Imposter Syndrome-Driven Development


“Maybe I’m fooling everyone… I’m not good enough for this, and at this point, it is a question of time until everyone figures it out” these might be the words that cross your mind as your coworker compliments you for doing another fantastic job at delivering a new feature. As you grow in your career, so does your uncertainty. You put in the extra hours, learn all the new technologies, and join all the initiatives you can, but at the end of the day, it never feels enough. At this point, that feeling is leading your actions and decisions. It is the thing that is driving your career. Only one question persists: Are you really an imposter?


Hey there everyone! Before I start this talk, let me ask you something. Have you ever felt like this? Maybe I'm not enough. I'm fooling everyone. I'm not good enough for this. Then in another scenario you finish an achievement that took you a while to complete and you think yeah, now this task is done, what is next? Someone congratulates you because they think you should celebrate but you immediately think yeah, no, I've just been lucky. Then you're working on a task that's something that you haven't fully mastered and your head goes immediately into the I'm in way over my head mode. It's immediate. And it's something you cannot complete so you ask for help from a co-worker. The co-worker comes and fixes it like this. It's immediate. And then you just feel that this person is way smarter than me. What am I doing here? And all of these things often lead to the feeling of you'll soon find out I'm a fraud. And if these are things that have crossed your mind, that you are suffering with, it makes you doubt yourself and at the end of the day makes you feel like a fraud, then you have just met your imposter. So welcome to my talk called Imposter Syndrome Driven Development. I'm Daniel Afonso, I'm a developer advocate at OLX Group, I'm an instructor, I'm a Not Zero ambassador and you can find me on Twitter and pretty much anywhere at the handle DanielGCAfonso. So you might be asking, why Imposter Syndrome Driven Development? What prompted this talk? I was at a conference after I just finished what I still think by this day was the worst talk I ever did live. I was working in the main hall after I finished the talk, like I usually do, and I was chatting with people, meeting new friends, chatting about my talk and so on. And I still was feeling a bit bad, until someone reached out to me. And this was pretty much how the conversation went. How are you able to learn so much to do a great talk like this one? To which I replied, yeah, I don't think it was nothing much to be honest. Honestly, I don't think I did that well. To which the person answered, yeah, you did amazing. I really wish I could do something like that. Most of the times I feel like I don't know enough and I am just fooling my coworkers. And to be honest, this made me think, this person suffers from the same thing as I do. They have an imposter working around their shoulder. And it also made me rethink my previous comment, because my imposter talk by itself, by saying that my talk was nothing much and that I don't think I did that well, might have made this person, imposter feeling even worse. But either way, we had a lovely chat, we talked about tech, about career, about our imposter syndromes and all. And this prompted me to think a bit more about my imposter syndrome. And I was not alone, there was someone else feeling it and I was not aware until now. And so I did some research. Then I got to the point to think, okay, but where did my imposter syndrome start? And I did a retrospective and pretty much got to the conclusion, or something like this, that it came to the middle of my life. But just to recap to when was the moment that my imposter syndrome showed up, here are a couple of things that you need to know. So when I was around third grade, I was pretty much the type of student that didn't have to work hard to get what I wanted. I just needed to listen and I could put it to paper. It was, yeah, something good I guess, I had amazing grades during that time without trying hard I guess. But then I reached sixth grade I think and that luck ended I guess. It didn't work anymore. I started having average slash bad grades and this kind of made me quit on school because I don't know, it was not interesting anymore. I was not doing something that I liked. And then I got to high school. So in high school I followed a non-traditional way of learning. I guess I was finally learning something that I really, really liked. I was learning programming, I was coding, I was doing all the things that I wanted to do but my background of not being a very good student in the last couple of years made me doubt myself. And this was when my imposter syndrome started because I cared about what I was doing now finally. It was something that my future would depend on and it was something that has been my goal since a while I guess, I would see myself do that for my future and now my future was at stake. So I just remember walking around and then there he was, my imposter, working around my shoulder. I was having amazing grades but I never felt enough because maybe my luck would run out. I don't know. Then we got to university. Most of the days I just felt lucky to be around. I kept working harder and I gotta tell you, I almost burned out trying because I was always trying to prove myself out. I was always trying to prove that I deserved to be there. I deserved to be a student there like my other fellow students I guess and friends. And I was not fraud but I felt like it. And what I wish someone had told me then was take it easy. You belong here. You don't need to prove anything to anyone. But they didn't and then my imposter followed me into my career. So during these years my imposter stayed with me. It pushed me and at certain times even led my actions. So during this time now what we're gonna do is review my career and see what my imposter told me during it. Before we start let's just recap the four phases we're going to go through. So I started as a junior software engineer. It was my first big job and I was working on a full stack team with mostly senior developers. Then I changed jobs. I was now a frontend focused developer and this was when it started paving the way for me to grow into the dev rel ways and become a developer advocate in the future. Then I changed jobs again and I became a senior frontend engineer. During this time it was my first full remote job. We were also in that first part of the quarantine I believe and this had more architecture responsibility and it was also the time I got