Overcoming Imposter Syndrome — a workshop

If you are a woman in tech, you must be familiar with “Imposter Syndrome”. Even if you don’t know what it means, I can bet at one time or the other, you have definitely felt it.

Few weeks ago I went to a meet-up/workshop that was titled “overcoming imposter syndrome” arranged by Code Like a Girl. The presenter was an Engineering Lead of Zendesk — Prakiti. She very nicely explained the concept by sharing her own examples. She explained how she felt that she did not deserve the role (of Engineering Lead) that was offered to her. And I could relate so much. I am writing this article to summarise my take aways from this workshop.

Prakiti used a mnemonic to make us remember the technic. It’s called REACT — as the photo above depicts. We went through this exercise during the workshop. I will share my outcome here, to give you some context.

Record successful outcomes and feedback

In this part of the exercise you are asked to jot down all the positive feedbacks that you have received so far. Think about conversations during performance appraisals, 360 degree feedback, one on one’s, retros and even just casual ones. So here are a few I could think of at the time:

  • I am technically strong
  • I am always enthusiastic
  • I am persistent
  • I can get along with anyone
  • I lift up the team spirit and create a vibrant environment.

Evaluate negative imposter thought

Now, you are required to face the fear. Look those negative thoughts in the eye and write them down. In my case they were:

  • I’m not really that good technically.
  • I’m perhaps faking my enthusiasm.
  • I’m not a good mentor and perhaps I don’t explain things well.
  • I’m not really fitting for providing leadership in a technical team.

Ask trusted people for their opinions

This part needs you to find a confidant. Someone you trust that won’t stab you in the back after knowing your vulnerabilities. Luckily I have a few of them. Specially someone I have had a similar discussion with. And most of the feedback that came out in the first section were from that person. So I could use them in this section as well:

  • I am technically strong.
  • I can build up team spirit
  • My demeanour at work creates an exciting and enthusiastic aura.
  • I am helpful towards my peers.
  • I am highly productive.

Challenge assumptions with data

Now, we have some real opinions from some real people. Not our assumptions about what they think of us. We will now verify our fears with this real data.

  • I’m not really that good technically — this is contradicted by the opinion that we have received from our confidant.
  • I’m perhaps faking my enthusiasm — this is also contradicting with out confidant’s opinion and feedback during appraisals.
  • I’m not a good mentor — but my confidant thinks I’m actually helpful towards my peers
  • I’m not ready to lead technically — I’m highly productive, technically strong, a great team player and helpful peer, always bright and enthusiastic. Do these not sum up as the qualities for a role as technical lead? I think they do.

Transform the imposter thought

By this stage, I think it’s clear that we’ve been downplaying ourselves. We are so much more than what we think we are. In my case, I transformed my thoughts like this:

  • I’m technically alright and I want to keep learning.
  • The fact that I want to keep learning tells me, I’m not faking my enthusiasm. (So shut up tiny voice in my head)
  • I have potential to be a great mentor. I can connect with people really well. May be I need to slow down when I explain things.
  • I don’t see myself as a tech lead and that’s because I haven’t got an opportunity to become one yet. But as for all my previous challenges, this too will be an exciting one to persue. And I look forward to it.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome is a continuous process. The presenter thinks keeping notes helps and I tend to agree. Because, maybe you have received a positive feedback from someone a week ago and when you are reflecting upon it, your mind is playing up and making it sound like a negative one. So, your memory can’t be trusted. Keep notes of the things that people tell you. If you are in the habit of keeping journal then maybe write down what people told you and how you felt about it. When you reflect upon it later, it will give you a lot more context and understanding of yourself. Aren’t we the most interesting creature!

So this is my two cents. If it helps you even a little, I’d be glad to hear about it! I’d like to thank Code like a girl for holding such great session and I look forward to more such workshops/sessions!

I am a software developer, who is easily intrigued by anything tech and is always thriving to make software development more inclusive and empathetic.