At one point or another, most of us have probably experienced a persistent fear or nagging doubt when it comes to work. Maybe you feel like you’re a fraud in your role, undeserving of praise or achievement. Perhaps you feel like any recognition or success you gained was simply luck. If you’ve had these thoughts, you’re not alone. You may be experiencing what is called imposter syndrome.
Studies and surveys have shown that 58% of Big Tech workers and 57% of computer science majors struggle with imposter syndrome. While this phenomenon can affect anyone in any working environment, tech workers and students are particularly affected by it. So what is it about the tech industry that leaves so many qualified workers questioning themselves and how can you overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace or the classroom?
Why Is Imposter Syndrome So Prevalent In Tech?
Imposter syndrome is generally prominent among those seen as trailblazers and perfectionists. It’s also very common in individuals just starting a new endeavor and gaining new skills. Based on the tech landscape, it makes sense why so many in the industry struggle with imposter syndrome feelings.
The tech industry is viewed as a competitive field. That ultimately creates an environment where workers are constantly comparing themselves to others on nearly every level: how late coworkers are staying on the job, who has been lauded the most for their accomplishments, or who is the best at a certain skill. For those experiencing imposter syndrome, competition fosters feelings of inadequacy.
Lack of Diversity and Representation
Even with diversity and inclusion efforts, women and BIPOC communities are still largely underrepresented in tech. Minority groups within tech still have to cope with biases, stereotypes, and a general lack of understanding. They especially may feel that they don’t belong in the industry, regardless of how skilled or capable they are.
Treatment in the Workplace
Sometimes imposter syndrome is a result of behaviors exhibited by leadership. For instance, if you feel confident in your skills and work ethic but are consistently given more “menial” tasks, frequently interrupted and overruled, or never given the opportunity to head a project, you may begin to lose self-assurance.
Pace of Innovation
The tech industry requires workers to constantly be on their toes ready to tackle new challenges or learn new skills. Imposter syndrome could leave you feeling pressure to be a fast learner, and if you’re not, feeling like you might get left behind. There’s also the often self-inflicted pressure to, even when acquiring new capabilities, perform them perfectly every single time from the moment you learn them.
A Professional’s Stint with Imposter Syndrome
For Linda Donalson, Department Chair and Instructor of Information Technology at SUNY Erie Community College, technology’s rapidly evolving environment played a significant role in her own struggle with imposter syndrome. Growing up, Linda’s love for computers began when she was gifted a Commodore 64 computer by a childhood friend. She knew from then on that she wanted to work with computers.
A year after she graduated high school, Linda entered SUNY ECC’s IT program and earned a two-year degree. During that time, she began an internship with HSBC, which later evolved into a full-time position as a business systems analyst. She credits that opportunity to the connections she made during her time at SUNY ECC.
“Traditionally, HSBC only hired people with a four-year degree. I had a two-year degree, but my professor was a VP there and hooked me up with the position. It’s important for people to remember that it’s ok to get into a job by knowing someone. I think nowadays, people coming out of college or high school don’t want to rely on someone else to help them get a job, but networking is the way the world works now, especially in tech.”
After 16 years at HSBC, Linda’s job was outsourced and she was let go from her position. But that led her to an entirely new opportunity.
“My mentor from college and HSBC called me and asked me to come and teach at SUNY ECC, so, of course, I said, ‘Why not?’”
Though she was excited to take on a new challenge, Linda wasn’t without worries and began to feel imposter syndrome creep up.
“Once I got into the position, I was like, I’m not a teacher, I can’t do that, especially teach IT. I don’t know enough. I thought I wasn’t valuable enough to teach. The students aren’t going to listen to me, what do I have to offer?”
Fortunately, Linda has an advisory board she relies on to support her and keep her updated on the latest IT developments. Working with IT students eventually allowed Linda to find another passion within the field. Her greatest joy now is getting to work with underserved students who want to get into tech and hear their success stories.
“I think that’s what makes me happy. It’s not really because of me, because they did the work. I was able to help them through and connect them through networking.”
While Linda loves the path she’s on, she still thinks about what the future could have held and still may hold for her down the road.
“I’ve learned to be ok where I am in the industry, but I still have dreams of rising up. I have a master’s in business, so I would love to get a masters in IT. That’s something that I’m working on. Maybe one day I can be in that industry job making that money.”
For now, she’s proud to help her students live out SUNY ECC’s motto, just like she did.
“Our motto is ‘Start Here, Go Anywhere,’ and it’s absolutely true.”
How To Get Over Imposter Syndrome
According to Linda, there are three major ways to beat imposter syndrome. The first is to find mentors and build a network just like she did. Those connections can help you find confidence within yourself to try new things or take the first step into a great opportunity.
“Go to events, especially anything tech-related you see. Even if you don’t know anybody, just go and sit and people-watch. If there’s a position you strive to do, find someone in the industry who does that and watch them. Don’t be afraid to open your mouth and ask someone you look up to, ‘How can I get where you are, what shouldn’t I do, how can I go beyond where you are?’ I think if you ask those questions, you’ll be surprised by how many people will respond.
“A lot of students don’t want to network, but if you want to be in the IT industry, you have to network if you want to get that good job or want somebody to remember you. I ask my students all the time what their 5-minute elevator speech is if they meet a CEO in tech.”
The second step is to study. Because the IT industry changes daily, it’s crucial for those interested in tech to keep up with everything new that’s going on. The more you know, the more you’ll be prepared to take on or adapt to as a student or employee.
“I always tell my students to go beyond what the instructor teaches them. You won’t be able to keep up on everything, but you should try to keep up with as much as you can and take advantage of online resources.”
Linda’s third step is to find something you’re excited about. It may sound simple, but liking what you do makes it a lot easier to feel comfortable and assured.
“Be passionate about whatever it is that you do because if it’s not your passion, you won’t like what you do and you won’t be happy with it.”
Aside from Linda’s tips, there are a couple of other ways to overcome imposter syndrome in the workplace or the classroom. Remember to give yourself the chance to reflect on what you’ve accomplished so far and give yourself a break when you need it. If you have negative thoughts, try to put a positive spin on the situation. Don’t forget that everyone makes mistakes, and be willing to accept the ones you make and learn from them.