to develop my team management skills. And then we got to the now where I'm working as developer advocate. It's the first time I'm doing this and yeah we'll see what happens here. So cue in my first big job. I gotta say most of the days I was thinking I was a fraud and this is kind of ironic to say to be honest because I was actually working on the fraud detection team and somehow they didn't pick up on me. But oh well. It was all new stuff to me and I remember that on the first day on the job one of my co-workers was teaching me about pipelines and docker containers and I was just sitting there like uh-huh uh-huh okay and yeah I was burned out. There was too much information and I thought this is too much there's no way I'll ever know all of these things and on the follow-up this made me have the need to catch up as fast as possible because yeah I need to be on everyone's level as soon as possible. Everyone was senior I was a junior I need to be able to sit at the top with them and help them in all the things that they need. And yeah so I was working extra hours I was consuming every knowledge existing on our wiki pages I was picking up different tasks with different scopes so that I could be exposed to more different things as soon as possible and yeah I wanted to get at everyone's level but I don't know maybe I didn't belong there maybe I thought I just don't belong here. Fun fact or fun thing I fully remember that the first time I introduced a bug into production I spent around two weeks thinking yeah this is when they're going to fire me I remember my imposter screaming that at me full voice during those weeks or so. Eventually I wanted to focus on front-end and I had just heard about this new thing called developer relations and there was a role in there called developer advocate and yeah I changed jobs. In this new job I was like I said trying to pave the way into becoming developer advocate but at the same time my imposter was telling me that there was no way I would ever be a developer advocate. This was a new role it was something that didn't exist in Portugal or so I thought and if it did why would they want me to do it. We'll get more into that but now I remember at this new job after a couple of months being there there was the first time that I had a pay review in my career I believe and obviously the imposter showed up and he was telling me why do I deserve a pay increase I'm just doing my job and yeah this made me doubt myself because I was not aware of the quality of my work I always thought I didn't belong but luckily I've always had amazing managers in my career and in this case this particular manager let me know of the quality that my work had and he often used to call out my imposter and made sure that I didn't get stuck in my head with him for too much I guess. I remember one challenge that he did at the time that he called me up and said hey Daniel so we're gonna have some new trainees joining our team and I think you're ready to train them and as he finished this sentence I just stood there looking at him and I heard the imposter shouting in my head like what they are going to allow me to train some trainees yeah now they're gonna definitely catch me why would they even trust them to me like doesn't make sense at all. It was tricky I guess it was a couple of fun months but it ended up going well these trainees grow they become amazing engineers they helped me grow as well as a person as a developer as well and yeah it was all because my manager trusted in me and I wanted to make sure that the trust that I received was well placed so I did it in the only way that I could by listening to my imposter and he told me yeah you have to be everywhere I was like I have to be everywhere why yeah he was like yeah yeah you have to be on Twitter you have to be on Reddit you have to be on LinkedIn you have to be on Facebook because this new thing just showed up and I need you to learn as soon as possible so that you can prove to everyone that you're worth being there and yeah maybe this was the way that I found that my imposter found to hide to everyone that I didn't belong there like I said previously during this time I was trying to grow my skills to be able to become a developer advocate someday I've always liked to write and well it seemed that it was something that was part of the job description of my dream role so now came the question what will I write about it seems like everyone already wrote about the things that I was working on why should I write about things that someone else already did like who will care about me and I always thought this way to be honest I don't know if it was me or it was my imposter but I always thought that I have to write something innovative I have to write something that people never seen to write something super technical and super long so it justifies people caring about me caring about my content and maybe this way I would prove my my worth to people I don't know but a couple of months after I saw this tweet by Will Johnson and yeah this made me think a lot to be honest I actually I think I already mentioned this to Will but this made me rethink my approach and this was actually one of the reasons that I wrote my my first blog post ever and for some reason people liked it people read it people shared it I don't know why maybe I was lucky but after all this time I can safely say that this was pretty much one of the best things I did for and I did for my career and for controlling my imposter because I started becoming aware of what I knew I kept the imposter at check with this and I started understanding what were my weaknesses and what were the things that I needed to work on then this imposter gave me one more opportunity of doing something that would grow my developer relations skills so they said okay we'd like you to do a public talk you're gonna do a workshop about react hooks obviously for the two weeks before this was on my mind like no one's going to show up why would people care why would someone be interested in taking their time to come hear me speak my imposter made me think I was a nobody but for some reason people showed up and as soon as the talk started I could hear the imposter saying like how much time until they start leaving but for some reason people stayed until the end and once again the imposter was saying yeah yeah they just stayed until the end because it would look bad for them if they got up and left it's not because you did something good and I gotta say public speaking became one of the most important things in my career and it's something one of the things that gives me most the most and the more pleasure to do but we'll get