I’m an Impostor

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This is the hardest thing I've ever had to write, much less admit to myself.  I've written resignation letters from jobs I've loved, I've ended relationships, I've failed at a host of tasks, and let myself down in my life.  All of those feelings were very temporary -- they would be heart-breaking temporarily but within months I'd have moved on.  There's one feeling, however, that I've not been able to conquer during my professional career:  Impostor Syndrome.

I'm an Impostor

"Impostor" is a powerful word but that's how I have felt during all of my career as a professional web developer.  I feel like I've learned every day of the ride but I feel like I'm way behind.  I feel like people see me as something of an expert where I see myself as an accident waiting to happen.  I'm a complete impostor.  A fraud.

It's hard to qualify all of that without knowing the road I've traveled to get where I am.

My Road

Dear diary, I won't bore you with my life story so I'll put it in bullet format:

  • I taught myself HTML/CSS/JS starting at age 14
  • I went to a technical college to get an Associate's Degree, a further two years for my Bachelor's Degree
  • I got my first "professional" job before I finished my Bachelor's degree
  • I started this blog in year two of first job
  • I was invited to the MooTools project team a year later
  • I stayed at the first job almost five years
  • I interviewed at Mozilla during first job, didn't get the role
  • I left for SitePen, a Dojo Toolkit and prestigious workshop, asking for little money just to get the gig (thank you Rey Bango and Dylan Schiemann)
  • I left SitePen two years later after Mozilla came calling again (thank you Mike Morgan)
  • I've been at Mozilla three years now
  • I've kept this blog up the whole time, obviously
  • I've keynoted conferences
  • I've spoken in Brazil, London, Austin, and Paris

At first glance, that's kind of impressive.  A midwest American boy gone from nothing to the "big show" of Mozilla, an international organization, in less than a decade.  Not to mention SitePen and MooTools -- the top of the JavaScript framework chain.  Honestly though...I've never felt like more of an impostor.

Why I've Convinced Myself I'm an Impostor

What's funny is I have a really hard time explaining why I'm an impostor;  I just know I am.  Whether it's getting any feedback on the code in a pull request, the internal cowardice of asking a colleague for their opinion, or the feeling of being paralyzed when confronted with an intimidating task, there's always the voice in my head telling me "you need to be better than this; no other developer freezes like this."

I've always fought with low self-confidence when it comes to this industry.  Always.  It started with being self-taught as a high schooler, when you could argue the turbulence of that time in my life was already rough enough, as it is for all teens.  My first college programming class was COBOL, a language I likened to ancient hieroglyphics, which I actually struggled with.  My first job was at a traditionally design and print company which was just opening a web department, where I met every limitation and tight situation you could imagine:  overly demanding customers, short-balled estimates, limited hosting providers, lack of desire by those around me, etc.  It was a nightmare, one I'm glad I went through, but I learned way too much in way too short a time.

During that time I started this blog, where even when I wrote about something simple, I was told there was a better way.  I was asked to join the MooTools team but was always known as "David in Marketing."  I interviewed at Mozilla and didn't get the job.  jQuery legend Rey Bango introduced me to Dylan Schiemann, who after a few interviews (and the feeling that I blew them), gave me a job offer.  I asked to Skype my would-be manager at SitePen and begged him to tell me and convince me to take the job -- I didn't think I was good enough (thank you Eric Brown).

When I joined SitePen I knew just enough Dojo (and JavaScript, I guess, for that matter) to get me through the interview process.  I was immediately thrust into Perforce, advanced Dojo charting, and Dijit UI creation, for which I couldn't have felt more out of my league (I'm thankful for this -- "baptism by fire" is where I thrive.)  While feeling like a noob, I started teaching on-site training courses about Dojo, where I felt comfortable but like I didn't have every answer.  I worked with other developers who emitted an attitude that I didn't belong.  Sometimes asking questions to colleagues or even via an IRC room felt like it was a trade-off between not getting an answer or getting stabbed with the answer.

Mozilla poached me and the fraud feeling doubled.  Some of it was because I had failed the first time and some of it was because I wasn't just working with JavaScript experts, I was working with people who created some JavaScript APIs.  And for the love of God, my employment and salary needed to be approved by Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich, the man that created the fucking language.

During each new job, I made mistakes.  Someone with a level head would forgive that as nerves but I felt that as I leveled up, despite the leap in difficulty, it's somehow my job to make fewer (no) mistakes.  That as a "Mozilla level" developer I should never, ever submitted a pull request with so much as a console.log statement.

You know what that led to?  More mistakes, more self-pressure, and more feelings that I was an absolute fraud waiting to be flown to Mountain View and burned at the stake.  The less I thought of myself and the harder I tried the more I would make the most obvious of mistakes.  Every comment on my pull requests felt like a HR performance warning for my file.  I once approved a pull request to MDN which inadvertently would lead to a JavaScript-powered DDOS on the site (pst, DO NOT TRIGGER REAL EVENT NAMES WITH JQUERY!);  I told my wife what I wanted as my last meal, for I had finally been exposed as the fraud I was.

Three years into my Mozilla career I still struggle with these feelings.  Still.  It's like a singer going from their local community center to Madison Square Garden, you'd think they'd feel like "You've made it"...but I don't.  I still deeply struggle with these feelings that I'm Vincent Kompany a fraud, an impostor.

Why We Feel Like Impostors

Our industry lends itself perfectly to Impostor Syndrome and it's not difficult to explain why:

  • Our competition isn't the next local guy -- web development is a profession where our colleagues and competition are anyone with a computer and internet connection, all around the world
  • Every programming task's efficiency is measurable, meaning our colleague can write a routine to complete the same task and it may be 1300% more efficient, making us feel that much worse
  • APIs change so often that we need to keep a keen eye or fall behind
  • We're in that "in between stage" where we (1) know how we've bastardized APIs in the past and (2) are trying to perfect new ones, so we need to feature test for everything
  • We forget we're pushing the limits of the web, its APIs, its browsers, and its devices
  • Promises and async are just hard
  • Users can be very dumb but it's still the developer's fault for not making something easy enough
  • We forget that our job is just a fraction of our lives and there's a real world outside of this hateful, illuminated screen
  • We probably stay on our computers after the "day job" which leads to intense feelings of being burnt out
  • We're more than likely on the introverted side, so asking for help or outwardly celebrating a victory is difficult

There are more reasons but these were the most obvious to me.  The reality is that our profession tends to encounter on-the-job problems that many other professions simply don't.  They just don't.

Why You Aren't an Impostor

That list was some pretty heavy shit and we all know it's probably true, at least most of it.  But there is hope.  If you're reading this post, you probably aren't an impostor, because...

  • You believe you might be an impostor -- those who think they're experts are anything but, those who know they aren't experts know how much they don't know
  • You read blogs -- you get new opinions and see new techniques
  • You get work -- whether it's a big company job or enough to pay the bills, you can make money punching keys on a computer (have you seen people who aren't tech savvy try to do anything on a computer?)
  • You know what responsive design is, and why it's important

That's a much shorter list than the impostor list but we can always think of more ways to cut ourselves down than build ourselves up.

How to Not Feel Like an Impostor (Easy Wins)

Feeling like an impostor is a hopeless feeling but one that even the most depressed developer can overcome.  Here are a few ways I can snap out of it, at least temporarily:

  • Look at your (hopefully decent) employment history and know that, on a basic level, you're much more wanted than you're wanted gone
  • Log onto the IRC channel of a skill you feel comfortable with and answer questions of those asking
  • Realize that people who consider themselves "experts", and don't go through waves of self doubt, are idiots that are so arrogant to not know what they don't know
  • Remember the last time a non-developer friend asked you the most basic of computer-related questions
  • Perform any simple exercise in the JavaScript console
  • BLOG!  The worst thing that can happen is someone corrects you and you learn something out of it
  • Review your code and find little nits to fix

Shaking off impostor syndrome isn't simple but you can give yourself even the most brief moments of relief by gaining a simple win.  What qualifies as a simple win for you will differ but you must find something.

Moving Forward

It's hard to look at my impostor syndrome as the worst thing in the world -- it has spurned me on to do better, work harder, and aim higher.  On an emotional and mental level, however, it has been debilitating and difficult to get past.  I've gone entire days without writing a meaningful line of code due to my lack of confidence.  Other times I take that feeling and crush it by overcoming development obstacles.

I don't know what more to say.  I don't even know if this post made sense;  it was incredibly hard to write and the worst part is that I don't have an answer for all of you.  If you have experience with impostor syndrome and have something to share, please do.  We're all in this together.

