Scott Hanselman

Exploring Impostor Syndrome in Technology - SXSW '15

August 13, 2014 Comment on this post [17] Posted in Musings
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I've written before about the idea of Imposter Syndrome or being a "Phony." It's the idea that on the surface you're an accomplished technologist but inside you're always questioning if you're really good enough. It turns out that this is SUPER common. You're not alone.

That little voice or feeling that "I can do better." Or, "I'm not 100% qualified but I think I can push through this" can sometimes be a motivator.

This is Indexed

This wonderful index card is by Jessica Hagy of This Is Indexed. Explore her blog and book! 

Remember that while you may feel like a phony, those around you who think they are awesome may not be!

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to recognize their mistakes.

But the most important part is:

...people with true ability tended to underestimate their relative competence.

My excellent friend and very accomplished phony Chanelle Henry will be exploring these concepts on stage at SXSW 2015...if our panel is accepted!

You may have heard Chanelle on Hanselminutes Podcast episode #401 on "An Internet of Inclusion" or read her viral essay "Is it too late to be awesome?"

You can help us by quickly making a SXSW account and casting your Thumbs Up Vote (and leaving a comment) for our session proposal! Even better, tweet or blog your thoughts and encourage others to vote if you'd like to see content like this at the South By Southwest Interactive Conference.

Go read my blog post called "I'm a phony" and if it helped you, help me by voting for our session at SXSW! Thanks!

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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August 13, 2014 11:31
Seems very much like the difference between technologists and managers. :-)
August 13, 2014 12:06
@CB - It's spelled 'Manglers' ;)
August 13, 2014 12:34
I remember your previous post about imposter syndrome and thinking "me too!" immediately.

Nowadays I look at it another way: if you don't have imposter syndrome, you likely aren't learning anything new. The very fast pace of change and the requirement to constantly keep understanding new things means you invariably spend less time on one thing. That then does not give you much time to become comfortable in the subject area and the knock-on is you get the feeling when you are pressed to assert that "yes, I can deliver your requirement using this technology that I've only been using for a few weeks".

I don't necessarily think the feeling comes just from people who are naturally humble, but you do get those who don't have it and are not very humble ;-)
August 13, 2014 15:23
Good remarks Adam! Definitely agree.
August 13, 2014 18:06
The more you know, the better you realize how little you know.

aka. You know nothing, Jon Snow.
August 13, 2014 22:41
Medicine is a different domain with a similar problem. Especially for generalists imposter syndrome abounds. The acquired skill-set is cummulative over the years, but the knowledge base and knowledge connectedness tends more toward exponential growth. Comfort lies in realizing that each of us knows something important that someone else does not. What keeps most of us motivated and firmly grounded in reality, however, is simple risk management. Eventually responsibility for failure and success become undeniable and inescapable.

Really, technology is not so very different.
August 14, 2014 0:28
I find the Dunning-Kriger effect particularly troublesome with management and job interviews. How can they evaluate your skills/performance if they do not have such skills?

HR crafting job requirements/descriptions for new job openings? Ridiculous.

In practice a good manager should realize that their job is to 'manage' you as an subject-matter expert resource; in practice most management use and treat employees as disposable tools (on both meanings of the word).

When you find a manager that makes decisions based on the team's advice and expertise -instead of telling them how to do things- you know you are lucky.

Corporate America(Earth?) is riddle with management under the Dunning-Kruger effect.

While this effect can be found at any level: ignorance + power = bad things will happen
August 14, 2014 6:41
That would be an awesome talk, voted up :-)
August 14, 2014 11:10
Or as Albert Einstein put it "Ego=1/Knowledge".
August 14, 2014 22:24
So is one better than the other? What I'm taking away from the chart is that people who are at the midpoint between Imposter Syndrom and Dunning–Kruger effect are going to hit the sweet spot (meaning they will be happiest?) I think you should hit some points about what it means to be in the middle. That's where the most people fall, right? Are there different levels of being in the middle? How can you transition from one to the other?
August 14, 2014 22:33
Just because I have Impostor Syndrome doesn't mean I'm not incompetent. :-)
August 15, 2014 5:35
I'm echoing Chad here. If I think I'm crap, I could very well be a realist rather than suffering from impostor syndrome.
There is a risk here that someone less-than-competent starts believing that, deep-down, he's is really awesome because he just thinks he's suffering from impostor syndrome.

Isn't believing that you have impostor syndrome actually self-defeating?
August 15, 2014 8:15
The Impostor Syndrome is sabotaging my career and my life.
It's sad, it makes no sense, but is my perception of the reality.
I would like to feel for me at least a bit of the respect and admiration that my coworkers have for me and my professional work. I would like to see a small percentage of that personal appearance reflected in my own mirror.
I'm convinced that my worst enemy it's me, or lives inside of me.
Anyway, it's a monster.
Greetings from Argentina.
August 15, 2014 11:45
@Renaud Interesting.

I go through mild phases of it. Sometimes I know I am good at a task, other times I know I'm not, but occasionally I get times where others say I am good at a task and I don't feel as though I am.

At the end of the day, the idea of being an imposter is because you worry what others are perceiving.
August 15, 2014 12:12
This is very true and applies in all fields not just IT. The other thing you will tend to find is that more intelligent people are more introvert as a consequence of often (over?)thinking before acting.
August 16, 2014 5:03
I had a heavy dose of imposter.

In 1999, I was a VP/CIO and in 2000 I was unemployed for 8 months. I took that time to retool and started my adventures into DotNet and Visual Studio. It wasn't long before my new skills were harvested. During that time I worked with a compulsive determination to not fail. Eventually I found myself blogging and pushing beyond what I could learn from books and online.

Now, I just want to study, teach and contribute to projects that make the world a little better. I am so grateful that this industry has supported me and my family for over 30 years. "Fake it until you make it" is a great mantra for anyone approaching a new endeavor. It worked when we wanted to learn how to speak, and it will work with anything for which we are determined to succeed.
August 23, 2014 13:26
I haven't been to SXSW, but when I read about most things going on there it seems to be some sort of hipster heaven. Are you sure that hipsters want to be told that they're all Dunning-Kruger's?
Nevermind, now that I see that term, Dunning-Kruger's, I'm sure they'll all love it if they are the first ones being it.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.