“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?
Imposter Syndrome-Driven Development
AI Generated Video Summary
Imposter syndrome is a common experience that can lead to self-doubt and feeling like a fraud. The speaker shares their personal journey with imposter syndrome in school and throughout their career in software development. They discuss the challenges and doubts they faced, as well as the strategies they used to overcome imposter syndrome. The importance of support from managers, celebrating achievements, and sharing experiences to help others are highlighted. The talk emphasizes the need to embrace imposter syndrome and use it as a motivator for personal growth.
1. Introduction to Imposter Syndrome
Have you ever felt like you're not enough? Like you're fooling everyone and not good enough? These thoughts often lead to imposter syndrome, making you doubt yourself and feel like a fraud.
Hi 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 he thinks 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. It's something you cannot complete, so you ask for help from a coworker and the coworker comes and fixes it like this. It's immediate. Then, you just feel that this person is way smarter than me. What am I doing here? All of these things often lead to the feeling of you'll soon find out I'm a fraud. If these are things that have crossed your mind, that you're 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.
2. Imposter Syndrome Driven Development
Welcome to my talk called Imposter Syndrome Driven Development. I'm Danilo Alfonso, a developer advocate at YLX Group, an IGED.io instructor, and an Auth0 ambassador. I had a conversation with someone who also experiences imposter syndrome, which made me realize I was not alone. This prompted me to do some research and reflect on when my imposter syndrome started. It began in the middle of my life, around sixth grade when my grades started to decline and I lost interest in school.
Welcome to my talk called Imposter Syndrome Driven Development. I'm Danilo Alfonso. I'm a developer advocate at YLX Group. I'm an IGED.io instructor. I'm an Auth0 ambassador. You can find me on Twitter and pretty much anywhere at the handle danilo.alfonso.
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 much to be honest. Honestly, I don't think I did that well. To which the person answered, yeah, you did amazing, I wish I could do something like that. Most of the time I feel like I don't know enough and I'm just fooling my co-workers. 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've 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. This prompted me to think a bit more about my imposter syndrome. 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, ok, but where did my imposter syndrome start? 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 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.
3. Imposter Syndrome in School and Career
In high school, I started learning programming and coding, which triggered my imposter syndrome. I doubted myself and felt the need to constantly prove my worth. This feeling followed me into my career, where my imposter pushed me and influenced my actions. Now, let's review my career and see what my imposter told me during each phase: junior software engineer, front-end focus developer, senior front-end engineer, and developer advocate.
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 years made me doubt myself.
And this was when my imposter syndrome started because I cared about what I was doing now finally. I knew 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 in stake.
So I just remember walking around and then there he was, my imposter working around my shoulder. I was having amazing grades, but it never felt enough because maybe my luck would run out. I don't know. 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 deserve to be there. I deserve to be a student there like my other fellow students I guess and friends. And I was not fraud but I felt like it. 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 front-end focus 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 front-end engineer. During this time it was my first full remote job. We were also in the first part of the quarantine, I believe, and this had more architecture responsibility. 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.
4. Imposter Syndrome in First Job
In my first big job, I felt like a fraud, even though I was working on the fraud detection team. I struggled to keep up with the new information and felt the need to catch up quickly. I worked extra hours, consumed knowledge, and took on different tasks to prove myself. The fear of being fired consumed me when I introduced a bug into production.
So queuing in my first big job, I got to 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 well, it was all new stuff to me, and I remember that on the first day on the job, one of my coworkers was teaching me about pipelines and Docker containers, and I was just sitting there like, uh-huh, okay. And yeah, I was brain dead. 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 a 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 impostor screaming that at me full voice during those weeks or so.
5. Imposter Syndrome in New Job and Writing
I wanted to become a Developer Advocate, but my imposter syndrome made me doubt myself. My manager's trust in me helped me overcome it and train new engineers. I felt the need to be everywhere on social media to prove my worth. I struggled with what to write about, but a tweet by Will Johnson made me rethink my approach and led me to write my first successful blog post.
Eventually, I wanted to focus on frontend, 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 impostor 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 impostor showed up and he was telling me, eh, 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 impostor 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, 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 impostor 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 he even trust them to me? It doesn't make sense at all. It was freaky, I guess. It was a couple of fun months but it ended up going well. The trainees grow, they become amazing engineers, they help me grow 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 impostor 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 impostor 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 some day. 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? Who will care about me? And I always thought this way, to be honest. I don't know if it was me or my imposter, but I always thought that I have to write something innovative. I have to write something that people never seen, 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 worth to people, I don't know. But a couple of months after I saw this tweet by Will Johnson, this made me think a lot, to be honest. I actually think I already mentioned this to Will, but this made me rethink my approach. This was actually one of the reasons I wrote my first blog post ever. And for some reason people liked it, people read it, people shared it.
