TL;DR - No, it never goes away. You just have to learn to live with it and fight through the feelings of inadequacy. That’s all I got.

First things first: The “S” is silent. Respect my dad jokes.

Yep. We’re gonna talk about impostor syndrome again. Why? Well, for one, I needed something to write about. But more importantly, everyone is different. I’m a firm believer in sharing your experiences in the off chance that it helps someone else. It could be navigating their career or, in this case, managing the stress that comes along with impostor syndrome. So let’s begin…

My professional career began on January 2nd, 2007. But on this day, February 11th, 2021, aka Pandemic Season 2, in the 15th year of my career, I AM STRUGGLING to get through my work day week because of impostor syndrome.

Sidenote: What exactly is impostor syndrome?

For me, let’s just say it’s a feeling of inferiority or lack of belonging, generally triggered by comparing yourself to others around you when you run into a challenging or difficult situation. It’s much worse when no one around you looks like you, which, as a Black software engineer, is almost always. A lot of people that are much better with words have written countless papers/books/etc. on the topic, so I would suggest seeking them out.


I bet you’re wondering how I got here.

Well, about three months ago I started a new job at Netflix. Now if you know anything about software engineering interviews (especially at tech companies), you know it’s not an easy process. It’s time-consuming. It’s stressful. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s an entirely different skill you have to develop outside of your day-to-day responsibilities. So you’d think that once you get through this process, receive and accept a shiny new job offer, you would feel proud of yourself for accomplishing such a task, right?

Well…yeah…for a little while.

So what’s the problem?

Don’t get me wrong…it’s been an incredible experience so far. Everyone has been extremely welcoming, helpful, and supportive. My teammates and leadership are great. I’ve gotten up to speed enough to start contributing and I’ve already learned a few new things.

Again…not seeing the problem here…

That’s because the problem isn’t the company. Or my team. Or the work. It’s me. Or at least that’s what I’ve convinced myself to believe.

In hindsight, I can always look back on days like today and laugh about them. I can laugh about how I convinced myself that the code I was putting out wasn’t as good as it should’ve been. I can chuckle at the thoughts I had of people realizing it was a mistake to hire me because something I thought should’ve taken me a day to finish took three days. Oh, and the cackling that happens at the idea of me thinking that I’m too old for things to feel difficult. The guffaws I let out at the idea that I should know more about the org structure, every initiative across all of engineering and literally everything my team does within my first 90 days. A good bit of snickering can be done about the feeling that I chose the wrong career path and wasted the last decade of my life trying to force myself into the wrong role.

The thing I laugh about the most now? I almost removed myself from the interview process. I bombed another interview where I was asked to do things that I could do in my sleep. This was at a company whose interview process I somehow convinced myself was much easier than what I went through at Netflix. If I couldn’t make it through THAT process, there was NO WAY I’d get through the process here, right?

I can laugh about these things because not once has anyone said any of these things to me. Ever. In fact, I’ve explicitly been told the exact opposite on more than one occasion.

Yes, these are all thoughts that went through my head. Today. And yesterday. And the day before. These days are devastating to both your confidence and productivity. And this is just one instance out of the last 14 years. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times this has happened in the past.

So how do you stop it?

You don’t. That’s what makes it so fun. IT NEVER GOES AWAY. Yay persistence.

So what do you do about it?

Stuff? I don’t know. But I can tell you a few things that have helped me over the years:

Find Your Community

Your tribe. Your people. The people that look like you or identify the way you do. The people that are going to experience the things you do, the way you do, through the same perspective. For me, I found much of that community through /dev/color. Also, strangely enough, I’ve found more of that community through some of the people I follow on Twitter. If your company has Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), that’s also a great place to find that community. These are the people that are in your corner, encouraging you. Telling you that you’re amazing and deserve to be where you are. These are the people that eliminate that feeling of “only-ness” by listening to your doubts and saying, “Yeah that happens to me too. ALL. THE. TIME.” Those little things can be enough to remind you that it’s gonna be ok. YOU GOT THIS.

Take a Break

These moments of doubt almost always creep up when I’m feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by something. Sometimes it’s legitimately challenging. Other times, I probably just overlooked something and haven’t caught it yet. Either way, it’s a sign that I need to step away from what I’m doing. Sometimes it means closing my laptop and not thinking about work again until the next day. Other times, I completely pivot to a different task. Something smaller that I’m more confident in my ability to do well and do quickly. That little boost of confidence tends to be enough to get me back in the right frame of mind to get back to the more difficult tasks.

Keep Track of What You’ve Accomplished

If I didn’t know it before, I write it down. If I have to bang my head against a wall to finish it, I write it down. If it comes easy to me, but I just haven’t ever done it before, I write it down. No matter what it is, I try to keep track of it on a regular cadence (for me, it’s weekly). I’ve written down things as large as promotions, raises, and major project milestones. I’ve written down things as small as finishing a reading list of documentation, or “I correctly answered a question someone had about this thing that’s new to me.” But when I have days like today, I go back and look at what I’ve accomplished over the last few weeks/months and regain a little sense of pride in those accomplishments.

Celebrate Your Wins (and everyone else’s)

I always try to take the time to celebrate my wins, no matter how big or small, and I try to do the same for the people around me. If you tell me you just finished a project you were super stressed out about, we’re gonna celebrate. It might just be me telling a bunch of other people about it, or bombarding you with reactjis in Slack, but some sort of deal is going to be made of the accomplishment. For me personally, I might treat myself to Real CoffeeTM and break out the French press instead of the k-cups. If I’m REALLY feeling myself, I might even pick up something from a local coffee shop. Or I might carve out some time to make more progress on Skyrim (if I tell you I’m doing this, don’t believe it. I promise you I gave up and started playing 2k again). Even if I just pause for a few minutes, I’m going to acknowledge that I did a thing and it’s something to be proud of. And celebrating the wins of those around you gives you an added boost of confidence seeing someone else like you doing something great.

At the end of the day, you just have to learn what works best for you, and take those actions to help you push through the doubts and the feelings of inadequacy that can make you feel like you don’t deserve to be where you are.

Because you absolutely deserve to be where you are. Because you’re awesome. And sometimes you just need to figure out how to remind yourself. If you can’t remind yourself, consider this your reminder.