sure is one hell of a sampling bias, but it would seem everyone here has impostor syndrome.

I think one important factor to feeling like you're an impostor who doesn't belong is being among others who are smarter and more experienced than you.


The Socratic paradox: "I know that I know nothing."




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