Imposter Syndrome in Tech

As I was scrolling through Twitter this past week one article caught my eye, “Imposter Syndrome leaves most tech workers feeling like a fake.” Since the tech industry is one of the fastest growing industries, one would assume the industry requires the most intelligent and innovative workers, but the headline suggested that these workers do not feel the same way about themselves. In short, the article expanded on a study released this weekend conducted by the social media site, Blind. They asked 10,402 tech workers the simple question, “Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?” and 57.55% of participants recorded yes. Expedia (73%), Salesforce (67%) and Amazon (64%) were the leading companies with the highest percentage of employees who suffered from imposter syndrome. I, as well many others, look up to tech workers and hold them in high regard, so I wanted to understand why they do not see themselves in the same light.

 

Imposter Syndrome Defined

The term “imposter syndrome” was coined in 1978 and understood as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” The term originated from a study conducted on 150 accomplished women who felt as if they were “frauds.” Today, 70% of men and women from all different occupations experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Although there is no official diagnosis for imposter syndrome, psychologists recognize it as a real, intellectual form of self doubt.

Why is this happening?

Tech companies are the fastest growing. As we have seen, the first two companies to reach a $1 trillion market cap were tech companies. As the demand for high tech products and platforms increase exponentially from consumers each year, employees often feel like they can never catch up. One of the study’s participants, an employee from Salesforce, reported,“For the past 14 years…I feel like I am nowhere near where I should be skill-wise. Every project I’m on, I feel like I’m over my head.” Many other participants reacted to this post with comments like “[W]elcome to the club. I’ve been feeling like a phony even though I was a top 1% performer at McKinsey and now a director at a tech firm. I always feel like I’ll get found out and fired. I also question what these companies see in me on a daily basis.” As consumers, we only see the final products after the hundreds of hours of hard work each employee puts into the every detail from idea to implementation, trying to make the product the best it can be. Just as Margaret Gould Stewart mentioned in her TedTalk about designing for billions, even the smallest, most menial changes like Facebook’s “like” button take over one hundred hours to create and formalize, that we as consumers take for granted. Employees feel pressure to take on tasks that may affect billions of people and feel that they do not have the intellectual capacity or worth to fulfill their duties. As the need for speed and efficiency increases, pressures on tech workers intensify, thus reducing self esteem and leading to the imposter syndrome.

Moving Forward

Although this study about imposter syndrome in the tech industry was conducted from August 27, 2018 to September 5, 2018, people have been experiencing this feeling of low self worth for years. The Huffington Post published an article about how to overcome self-doubt last year, and the author, Lily Chen, gives advice to other tech workers to overcome imposter syndrome. Chen first advises workers to have a growth mindset and accept challenges rather than a fixed mindset, which allows failure to hinder someone from trying something new. If employees go into a problem or issue with an open mind they will be more willing to take risks and have a better outcome than trying to safely find one specific answer. Furthermore, it is important to continuously be learning, especially from peers. Co-workers must deal with the same issues on advancement and are thus resources for gaining knowledge.

I personally think employers should take these poll results into consideration, especially considering company culture. Startups and tech companies have a reputation of being an environment where employees enjoy coming to work, so they should take measures to ensure their employees feel wanted. One prime example of this is bridging the wage gap. Forbes reported that 63% of the time, men were offered higher salaries than women for the same role at the same [tech] company. It comes as no surprise that women who are being paid less than their peers doing the same work are more likely to feel unfit for their position. If companies work to reduce the wage gap, women will feel more inclined to work at companies, bringing their expertise to the field.

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Companies can take other measures like bringing in speakers to give advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome. There are multiple TedTalks about imposter syndrome and solutions to think your way out of the syndrome, so companies should find speakers educated on the subject matter to present to employees, emphasizing the need for each employee at that specific company. Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One, reinforces the importance of hiring full time employees for the long term, because they will put all of their efforts in that one company. If companies invest time and money into making their employees feel needed, they will, in turn, want to put their best work in for that company.

We rely on tech workers everyday to to bring us the most up-to-date products and software; if companies work to create an environment where employees feel like they are good enough for and capable of these tasks, there is no end to the possibilities of what these workers can produce.

 

7 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome in Tech

  1. I think this is a great topic to cover. Tech companies employ brilliant minds, yet somehow, employees still feel insufficient. I think this an important message relating to the topic of mental health. The most important thing that can be done to address this problem is to discuss it. The current wage gap is definitely not a helpful factor with this issue. However, I believe that in this era we are more conscious more than ever of the silent problems holding people back.

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  2. Hi Elizabeth,
    Great blog on a really interesting topic! This is definitely an issue felt across many industries, but it’s interesting that it seems especially bad in tech. I think the demanding, fast-paced environment of the tech industry certainly contributes to imposter syndrome, as it often feels like you can’t keep up when everyone around you is moving fast and on top of their game. Like Maddie said though, I think that the best way to deal with imposter syndrome is to talk openly about it. If employees feel empowered to discuss this issue openly, I think the confirmation that most of us have these feelings would alleviate a lot of those fears that everyone else knows what they’re doing and you’re the only one in over your head.

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  3. This article is sounds really interesting, and I would love to read more about it. I believe it gives a quick peak into the cutthroat nature of tech companies and the need to constantly innovate. This issue should be more openly addressed by employees, since it seems that many feel this way. I wonder if the imposter syndrome just affects the tech industry, or if it expands into other industries as well. Due to the advanced tech and constant change, I believe that employees from every industry may also feel this imposter syndrome.

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  4. Fascinating topic! I remember watching Amy Cuddy’s TED talk, “Your body language may shape who you are” (https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en) about Imposter Syndrome and “power posing”. My biggest takeaway, which I still hold dear today, is the notion of “faking it ’till you become it” and essentially acting like the person you want to become to acclimate to tough situations and improve yourself. Wonderful sentiment that rings especially true when you feel like an imposter.

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  5. Thanks Elizabeth! I really enjoyed reading your post. I, perhaps wrongly, have always assumed tech workers have high self worth because the industry is often described as being populated by aggressive or arrogant individuals. It was fascinating to learn that they are just as insecure as the rest of us.

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  6. Great post Elizabeth! very interesting topic. I think this is fairly common across all industries and careers. When I was working at Deloitte this summer we discussed the impostor syndrome multiple times and they always told me that everyone experiences it in their careers. I agree with Rohan, however, I heard a slightly different version “Fake it till you make it”.

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