Why am I here? Am I worth what they’re paying me? These thoughts – signs of imposter syndrome – are more common than you might think, with one review suggesting up to 82% of people have experienced it at some point in their life. The tech industry is no different, in fact, over half of tech workers report feelings of self-doubt in their careers, some from big companies like Apple and Amazon. But why is this so common in the tech industry? In this article we look into what imposter syndrome is and why the IT sector might experience more of it.
Imposter syndrome is defined by Verywell Mind as an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. These feelings can affect someone in many different scenarios of life, but the most common form is in the workplace. It might be triggered by a new job, a new boss, or just a small mistake in someone’s day-to-day job.
There is, however, a difference between imposter syndrome and occasional self-doubt. The key to determining whether someone is suffering with imposter syndrome is the frequency in which they experience these thoughts/worries. It’s completely normal to feel a small amount of doubt in new and intimidating situations – perhaps a job interview or first date. However, if someone experiences persistent and sometimes irrational doubt, this is when it’s classed as imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in different ways depending on who is suffering from it. Some of the most common symptoms include:
As previously mentioned, imposter syndrome is increasingly common in the technology industry. It’s been found that many women in tech, in particular, suffer from the feeling of being an imposter. This is mainly due to IT being a predominantly male-filled industry, women often have feelings that they don’t belong and aren’t as highly skilled as their male counterparts. Similarly, employees from a minority background might experience similar feelings for the same reasons. It’s understandable that someone might feel out of place in an environment where they are outnumbered.
Whilst it can be common for people to experience imposter syndrome at the start of a new career, it can also manifest in much more experienced workers. In a survey by Blind, one employee said they were experiencing it 14 years into a career as an engineer. One reason for this could be a response to the pressure of meeting changing and increasing expectations. This is especially true for the ever-adapting technology industry, where new skills and software is cropping up every year.
Technology is also a career in which many people find themselves re-training. Returnship programmes are increasingly popular amongst women in tech, often after someone has had children. And although this is a hugely important way of helping close the gender gap, these returners can have feelings of self-doubt. Especially if they have no prior experience in the industry.
There is no magic ‘cure’ for imposter syndrome, and most people will still experience it at times in their career or personal life. However, there are some ways to cope with it and keep it at bay.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that most people in your workplace and in your social circle will have had these thoughts or feelings at times and to not suffer in silence. By talking openly with your colleagues about imposter syndrome, you will be reminded that you’re not alone. Other people can also offer reassurance that these thoughts simply aren’t true, and can help you see your successes. If you want someone to talk to regularly, consider seeking out a mentor in your company or outside of it to help motivate and support you in your career.
Constantly comparing yourself to your colleagues, peers, family and friends can be extremely detrimental to your mental health. Each time you do compare yourself to others in a situation, you’re likely to find something to which you believe you’re inferior. Instead of making comparisons, it’s more helpful to think about what is good in your life and how far you’ve come. By thinking about your achievements you can ultimately be more positive about your position.
When you experience negative thoughts, try to get into the habit of questioning if they are rational or not. You wouldn’t have got where you were today if you were completely incompetent. Focus on what you’re good at, and any praise you’ve received up to this point. If it helps, write a list of your achievements and strengths and focus on those.
A particularly unhelpful symptom of imposter syndrome is the setting of unrealistic goals and tasks. If something is unlikely to be achieved in the set time, you’re only setting yourself up to be disappointed and add fuel to the fire. However, by setting out achievable goals, perhaps by breaking tasks down into smaller chunks, you will end up getting more done and therefore feeling more accomplished and content.
Imposter syndrome isn’t pleasant for anyone to suffer from. Feelings of self-doubt can eat away at someone and ultimately make them underperform at work due to taking too much on. In the tech world, it’s all too familiar due to the ever-changing landscape and skills needed. However, by rationalising thoughts and sharing experiences, you can learn to cope with the self-doubt and turn it into a positive.
Find out more about the different types of imposter syndrome.