How Developers can Overcome Imposter Syndrome and Accurately Gauge Their Coding Skills
Updated: Sep 30
Podcast transcription of Recruiters Get Real! Ep. 01
ft. Jay Johnson and Matthew Bardeleben
Recruiters Get Real! The only place where, real IT recruiters answer, real career questions asked, by real tech professionals.
So, I’m sitting here today with our (Peterson Technology Partner) Vice President, Mr. Jay Johnson, and I have a question for you. It comes off of the Reddit forum CSCareerQuestions from user u/tylerslemke.
The question is around imposter syndrome. So, the scenario that that this person gives is that a friend of theirs is a recent computer science grad. It was their first job as a developer and, after a short period of time, they were laid off. Before being laid off, they really hadn't had any performance discussions or anything like that so he was basically laid off without knowing why, what to change, or what to develop. So, that person has two questions.
One is how can a developer, especially a newer developer, objectively analyze or look at their skills compared to everyone else around them.
The second question is, how could they, what recommendations do you have for them to overcome imposter syndrome. How to overcome that idea or belief that everyone else around you knows more than you do now or that you don't belong in this role because everyone else is smarter, when, in reality, they're all looking Stack Overflow just as much as you are, but it sometimes feels like that.
So how can you objectively measure yourself, and how can you overcome imposter syndrome?
I think what really needs to happen is… project-based and team-based.
Everyone really has a particular position or a skill, normally, that that project or team would need. To me, as important, you have to be able to continue to hone your skills. You have to continue to be relevant, for lack of a better term, you’re there and you’re hired.
Remember, managers put together teams not necessarily based on just on skills. It goes much deeper than that. I think therein lies the answer to a lot of the questions some folks have.
It’s not the skill that I bring. I think that anybody who is in computer science, normally if they’re hired into a position, they have a skill which means they can be taught or they can learn. And I think what we’re seeing today, much more, is that a lot of folks come into a position and the skill I believe they’re going to need to use is something, ultimately, they can learn. And I think a lot of managers today don’t necessarily hire on skill.
Now if you’re talking about someone coming in as a Lead or Architect, obviously, that’s a different story. But when we’re talking about a Junior, or someone with a couple years’ experience, especially going into enterprise companies, it’s beyond that. It’s communication. It’s all kinds of things that aren’t necessarily “how to code”. Again, anybody can be taught how to code if they’re willing to be taught.
So that’s something important people need to realize. Managers put together teams that are very eclectic. And, again, it’s not necessarily about the skill a person has. It’s about how does a person fit in with the team. How is their communication? How will they be able to adapt and work with others there?
Again, I can’t stress it enough, 9 out of 10 times a skill or deficit can be taught within a week. You’re not going to be an expert, but you’ll know enough, and you’ll be able to get by. The reality is that even tenured developers… we all know where to get the information if you don’t know it.
That’s where a lot of people get caught up in. Again, Imposter, that person’s better than I am or how do I measure up to them. If you know where to go to get the information, you’re going to be fine. You can survive. I think it’s the willingness to learn that’s the most important piece to that.
Matt: That kind of answers a question I was about to ask in that. Would it be safe to say, in Tyler’s case, how can they objectively measure their ability compared to other developers… correct me if I’m wrong but it sounds like the answer is… don’t.
Don’t try to objectively measure your skill against other developers. Be introspective in regards to, are you open and willing to learn, are you able to collaborate and communicate, and those kinds of things.
All of the above without question.
And I think, to answer that successfully, you have to think about…
We live in a world where we always want to be better than we are or we don’t want to admit that we’re good at what we do. That’s just kind of a thing that we’re all taught, unfortunately, from an early age today.
That being humble is a value, don’t brag, etc.
Yeah, and, my theory on that is, it may sound odd but, I’ve always thought you want to fly just under the radar. You want to do your job, do it well, you want to poke your hand up through the radar screen every once in a while. Let everybody know you’re there, and that’s how you stay relevant.
If you always keep your hand above the radar, keep poking the bear, you’re going to have to live up to the reality of what that is. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I think you put undue pressure upon yourself.
I would say without question, when asking “how do I compare myself to A or B”, from the development side of IT today, the most important thing anyone can do is stay relevant.
Staying relevant means doing all those things to continue learning. So, if you’re a Java developer, let’s keep it simple, and you’re just the best Java coder out there… well… technology changes every day, right?
We get requisitions every day and almost every day we get a req that has some new version of Java or some new framework or something similar. Sometimes we just look at each other, some of us have been doing this for 20 years and we still need to ask “well, what is that?”.
The important thing is, we know where to go to get that information.
So that’s my point, you need to stay relevant. Continue your education whether that’s online or working with the person sitting next to you.
I also feel that you feed off the people around you. I would hope they’re going to do the same thing and give you back what you’re looking to get back from them at the same time. That’s what really helps one another. That’s what team’s all about when we’re talking about projects. Just never stop learning.
You need to be a sponge. A sponge continues to absorb so just take it from wherever it’s coming from and just continue learning.
That’s a great suggestion. Not only for an individual’s career, but that it will help internally if you do have that imposter syndrome or those feelings. The more knowledgeable you become, whether it’s about a particular topic you’re currently working on or something else you’re interested in, the better.
Maybe you’re coding in Java but interested in Python and you’re learning that on the side. It’s not going to hurt anything but will help your confidence. The more you know the more confident you become.
So, continue learning as much as you can on your own time. All the information’s readily available, I mean, is there anything you can’t learn for free online?
No, and that’s the point. It’s all there for the asking. You may have to ask the question a little differently, or a couple of times, to get what you want but it’s all there.
Great. So, Tyler, hopefully that answers your friend’s questions from the scenario, helps you overcome imposter syndrome, and helps you think a bit differently. Don’t necessarily try to compare yourself to other developers in terms of what skills you have, but look more at how you’re communicating, collaborating, etc.
Does that summarize pretty well?
It does. It does.
Awesome, thank you Tyler and thank you Jay for your time!
Thank you. Take care.
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