6 Tips to Help Aspiring Software Engineers Fight Imposter Syndrome

Dan Pickett

By Dan Pickett

 

You’ve probably seen this classic storyline play out before. . .

The timer is running out and the pressure is on. The hacker hits a few keys just in the nick of time and BAM! They’ve cracked the code and entered the encrypted system, saving the day.  

There’s no denying that this level of drama makes for great television.

But is it a realistic portrayal of the software engineering profession? Not exactly.

The reality is that coding involves a lot more head-scratching than nail-biting. Real programmers' days are usually far less intense than tv and movie stereotypes imply.

But unfortunately, inaccurate on-screen portrayals that depict programmers as fast-talking computer geniuses capable of banging out the right code in seconds sow seeds of doubt in aspiring software engineers. And those doubts often lead to a major problem in the STEM fields known as imposter syndrome.

 

Inaccurate on-screen portrayals of coding that depict programmers as fast-talking computer geniuses capable of banging out the right code in seconds sow seeds of doubt in aspiring software engineers. Those doubts often lead to imposter syndrome.

 

If misconceptions about coding have left you feeling intimidated, it’s time to stop comparing yourself to television hackers. At Launch Academy, we’re committed to fighting imposter syndrome and boosting confidence in our budding software engineers.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological tailspin in which a person doubts their skills and continually fears they’ll be exposed as a fraud.

In a software engineering context, students suffering from imposter syndrome may question whether they’ll ever truly cut it as a software developer. They may fear they’ll never be worthy of the job title, compensation, or recognition they aspire to.

Here’s the truth: every software engineer feels a sense of creeping doubt at one point or another—no matter how skilled they are!

Self-doubt is pervasive in our industry because the work we do and the technology we use are constantly—and rapidly—changing. Students might even see technology change within the short period they’re enrolled in a coding bootcamp.

In an ever-evolving field, it’s easy to interpret the natural learning curve that comes with acquiring a new skill as a sign that you’re underqualified or incompetent. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth.

Although some amount of doubt is normal (and maybe even healthy in some cases), if imposter syndrome is left unchecked, it can prevent a student from reaching their full potential. In some cases, imposter syndrome can even prohibit a student from pursuing a career in software engineering.

That’s why it’s crucial to be on the lookout for imposter syndrome and give students the support they need. In our experience, having worked with thousands of software developers, we’ve found some students are more likely to face imposter syndrome than others:

Students who changed careers

If a student has achieved success in a previous career and then switches to software engineering, they may expect to quickly achieve the same level of expertise as a coder. But that’s not usually how things play out.

Embarking on a new career path takes patience and time. Gaining knowledge and building skills isn’t a sprint: it’s more like a marathon, with periods of incremental improvement, some decline, plateaus, and occasionally exponential growth.

Students without computer science backgrounds

 Imposter syndrome can be more intense for folks who don’t have a background in math or science. After all, computer science has the word science in it—if you have a degree in humanities, you may feel ill-equipped or like you’re starting from behind compared to your peers.

But in our experience, students with diverse backgrounds actually make some of the best coders! If you understand how to break down problems and enjoy the puzzle of putting things back together, you can certainly be successful as a software engineer. Take our quiz to find out if software development is a good fit for you.

Students who don’t fit the stereotype

 Let’s face it: white men still dominate the culture of software engineering. And when students from other backgrounds don’t see people who look like them, it can create an impression that they don’t belong or aren’t in the right place. This topic is complex, but we have seen that finding a role model in your field who shares your identity can be crucial to combating imposter syndrome.

Luckily, we’ve seen a lot of proactive change in an effort to bring more diversity to STEM fields, although more work is needed. To help accelerate that change, we recently partnered with Women Who Code, an international nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers.

How to Fight Imposter Syndrome

Still worried that you don’t have what it takes to build a successful career in software engineering? Here are some strategies to help you manage and overcome imposter syndrome:

Expect to struggle

Don’t anticipate that you will immediately feel successful when you start your coding journey. It takes time to become a great software engineer. You’ll have many hard, frustrating days, which can make you doubt your competence if you’re not careful. The key is to reframe what a “good day” looks like. If you tried something new, spent time thinking about how to rework a problem, or simply learned from a mistake, you had a good day!

Don’t compare

It’s hard not to compare yourself with other students in the classroom. But avoiding the “compare and despair” paradigm is especially important for adult learners, who come into coding bootcamp with a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. Some of your fellow students walk in on day one with prior coding knowledge while others start at absolute zero. No matter where you stand, try to focus on your own growth.

Learn and grow collaboratively

 Even if other students come into bootcamp with more skills or experience than you, take the approach that you’re all there to learn together. Classroom settings are safe places to bounce ideas off of your fellow students, problem-solve as a group, and continue to build your skills cooperatively.

Set realistic, pragmatic goals

Don’t expect to become an expert overnight. Instead, use S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) methodology to define your objectives and create small, attainable goals for yourself. Consistently setting and achieving smaller goals is a terrific confidence booster.

Lower the stakes

There’s a reason the saying is “learn from your mistakes.” Screwing up, and reflecting on what we could do better or differently next time, is how we learn. Bootcamps like Launch Academy’s offer the opportunity to practice like a pro without the consequences that come from making mistakes in a real professional environment.

Find a place where you feel comfortable

 No matter how you define yourself (gender, race, ethnicity, age, hobbies, profession, etc.), you’re more likely to feel a sense of belonging when you can readily find people you relate to. Building that go-to support group doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it is 100% worth the effort. Feeling psychologically safe will encourage you to push further into your zone of proximal development which can dramatically accelerate your learning.

To fight imposter syndrome, you need to start changing your mindset. And that may not happen immediately after reading this article! But if you can begin to challenge fears and insecurities when they crop up, you’ll eventually build the skills to conquer self-doubt and boost your confidence.

Launch Academy is here to help. Download our bootcamp syllabus to see exactly how we can help you start your coding career.