Imposter Syndrome

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You may have heard of or experienced first-hand the effects of imposter syndrome, regardless of your career. Defined as the psychological experience in which a person questions their skills, accompanied with a consistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, imposter syndrome wreaks havoc on your mental state in the workplace and often has you wondering if you even belong there.

In the world of IT, with its continuously expanding level of sophistication and advancement, self-doubting your abilities is as common as “my computer is turned off” tickets. It is quite impossible to always stay current with new technologies, best practices, and coding languages, and because of that, knowing how to combat imposter syndrome is as essential as your IT certifications.

My Experience

After I earned my Bachelor’s degree in IT and coming from a military background, I had little to no confidence in my skills; it’s safe to say that many of those in my first interviews could tell as well. The civilian world is much different than life in the military. I had to literally change my language from fast-paced instructions, curse words, and an overall feeling of superiority to a more toned-down 1’s and 0’s tech vocabulary; on top of this, once I landed my first IT job, I was thrown to the wolves, having to learn everything on my own and at a quick pace. I immediately felt that I didn’t belong at my job, and my promotion to IT Manager only made things worse. However, once I was acclimated with the slower pace of the civilian world, I found time to study, practice, and develop new ways to absorb all of the lessons I could (aim to be sponge).

Know Your Worth

While it is up to you to maintain your level of involvement in learning new things, understand that you, at the core, have a certain level of expertise that needs to be recognized. Your colleagues will often have a higher level of understanding for things you haven’t even heard of, but on the other hand, your IT knowledge might be more current, as you studied in the recent years of new technology. If all else fails, the phrase, ‘fake it till you make it’ has actual benefits; why it helps to have the genuine skill to back it up (obviously), don’t be afraid to act like you know something when you don’t. I am not saying to lie, but if you have time to research the question or task before your next encounter with the person, tell them that you have that project covered. Find what you are good at, apply it to what you are weak in, and acknowledge that you, like everyone, are a work in progress.

Fear

One of the most significant effects of imposter syndrome is fear; fear in not being up to the task, fear that you only got the job by chance, and fear that someday soon, your boss will uncover the fraud that you are. In my time in the military, I found that fear is one of the greatest motivators. In South Korea, you could typically find me cruising the busy streets while hauling thousands of pounds of MK84 bombs; was this scary as an 18-year-old? Yes. Did it motivate me to follow the speed limits? Well, no….but the concern was definitely there. The world of IT is very much like my life as a Munitions Technician, but instead of building an AIM-9 guided missile (which could blow up at any second), I am now building entire systems of communication for my company (which if I failed in doing, we could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a week). Fear is what entices you to take the time to study, to excel in your daily duties, and to allow yourself to celebrate after you have kicked down its door.

Summary

Regardless of the tactic you wish to use, it is vital to the future of your career that you understand the effects of imposter syndrome and the fact that those around you are going through it as well. Next time you are in a meeting trying to understand topics that seem way out of your paygrade or get tasked to build the framework of a system you have to Google to even spell correctly, remember that there are many tools at your disposal, the greatest being believing in yourself.

I know I have thrown a lot of shade at imposter syndrome, but having it isn’t always a bad thing. Simply questioning your competence in your profession is actually a sign of competence; I know what you are thinking, but hear me out. In the words of Charles Stross, “Only people who understand their work well enough to be intimidated by it can be terrified by their own ignorance” (Stross, 2018). After all, we are all products of our individual thoughts and aspirations; knowing how to identify and control them is up to you.

Source

Stross, Charles. (2018). Goodreads. The Labyrinth Index. Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36053406-the-labyrinth-index.

 

 

How to Stay Focused on a Project

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We’ve all been there; you are knee-deep into developing a system, designing an app, or meticulously combing through miles of code for a new project when suddenly, you think of another feature to add or a better way to set up an existing one. When I lose focus on a long project, I sometimes find it difficult to get back on task, and thus, my performance on the job is significantly hindered. It can be quite difficult to keep your attention on one thing at a time, especially when working on a task that you’re passionate about; ideas start flowing, the gears in your brain work on overdrive, and the ability to separate your top-down view of the entire project from your direct attention to one segment of it becomes cloudy. However, there are several methods in which I use to see a project to the end and still manage to record and apply all of my random ideas and ‘eureka!’ moments.

Outline

Like our teachers instructed us in school, when a writing paper, a carefully crafted outline can serve as the bumpers in a bowling lane, maintaining your ball’s position in its path to the pins. By planning ahead, you can compile a list of tasks that need to be completed and their due date. When you come up with a new idea as you’re are working on another, you will already know when and where that idea can be applied.

Tickets/Apps

Taking notes and keeping track of tasks while working on a project can be stressful enough by yourself, let alone when working with a team. Depending on which system you wish to use, whether it be scribbling on a notebook, creating tickets, or using an app such as Trello, ensure that you write everything down. While I am busy working on an extensive project, if I randomly get a great idea about something and don’t write it down in some way, I will undoubtedly have that idea bouncing around in my head for hours so I don’t forget it; this process starts with the realization of the thought and doesn’t end until the thought is safely collected and stored somewhere. Close the loop.

Priority Terms

Similar to an IT ticketing system, priorities such as low, normal, and urgent indicate both the severity of the incident and its specified completion date. When working on a lengthy project, applying priorities such as ‘must have’ or ‘nice to have’ to the random ideas that come up helps determine if they should be ignored, administered, or prioritized. I also like using the MoSCoW model, where you label your tasks as either must, should, could, or would. An excellent method to use when determining the priority of a job is benefit divided by time-to-complete; in other words, estimate the time it takes to complete each task on your list, as well as the necessary time to do so. Then, re-sort your list and work on what matters first.

Race to the Deadline

In the ideal IT world, no projects would be rushed to completion; however, this is sadly not the case. More often than not, apps, projects, and systems must go live at a specific date, and any deviation from that date would seemingly start World War III. Luckily, the stress to complete a task can be used positively. For every section of the entire project, determine if it gets you faster to the finish line; if not, do it after the initial release.

Stay Single

Don’t get married to your ideas; instead, realize that some are worth implementing, and some need to be thrown away. Use your coworkers to bounce thoughts off of, revisit ideas regularly, and devote a few minutes to brainstorm every side-project branching from your main project’s goal. I tend to end up on wild tangents while focusing too long on a small detail of a project, and within no time, have a substantially more advanced (yet more complicated) task list to complete. So, stay single, but don’t be afraid to K.I.S.S (Keep it Simple, Stupid). Sorry, that was a poor attempt at a joke.