6. Imposter Syndrome and Career Growth
I became aware of my knowledge and weaknesses, which helped control my imposter syndrome. I had the opportunity to do a public talk, and despite my imposter's doubts, people showed up and stayed until the end. Public speaking became important to me. When I became a senior front-end engineer, my imposter thought I wouldn't be hired, but I was and given an amazing opportunity. However, my practices were questioned during a big pull request.
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 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, ok, we'd like you to do a public talk, we're going to 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 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 that gives me 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 it was 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. It was weird because the imposter in me immediately said they hired me as a senior. 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 ok I'm starting this project so... 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 had happened previously in my career but this was the first time the imposter showed up in this situation. Probably because of the senior role. I remember I did a very big pull request and someone questioned my practices and my ways of working in there.
7. Imposter Syndrome and Career Growth
I questioned my ways of working and doubted my understanding. Fortunately, my amazing manager supported and challenged me. I became the interim tech lead for a time-sensitive project, but it wasn't delivered on time. My manager helped me realize it wasn't my fault. Then, I received a job offer as the first developer advocate at OLX Group, but I still doubted myself. Despite that, I'm grateful for the opportunity and it has been an amazing experience so far. I'm still learning to control my imposter, and public speaking has become a part of my journey.
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, yep, 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, at bay, made sure I didn't get got into my head and they challenged me once again. 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 impostors showed up. And they said, so they're having me with this project? There's no way that this is going to be delivered in time. And yeah, for some reason, this project didn't get delivered on time, and the impostor 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 impostor, 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 impostor 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 impostor 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. I'm still learning to control my imposter here. 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.
8. Imposter Syndrome and Speaking Challenges
Every time I speak, the imposter is there, telling me I'll fail. I'm terrified of being judged by the audience. The remote format makes it even trickier, as I imagine you doing other things.
So I've been doing this for around four years by now, and I gotta say, every new place I 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 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.
9. Overcoming Fear and Delivering the Best Talk
Last year, I was invited to speak at an event about the testing library. I was terrified because the creator of the library would be in the audience. However, a conversation with another speaker changed my perspective. They encouraged me to have fun and reminded me that the audience was there to learn from me. The talk turned out to be the best I ever did, and the creator of the testing library praised my work.
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 got to 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. It was definitely going to know I was full of crap. It was going to get up in the middle of the talk and say, that is wrong, that is not how it works. It was going to 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 ways 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, yeah, get out, get out, get out, get out, leave, leave, leave, leave, leave.
And I don't know, right before I went on the stage, the imposter was there and I just shared my thoughts and doubts 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, he reached out after the talk and told me that I did 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.
10. Imposter Syndrome and Personal Growth
I still feel like I don't belong, always learning and working extra to prove myself. I open myself to feedback and use it to identify my weaknesses. I started helping others to quiet my imposter, and it became a pleasure. The more I know, the more I realize I don't know, fueling my constant need to learn. Be careful not to let your imposter take over, but use it as a superpower. Imposter syndrome won't disappear, but you can learn to call it out and separate yourself from it.
But I don't know, even though I've talked to 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 he invite me, what value am I bringing, what I'm doing here. I don't know, I guess this kinda 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'm always working extra time because I need to prove myself I'm 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 a sort of your own super power 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 to 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 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 would see, okay, I'm helping this person so I know this thing so he would shut up for a while. But well, I ended up loving it, it's one of the things that gives me the most pleasure 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. 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 and 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. Don't let him join you in your review and your retrospective. But 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 awhile 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 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 imposter thoughts away.
11. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Identify your weaknesses and quiet your imposter. Take time to celebrate achievements and thank those who support you. Use the advice you give others. Share your imposter experiences to help others. Remember, you are capable and you belong. Don't let your imposter tell you otherwise. Embrace your imposter and overcome self-doubt. Thank you everyone for being here.
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. already you are, and you're 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 achieved it, I just moved 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 fiancé, 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 go straight into work.
Use the advice you give others. I fail on this a lot, to be honest, and probably I'm already failing on a couple of them right now, but, well, it's life.
Now, what comes next, you might ask? I decided to 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, 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 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 Impostor Syndrome Driven Development, I'm Daniel Alphonse, you can find me on Twitter and the social network at the end of DanielGCAlphonse or you can just scan this QR code. I'll see you at the Q&A session and thank you for having me.