Fixing Impostor Syndrome

I think that most of us feel like an impostor at some time in our lives.  We will get asked to do something we’ve never done, with others expressing confidence in us. We may tackle the task, or we may not. We may succeed or we may not In any of those cases, we may still feel like an impostor, someone that isn’t really qualified to do this thing. Many of us continue to feel this way in our careers, suffering from impostor’s syndrome.

While I know that I’m good at my job, good at working with SQL Server and teaching others to do so, I still suffer from impostor syndrome at times. There are periods where my mind wonders if I’ve just gotten lucky and slipped through some evaluation process. Maybe my knowledge hasn’t been well tested. Will someone like my boss, or their boss, question my skills at some point and get rid of me? Will I be able to find another job if that happens? Can I really compete with others out there? This isn’t a constant or regular feeling, but I do experience it at times.

I work with technology, helping customers better manage their database software. However, I also work in marketing, which is a completely different kind of job. Someone in my company posted an article about impostor syndrome for marketing, which I found fascinating. This could be written for technologists or, perhaps, any other profession. Read through it and think about a few things that I saw in the article.

If you feel you don’t have the knowledge you need, you’re not alone. I think that’s very true in technology, where it feels that the pace of change from vendors, from peers, and what you might read in the media (including here at SQL Server Central) can make anyone feel as if they don’t know as much as others. I do try to acknowledge to myself that others feel as I though. It’s slightly comforting, but not a lot. Especially when I converse with some amazing experts. Discussing execution plans with Grant or T-SQL with Jeff or HA with Allan can cause me to question my knowledge and success.

The second thing to think about is how poor the state of the industry can be. Whether this is the skills of others or the architecture of software, systems, or databases. How often have you seen software that’s been purchased or deployed and you question the decisions that got it to this state. Are you amazed at how many problems you see? Do you start to question the skills of others? I know at SQL Server Central we try to help others, but I can also be amazed at the lack of knowledge out there about what I’d consider to be simple topics. At the same time, I recognize others may be in a different place in their journey. Having empathy and compassion keep me answering questions. The need to keep answering them reminds me that I do know quite a few things.

Lastly, education helps. I constantly experiment and build demos of different things. Often these are learning experiments. I don’t know that I become an expert in many of them, but learning more about how something works, or increasing the depth of knowledge in some area I’ve worked help me to build confidence to tackle the challenges I face (or my customers face).

The article notes that marketing is an imprecise science. I think software can be that way as well, despite the growing number of “engineers” in our industry. Like marketing, there are no shortage of people who think they know it all, or use boisterous, blustery, loud discussion to convince others that they do. Even hen their choices or design might be suspect or perhaps their approach is outdated. One of the tenets of DevOps is that we continuously learn and experiment. I try to apply that to my own knowledge, and find it can help me feel like less of an impostor some days.

Not all, but there’s always tomorrow, and I usually find that these feelings pass with time, especially when I apply myself and continue to grown and learn.

Steve Jones

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