What If They Find Me out? Facing Imposter Syndrome

Jun 25, 2019
Andy Collins

“Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.” -- Ray Cummings

A student in the midst of an intensive web development or data bootcamp might be forgiven for rejecting Cummings’ idea of time. At NSS we move fast and cover a lot of ground, so for many students it certainly can seem like everything IS happening at once.

Our programs are hard. Seriously hard. For many of our students going through, NSS is the hardest thing they’ve ever done. Admittedly, not every student feels this way - our students on the GI Bill and those who have come to this country as refugees come to mind as counterexamples - but even students who’ve been through tough times and overcome obstacles before coming to NSS don’t just breeze through. During their time at NSS, every student will experience periods of confusion, frustration, stress, exhaustion, and self-doubt.

Students often question whether they’re cut out for all this. Maybe they’re not learning enough? Maybe they’re too slow? Maybe they’re not smart enough? Maybe they don’t feel the passion for technology that they hear they’re supposed to feel? Whether you’ve been a student at NSS or not, if you do anything related to technology, I suspect these doubts will sound familiar.

The popular term for these feelings is imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a concept I first encountered five or six years ago. It immediately resonated with me as something I’d been experiencing since college. I was well familiar with the feeling that every other software developer was smarter than me, faster than me...better than me.

Even Instructors Face Imposter Syndrome

I have some bad news for the software developers, data scientists, and data analysts out there. In my experience, the feeling never really goes away. Even today, some 20 years into my career, it nags at me. I meet people, often people with fewer years of experience, who know so much, who have built interesting and challenging software, who can explain complex concepts clearly. I compare myself to them. And, in my own eyes at least, I fall short.

There is some good news though. It does get better. With experience delivering software solutions, mentoring junior developers, exploring new concepts (and actually understanding them), the severity of my self-doubt has decreased. I have evidence that I’m capable of doing this work. Also, frankly, I’ve found myself toughening up over the years. Every time I doubted myself and forced myself to act anyway, I got stronger. I got stronger whether I tried and succeeded, or tried and failed. Success teaches me that I can accomplish hard things. Failure teaches me that I can survive.

How We Help Student Handle Imposter Syndrome

How do we help students through these feelings at NSS? We start by acknowledging that imposter syndrome is a real thing. We know it. We’ve felt it. And it sucks. Really, truly, seriously sucks.

Then we tell them they can get through it. We tell them to trust the process. We tell them that it’s been working since 2012, that 800 or so students have graduated before them, that last year over 90% of the graduates found a job in tech. We tell them those previous students felt the same thing they are feeling now. We tell them it’s hard now, but it’s worth it.

Sometimes they believe us, or more accurately, they all believe us some of the time. So we say it again and again. “Trust the process.” “You will get through this.” “Even if we’re moving too fast for you to see it, you are learning.” “You belong here.”

Topics: Learning