Also remember that development is only a small percentage of our lives.  Find a way to smile.  :)

David Walsh Family Smile

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Discussion

  1. Bravo, thank you. I share your fears, but its lessened that we all have them.

  2. Very interesting read.

    I think the biggest contributors to imposter syndrome are:

    * As we gain experience and knowledge, we become more aware of our faults and…
    * We tend to have the opportunity to work with engineers that may be superior in some way (and we don’t have their skills)

    The best therapy I’ve found is to recognize that everyone provides value in their own way. You and me and others may or may not contribute the best code, but perhaps one can communicate an idea better than most or recognize a certain pattern.

    TL;DR – Don’t ever sweat what people think about your skill set. Ignore them and work hard and you will crush it regardless.

    • mal

      Also, the more you learn, the more you realise how vast the field of programming is, it can scary stuff.

  3. Alex

    Great article and believe me after working for over 20 years in the business I still feel the same. In such a fast moving sector we are constantly trying to keep up but if you suppress your ego you will always find a helping hand, a sort of Programmer’s Creed-Brotherhood.

    But as the great quote by JK Rowling says

    “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

    So you are successful just by trying and like Eric says we are our own harshest critics.Maybe developers are like George Lucas we keep tinkering with our work!!!

  4. Max Sysoev

    Do you remember Socrato’s quote? There it is: “I know that I know nothing”.

    It’s absolutely normal for smart people to be uncertain.

    I want to say that our lack of confidence is normal! Everytime you learn something new, you should make sure that new thing is right. It’s just a simple test, like TDD in real life. Simple way to test something is to look on another angle – objective and unbiased. So you can’t dispute that new thing.

    Test your knowledge and possibilities, so you can be sure and right.

  5. Great write up. I’ve been in the industry for ~16yrs and had a similar career route of working through the agency life, not passing interviews, and finally reaching a big organisation (swap Mozilla for BBC).

    Imposter Syndrome has plagued me my entire career (and likely always will).

    The best thing for me personally is remembering that life isn’t about work. Yes that’s where we spend the majority of our time. But getting home to my family becomes more of a priority and focus once you get into your thirties. This also helps me to filter out the sheer tech noise and to find real programming gems that I know are worth learning more about.

    Don’t get caught up trying to keep up with others and how they like to work. We’re individuals and you’ll end up just getting burnt out.

    Again, great work David. Have another sip from your glass and go enjoy the pleasure of being a family man and play with your son :-)

  6. Yehuda

    I read your blog for some time now, but it is the first time I felt the need to say thanks, you gave me order in what I think about the profession I am in and my place in it.
    Thanks!

  7. Couldn’t agree more with this post.

  8. David

    This is one of the best, most honest things I have read for a long time! I must admit that even though self-doubt can be realy hard sometimes, there is not much that keeps me motivated to push things forward like it.

  9. Etienne

    Hello David,

    as a self learner surrounded by seasoned top-notch hackers, you have no idea how reassuring it is to read such a post ! Especially coming from someone I consider to be one of the best teacher around (‘blogger’ doesn’t mean anything) around.

    I think this industry is inherently inhuman… everything go exponentially faster and faster, and trends come and go faster than anywhere else.

    Small wonder why so many developers end up as cooks, carpenters, or any other type of craftsmen. Just to use your brain and hands at something that hasn’t changed for decades and is very likely to remain the same for a good while.

    Anyway, you’ve helped me to take all this a little bit more lightly,

    thanks a lot for that,

    E.

    • You have a good point here, of programmers/developers who develop manual skills/hobbies outside of the Web/IT field: it sometimes is soothing for the mind, and less stressful. I enjoy doing more and more manual chores around my house (like big renovations, gardening, cooking, etc), and I do have a couple of friends programmers who, after a couple of years, left the IT world for more ‘traditional’ and manual work too.

      I think you make a nice point with your comment. Thanks!

    • Giancarlo

      I totally agree. I struggle with this syndrome too, and ironically my favourite thing to do does not include a computer! I love playing soccer more than anything. I feel like I don’t want to be in this industry but I also love being a part of creating things.

  10. Andy Earnshaw

    You’ve summed up pretty much how I felt for the past few years until I got my current job. I failed to get a job at Yahoo UK after some of the YUI team referred me, but I think that might be because I felt like an “imposter” all the way through the interview and didn’t really sell myself well. A few months later, I got my job here at a large adserving company and I’ve felt my confidence growing more and more each day just with each new idea or piece of code I contribute.

    Reading your post made me feel even better about myself, so thanks for that. It’s probably the most useful I’ve ever found your blog ;-).

  11. Jon

    Great post! I have been developing 3 years and I hope one day I can be as good imposter as you ;)

  12. Thanks for writing this. For what it’s worth, I’ve followed your career for a very long time. I started web programming in 2005, and new of you around then too.

    You’ve always been a fantastic blogger. And from what I’ve found, the best bloggers are not the best programmers, and that is the point. It is the programmers that struggle, that are able to blog about the things they learn, as they recognise their learnings and failures and recognise that other people may be going through the same thing.

    As a comparison, I’m the opposite. Programming comes intuitively to me, I understand things incredibly quickly, and that is also my biggest shortcoming, I never realise when I actually learn something, or that something I’ve solved is actually an issue for other people, I just don’t recognise my learnings or solutions for what they are – until enough people outright tell me. Hence History.js, DocPad, etc – they only came to be, when I realised that other people had problems with something I had already solved – if it weren’t for other people telling me, I never would have realised that.

    However, this hasn’t led to imposter syndrome, but superhero syndrome I guess – a need to always do way better, way better than a superhero status, that I can never actually pull off. If other developers can do this in a month, I should be able to do it in a week. For the most part of my career, that has been possible. Last year though, I hit my limits, hard, and burn out, incredibly thoroughly.

    My point is, that there is value in the shortcomings, especially when you are aware of them. Through the burnout, I’m rebuilding my life, in ways that a lot of your own suggestions here touch on too. I’ve gathered a lot of interesting lessons, that have made me a better person. And it seems the same for you. I’m glad that our industry is so radical in opening up about these things now.

    If you ever do want to talk, perhaps exchange different perspectives, I would be down for that.

    All the best, – Ben

  13. Thank you, David. Sharing your feelings helps many of us understand our own struggles. I’ve always felt like an imposter though others look up to me. I get the crippling fear of being revealed as fraud. I am not brave enough to talk about it (lest someone confirm it) but your words helped me. So, sir, you are an imposter. You’re trying to pass as someone that’s not quite good enough when you are, in fact, excellent.

  14. This post drew me in immediately. Thank you for sharing and I believe it helps those reading it tremendously just knowing you’re not alone facing the negativity. After 15 years I’m still challenged by these thoughts however have learned to channel it to fuel on my continual progression in our craft. If only code didn’t mean so much to us right? :)

  15. For one moment you made me think that you were announcing a retirement and i was stressing out! I was like: “Fuck! I have to delete David Walsh of my search keywords everytime that i don’t know how to do something”

    I don’t know much about development, even if i do it since 10 years almost everyday, but what i really learned with the time is that more you know more you feel that you don’t know anything. When you start with a new language in the first weeks you believe that you’re almost an expert… and after 3 years working with it you still discovering that you don’t fucking know enought.

    The good thing of this market where we are is that there’s many people around the world or even in the same office that can teach you something. I have learned from Senior developers and also of junior developers as well. We don’t have to forget that we never know who will give us the next hand in our daily issues.

    Thanks for the post! A single comment from someone that after many years of Imposter Syndrome just give up and took another way.

  16. This post hits home for me pretty hard. I get the same outlined feelings and always feel either behind or not up to par with what others may be doing. Your post makes me look at my situation and realize that things aren’t really how I feel they are.

  17. I can’t say how much I’ve had these same feelings for awhile. I got super lucky with getting my first job in the industry with almost zero professional experience which actually makes it worse. I feel like I need to compensate for not having a “proper” education in development and design, etc.

    Thanks for putting this out there for all of us “imposters”! Maybe we should start a support gr… oh wait, we have one, it’s called the Internet.

  18. Man, have you hit the nail on the head. I’ve felt this way on and off for my entire career. I’ve worked with some pretty amazing companies and clients and tackled some seriously challenging issues. I’ve been doing this professionally for over 15 years now and I still can’t overcome the nagging thought that maybe I’m really not that great at what I do (even though logic tells me different as I wouldn’t be employed at an amazing company if I was terrible at what I do!).

