Scheme G: “Keep it Factual, Friend”
Published (gregorian) (ornellember)
I’ve been meaning to write about impostor syndrome for a while. It’s something I have lots of thoughts about, and they often feel parallel to whatever emotions people seem to be describing.
I’d describe the feeling of impostor syndrome as: “I don’t belong here, the others don’t realize it, and it’s going to be a problem when they find out.”
As a preface/disclaimer: my parents are from 2 different countries (and continents), and I grew up in 3 other countries, going to international schools. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a sense of full cultural belonging… ever. So in a way, I feel like I can’t fully relate to the discomfort of not belonging – it feels like it’s always just been a fact of life, that whatever group I’m in will only be able to relate to a fraction of my experience.
So I’m not really interested in fixing the “I don’t belong here” part, because I think that’s not a problem in and of itself. But I have a pretty handy solution for rest of the sentence, which can be summarized as: “keep it factual, friend.”
When you are describing yourself, stick to the facts.
When I made my transition into tech in 2019, I looked for my first developer job for a few months. I did lots of coding on my side projects, interview practice, and talking to my loved ones; and I also had a lot of interviews. I made it to onsites with 6 different companies before getting my first offer.
One thing I noticed, during my time interviewing, was that I kept getting better and more confident, despite the constant rejections. It was partly because I could tell that factually, I was on the right track. I was doing well with the whiteboarding, my projects seemed to impress interviewers, I was getting good feedback. In short, I was starting to be able to let my work speak for itself, and didn’t have to fill in the gaps of self-doubt with bravado.
Semi-consciously, I was able to shift this approach into conversation as well. When asked a qualitative question, I would respond with quantitative facts and let my interviewer decide what that meant to them.
For example, if asked “How comfortable are you with React?”
Instead of responding “pretty comfortable, although I’m sure I have a lot to learn” - which is what I felt, I’d simply say “It’s the front-end framework I’m most comfortable with. I’ve built 3 projects with it, including one that involved a lot of different user interactions.”
I’d eliminate words like “only,” “somewhat,” or other diminishing qualifiers. In short, I’d almost robotically stick to facts.
Then they could ask me more about it, and I could show my experience, and let them determine whatever they decided from that response.
A few months later, at my first dev job, a coworker and I were having lunch in the break room. He asked me if I felt impostor syndrome.
I responded “no, not at all”, and I fully meant it. I remember saying something like “I may be a junior, but I showed exactly my level of competence in my interviews, and was hired for my job based on that, so… it’s their funeral.”
There was no reason to feel like others didn’t know my true incompetence, or that they’d get mad, because hey, they saw my incompetence live, and decided to hire me regardless.
My plan was to eliminate my own doubt about my truthfulness.
When I describe myself qualitatively, I am making my own assessment, which (even though I consider it to be the truth) is relative. It gives me room, when I’m feeling vulnerable, to anxiously question whether other people would see me totally differently than what I’ve presented. When I stick to facts, I’ve done my part to make sure everyone is on the same page, which lets me be vulnerable and be myself in the moments when I am struggling.
Nowadays, whenevers I start to feel like I don’t belong technically, I try to remind myself - “have I done anything to inaccurately represent my level of competence?” and if not, then… why am I worried about it?
This one is a little bit late. I’m getting back on track. There’s another scheme post in the works that I’ve been turning over in my head for weeks; it’s a little more difficult to write, so I ended up releasing the one I’d planned for H first. It should be coming soon.