Battling impostor syndrome as a software engineer

Tom Deneire
6 min readFeb 20, 2023
Photo by Matheus Farias on Unsplash

Impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome or “impostorism” is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Despite external evidence of their competence, people experiencing impostorism do not believe they deserve their success or luck.

It has been estimated that nearly 70% of us will experience symptoms of impostor phenomenon at least once in our lives. It is spread equally among men and women and occurs in various settings, such as a new living environment, academia, social interactions and relationships, and — perhaps most of all — the workplace.

Impostorism in IT

In my experience, impostor syndrome is exceptionally present in IT. Almost all of the people I have worked with — engineers, analysts and designers alike — have at one time confessed feelings of being a fraud or a fake, or of feeling inadequate for their jobs.

This is only logical because of the nature of the IT sector.

For one, it actively promotes perfectionism. In software, things are either right or wrong — hence the culture of testing. This is, of course, excellent development practice, but with insecure people, you can see how it may stimulate fear of failure. Ask yourself, for instance, would you go to sleep easily on a day your tests keep failing and you don’t know why?

Secondly, the IT business is full of very intelligent people. Some experience this as a privilege or a stimulating work environment, but it can also lead people to compare themselves to the (perceived) standards of others. For instance, when your colleagues have computer science degrees and you are perhaps self-taught.

Thirdly, when things go wrong in IT — which they inevitably do sometimes — it is often very ease to put the blame on someone. While some companies are already actively promoting a zero-blame culture, others still analyse issues in terms of who messed up here? This mindset is even engrained in our tools. Just think of the psychology behind a command like git blame !

Finally, IT is a fast-paced work environment with lots of people coming and going. I…