    I realize now that it’s ok for me not the be the “best”. It’s ok to ask for help. In the past I had felt so down on myself I’d waste time trying to figure something out on my own instead of just asking a colleague to help/explain it to me. I’ve gotten much better about asking for help, but sometimes I feel embarrassed for not knowing it all. Or gosh, what if I am wrong? Isn’t that asinine?

    I totally agree that blogging is such a powerful outlet. I used to blog all the time, but then life happened! I have dozens of drafts stowed away when I learn something new or create something I’d love to share… but never put time into making those posts come to life. Maybe I should start doing that again!

    I don’t think many of us are imposters, especially you! We may not know everything or be good at all things, but we wouldn’t be able to keep our jobs and be productive members of the community if we really were horrible at what we do!

  19. Ivan Tcholakov

    “Every programming task’s efficiency is measurable, meaning our colleague can write a routine to complete the same task and it may be 1300% more efficient, making us feel that much worse”

    Measurable? – This is the biggest delusion in this industry. See the neighboring points.

    If a task can be objectively measured, most probably it is not to be given to human beings anymore. It could be automated.

  20. Thanks for sharing David. It helps to know that I’m not the only one that feels this way. Especially when career success ends up making you feel worse instead of better.

  21. Sam Keen

    I expect you’re going to help an awful lot of people by writing this. Thanks for your honesty David!

  22. I loved the part where you said anyone who knows about responsive design ain’t an imposter :P
    But yeah, on a serious note, with no self doubt and titled as “Experts”, I have seen first hand how these people destroyed WP Ecosphere.

  23. Bob

    I guess I’m lucky I never felt like an imposter. I feel like part of it is I’ve never felt the need to compare myself with others. I go in and do my part to the best of my ability. Part of it might also be I’ve never worked in big tech hubs and never had to worry about living up to a company name. I’ve worked with some damn smart people though, and I always took that as a privilege, not as competition. You gain more faster when you are receptive to others’ expertise and not when you learn more just to keep up.

    I think at the end of the day, it’s not about being “the best” or comparing yourself to other people. It’s about taking things one task at a time, learning everything you need for that task if you don’t already know it, putting your knowledge to use to the best of your ability, and then when you’re done with the task, on to the next one. Use immediate goals to move towards what you want or even need to accomplish. If you freeze up on something, don’t think it’s because you never knew how to do it. Instead, break it up into smaller tasks and get to work on those.

    No one would want to expose you as a fraud as long as you get stuff done.

  24. I feel this way too (and blogged about it). I’ve found that the biggest Impostor Syndrome feeder is limited perspective.

    Say someone posts an incredible article showing an amazing new coding technique? He/she is so talented and you’re just a hack waiting to be exposed. What you don’t see is the bone headed mistake that they made just last week that took them hours to figure out.

    In addition, the Internet makes it easy to meet talented people in your field. This can be a very good thing as you can quickly learn from them and advance your own skills. Constantly looking at people who are more talented than you (in one area, maybe not in others), though, means you constantly feel like the bottom of the pile.

    It’s important to remember that there are others out there who are looking at you and feeling like Impostors because they aren’t you and that the people you look up to are flawed humans also and might, themselves, envy some of your talents. It’s a dose of perspective that the Impostor Syndrome tries to make us forget.

  25. ben

    Stay awesome!

  26. I’ve had a good amount of success and recognition in coding—and nothing in that realm helped with the feeling of being an impostor. I think that’s a part of the problem: we feel like if we just had another technical accomplishment, it would be enough and the feeling would go away: we’d be forced to admit that we are really good, not impostors. That’s all like a donkey chasing a carrot dangled in front of him, never getting closer.

    There is something that helped with with the issue though. I think a lot of the problem stems from thinking of our abilities as largely fixed, which creates a sort of constant measuring of (and concern about) ‘how we stack up.’ There have been some interesting experiments showing that when people instead believe that their mental capacity is deeply flexible, they become less interested in such questions, and focus on what they’re working on instead. And, surprise surprise, these people make big improvements.

    Now, I’m not trying to say, “you really can improve yourself—do it!” but just giving a suggestion for the sort of route that might help rather than what I described as the carrot/stick situation.

    The stuff I was describing above about thinking of your intelligence as fixed or not comes from Carol Dweck’s very interesting work. I’d check out her “Self-Theories” or “Mindsets” books (they have made learning much more enjoyable again for me: when I don’t get something the first time I just look for more information instead of freaking out about it). The other thing that would probably be useful is Seligman’s “Learned Optimism”—check out some reviews.

  27. Hey David,
    I’m following you and your blog from a while now (yes, I am talking about years), but that’s probably my first comment on your blog… I am probably a listener more than a talker :P

    I really loved this post but at the same time I think you are getting it to hard on yourself. In my humble opinion you are not an imposter at all, you are a great developer! Honestly talking you are absolutely above the average. You have an amazing career but you are humble enough to know your limits and constantly trying to measure and overcome them.
    This can be frustrating (I experience it on myself everyday) but it is also the key to get better and better, even if one can never get perfect, especially in this field that evolves at insane rythms!

    The fact that you are calling yourself an imposter is controversy the proof that you are not an imposter, but just an honest one, with yourself and with the others.

    Anyway keep your mood high and keep doing your best because everyone here is cheering for you and, most importantly, gets inspired by your work and your blog posts ;)

    And finally… yes, we should enjoy life more and spend more time away from our screens!

  28. Stomme poes

    I feel I agree with Bob.

    Whenever I hear people talk about Imposter Syndrome, I immediately wonder “Do we all believe we’re imposters-but-really-with-Imposter-Syndrome instead of the more likely fact that a lot of us really aren’t that good but in IT most of what’s out there isn’t that good anyway so it’s not so bad?”

    There are benefits to just accepting that you’re not very good if all things really point in that direction (I figure though if you’re getting hired by Ginormous Javascript Libraries or Well-Known Browser Vendors, things aren’t pointing much in that direction).

    Benfits:

    * It’s quite easy to ask others for their opinions/knowledge because I don’t have to pretend I’m better than them– they are better than me so probably have the answers I seek. I’ll even prepend “Explain like I’m 5” or “Say this as if English me third speaking is”. You get to do this without qualms if you accept your mediocrity. They’re usually very glad you asked.
    * The only people who bother looking at my code are “SEO experts” but hey, I’m just thrilled someone actually hit f12 or Ctrl-u. I get to celebrate with a tasty sammich or a beer.
    * I’ve never been “asked” to work anywhere, and this is probably true of a lot of us. This means we know we got where we were either because we interviewed well (okay that could be good fakery there, or just being white), or because the other candidates really did suck worse. No fears that we’ll ever be “exposed”.
    * On top of that, if the company decides to pay you something unreal, you don’t have to feel guilty because hey, it was obvious what and who you were, what you could and could not do, rather than feeling like they thought you were better than you are or could do more than you could. That makes it their decision and if you think it’s too high, you can safely consider it their mistake rather than something you’ll be “outed” on. It’s not your fault if money falls from the sky.
    * When you accidentally delete the entire production database as well as, somehow, all the backups, you know you won’t “get flown to Mountain View to be burned at the stake”. Nobody buys a plane ticket or wastes good Californian wood to can your ass, and as terrible as it was, it was a mistake, something ordinary people do all the time (okay actually I hope not) while the supergenius experts never ever do– so again, as a not-imposter you know nobody thought this couldn’t ever happen. Or maybe they lack imagination. Or have very good automated prevention systems. I hope.
    * I haven’t done that last one… yet.

    I’d list more benefits, but someone on the chat client is telling me my code is crufty as hell and I need to go celebrate with my sammiches.

  29. Diego Vilar

    Bravo! Just… bravo!

  30. Awesome post.

    I’ve had 3 careers to date… 1 of which was nothing to do with IT/web… and I’ve always struggled impostor syndrome.

    I guess some of us are hard-wired that way.

    For me it’s a daily battle.

    Thankfully my current manager understands, and that means a lot.

  31. O.M.G! Thank you, thaaannnkkkkk youuuuu, for this post!

    You managed to pinpoint the exact feelings I’ve been having all those years working as a integrator-now-frontend-developer in the IT field. Couple this with the facts that I’m a female developer and a mother, you can imagine how the Impostor Syndrome had slowly embedded in me through time: by contact with other developers whom had more knowledge (or at least remembered better their stuffs); lack of time to update my skills; and changes in life. It finally made me think I should abandon the development field I really love but feel so “out of sync” now.

