Imposter Syndrome in Tech: How to Overcome it

Tackle imposter syndrome in the tech industry. This article provides strategies and insights to overcome self-doubt and thrive in your tech career.

Subscribe

Subscribe

Impostor syndrome is real. It can sound like a voice that whispers, “I don’t belong here… When people learn the truth about me, I’ll be fired,” or “Everyone here knows more than I do.”  All too often, tech companies play the blame game when something goes wrong, only furthering the problem. This encourages the “fake it ‘til you make it” mentality instead of fostering a culture where your team is encouraged to ask for help when they (inevitably) don’t know something. The only problem is that often in today’s tech landscape, things are updated or are changing constantly, so it is impossible for someone to be an expert in everything. Individuals must be able to ask for help, share knowledge and focus on skill mastery, without the fear that there will be blame placed on them in the case of failure.

Creating a Learning Organization that Addresses Impostor Syndrome.

Companies that take impostor syndrome seriously will address it head-on.

But, how do you do that?

While the approach may vary for different teams or organizations, our company started by asking questions about how we could become a more healthy “learning organization”. After doing extensive research, we distinguished five traits that we believe a tech company should develop if they want to identify as a learning organization:


1. Ask for help. There should be no shame to ask for assistance here - in fact, it should be celebrated and encouraged .

2. Share knowledge. Confidence is built when teammates realize perfection is almost impossible and everyone has knowledge gaps. Sharing also provides pathways for new learning opportunities.

3. Establish a “blame-free” environment. This sets an expectation that it is not people who are the problem, but rather the issue can often be attributed to a process or team effort as a whole. As a team, we fail, and as a team, we grow.

4. Challenge and support everyone. If everyone has equal opportunities to be challenged and supported, individual teammates will be motivated to deeply learn and hone their skills until they achieve mastery.

5. Encourage people to keep pushing. We provide everyone time with our Flight Instructor or with a dedicated learning resource to co-create a confidential personal growth plan and provide our team with a mentor where they can receive 1:1 dedicated time for professional growth.  This helps start employees off on the right footing and pushes all of us to incorporate feedback into professional growth goals along with a plan to push themselves forward, without the pressure of management looking on.  Studies show that professional growth is maximized when individuals own their own growth.


What does this actually look like in a company? Let’s elaborate…


1. Ask for help: Few are willing to admit when they don’t know something.  Especially if they have been ridiculed or shamed for not knowing in the past. To counter that, we started with simple, actionable steps. We created Slack channels by topic where people could ask questions and get answers from anyone in the company. We introduced it with senior leadership on a Lunch and Learn, and our folks supported each other. A culture that supports and encourages asking questions and seeking understanding is indicative of a healthy culture moving in the right direction.

 

2. Share Knowledge: When people have the opportunity to share knowledge they realize they are not alone in not knowing everything. A junior engineer might work with a senior engineer, and the junior might be surprised that a senior engineer has to look something up, or might not know something the junior knows. Knowledge transfer between colleagues at a company can be both planned and spontaneous. This could take place in many forms - office hours for tutoring, co-working sessions, or collaborative planning meetings. It also looks like active mentoring relationships where tutoring sessions are thematic and open to all.


3. Eradicate Blame: Leaders who blame individual teammates for failing instead of looking at systems, processes, and team structures are misplacing blame and have failed in their leadership. Creating a blame-free environment isn’t easy because when something goes wrong it is human nature for most to jump to a defensive stance. To combat this, our company supports blameless postmortems, where the group that “failed” meets with leadership and they talk about root causes, map out new processes or fix old ones, and look at timelines to see where the breakdowns happened and come up with solutions to get ahead of this in the future.


4. Focus on Mastery: Certificates are nice to have but they don't necessarily prepare someone for the day-to-day tasks that will be encountered in the tech world. StratusGrid recently developed an internal badging system where we broke down components of each job into “skill trees”. Each skill tree had badges that our teammates could pick up at four different skill levels. The advanced badges prove a person is ready to be a subject matter expert. Our antidote to impostor syndrome was to balance our emphasis on daily productivity with a focus on mastery that will support each of our teams both daily and also throughout their careers, even if they choose to go somewhere else.


5. Keep Pushing: We do this by doing 2 main things: Confidential growth plans and Mentoring.

    1. Our growth plans are co-created with the teammate and Flight Instructor, and are confidential, meaning that they aren’t shared with human resources and they don’t serve as an evaluation tool.  The point is that we provide each teammate time to think about the feedback they have been given, digest it, and turn it into a personal growth plan with action steps and personal accountability.  The personal growth plans help to focus the feedback and are revisited at a minimum of 2x per year.

    2. All too often companies say they have a mentoring program and might even assign mentors, yet this doesn’t lead to engaging with mentoring opportunities or meetings between the two. We feel like this is a wasted opportunity not to provide early support and set the tone of collegiality, and personally invest our time.  It sends the message to new employees that YOU are worth our time.  This mentoring approach is a step-down approach, devoting more time to the beginning of the relationship when the new or junior engineer needs the most help getting started with a gradual stepping down through our four-step process:  Model, Guide, Monitor, and Release.  During modeling, the mentor will meet frequently and have daily touchpoints.  This may last through onboarding and into the first month of employment.  Mentors work to model behaviors, processes, and programs that are essential to success.  The guide phase is where assignments are given, and the first steps are spelled out.  The mentor or larger team is there to answer questions and help guide them through.  Once employees become familiar enough to be self-sufficient in areas, the mentor monitors their work and checks in with them.  This might look like hanging out after a stand-up meeting for an offline conversation, or just noticing early wins and providing feedback on their work. The key to all of this is that the mentors never stop reaching out and providing feedback.  The last phase is to release the employee from a formal mentoring relationship.


Conclusion

When a tech company is focused on being a learning organization, they naturally are counter-culture and help their teammates shed their impostor syndrome. What does this ultimately look like? So far it has meant low turnover, high employee engagement, high job satisfaction, and teams that trust each other. As we grow, we will continue to invest in this concept and work towards it being a part of our DNA for years to come. If you want to learn more about this, please reach out and we would love to chat.

Similar posts