It’s not Impostor Syndrome

Sometimes, I envy junior engineers because they can’t get Impostor Syndrome. If you’re now thinking “What? Man, I am a junior engineer! And I don’t go a single week without feeling like an impostor.”, I believe you. Thing is, as Chris Toomey said in episode 294 of The Bike Shed podcast:

“It’s not Impostor Syndrome. You’re just new!”

Chris Toomey

Let’s clarify the term first. Impostor Syndrome is when you feel like you’re not good enough. It’s that nagging sensation that tells you that you’re a fake or a fraud who doesn’t belong. The insidious thing is that, objectively, you might actually be doing just fine. Many people, even successful ones, can feel this way sometimes.

Be kind to yourself

When you’re relatively new in your engineering job, it’s quite common to feel out of your depth. You’re still in the state where you don’t even know all the things you don’t know. But you know that it’s a lot. What I’d like you to take away from this article is that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed in this situation. The most effective response to this feeling is being kind to yourself.

The reason that junior engineers feel inadequate is often that the expectations placed on them are simply too high. These might be expectations of their managers or their peers. More often than not, it’s ourselves who put the bar too high because we genuinely want to excel at our job.

The fact that there’s a perceived gap between our current skill level and where we (or others) think it’s supposed to be is no reason to beat ourselves up. That would be as silly as blaming a sapling for not being a tree. Everyone starts at zero and grows from there.

Adopt a growth mindset

I’m experiencing this skill gap presently on a daily basis while I’m working on building and promoting my education business. Just getting my newsletter out on a weekly basis is a challenge for me on so many levels! The advantage I have is that I’ve learned (and forgotten…) so many things over my career that I have built a growth mindset. This mindset lets me view challenges as an opportunity for further growth, not an indictment of my shortcomings.

And that’s a stance I’d like to encourage every junior engineer, actually everyone regardless of their career phase, to take when they encounter a skill gap. Once you identify a learning opportunity, go at it like every learner. Find educational resources (books, videos, courses etc), spend time studying and making experiments, ask others for their help and feedback. And don’t forget to track your growth and to celebrate the progress you’re making.

This is exactly what I’d like The Server Room to become. I’m building a community where DevOps people help each other grow, lift each other up, and celebrate every step they’re taking towards their goals.

In conclusion, let me tell you that it’s okay to feel like an impostor from time to time. That doesn’t mean that you are one. Be gentle to yourself and nurture your growth with the same kindness you would extend to a little sapling in your garden.

So much to learn!

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