    Yes, the small ideas you gave to get back into it – and feel less “impostor” – are great ideas (and yes, I am trying to implement it in my daily dev life. Baby steps!). But I would also add another one: try to find a personal project that can combine your hobby/passion with your developer skills, and work on this. Create an app, or a website, that will combine both: not necessarily a blog, but just a site that will combine both together. That’s what I am trying to do: a comic website where I’ll post my comic strips while improving my responsive and design skills, and also some bits of js and css animations (because I want to animate my comic strips). Yes, i think it will help me gain back my confidence, but I’ll also gain new tidbits of dev/design knowledge that will help me later on.

    So, again, thank you for writing this, and sharing it with us :D

  32. Julie

    I’ve struggled with Imposter Syndrome for 20+ years…thank you for bringing it to the forefront yet again!

  33. Beautifully written Dave, its definitely something the best of us go through constantly; If we felt we were good enough we wouldn’t be as good as we all are now though.

  34. Sara

    Honestly, as someone who flunked out of a tech program, left for teaching and then ran back to web development just to keep the roof over my head until somehow a recruiter who called me in for a tech support gig thought to offer me a junior dev position instead… I have soooo much Imposter Syndrome. On top of that, I’m a woman, and I’m not from the popular local tech university. At least one of my coworkers has an attitude about self-taught developers. Some days I just have to remind myself, “Hey, you’re getting paid to LIVE THE DREAM! Doesn’t that mean anything?”

    The great thing about web development is it’s easy enough to prove you have the chops, and it’s easy enough to teach yourself new skills. I can look at what I’ve built and know I couldn’t do that without being legit.

  35. Stomme poes

    This showed up in the twitterstream recently: http://lwn.net/Articles/641779/ “The programming talent myth”

    Being in the middle of the bell curve does not equal failure, but we continue to treat it as such.

  36. Nick

    Thanks for writing this!

  37. hal

    Woww! Dave! Thank you very much for this! I have been having impostor feelings lately in my current position. As it is my first experience as a developer, I am accepted by one of the biggest companies in my country where it is high level going on… and here I am having the excatly same feelings! I must say that you helped me a lot with this post!!

  38. ren

    Thank you for posting such an interesting story. I didn’t know about it until now. On a side note, I’ve seen a lot of openings for jobs for English teacher skype at http://preply.com/en/skype/english-tutoring-jobs

  39. That was a great article. A lot of it hits home.

    I will say this, David: there is no way you ever can be considered an imposter, from my point of view, since you have helped (and continue to help) so many people to learn. That’s truly aces.

    You have my thanks for that, and I’m sure more of the same from many others who have benefited from your knowledge and generosity.

    Take care!

  40. jack

    Not sure whether this is an honest self exploration or simply a boast.

    It comes of as a boast because:

    -he clearly announces his amazing employment background
    -he tells us that he started coding at age 14
    -he lets us know that he’s got a beautiful, picture perfect family

    In between these enormities, the bit about his occasional self esteem issues seems trivial to disingenuous…

    • Per your points:

      – My employment background is hardly amazing
      – Some HTML/CSS is probably almost required in high school these days
      – Yes, I do have a beautiful family — that I will boast

      No one boasts a lack of confidence. The whole point of this post is the contrary.

    • jack

      In short, you sir, are indeed an impostor posing as a fraud; I, on other hand, am truly bitter…

  41. Markus

    Dude… it’s as if you were reading my mind.

    I got my first computer when I was 9 years old (more than 30 years ago). I started to learn Basic on that. From that point on, I continued to be almost entirely self-taught. For the past 17 years I’ve made a living with web development. I spoke at conferences and got excellent ratings. I taught online courses. I wrote articles for magazines and websites in my profession. I even helped organize two conferences, one of them going into its 10th year now.

    One could say I’ve achieved a lot in my career.

    Still… I suffer from the exact. same. fucking. syndrome.

    And it never stops.

  42. I was trying to explain this feeling to a non-developer friend quite recently.

    I think a lot of it has to do with the nature of the job and the pace at which things change. I can’t even look back on projects and feel a sense of accomplishment – even after doing this for almost 20 years I’m learning new techniques every week, so every past project “could have been better”.

    The job can often be isolating which intensifies that idea that everyone else is better than me. And more often than not the skillset is so broad reaching that it becomes impossible to be a master of every aspect.

    But, no matter how burned out, I always feel a sense of quiet joy in the job. It’s sometimes a kind of ekphrasis – transcribing something visual into another language – even “getting” the most simple thing right is rerwarding.

  43. Mark

    You are truly a humble man David. Thanks for sharing your story.

  44. Ville

    That was spot on, and really good points of advice. Thanks for writing this!

  45. Ramsam

    Awesome.

  46. Nice article, I think it perfectly capture the feeling most of us have, possibly even the more skilled among us.
    Thanks for relieving some of that weight!

  47. Casey Dwyer

    Great article, very relatable. Thanks for sharing!

  48. Rafael

    Great reflection David! and beautiful family :)

  49. One of the most honest things I’ve read online in a very long time.

    I’ve been a fan of your blog posts for a few years David and I have learned a lot from them.

    GREAT post!

    Kevin Chisholm

  50. Thank you so much David! I get really nervous since I’ve only been doing this for a few years. I can do some stuff but when I look at against the unlimited amount of things I SHOULD know i get really intimidated and get really sad because I feel like I can’t do anything with a computer. Thank you for saying what I often think. I’m going to continue to learn, continue to blog, and to always remember the other things and people that bring me happiness.

  51. A true and honest article. As a front end developer i’m in the same boat, i’m sure most of them are .

  52. It’s incredibly hard, and courageous, to bare your soul like that, David. It’s also incredibly helpful to others. So thank you.

    I also find the hiring process to be brutal and hurtful, and contributes significantly to imposter syndrome. You give up an entire weekend on a programming challenge for a job interview, and they don’t even give you a follow-up interview. And precious little feedback, to boot!

    It’s a hard-knock life.

  53. KJ Price

    So true. Spoke to me directly. Thanks!

  54. Maura

    I’m a marketer and I’ve worked at companies like MySpace, CondeNast, iVillage, tumblr and you captured exactly how I feel daily. How the hell did you do that?!

  55. Bojana

    A great post. I am fighting this kind of battle in my mind every day. As a woman in mens’ profession I feel I have to prove myself even harder. I agree that the best relief comes from small victories – successful deploy, efficient optimization, helping a co-worker solving a problem…

  56. Issue is, it’s never enough

  57. T

    I am getting ready for a new job at a big firm, which has agreed to pay me a kings ransom to go from contractor to full time staffer. I gave them what I thought was an absurd salary demand just to avoid being faced with this job, and they called my bluff. Even after completing many projects for them as a freelancer, that they seem more than happy with, I can’t shake that fear that they will find out that stackoverflow and caffeine are the only way I make it through a day. This is my first go as a non freelancer, to which I don’t even know how I managed to make a decent living at that. I have my first kid on the way and I am leaving my daytime IT job security blanket. In front of my Wife I paint on the confident smile, while in my head all I think is WTF did you get your self into.

    I was looking up your article on how to update Node with NPM for the umpteenth time when I saw this article, and thought wow even you feel this way, maybe the majority of us do. This article sparked a thought that I hope helps anyone else in a new employment situation. We all got here following our own paths, and wether we are self taught or not; we would not do, what we do for a living if we haven’t at least proved to others that we can, even if we can’t prove it to ourselves. Every new opportunity is just another chance to prove it again. Were probably not experts at anything more than learning how to make it through todays challenges. Thank you for your candor.

    -T

  58. Dan

    Its the nature of the ever changing beast that is development. I have felt these feelings since I started way back in ye olden times of ’96. Its what drives me to learn more and improve, it keeps me from becoming stagnate, until I become independently wealthy. :)

    Embrace it! Love it! Use it! But do not succumb to its self-destructive nature.

  59. While I know of – and subscribe to – your blog, I don’t know your content well enough to tell if this is tongue-in-cheek or not.
    I will applaud you for writing it and pull a quote from a compelling podcast I heard a while back: “We are ‘expert enough'”.
    Thank you for sharing.

  60. Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.

    Thank you.

  61. Luis

    Just wanted to say thanks for this article. I can very much relate to the “impostor” feeling and I thought I was probably the only one. Good to know I’m not alone and thanks for the advice on how to overcome it.

  62. maurits

    Wow! Very open and honest post. I always love reading your blogs, but this one is exceptionally good. Thank you for publishing it.