back to it real soon first let us change jobs when I became a senior front-end engineer we were mid pandemic and it was kind of a tricky decision to do because for some reason my imposter thought I wouldn't be hired because my skills didn't fit 101% with what was written on the job description but I guess they did and they hired me as a senior that was weird because the imposter in me immediately said they hired me as a senior and that's definitely the biggest mistakes of their life they're gonna regret it as soon as they see me work then they told me what their plans for me were apparently I was gonna start a new project for them and I was like okay I'm starting this project so I'll be fired on the first week but I wasn't because this obviously made me work the hardest I ever did I believe after all I was a senior and they had given me an amazing opportunity and I remember something that happened at the time which is actually something that have had happened in previously in my career but this was the first time the imposter showed up in this situation probably because of the senior role but I remember I did a very big pull request and someone questioned my practices and my ways of working in there and immediately the imposter started saying yep so they questioned my ways of working maybe they're right maybe you don't understand any of this yeah someone caught up to your fraud once again I was super lucky to have an amazing manager this one told me I was doing amazing they kept me once again a bay kept made sure I didn't get got into my head and they challenged me once again this one I remember this one reaching out to me and said I think you could 100% manage a team you have been co-managing the team with me so far so you have an opportunity here and I thought management I can't even manage myself how do you expect me to manage a team but yeah somehow an opportunity showed and I was apparently the interim tech lead for that team and I was assigned for a project and I remember that it was a project that was time sensitive and the imposter showed up and they said so they are having me with this project that there's no way that this is going to be delivered in time and yeah for some reason this same project didn't get to be up on time and the imposter was there to tell me I told you so obviously it didn't you didn't do your job properly and it was super easy to sit there hear the imposter feel bad about it and feel bad about myself but once again I was lucky I had an amazing manager they picked me up helped me do a retrospective on everything that happened and helped prove to my imposter that the reason that this was not delivered on time was not my fault it was a project that for some reason was doomed from the start and I didn't see it and no one else did and then the day I dreamt about for years showed up I got a job offer as the first developer advocate at OLX group and the imposter in me started saying what I'm the first developer advocate yeah they are crazy to hire me and to be honest I still think this way right now another thing I still think right now is what am I doing I don't have any experience it has been a wild ride so far and I'm super grateful that OLX gave me an opportunity to fulfill my dream role and it has been an amazing experience so far but I'm still learning to control my imposter here and he still shows up every day with every decision and everything that I do but I think that at this point it's still too early to talk about him so I'll leave this part for somewhere in the future maybe in a year ask me again so now I said we would revisit it and here it is public speaking so I've been doing this for around four years by now and I gotta say every new place I go every talk I do the imposter is there and he's saying whoa they gave me the opportunity to speak here I'll be eaten alive and he calms down for a bit and as soon as I start speaking he just says yep I'm going to suck or what are you doing I don't even know this properly it's terrifying I gotta say I'm always thinking that everyone in the audience is gonna start yelling at me when whenever I open my mouth for some reason as I'm presenting this talk these are all things that have popped up into my mind some of them are popping up right now but the remote factor of this talk makes it even trickier for me because probably you have already put this talk in background and you're doing something completely different are you doing a pull request are you sending a slack message I don't know maybe you even closed the tab already because you got bored with my talk okay story time so last year I was invited to speak at an amazing event and I was going to speak about the testing library and I gotta say I was terrified why you might ask well because the creator of the testing library was going to be in the audience and that was it he was definitely gonna know I was full of crap he was gonna get up in the middle of the talk and say that it's wrong that it's not how it works it was gonna expose me in front of the audience and people would finally see what fraud I was I feared I dreaded this moment and this talk for two months it was terrible to be honest and to make it even worse right before my talk the person that went before me was the speaker and what I meant with the e-speaker was this person had it all they had an amazing stage presence they had amazing content amazing way to move an amazing way to lead the audience everyone in the crowd loved them and yeah I knew I could never match this person and the imposter was there just telling me get out get out get out get out get out get out leave leave leave leave leave and I don't know right before I went on stage the imposter was there and I just shared my thoughts and thoughts with this amazing speaker and to be honest he said something that changed the way I've done and do my talks from that point on he said the following you just go out there and you have fun first things first people are here for you people are here because they want to learn from you they are cheering for you they want to grow they want to learn they want to absorb the knowledge that you transmit them but if for some reason that doesn't happen if for some reason the audience doesn't care at least you were doing something that you loved you were having fun and at least you took something from it well I gotta say that shut out the imposter immediately I went on stage and it was the best talk I ever did to be honest the imposter was quiet the entire time I had the blast I think people liked it as well and I gotta say it was the best talk I ever did now you might be asking what about the creator of the testing library what did