3 Tips to Overcome Impostor Syndrome As a Programmer

In today’s article I’m going to cover the 3 ways that you can overcome imposter syndrome as a self-taught programmer for GOOD.

Imposter syndrome sucks! This feeling like you are out of place when you start applying for jobs. Feeling like you just shouldn’t be there and you don’t belong.

It’s just one of the most self-defeating tendencies that people have when they’re getting into software development.

I really want to give you a framework to move forward and feel better and more comfortable once you get yourself into that position.

So, that’s what I’ll be talking about here today.

By the way, if you’re new here, I’m Peter Mukundi. I’m a self-taught software developer. And I’m also a mentor to everyday people who are aspiring programmers and software developers.

I cover a lot of things here on this blog like, strategies and tactics for learning and picking up new things for landing that first job.

So, if you’re interested in that information, I highly recommend checking out my blog from time to time to get actionable tips to take your career to the next level.

So, let’s just dive into it.

But before I do that let me just briefly cover what imposter syndrome is.

Just when you start applying for jobs or maybe you are already applying for jobs at this moment, you’ll notice that you have this feeling in your body.

This intense anxiety or low-level anxiety that you don’t belong. You’re not a software developer.

And since you’ve never been in this field you start getting this feeling like, who am I to go out there and start applying for jobs.

Like clearly the people out there who are getting jobs are experienced. They’ve done this sort of thing but you’re just some person that have been teaching themselves this for months or maybe even years.

And so, you have this intense feeling. This nervousness and thought pattern that keeps telling you that you shouldn’t be there.

That they’re going to find out. That they’re going to know that you’re an imposter.

And that feeling right there can lead to you performing terribly in an interview. Or lead you to not doing your best in an interview.

And as a result, you just don’t bring the right energy because you’re just so nervous and you’re just thinking over and over about this problem.

So, let me give you 3 ways to overcome it.

Critically analyze your beliefs

The first way to overcome it is really to just analyze your beliefs and come up with better ones about the situation.

I think what a lot of people tend to think about getting into software development, is like software developers who are in the field are sort of like this circle of elders.

Like they are these people who are cut from a different cloth. And you sort of have to get invited into this cool group of people. Or this really smart group of people.

So, when you apply for a job, you’re thinking to yourself, okay, these people are clearly very smart or very good at what they do and I have to get accepted in this group by really showing who I am.

As if they’re indifferent to you.

Which is not the case at all.

It’s not an exclusive group of people who have a very stringent system for selecting people who can come into the group.

That’s not how it works at all!

Instead, what it is, if there’s a company who’s looking to fill a position at their company, they need someone who can provide value.

Who can do some things for them to improve their bottom line? That’s what a job opening is for typically.

So, when you’re applying to these jobs especially if they’re jobs for either junior positions or positions that require like 3 years of experience.

That means that company is looking for someone who can come in and start producing.

And so, for you to go and apply for that position it’s not about them screening you. Or testing you and being like, “who are you, like what are you doing here”.

They’re looking for someone who can contribute to their team. And so, do they want someone who is skilled at that position?

Someone who can bring something to the table.

Absolutely.

But there’s more to getting a job than just skills. Like there are plenty of people who are very skilled who have a hard time finding a job.

The things that they’re looking for in a software developer are competency in programming but another thing that gets overlooked often is the person’s willingness to learn.

And being open-minded to following directions.

Nothing is worse than hiring a new developer on your team and that developer does not want to follow the standards for that team.

Where they’re not a good culture fit. And they don’t know how to talk about things especially in meetings. They don’t know how to bring up different ideas and ways to resolve conflict.

And so, when you get interviewed for a position, they’re going to be looking at your technical skills.

Like, can you program? They’re going to be looking at your potential. They’ll also be looking at how you communicate and what you bring to the table from a culture perspective.

So, in all, examine your beliefs. It’s not that the person who is interviewing you doesn’t want you to get hired.

And they’re going to try to look for any little thing to discount you.

The opposite is true.

If you can go there and show your best side, the chances are good that they’ll want to hire you.

And I’ve heard this many times before.

Recently I was speaking with somebody who works at a big company and we were both talking about hiring and what’s the best thing to look for in someone.

And we both agreed that when someone comes into the interview room, we want that person to work out.

We are ecstatic to find somebody who can bring value to the company. Who can work with us. Who can bring something to the table?

So, when someone comes in, there is not a conflict at all.

We are not adversarial!

In fact, we want that person to do well. So, if that person is struggling with a certain white boarding challenge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not going to be someone who we consider.

There are other things on the table and in fact, I’m there to try help them through it.

