Disclaimer: These are only my experiences and this should not at any case be taken as a substitute for any sort of medical advice.
First things first: It is extremely difficult for me to talk about feeling like an impostor. I’ve read about the power of words and how when you say “don’t think about a red hammer”, what do you imagine? A red hammer. So, if anybody is to say: “I feel like an impostor”, whoever is listening is going to imagine you as one. I’ve read about this syndrome before and I couldn’t help myself from thinking: “hmm… if you are feeling like one… maybe you are?” And maybe I am, let me explain…
When people talk about the “impostor’s syndrome” they usually talk about feeling like an impostor. I think it’s more a feeling of not being good enough or feeling different than the others, or both, and that we have multiple of these “impostors” inside.
So, yes, I’ve felt “not good enough” and I’ve felt “not fitting the mold”, and I was probably right every time: I wasn’t good enough for my standards and to myself and I was different from the rest, but everyone is unique in some form.
An impostor on Test
When you are an SDET (Software developer engineer in Test) you definitely are not fitting the mold: Developers tend to shy away from these positions and testers need development skills for them. I remember trying to convince people applying for Microsoft to join the SDET teams instead of SDE teams, because they felt they would be paid less or have less importance.
Microsoft decided to have a separate team for making tools and tasks related to testing (as explained in this book, at least the version I read years ago). This should work out the same way as there are specialized developers for front end or back end. Many other companies followed this approach. But there are so many different companies that work in different structures and call different positions different names, that sometimes concepts get mixed up. And when you are a SDET you get offered all sort of positions, and usually, yes, less salary than a SDE. After many years, Microsoft decided to move everyone to Software Engineers and split the tasks evenly between the teams (which I discussed on previous articles talking about test roles and the future of testing).
On a different company, I’ve worked with SDE’s that have only worked with manual QA’s before, so they could not understand that I was a developer too. These are some of the things I had to hear:
- “You are lucky, SDETs now are being paid almost as much as SDEs” – I’m soooo relieved that I won’t have to decide between selling my computer science degrees or moving to a position that takes away one letter from my title
- “I am not doubting you have used it but… you can’t know the same about X technology that someone that uses it daily” – Do you REALLY use it daily? I heard tons of front end engineers talking about back end stuff and nobody is doubting their knowledge based on their lack of daily use
- “Testing is not part of a developer’s job” – Not sure if you saying this is a bad or a good thing…
- “We would not mind you to be in our code reviews, but… it would slow us down, better to restrict them to only two people (dev architect and dev lead) reviewing the entire team” – Ignoring the bottle neck you are creating, finding issues during code review would make the process FASTER… and if it is slowing it down you should definitely worry about the quality of the code being written
- “It’s great that you checked the developers unit tests in your previous company.. But, were they so bad that they needed a tester checking that?” – What they were was actually good team players that split the work evenly and accepted advise
- “It’s nice of you to be interested on being added to the design meeting, but it is really technical, you will get bored” – You know what? Just take notes afterwards, so I don’t bother you with my “lack of knowledge” (and I save myself from another meeting in which you are discussing technicalities about implementation to assess dominance)
- “So..your university…was it technical? I mean, did you do technical stuff or was it theoretical but was giving out technical degrees?” – Well, to be honest, I was once walking down the street and I found a degree title with my name on it…(rolling eyes, the average of time for people to finish my degree in my university was twice the expected)
- “Well, but there are different things in development, for example, design patterns…” – OOh design patterns, really? it sounds so fancy!! Please keep talking… I learnt this stuff on the second year of university: they are just repetitive ways of doing something that people with experience realized about and shared so other people with less experience can brag about… sorry use them too.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t think quickly enough these responses. I mostly stared blankly at the person without quite believing what I was hearing. It takes a while to build on responses, but what good would it have made anyways? Sometimes, people just talk because they like hearing their own voices. In Plato’s words “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something”.
Sometimes, it does not really matter what you can tell them, they will be stuck on their own beliefs and versions. Sometimes people need to feel, to see, to experience… in order to change their minds. And I believe I did my job with that, since at some point they started coming to me for advise and trusted me much more. But it took a while.
A quick note on degrees: I think having a degree does not necessarily give you better skills. I think degrees are good for having the bases and guidelines. But, no, you don’t need to have a computer science degree to be an SDET, but neither you do for an SDE position (I’ve known plenty of SDE without any sort of certification). However, you have to be really applied and be able to demonstrate skills to do the job; having a degree, experience or some projects you can show are some ways for proving this.
How do I deal with my impostors
Well, as the title of this post states it: I made friends with my impostor’s feelings. I have not overcome them. They are always here, part of me, waiting to get my attention, but I now acknowledge them and learn from them.
I may not be taking the right steps but here is what I have told my impostor in the past :
- Use it on your favor. People that underestimate you are the ones that get most surprised when you get to show your skills, if you feel this is the case, maybe it is a good thing.
- Let people be wrong. Haters gonna hate, you don’t need to proof yourself to anybody but you. This is really difficult sometimes, but I learnt to care a bit less about it.
- Be kinder to yourself. Most of the times, this is all in your head.
- Use it to improve, learn more, grow… I think feeling you are not good enough is a great incentive to get better. Think of the words of Mark Twain: “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
- Be kinder to others. When someone makes you feel bad you realize you might be making others feel bad too, it can make you more empathic. Use it to reflect about your own acts and also try to understand why the other person is acting like that towards you…maybe they are the ones with insecurities?
- Realize that nobody was born knowing everything. Even when they do know about one thing that does not make them automatically know everything else there is to know. A lot of people love flexing. A lot of people have actually not an idea of what they are doing. In the end, everyone is constantly learning, that’s what life is about.
At times, the impostor can get louder, for example when a deadline is coming closer or when public speaking. It does not matter how many times I do this I still can get nervous and anxious about a talk.
A especially bad time for feeling as an impostor is when you get laid off, it does not matter the reason for it, you always feel that if you really were an “A player” it should not happen to you. Also interviewing… this is especially troublesome, as your value might be calculated based in a company’s needs and not your actually qualities: When you need a pencil, a pen will never be as good.
Finally, when you get to join a company the impostor might be calling out the expectations people could have of you.
Those times that the impostors are louder, are when a special effort is required, by listening, understanding and talking to them, but every time it gets a little bit easier. I personally have many other examples when I felt like other impostors, but those are…well…another story.