Impostor Syndrome

My constant companion

I've been working on an extremely challenging problem at work that's taken two months to untangle. At the end of it all, the actual solution ended up being quite simple, as it is often wont to be in the world of software engineering. When embarking on something new, you just don't know what you don't know, right?

(I have written a bit about this in my Troubleshooting Tree-shaking post)

When I figured out the solution, I was really happy initially. I had solved a problem I and my team had been plugging away at (on and off) for three months. A worthy cause for celebration! I felt like doing victory laps around my house.

Then, a few days later, the impostor syndrome kicked in, whispering in my ear: "But the solution was so simple, why didn't you see it earlier?" and "You don't deserve to be Staff Engineer and everyone around you knows it".

I did a knowledge-sharing talk about the problem, hoping to spare everyone else at my company from a similar fate, and all my brain could muster was "Everyone thought your talk was terrible and they think you are stupid". I must add that there was no evidence of this at all - I am lucky to have extremely supportive colleagues - this was just my brain doing its usual frustrating dance.

I find impostor syndrome so exhausting. It constantly makes me doubt myself and my abilities. Often, when I mention it, people respond with a line about how common it is in the tech industry, which really isn't the soothing thought that people intend it to be. Just because everyone else is also dealing with it, doesn't mean it makes it any easier for me to handle.

I woke up early this morning (on a Saturday) because my brain wouldn't stop whirring and thinking about work. It's led to me writing this post to get some of this off my chest and (hopefully) stop thinking about it.

I don't know where this is going yet - eventually, I would like to write a post (or maybe a series) on how to handle the ol' impostor, but today is not that day because I am deep in it. Maybe when it has stopped being so loud I can start thinking of some coping strategies for myself and others.

The main thing I hope for this post is that someone out there might read it and feel validated by the fact that another software engineer is struggling with issues they recognise from their own life. I would love to know if any of you have any tips or resources that might help - feel free to comment and share anything you've found.

Time to go and forget about programming for a bit!