  63. Luke

    Sums up all my feelings about my career in a single web page.

    Eloquent, insightful and brave.

  64. I really want to thank you for sharing this. I think (hope) that everyone at some point has experienced this; I know I am right now.

  65. Dear David Walsh,

    6 months ago, I was working on a hospital. I’m a Medical Doctor in Pediatrics. Although everyone recognized me as a really good doctor, since the college that I felt that I didn’t belong there. In this case, maybe it was true.

    Meanwhile, I discovered code. Coding make me happy, a new world on my fingertips! It was decided: I was leaving the clinical practice.

    In the last 6 months my full time “job” was going from noob to ninja in web development, specially in javascript – MVC frameworks, transpilers, build tools and tests.

    Guess what? I’m happy, but didn’t put my portfolio online until last week. Didn’t apply for a job. Didn’t ask a question on stackoverflow.

    You know what? This is called perfectionism. We are never satisfied with our knowledge. But, this is actually a good think if we can deal with it.

    Your blog post reminded me of that. Thank you. In the medicine world, it is incredible rare someone express this kind of feeling, errors or weakness.

    I believe this is a great industry, and can be a lot of fun. Plus, it’s just software :)

    I’ll never stop being and thinking like a medical doctor, but from now on, I’m a web developer.

  66. Oj

    Hi David,

    Only yesterday I had this feeling, that I am not doing enough and I am not good enough. And I happened to came across your article.

    Thank you for sharing your life.

  67. Nicolás

    Been there, done that! thanks for sharing.

  68. Trevor

    Hey David, this might be super late to the party, but I thought I’d add my two cents: a lot of this sounds like the Dunning-Kruger effect

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

    Which is to say, a psychological classification for “I know what I don’t know”. If you feel that way, that can be more of a positive thing than not. I don’t mean to belittle self-esteem or self-worth issues at all by saying this. However, in my opinion, if you were able to get yourself just a little closer to the middle on the spectrum of “I am great” vs “I suck at everything”, you’d really be in a good spot as far as keeping yourself on your toes.

    Of course, that’s not to say it’s easy. You said it yourself, this is a disproportionately competitive industry due to the Internet’s ubiquity. I struggle with these feelings a lot myself. It’s very much not easy, but it’s almost like the saying “pain reminds you that you’re alive”; if you feel like there’s more to learn, whatever you do you’ll just keep improving!

    Maybe this was a bit of a mixed message, but hey, everything about the human psyche is. I hope you can find it at least somewhat motivating, though.

  69. Dusan

    I cannot recall writing this. Hm…

  70. Kas

    It’s so nice to hear to other people are feeling exactly like me. I am a junior front end developer, and when I look at all the cool websites using the latest cool technologies, and I feel like I should know how to do all this, forgetting that I’ve only been working for a year now. Thank you so much for writing this post, it gives me hope that I can get where I want with my skills and my career eventually :)

  71. Zac

    I’ve followed you for a long time as a figure of where I’d like to be so hearing something like this from you helps a lot. Thanks for sharing man. It helps.

  72. Steven

    Thank you so much for this article. I am currently struggling with this feeling without being able to define it. You just made me understand what is this feeling and how to deal with, and I am so impressed and glad to read all these comments.

    Thanks for sharing.

  73. Thank you for your testimony, sometimes already felt that way. very good fuck post too!

  74. David

    Thank-you!
    This is something you only get to read on certain forums about starting out with programming. It’s amazing to read this from someone who’s work I really appreciate and also admire.

    Again, thank-you.

  75. Gwen

    David, thanks for the article.

    You described what i felt and am often feeling since decades working in IT and Webdev.

    Hard to struggle with this, perfectionism leads to depression and that feeds the Impostor much more.

    But good to read that im not alone with this problem.

  76. I’m always reminded by some great words from Steve Jobs when impostor syndrome is lurking.

    https://youtu.be/UvEiSa6_EPA

  77. Diego

    Thanks for sharing David! I’ve struggled with this my whole adult life as well. In a way it’s made me push harder but I’m ready to start feeling more confident and content with my skills. Good luck with the journey, congrats on all your success, and you can overcome this!

  78. Mssr Frakenstein

    “Sometimes asking questions to colleagues or even via an IRC room felt like it was a trade-off between not getting an answer or getting stabbed with the answer.”

    That’s because they were assholes, and were encouraged to be assholes. Not because you were a noob. ;-)

  79. David

    I’m entirely self taught and been developing for a few years now and while I can see how much I have learned, I find myself squarely in “holy crap look at all this stuff I don’t know” territory. I’ve tried explaining my imposter fears to my colleagues and fiancée and everyone just looks at me gone out. Thanks for writing about this, and for everyone who’s commented that they feel they same. Now I can just be an imposter, not an imposter and a freak ;)

  80. Zach

    …Realize that people who consider themselves “experts”, and don’t go through waves of self doubt, are idiots that are so arrogant to not know what they don’t know…

    This.

  81. Thomas

    As a second year CS student, I’ve been feeling this way ever since I started coding. There’s always something I just don’t know, and the more I get into this field, the more I feel lost. I honestly don’t even know what I know at this point.

  82. I am thinking of this all the time – I am glad I am not alone. :)

  83. I’m a college dropout, self-taught front-end developer, delving in the depths of backend development for the first time. I’ve never felt more as a fraud. It is exciting, it is fulfilling and it is incredibly insightful, learning all these new things. But I just feel like a monkey on a suit, trying to look professional. I landed my current job as lead developer with not nearly enough knowledge but somehow managed to keep it for the last 3 years. As lead front-end developer, I’ve made it my duty to help my colleagues write as little code as possible by writing a somewhat robust framework that solves most problems and let them just focus on the one at hand, which is somewhat successful. I’m currently writing a prototype for a project, learning everything while doing it. 15 days in and I’m almost done. I have side projects with a functional real-time chat application that one day I want to present to my company for internal use (a slack/skype alternative). And despite all of this, I feel like an impostor. I’ve never felt more like one.

    You asked us to write what might help us overcome this feeling. To me, it’s been reading this. Knowing that I’m not alone. Knowing that I may not be as huge as an impostor as I feel. And, perhaps the biggest one of them all, as you put it: there’s a real world outside of this hateful, illuminated screen.

    Thank you.

  84. Manuela

    Amazing post. I’ve been able to manage dealing with the never-ending Imposter Syndrome by learning from the “fake it till you become it” mantra that Amy Cuddy emphasizes in this TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

    Thanks for sharing!

  85. Katie

    I just today learned that the way I’ve felt for years has a term, “impostor syndrome,” and then I stumbled onto your post — it took my breath away. Change a few words and rework a few sentences and I could have very well written this post myself (on a much smaller employment scale.) Knowing that there are others who feel as I do, and especially in the same tech environment in which I work, is simultaneously intensely shocking and infinitely comforting. I’ve had relatively few bone-deep “MY PEOPLE! YOU GET ME!” experiences in my life and this is one of those times. Thank you so much for writing this! May we all feel less imposter-y.

  86. Stephan

    “… Oh boy… hopefully my comment will be good enough… are these proper thoughts on the topic…” (methinks)

    I’ve been there. I have no finished academic degree in anything (studied computer science but didn’t finish) and now am in upper management of a mid sized IT company and my immediate colleagues have PhD’S and stuff and ask me for expertise on topics I have no education in.

    Web development is the meanest thing for the low self esteemed: A new .js every five minutes. Everyone does functional programming now in a language that was so laughed upon 5 years ago, and videos are trying to explain to me what a monad is.

    I know two things:

    The others are all imposters as well. This is the internet. We’re not ourselves. These are projections made of dreams and fears. Same applies to many real life workplaces.

    No true imposter stays in a job for three years. Your fuse wouldn’t be that long. So you’re at Mozilla for 3 years, trust me, you’re valuable, you earned it.

    Thank you for this post!

  87. Thomas

    Awesome Article! Thank you very much ;-)

  88. Oh man David. This was hard enough to *read*, I can’t imagine what it was like to write. Excellent words though, and yeah, we’re all in this together. You’re one of the people who makes me feel impostor, David, so I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry that we’re all in the same boat. Wotta weird world we live in. Thanks for your bravery in posting this.

  89. “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

    ― Bertrand Russell

    • Ha, he liked that topic I guess:

      “One of the painful things about our time is those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”

      — Bertrand Russell

  90. No you’re not, you’re modest, that’s all. I think we all feel that (I know I do), specially when given good jobs, in big companies, with good people, and when you get to write a book and get a lot of followers.