And I can see that based on how they’re solving the problem. Based on how they’re answering questions.

To me that’s going to stand out way more than necessarily whether they get the problem 100% correct.

So, remember that!

Change your beliefs about it.

It’s not an adversarial thing. The companies want to hire you.

Interviewers want you to do well for the most part, I’m sure there’s some other that don’t.

If you change those beliefs it’s a long way in changing imposter syndrome.

Preparation instead of worrying

The next thing if you’re really nervous going into an interview.

If you’re just feeling that imposter syndrome come up. The only way to make that thing go away is instead of sitting around and moping about it.

I get it and I’ve done it before too.

But the only way to really get over it is to prepare. And this actually comes from one my favorite books “the obstacle is the way”.

And in it, Ryan Holiday talks about how when they were training astronauts in the Apollo program.

I guess in the 50s when they were training astronauts to go up there, they had no idea what it was like up in space.

So, in order for them to prepare astronauts for the craziness that could come their way, they basically trained anxiety and nervousness out of them.

So, they basically decided to put them through every possible situation.

And make sure they have gone through everything crazy here on earth so that way when they shoot them up into a tiny little capsule in space.

And they basically can’t do much in there while they’ll be going through the void of space and anything could kill them.

They made sure that they don’t flinch.

And so, they practiced and practiced it out of them down on earth. They basically prepared them in the way that when the things went wrong up in space, they were used to it.

They weren’t going to get that adrenaline rush that could render them completely inert from a mental perspective.

And so, the same thing applies to coding.

If you’re really nervous about that job interview you have coming up. And you don’t know if you belong there.

What you should do is take that energy you have, that nervous energy and apply it to something that you can do.

So, what can you do right now?

Can you plan out your week for the upcoming week before you interview? Can you put down time slots of when you’re going to study? Can you figure out what you’re going to study?

By doing that it goes a long way to easing the anxiety and the tension.

And on top of that it gives you something productive to do because when you’re doing something productive, you’re not thinking about how underprepared you are.

When you go into an interview fully prepared then there’s really nothing left that you can do.

So, anytime you’re feeling nervous. Anytime you’re feeling worried. Do something, take a small piece of action.

If you can’t study in that moment. If you’re not able to sit down and do some coding problems or review some programming questions like technical questions.

It’s okay.

But can you plan when the next time that you can do that.

That’s a great win and it can help relieve some of the anxiety. The worst thing you could do is to just sit there and try to think through things.

Trust me, you’re never going to think through the imposter syndrome. You’re always going to come back to the same conclusion.

Which is like, who am I, who am I to be doing this. And you don’t want to be doing that.

Let the chips fall where they may

The next thing kind of tags along to the previous point. Once you’ve prepared and once you change your beliefs about this. The only thing you can do at this point is just let the chips fall where they may.

Like, don’t try to make every company want to hire you. Like, that’s the worst mentality.

That’s like trying to go out into the dating scene and you’re like, “Everybody should like me”.

And that’s absolutely wrong!

Not every person’s world is a good match for me. Like, I have certain personality. I may be polarizing to some people while other people really love me.

Instead what I’m going to look for is a company that is a good fit for me. And I’m going to try my best to get into a position with them.

But if I don’t, then what! Maybe there’s some other company.

And just going in with that mindset really helps a lot. All I have to do is prepare well.

Then I make sure I do not have an adversarial relationship with that company during the interview.

And from there, I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may. And by doing that, I’m much more relaxed because there’s not so much riding on it.

The problem when you are trying to get into this industry is that when you go to an interview everything is on the table.

And you’re like, if I miss this, then there may not come another company as good as this one. And when you have that mentality, it’s a very scarcity-based mentality.

And the chances are good that the other person can feel it. Meaning the other person trying to hire you can feel that you need this so badly.

But there’s this sort of a fine line. You can’t be too loose. You can’t show up the interview like you don’t really care.

And be like, if you guys don’t hire me, cool. I got a hundred other options.

No! You don’t want to do that. That’s not what I’m saying.

There’s a fine line between being not so tied to the outcome of getting that job and just being there.

And being like, if this doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world.

In other words, I’d really like to get this job but if it doesn’t work out, no worries, I know there’s other opportunities.

And that’s the way you have to treat it. Let the chips fall where they may.

Prepare like hell, change your beliefs about what an interview is and just remember it’s not an adversarial thing for the most part.

And finally, make sure you let the chips fall where they may.

And if you do all those things that will help to reduce a lot of the tension and anxiety you feel moving forward.

I hope this article was helpful. And I hope it really gives you a better sense of how to overcome imposter syndrome as a developer.

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