Why I Suck Sometimes
and no, it’s not Impostor Syndrome
What if sometimes you just suck? Is that a big deal?
During my software developer and programming instructor career, I often encountered people suffering from Impostor Syndrome and occasionally experienced it first hand. Just as often, I’ve met people who thought they suffered from Impostor Syndrome, but were, as a matter of fact, just not that good. And just as often, I’ve experienced and continue to experience this first hand.
Let’s start off with the definition of Impostor Syndrome, which is a condition that gives you the creeping feeling or conviction (according to its intensity) you are a fraud, do not comply to the ideal of what you role is supposed to be, do not belong to the crowd of skilled individuals in your field, even if you do a relatively good job at fooling people into believing you do. In fact, a lot (if not most) people suffering from Impostor Syndrome have an already successful career in the field they feel they have no sufficient knowledge in.
There has been so much written on Impostor Syndrome and we have found out it is so widespread that we are collectively taking solace in knowing about the phenomenon. After all, the existence of Impostor Syndrome is convenient to us: it’s telling us we are only human and as such, we tend to perceive we do not know enough, but in reality we are just insecure *pat-pat*.
I am not denying the existence of Impostor Syndrome and I think it is very prevalent in the job market and exacerbated by the million ways the Internet lets us compare ourselves to others, with very little and selected context about their walk of life. However, I like to keep reminding myself that sometimes I suck indeed. I just do not know enough and I have fallen behind, maybe because I slacked off, maybe because of some other reason.
Why sometimes I (and possibly you) actually suck
This list of reasons is mostly based on my experience as a software developer and instructor and rather specific to the field.
Your coworkers are older and know the internet better.
Software development has become unbelievably easy in the last decade, and better developers than us have made it possible by creating incredible tools that have effectively democratized this profession. Sometimes, you end up working with those developers; they are most likely older, have more experience, know low-level programming languages and can talk extensively about all the protocols involved in an HTTP request. You don’t.
This doesn’t make your work less valuable, as this is possibly knowledge you simply do not need to become a good developer nowadays. However, and especially if those people are high in numbers in the company you are working for or in your local tech community, you will feel singled out. You do not posses, in fact, all the knowledge they do, and a lot of the time that’s because of the software engineering generational gap. It still stands that you do not know as much as they do, so you (kinda sorta) suck compared to them.
Your coworkers are different people from you.
This is rather simple. No coworker has the exact same background as you do and some of them will be surprised and outraged you do not know *random important and commonplace tech stuff you have been overlooking for years*. This happens the other way around too: how many times did you think someone was only kidding when they naively admitted they never heard of *random important and commonplace tech stuff you have been focusing on long enough to gain knowledge of*? It’s an inescapable cognitive bias. The Impostor Condition is in the eye of the beholder. It’s very likely you have been viewed as an impostor in several circumstances in your working career and sometimes it’s because many professionals in your field would agree that you really should know that thing you pretended to know, but decided not to enquire further about, consequently making it even more clear you were in fact totally ignorant on.
You have slacked off for a while and are not in the loop.
Programming is a very competitive field nowadays. Let’s be honest, as much as we would like to be believe otherwise and the 40 hours week leaves us already exhausted as it is, we can hardly become the best if we fall out of the loop: every time we stop reading programming news on twitter or lobste.rs, or we give ourselves a break from open-source, or decline tech meetup invitations, we are loosing ground. If we take a break for a week or two, that’s fine, but if our hiatus extends throughout months, it will affect us and we will become worse developers. It’s stressful to think about it, but those are the occasions in which we start leaning more towards the impostor’s side of the spectrum and drift away from the syndrome’s.
You are a generalist.
I met a lot of developers I wouldn’t consider more skilled than me as a whole, but have much more profound knowledge of one determined field. Sometimes that happens to be the field we both work in. Those developers wouldn’t be in the wrong, if they thought I should try to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, because in doing so, I’d become a much more effective worker. They’d tend to see me as a shallow developer and they’d be right.
Those are four arguments on why sometimes it’s just me who sucks.
Are they good arguments? I believe they are and I do not need to have my head pat and be told I am being too harsh with myself.
Do I care?
Well, let’s start. As I already mentioned, my field is competitive and to elevate myself from the dreaded condition, which sometimes just translates to not knowing as much as other people who are more diligent, I would have to resort to a very monotonous lifestyle. And whilst I believe I do my best, I also like to get distracted and eat ice-cream in the sun, do my skincare right and get lost in the magical world of internet shopping. Sometimes I like to be a nerd and code more than I am required to, and that happens to be beneficial to my financial condition. However, I cannot predict when the inspiration to learn more about software will happen, but that’s fine because I do not want to become a predictable person. I am still skilled enough to get paid decently for my services and that’s what’s important. I would go as far as saying the feeling I am not good enough is sometimes beneficial: it tells me I should improve myself. It’s good to be reminded of that, and there is nothing scary about it, because I have a wide set of cognitive capabilities that make me not only able to learn, but also to learn how to learn.
Sometimes I am an impostor, sometimes I am just worried to be one (or rather, used to), but what I know for sure is that a career is merely a capitalistic absurdity.
(A shirt gifted by my students, with a quote from yours truly. I have written more about my t-shirts in the same spirit as this post).