  91. Raj

    So thats what it is called “imposter syndrome”, i definitely feel as described in this article. Currently i am working on an external facing application, basically i had to build it from start. I must confess, the more i thought about it, the more daunting it looked. So i just dove in and have been working on it for the past couple of months, I have learnt a lot about full stack application development.

    PS: I am the only developer working on it and i only have a year of experience in software industry.

  92. Matt C

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve felt alone in my impostor syndrome. This inspires to say F that feeling and keeping pushing forward.

  93. Zee Impostor

    I’ve been looking anywhere I can for solutions to impostor syndrome but I haven’t found anything that can help me. I think it may be because I am an actual impostor in my field. I’m in graphic design.
    I’ve been working as a designer for 12 years, but even though that’s my official title, I can only loosely consider myself one.
    I’m on my third professional design job. My first was designing ads for phone books, a low-end job for people who can’t pass for a real designer, but even there, I was constantly being brought into the boss’s office to talk about how I needed to kick it up a notch. Somehow I managed to stay employed there for three years and then went back to college to get my BFA.
    While I was at college, I built a relationship with LogoWorks, a design sweatshop that I’m too ashamed of to even put on a resume now. I wasn’t employed with them, I was just freelancing, and thankfully since I was in school at the time I don’t have to account for the time gap in an interview. LogoWorks has a reputation for being cheap, classless, a plague on the industry, and a rip-off producing work that is of zero value. That reputation was probably worse then than it is now, but it gave me a little money to get through school so I went with it. You got a meager $25 for submitting at least two comps and then you got a larger bonus if the client chose your comp from a lineup of comps from 1-4 other designers.
    I did okay at first because there wasn’t much competition and clients would choose just about anything, no matter how bad. But eventually more and better (but still not very good) designers signed on and I was pushed out.
    Then I graduated. I could maybe use this as some sort reaffirmation that I have had some success, and I felt good about myself at the time, but I think everyone in my class graduated with straight As because the grading for these design courses was rather subjective. Most of time you slid by if you just turned in something—anything—for each project.
    I was hired a few months later at a small production studio and I was ecstatic. The place seemed cool and it seemed liked they only hired fairly strong talent so it made me feel re-affirmed.
    It would be about a year before my creative director would admit that he only hired me because they were looking to implement an automated ad system and they needed someone to design the cheap, generic ad elements to use in this system. I had phonebook experience, which didn’t make me a good designer, just a fast one, and that was all they needed.
    They implemented the ad system, but all of the clients who used this system eventually dropped us and I was kicked down to doing odd jobs most of the time (archiving projects, filling in text for sign systems that had already been designed, examining video for errors, changing garbages, etc.)
    Occasionally they would let me design if there was an unimportant client that wanted lots of options for a small project and they needed more submissions to fill the sheet. I don’t think any of my design concepts were ever chosen by the client for any of these projects, but why should they be? My submissions were just to fill space.
    Eventually this company tanked because the President made some bad decisions and I had to find something else.
    I was a wreck. I was unemployed, by this time had a family to support, and had a thin portfolio of absolutely pathetic work.
    So I was very relieved after five months of searching to finally get an offer for a design job with the company I work with now, at $11,000/yr less than I was making before. It was an in-house job (meaning I would design for the company’s brand and products rather than for clients) and it’s not a very design forward brand. In fact it’s fairly mediocre design-wise. Even so, I haven’t exactly managed to impress the marketing heads or the marketing VP, so now I’m back to odd jobs.
    I spend most of my days here wrapping designs that somebody else created onto digital images of blank packages that somebody else photographed. Meanwhile the guy on the other side of the partition from me, who shares my exact same job description and is three years my junior here, is designing the packages.
    I’m fighting back tears as I write this. I’m forgetting how to design, (provided I ever really knew how to begin with) I’ve lost all confidence in myself and I’m losing hope fast. Could I be a real impostor, and if so, what can I do about it?

    • No Not an Imposter

      Hello, I hope you read this, but I’d like to tell you that you shouldn’t judge yourself based on how others judge your designs!

      In every field there are those who are exceptionally talented and those who are just do things by the book, and that’s totally okay! You just haven’t found the company who truly appreciates you.

      I think you should consider working full time on your own, freelance on websites like freelancer.com and fiverr.com. It really doesn’t matter how your superiors feel about your work- now you just need to face your customers!

      Show off your work and the customers who appreciate your work will come to you. You could start making a name for yourself and use this in your resume for your next job!

      So what if you’re known as the one who does bad designs – you just need to find people who appreciate your type of design and pay for it and you can feed yourself and your family! LogoWorks may have a bad name like you said but they still exist for a reason! Go along with that.

      I also think that you probably never ever let your true talent show due to a lack of confidence in yourself.. You know how it is when you feel like an impostor and keep dwelling on it in your mind, you truly behave and produce work like an impostor’s.

      Stop judging yourself based on your work. You are much better than that. You are a responsible person who takes up the responsibility of taking care of your family and much more. Most of all, so what if people think your designs suck if you can bring in the money?

      There’s so many ways around this! I wish you all the best! :)

  94. Guest

    I have this, coupled with severe anxiety. It started about 4 months ago. Iv’e officially been in the professional capacity for about 6 years. I really feel like this is going to end my career. Help!?!

  95. You are an expert in your field. You have a wealth of knowledge that you share and teach to those who are trying to learn. In that sense you are literally an expert by definition.

    Keep up the good work :)

  96. An elegant, beautiful articulation of the effects of Perpetual Novice syndrome, which is endemic to any field like ours where we are often judged not by our general experience and know-how, but rather by our level of intimacy with the framework-du-jour.

    Well done, and hearty thanks, from someone who’s been in the field of computer programming in one form or other for 40 years.

  97. I feel you! What has helped me lately is to remember to be patient. Good ol’ imposter fucking syndrome.

  98. Spirytus

    Wonderful post, and timely too.. got last stage job interview today and feel like I’m not nearly good enough for the job :/ Also noticed this gets worse and worse, the more I learn the more realise how little I know.

  99. Sam

    After starting with website development in 1998, i have only recently learned the phrase Imposter Syndrome. Your post is very real in my life, and after reading it, and going through the reason Why Not, this has helped a lot (albeit not resolved most of these feelings!). The constant cycle of “theres always more to learn”, and more and more (not that there shouldn’t), but this never ending cycle has effectively left a lot of anxiety in my life. Recently a colleague shared the term Imposter Syndrome and, click, I instantly identified with it. I’m now working on what my core strengths are in website development, and what aren’t. And being happy that i have the skills to clearly measure, filter, and recommend what is strong and important for business, and what isn’t. And am more than happy now to help non-computer users (with patience) and explain and translate difficult computed tasks clearly, where others can’t. Thanks for your post.

  100. Phil

    So it’s not just me? Thank you for an informative read that I can relate to on so many levels.

    I’m just about to take a new job that’s a big step up and the Impostor Syndrome is biting again. 15 years of doing this successfully at both small and large companies and it still bites at the confidence.

    Good luck to you David.

  101. Ravi Kasireddy

    wonderful article i got to see and i’m very thankful to you cause it’s made me more confident at my current skills to get more in the near feature…

  102. Very interesting article and highly inspiring. While going through the post, I realized that it is perfectly normal to feel that you are an impostor, you accidentally got this far, but the truth is that this exact same feeling urge you to do better every time you fail.

  103. Jack Sparrow

    Thank you David, every time I face a overly challenging task as a developer, I feel like an impostor. Knowing that my hero’s faced the same challenge in their lives makes me realize this too shall pass and I shall overcome this challenge.

    Thank you again and keep writing.

  104. thank you for this post.i’m battling with this right now

  105. Bryan

    It’s easy to feel this way.

    I remember I once lost a job interview because I tried explaining that 3D orientations actually need 4 bits of data to be properly described. The guy looked at me like I was an idiot. I explained that even with euler angles (rotationX, rotationY, rotationZ type stuff) you may have 3 numbers, but there’s a 4th implied bit of data (order of rotations) and if you change that order of rotations being used you can get a different end orientation even with the same 3 numbers! Hence: the 3 numbers weren’t totally describing the end orientation by themselves. Then I tried to explain how true number only representations (like axis-angle and quaternions) of 3D orientations all need 4 pieces of data, etc…He basically gave me the “sure they do, buddy” nod and the interview was suddenly over.

