Tackling Imposter Syndrome

We had to launch our podcast with one issue we hear about all the time! Especially for those entering tech, imposter syndrome can be destabilizing. That is, until you realize everyone else may not have it all together either. Host and Effectively Human Founder, Morgan Lopes, talks about how to mentally recenter in the midst of ever present imposter syndrome.


[00:00:00] Welcome to effectively human, where we discuss how to close a knowledge gap between technology and the people who use it each week. Your host Morgan Lopes will share real life practical tools on how to bridge the gap. Let’s jump in.

Let’s tackle, imposter syndrome. This is one of the most common themes that I hear from people transitioning into technology, whether they are just getting started in tech or transitioning from some other profession. They arrive with a feeling like they don’t know enough, they don’t have enough experience.

It’s like a party that everyone has been there hanging out longer than you. And you’re trying to catch up and you are painfully aware of the disconnect. That is very common in people transitioning into tech. And the first thing that comes to mind for me is actually [00:01:00] a quote. “Nobody knows anything.” That was originally shared from a Hollywood producer, a playwright, and he was capturing the essence of Hollywood, which is in the movie business, nobody knows anything. What’s going to be a blockbuster hit, or what’s going to be a total bust. At the end of the day, despite what experts may say, think or boast, nobody really knows. Millions of dollars will be spent on a total flop. And thousands of dollars will be spent on something that floors, the blockbuster,  that is a blockbuster hit and that floors, everyone who comes out to see it and blows everyone away.

Nobody really knows. As I heard that quote, it really sunk in to me about technology. I think it fits into much of life as well, whether it’s parenting taxes, a professional career, but it’s specifically pointed or accurate when we talk about tech, because in technology, there [00:02:00] are well-worn paths. There are people who have become successful.

They’ve built big businesses. They’ve created crazy innovative technology. But every single one of them through the process didn’t know if it was going to work. So there was that same gap, that same disconnect between where they wanted to be and where they were when they got started. As we talk about imposter syndrome, it’s worth recognizing that other people feel that too. When hunting for a job it’s especially challenging because at every turn you are being reminded.

Of what you don’t know, you’re reading job descriptions and bios and hearing lots of things that don’t align with your experience, your, uh, past skills abilities, or where you fit in today, as you are hunting for a job it’s worth recognizing though that those descriptions are often written by people who A are very experienced.

But still don’t quite [00:03:00] know what they need for a given job or role. Or on the flip side could be written by someone who’s in an HR department who copied and pasted a really good job description template off of Google. That still happens in small, early stage startups and well established corporations. At the end of the day, the person creating that job description they too don’t have perfect clarity into what they are trying to create. Nobody knows anything. So it is worth assuming that the person doesn’t have it all figured out. This is exemplified in an example from, the founder of Ruby on Rails.

And at the time when I first got started in technology, there were many job descriptions I read that required 10 years of experience with Ruby on rails. What’s fascinating about that is, the language itself was only five years old at the time. Which means the person who wrote [00:04:00] the language was not qualified for many of the jobs that were seeking expertise in that area. Now, how does that happen? Because somebody went in and swapped a template online and probably changed Java for Ruby on Rails.

And then you find yourself with a job listing that no one, literally no one is qualified for. A more common example is white men in technology. As a member of the bearded white male cohort, I can vouch for the fact that people like me tend to apply for jobs when we are only between 50 and 60% qualified. Why that is, I’m sure it’s shrouded in plenty of privilege and a lifetime of doing things that we aren’t capable of or qualified for.

But one way or another, what it does, this gives them access to a whole group of jobs that many people just aren’t going to take a swing at. And so, they find themselves in a room advocating for their employment that they’re not [00:05:00] qualified to be in given the job description. But at the end of the day, it opens up many of the intangible reasons that people get jobs.

Which is their network, their personality, their other skills and abilities. They have a chance to highlight those simply because they de-emphasize the importance of a job description. So as you think of imposter syndrome, which is an emphasis on what you lack, there’s value in turning down the volume on what you lack and turning up the volume, or emphasizing more the skills and knowledge that you do have.

It’s also helpful to consider imposter syndrome is on a spectrum. One side of the end of the spectrum is imposter syndrome, which is the lack of confidence in your skills and your abilities. The other end of the spectrum is an overconfidence and your skills and your abilities, called the Dunning Kruger effect.

And so those are two ends of the spectrum, imposter syndrome and Dunning Kruger. [00:06:00] Under-confidence and overconfidence. And the reality is you’re probably somewhere in the middle. At new story, we talk about this concept of the humble pursuit of excellence. The pursuit is more important than the actual destination because the pursuit implies a level of learning and growth and change over time.

And so wherever you find yourself, the important attributes to emphasize is growth and continual improvement and a lifetime of learning. Those are the elements that actually serve you well, regardless of where you are on the educational spectrum, a willingness to push yourself, to grow, to learn, to challenge yourself that unlocks really the only fair comparison. Which is you, yesterday.

Who were you? What did you know, what skills and abilities did you have compared to where you are right now? In technology we talk about how, if you are learning and you are changing and you are evolving as a [00:07:00] computer programmer, then the code that you wrote six months ago should look like it was written from a stranger or by a stranger.

There was a friend of mine who was toward the end of his career. He was about a year or so from retiring. And he had learned to program on a punch card system when he was in college, which is a long time ago. No computer programmer uses paper to write software today. And so this is deep into his career and he was working on some code and struggling through a challenge all day.

And he was sharing how frustrated he was with whoever wrote this piece of code. And then he went and looked at who actually wrote it. And it had been written about eight months prior, by him. So even at the top of his game, deep into his career, he was still growing and learning and pushing himself so much so that when he looked back just months, he noticed a difference in the type of programmer that he was.

I believe that is the only fair comparison [00:08:00] when we are looking at our journey through technology is not everyone else, because it’s so easy to get caught up in where other people are in the process. The only fair comparison is you. Yesterday.

Thanks for listening to effectively human. Want to join in on the conversation? Submit your questions on effectivelyhuman.tech  to hear them on the show. And of course subscribe. So you never miss a beat.

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