he say to you well you reached out after the talk he told me that I did a great work that I had some things in there that people were always asking him about we talked we shared notes we shared experiences and it was amazing but I don't know even though I've talked over 10,000 people in the last couple of years and spoke all over the world everywhere I go I still feel that all the people there know so much why did they invite me what value am I bringing what I'm doing here I don't know I guess this kind of just relates to the same thing that happens in my work life because maybe I don't belong here there have been many constants in my working life to be honest I'm always learning to prove myself I'm worth it I am always working extra time because I need to prove myself I am worth it gosh I'm joining every group because I need to prove myself I'm worth it because perhaps if for some reason I know that I'm worth it maybe others will think it too your imposter doesn't need to be a burden to you you can harness it you can leverage it you can use your imposter as sort of your own superpower of sorts so there have been a couple of constants in my life that I've done in response to my imposter syndrome and that have helped me grow as an engineer and grow as a person so the first one is probably the constant need for feedback because how do you know if you're doing the right thing how do you prove your imposter that you belong or that you're doing something well well what I do is I open always myself for feedback and make everyone that I work with be sure that they can always reach out to me and tell me the good and the bad things that they think I did because what other way can I do to improve my work and processes I'm in a constant retrospective with myself and here I like to have my imposter open the door for identifying my own weaknesses the thing is I let him open the door but I make sure that he doesn't cross it with me your imposter syndrome shouldn't have place in your own retrospective because it will just make you lose your time and feel worse in the process I guess another thing that I started doing in the beginning of my career was there was a constant need for me to help the others but when I started doing it I really think it was pretty much to help me prove to myself that I could do it and therefore this would quiet my imposter because he will see okay I'm helping this person so I know these things so he would shut up for a while but well I ended up loving it it's some one of the things that gives me the most pleasure and in my job so I just started doing it outside of my imposter and kept it out of it every time another thing another constant another thing that I say a lot of times the more I know the less I feel like I know and like I said this is something that I say pretty much every day and this powers up the other constant in my life which is the constant need to learn why because for some reason and I still don't know why it's a work in progress I always get a lot of fear of missing out and this happens day to day so the constant need to learn and always learning stuff will make sure that this gap doesn't exist then my imposter doesn't have another reason to pick up on this my imposter has pushed me so far to be honest he has driven my development my growth as a person but you must be careful be careful not to burn out be careful not to let it get over your head like I said let your imposter open the door for you but do not let him cross it with you let it don't let him join you in your review in your retrospective yeah congratulations I guess you just found out a new superpower one thing that I've asked myself a couple of times was when will my imposter syndrome disappear I know it took me a while to understand it won't most of the times it just gets dormant for a while and then somehow somewhere it will get out of there and just push itself into your face but like I said you can learn to call it out you have to know how to identify when it's your imposter speaking versus when it's you I know it's hard it's very very hard but once after a while doing it it will work and you will be able to call it upon yourself during this talk I separated myself from my imposter a lot of times because that's the way that I like to do it if I know okay this is me this is my imposter I can label it and push the thoughts the imposter thoughts away another thing identify your weaknesses because if you know what you're good at and what you're bad at you'll be able to quiet your imposter when he shows up telling you you're bad at it because you know already you are and you already doing some work to fix it take time to celebrate your achievements personally I worked and I could work on stuff for a long long time and once I achieve it I I just move on to the next thing because at the end of the day I just felt I got lucky I feel like my work was not that valuable and yeah luck I guess but luckily again I've always had people in my life to force me to celebrate them to keep me aware of the things that I did so I thank you to my fiance thank you to my managers thank you for my friends because yeah they ground me and they make sure that the imposter doesn't switch the celebrate mode and going straight into work use the advice you give others I fell on this a lot to be honest and probably I'm already feeling on a couple of them right now but well it's life now what comes next you might ask I decided to be build this talk to put out there what the imposter in me says because hopefully like the person at the conference that I spoke in the beginning hopefully it will help others but hopefully people will relate hopefully people know that they are not alone and if I have a message if I have something I would like to leave you with is you are capable and you belong don't let your imposter tell you otherwise because look to be honest I've been an imposter in my developer career I'm an imposter at public speaking gosh I'm an imposter at blogging for some reason I'm even an imposter at puppy parenting and in around two to three months I'll be an imposter as a published author because maybe I've just been lucky all along all this time I'm still counting the seconds until you all find out about me I'm still counting the seconds until you all find out I'm just a fraud after all I'm just an imposter thank you everyone this has been imposter syndrome driven development I'm Daniel Alfonso you can find me on twitter and social network at the end of DanielJCAlfonso or you can just scan this QR code I'll see you at the Q&A session and thank you for having me bye!
31 min
09 Mar, 2023

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