    Long story short, even though I knew that I lost the job because I was, in fact, so much more knowledgeable than the interviewer that he couldn’t comprehend what I was talking about…I STILL felt like crap afterwards…like I was the one that didn’t measure up. Even though I knew it was the opposite that had happened it didn’t change how I felt to know that my knowledge had been deemed not even worthy of finishing the interview…and it sucked.

    Anyway, my point is to show how ridiculously easy it is to feel that way. Even when you’re the one that’s on top knowledge-wise, you can STILL be made to feel like crap. So try not to take it too hard when you start to feel that way. It’s unavoidable in this field.

    And yes, it’s actually been a little therapeutic writing this…

  106. Wow is all I can say! You hit it right on the head. I am three years into this business. I came out the Bay Area on a hope that I could make it out here. I had tried many places just to get my foot in the door, and often times when I made it, at the first attempt to whiteboard, my mind locks up with, “this is where they find out that you don’t really belong”. I work for for a big company out here now, but every day I feel the same way. Tasked with solving difficult problems and not having the answer immediately makes me feel like I just don’t belong. What’s funny about this is, your blog is one of three that I turn to for answers to some weird issue I may be trying to find an answer for. Thanks for the good work, and it’s good to know that there are many of us out there who really feel the same way.

  107. scott

    Whoa! I really needed this today! This sums up (perfectly) how I’ve been feeling of late and many times throughout my career. And to think, I was just trying to learn something about the fullscreen api. :D

  108. leenull

    Thanks for sharing this article! I can totally relate. A while ago I came across this article by Scott Hanselman, which addresses the same issue, also in a awesome way. http://www.hanselman.com/blog/ImAPhonyAreYou.aspx

  109. Good reminder…

  110. anonymous

    I was the director of a program at a prestigious University and I felt like that every day. I was admired, marvelled and cherished and deep inside, I felt like an imposter. Sometimes, I would give talks, presentations and I would feel good, but that would wash away after a few sleeps. Same feeling when I got my PhD. Basically, my whole life, I feel like certain lucky co-incidences have made me become who I am. Not that I deserved any of it. Because I am a failure. I have been on TV, newspaper etc., and I would look at my pictures and see hollowness.

    Now I am in my basement and trying to build something. I want to re-earn all those honours when I feel like I earned them. From medical science to business to coding … I have done it all .. just not good enough that make me be proud of myself.

    You are brave that you shared your story. My story is in my head.

  111. Kristofer

    Woah, this article really hit home with me.

  112. Great post, and very resonant – I dug deep into my own struggles with Impostor Syndrome in the post below – I offer some of the solutions I found myself!

    http://www.thehappytechie.com/mindfulness/how-mindfulness-meditation-stopped-me-feeling-like-a-fake/

  113. Thought it was a local syndrome. What a relief. Thanks David

  114. Thank you for this David. I feel every word. Also your ability to articulate the Impostor Syndrome is impressive.

  115. No Way! but a great read.You have no idea how you have helped me indirectly. Before I came to do web development for the big beauty brand I am at now, I was doing freelance as well as doing web development for a small shop where I was the only developer and everytime I ran into some issue, for some strange reason you had posted about it a day or two before. You became my go-to when I was in a bind. so thank you! you are no importer if you help others the way you do.

  116. Cal

    Thanks for this post. It helped me feel a little better.

    I’ve got an internship at a small embedded shop. I’m expected to have a product done by the end of the month. I spent all last month just trying to learn enough that I can start writing code.

    I worry I should quit because I really like the people and feel like I’m cheating them. I worry I’ll get fired because they’ll figure out I can’t get it done.

    After wanting this so badly for 20 years, I’m one class shy of my degree and questioning whether I can even make it as a programmer.

    • Eric

      Thank you for writing this. I started programming when I was 12, before the Internet, and am now 47, with 26 years of professional employment as a developer. I’ve developed and led projects in COBOL, Unix/Oracle, Microsoft PC and 3-tier client-server technologies, enterprise Java, small-stack Java, and now Ruby and JavaScript/CSS.

      I still have Imposter Syndrome, and it gets somewhat worse as time goes on. I see kids out of college for just a few years doing great work and think “Am I that good? Was I ever? Did I used to be better?”

      Then sometimes I’ll answer some questions the kids have, and feel better. And they’ll express some insecurity about their work, and I’ll feel at least not so bad. And a lot of your suggestions are very good ones.

      Keep in mind that the people most of us don’t like to work with are those who can’t acknowledge error, or in other ways can’t learn.

  117. Thank you for this. I’m tempted to say that those who are afraid of being an Impostor, are those who have more likely a chance to be a great programmer.

    Maybe because the Impostor Syndrome have two basic consequences: 1. either you give up and stop coding. 2. or you force youselve to grow, learn and perform better.

    Love from Brazil.

  118. you for this.
    It is helpful for beginner like me who failed in study and now start as self-taught web developer.

    It reminds me on what Christian Heilmann [wrote about Imposter Syndrome](https://www.christianheilmann.com/2015/09/24/of-impostor-syndrome-and-running-in-circles-part-1/).

    Yes, it is way too much to learn. But I can see, that professionals working for years in that area can learn new stuff from me O:

    That motivates me. As long as I can stay open-minded, everything will turn out fine.

  119. Prasanna Joglekar

    Hi David!

    It’s an amazing article reflecting all my fears. Your blog helps me try new ways and techniques.

  120. Cesar

    I don’t exactly feel like an impostor, but I always feel like a big fish in a small pond, at work I’m seen as “the guy”, but despite the fact that I love to code, I know I’m far from that level.

    I never had done anything for a Mozilla-kind-of-company or submitted a single commit to any of the tools/frameworks I have ever used, I swear I have studied how to make frameworks/tools and how to be a better developer (and I have improved in the process) but I’m always severals steps behind those high-level gurus.

    From time to time I go to sites like stack overflow to see if I can help someone with their questions and get sad when all the questions I have the knowledge to answer are already answered and way better than I would have ever considered.

    Same goes with blogging, despite I have a lot of knowledge and experience, I have real trouble thinking of some topic that isn’t covered already and better explained.

    Once someone asked me why I haven’t sumbitted a job application for Google, it was extremely painful to explain him that I was a decent coder, but I wasn’t good enough.

  121. This the best article I read today.
    The photo at the end of your article puts it ALL in the proper perspective.
    We struggle and try hard – but don’t forget to try smile and shrugging from time to time, cause when all’s said and done…

  122. Wow, there was some strong perspective that was conveyed in this article. I’m not a programmer/developer but it’s the design of things that sometimes attracts me to projects and I feel that I can learn how to go about accomplishing said project…it just needs to be interesting enough to me though.

    David

  123. Hi David. This article’s title hooked me and little did I know it would frame exactly what I’ve felt ever since I worked at a place with a culture which amplifies this syndrome you write about. I have also felt it when I go to interview: I have no post-secondary education so I have to highlight my experience and actually bring a portfolio of work with me (you feel like an imposter to those who have gone to University!).

    David, I am willing to bet you also felt this magnifying effect while at Mozilla. The pressure of your colleagues and feeling like you’re walking on glass – they’re just waiting to pounce on your mistakes. It does make you better. It’s a different type of spark of fire to challenge yourself with this pressure to impress (or just get through a review without feeling like you have the logic of a 3 year old) – rather than the old spark of just wanting to know how to do THAT THING your self.

    I think working in this type of culture can be harmful – especially if you never really end up making friends with a developer you look up to (or get reviewed by), or finally feeling like you’ve earned their respect. Yes, it can spur you into bettering yourself, but too much of it for too long can make you very bitter about our industry and the people in it. I think if I had stayed at the company where this culture persisted, it would have lead me to feeling that every other developer is better than me, or that it’s always a competition.

    We definitely always need to learn new things (not for lack of wanting), and we’ll never know everything, but yes(!!!!!) we are valuable to any team, we’ve cut our teeth, and we can do ANYTHING that THEY can.

    There’s always going to be critics.

    Thank you for writing this, David!

  124. Nick

    David, this article really hit home and thank you so much for opening up about all of these feelings and mind sets. Personally it’s nice to know i’m not alone.

    Thank you again for all the amazing articles and insights you provide they are all greatly appreciated.

  125. Hey, I have no idea how I got here (I might have been reading something about the html5 video tag on your blog), but this really hit a nerve… in a good way.

    Thanks.

  126. Sneha

    Hi David,
    These are the inner battles for so many of us. Thank You for putting this post! You said it right! A lot of us are in this together and that we all should find something to be happy about. I remember a quote to pull up myself if I am doubting myself: Its ok to try and fail, but its not OK to not try! You may have victory or at least a lesson.
    Thank you,

  127. This is a fantastic post. I have this feeling most everyday, having stumbled into my programming career a year ago almost by chance (coming over from Network Security).

