Navigating the Imposter Syndrome as a Junior Developer

Throughout my short time as a software developer, I have been faced with challenges that I suspected were unique to my experience. I had a pretty traditional start to my development career; I enrolled in a large state school for software engineering, joined various coding and technical clubs, and earned multiple co-ops to complement what I was learning in the classroom. I was offered a developer co-op position with Gaslight the summer after my sophomore year of college, and will continue in this role until I start full time after graduation. Immediately upon starting my first co-op, I felt like I was out of place and questioned my career path. Having been in my role for almost two years at Gaslight, I’ve learned that this is not an uncommon feeling amongst new or seasoned developers.

This feeling is termed the “imposter syndrome.” It is the mind’s way of tricking you into thinking that your accomplishments are invalid, that you aren’t meant to be pursuing what you are doing, and that you will be exposed as a fraud within your line of work. While we each deal with adversity in various ways, I’ve compiled a list to help you navigate your feelings with the imposter syndrome.

Tips for navigating imposter syndrome:

  • Remember that everybody starts somewhere. Even experts and those you look up to were once in your shoes. Each of them experienced what you are feeling. Each of them made countless mistakes, learned through experience, and grew as a developer. You will too.
  • Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. Ask the “obvious” questions. Don’t hesitate to ask questions when you feel like you should know the answer, or when everybody else around you understands what you are struggling with. Laugh at your mistakes, and don’t blame yourself for not knowing. Your peers care about you and will help you navigate what you don’t understand.
  • Take advantage of pair programming, if it is an option for you. You and your pair can bounce ideas off of each other in order to gain a shared understanding. They are likely eager to teach you what they know and watch your growth. It will also add to your confidence when you are able to teach them something new.
  • Keep a notebook to track your problems and solutions. When you solve a tough problem or learn something new, keep a log of the thing that gave you a hard time, the way you approached solving the problem, any links to websites that helped you understand, and how you implemented a solution.
  • Reiterate what you do understand. Talk yourself through the issue. Say what you understand and don’t understand about the problem. Take a step back and think about approaches you used the last time you were stuck on a tough problem. You just might make the connection on your own.

After implementing these tips in your daily development practices, you should be sure to celebrate your victories and remember where you started. Even if you are the least experienced person in the room, you have something to celebrate. Remember the first time you sat down to write some code. You know vastly more at this moment than you did during that first programming session. Celebrate and be proud of your growth, and understand that your entire career gives you the opportunity to learn and do something new each day.

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