    It is comforting to know that other, more experienced people in my profession share the same feeling.

    Thanks, and great blog!

  128. Fantastic post, as I type in services I am hanging out my shingle for on my website, I’m looking over my shoulder for someone to say “WTF? You think YOU are going to hired for that? Do you actually KNOW anything?” I’m always convinced the next guy/gal can code circles around me and is an absolute expert at the ridiculousness I was trying to discuss and articulate. I’m so right there with you. Rock on….

  129. Colton Colcleasure

    I find it funny to read something like this coming from you, David. I spend an ungodly amount of time practicing and studying (16-20 hours a day, right at this desk) and the community I interact with the most, the novices, pass around your posts like the bible. More experienced developers pass your words down to us, as well. You’re a pretty big deal.

  130. Shreya

    I am equally surprised and relieved to know many developers, including the great David Wash, feel this way. Thank you for writing this!

  131. Wow, that’s a real brave post. Well timed for me. I have an interview for a job I really want next week. I’m totally feeling I will be seen as an imposter, that somehow the two phone interviews I managed to convince them I know what I’m doing.

    I’m 48 and it scares me that I’m still feeling like this after all the years in the pre-web days and the web all of 20 odd years. Everyone seems smarter than I, I never seem to know the new JS library that the great sounding job requires experience in. I feel that at my level of experience I should ( or I feel they expect) know a heck of a lot more. I’m expected to mentor and train those around me for hecks sake.

    So I am going to try to go into the interview with a braver heart and knowing that I can add something for this company and they need to show they want me. Though I don’t think I’ll Skype the CEO and beg them to tell me they want me;-) maybe I’ll ask this question, “what do you see in me and why do you think I should take this job?”. I’ll just have to try to really accept a positive answer to that rather than let the imposter inside me tell me “see they know you are a fraud” regardless of how much praise I get.

    I wish you all the best David. Thanks again for the post.

  132. Rob

    Thanks David, I have referenced your blog for help many times over the years, so you certainly are no imposter in my mind.

    I agree it is the way our profession is, the sheer volume of stuff we need to remember to do our jobs is like no other industry, I think it is impossible for the human mind to master such a vast amount of knowledge that changes at such a pace that every few years you become a dinosaur if you don’t relearn.

    Not to mention aside from technical ability, we also need to be incredibly articulate to understand business requirements that change more frequently than the technical landscape.

    And to top all of that we have to work with morons that have egos and like to spend their days getting one up on their colleagues to try and prove some sort of intellectual superiority.

  133. bubba

    Interesting post. I’ve never really worried about ‘keeping up’ because its just not possible (and certainly not anymore). IT is too broad a field to know everything.

    Working in IT for 20 years so far (after studying IT/Soft Eng at college) You get to see that there is little point obsessing over the latest newest thing as it will be pretty much obsolete before you’ve mastered it.Know the fundamentals of software engineering and dont sweat the small stuff. I suppose front end web dev is a bit of a hot house and the unfortunate thing is that you often may not get to build anything lasting because its all scrapped at an accountant/ceo’s whim or out of date in a year. So don’t sweat it. There will _always_ be someone smarter/quicker/better. You cant win, might as well try and enjoy the ride. Incidentally…. Heres the secret to dealing with it… YOUR Boss has self doubts, His Boss has self doubts, _EVERYBODY_ has self doubt. Its how they deal with it that makes the difference.

  134. > “Users can be very dumb but it’s still the developer’s fault for not making something easy enough!”

    No!

    Stop babying users! Some of them really are sub-normally thick. It’s not your fault. This isn’t because I’m an angry developer, it isn’t because I lack a skill everyone else has; it’s because anything outside yourself you cannot ever be 100% responsible for.

    Think about it, you wouldn’t blame yourself for it raining, or for your kids falling down and scraping a knee.

    Cut yourself some slack and accept that people and their behaviours are things outside of your control. Write docs and produce content to encourage others to use your software within limits; (I’m looking at you if you want a date input to accept every type of date conceivable). Sure listen to users; that can’t hurt, you may both come to the conclusion there is an enhancement, but don’t take their failures onboard as your own unless you had prior knowledge. You will hopefully be better today than yesterday, and in almost every case you’ll certainly know more by next week. It’s not your fault you cannot time-travel, are missing a tardis and are not the relative of a deity.

    The more I hear about this imposter syndrome, the more I think it stems from an entirely unhealthy attitude, and unreasonable expectations both internally and from those IT professionals are surrounded by.

  135. Lautaro

    Hi, I really enjoyed this post, it’s very honest and true. :)

  136. The reason I came to your blog today is had picked you out as a role model. It’s so great that you wrote this article about imposter syndrome, because now I think you are a good guy, whereas before, I assumed you must be one of the blowhards from the world of non-doubt. I wanted to learn from you anyway. I am glad you are a regular guy like I wish I was.

    I know some people who will appreciate and learn from this as well.

    That article you just wrote, about how most projects you work on these days involve using a json project file for managing dependencies. That made me feel I am incompetent and you are liar Turned out I am incompetent, but you are not a liar. I have had bad experiences with projects that use that sort of dependency manager. Specifically, Google Recapcha distributes with a ton of dependencies that are not needed. I can tell your use of the dependency manager is legitimate.

  137. Adrian

    I have recently started a new job at a very large tech company working with some very clever people and seem to have been overwhelmed by feelings of the imposter syndrome lately. I’ve been developing for 20 odd years now and been through a lot of roles; permanent, contract, I’ve even run my own consultancy company. Its tough to still battle with these types of feelings. So in a nutshell this post has cheered me up no-end. Lovely job!

  138. Carlos

    You’re no more an impostor than any of us who have jumped into something new. You’re just brave enough to admit the fears we all feel when we do something we haven’t done before

  139. Thank you for sharing this words, so sincerely and transparent. I think that, no matter how experienced we are, we all have experienced this kind of doubt feeling when it comes to “Am I good enough? “, “Do I know the lastest techniques and languages?”, and “Is this way to solve the problem, the best way?”. There´s nothing wrong with keep learning, asking event the dumbest questions and not having all the time all the answers.

  140. alex

    I don’t think non-doubters are idiots as you wrote. Maybe are just people with normal self-esteem that have the memory to remember all the years of hard work in front of their monitor, 14-16 hours a day, 7 days a week, instead dating or having fun outside (extreme sports, etc.). I’ve been a developer for 20 yrs now and my moments feeling as an impostor add to about 3 minutes.
    But maybe I’m too arrogant to not know what I don’t know. However, this is my opinion.
    Nice article though. And many other cool articles on your blog.

  141. alex

    PS: I think you working only on top companies is part of what led to your syndrome. More experience with beginner/medium level developers in the team would have cured this for you. ;)

  142. Just never forget that even the biggest artists (e.g. Eric Clapton and many others) have stage-fright, or however it is called.
    This nervousity and unsureness of being up to the point when going to stage… and once they’re up there and after the first notes a trance sets in and every fear is forgot, the center of focus blurs

    css{blur:100px;}

    , the routine and experience pushes forward

    for ($i=0,$i<theEnd;$i++){}

    and before they even notice, the gig is over and the initial fear seems somehow childish?

    Why should we programmers be/feel different?

    Cheers! ;-)

  143. Dmitry

    Cheer up! Your imposture helped a lot of people in this world!)

  144. Great article must say. Anyone who will read this will feel like it’s their own story.

  145. A

    Thanks for putting all this out there. This is something I really needed to read. I, too, am a self-taught web developer at age 14, albeit was working since age 17. Am now 32, married, and could use more money to support my family. I love my current job and I feel like something higher paying would require a leap in skills and knowledge that… is just not me. Consequently the impostor feeling has been suffocating to the point I can barely function at work as of late. Until reading this article I didn’t even acknowledge this internal struggle has been going on. It’s bizarre how one can go through motions to reaffirm we’re damn good at what we do, yet once again get stuck with this “impostor syndrome.”

    I suppose what scares me is the world does seem to want more of an engineer, do far more in far less time, far less (no) room for error, perform far faster for every machine and to scale, and so on, and that it’s a demand I was never meant to meet. While I’ve met every unprecedented challenge ever given to me, this was always done on-the-job, not off, so that next level thing… it just feels so daunting, like it really exposes the imposter syndrome like never before.

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