Impostor Syndrome for Self-taught Professionals

Day 29 of #30DaysOfStartingUp

Normally I self-diagnose as negative in terms of imposter syndrome - as in: I don’t have it. I attribute it to my parents being way too proud of me than necessary when I was a child. Overall, I felt qualified to do my job when I was at Adobe and other companies.

However, when I transitioned to a startup tech co-founder, I felt like an impostor. I felt that I was not qualified to write production code. I will write features the wrong way. I can code a prototype to prove a concept, but I cannot develop the entire app from the ground up. I need outside help. Maybe we need to find another CTO, and I focus on design.

To paint a picture of my coding proficiency: I can execute new ideas with coding quickly. When there is anything I am not sure how to do, a quick google search usually grants me answers. I have little difficulty understanding the answers written by other programmers. I can differentiate which solution applies to my situation and is worth a try. When the code logic gets complicated, I can write pseudocode or draw a diagram to dig myself out of the noodles. 

My impostor syndrome didn’t come from frustration that I couldn’t get things to work. It is the constant feeling that while I made the app running, the way I wrote the code might be hacky, not orthodox, and just plain wrong. I think there are best practices that I didn’t know about or scaling issues that I failed to foresee. All of my insecurity comes from the fact that I wasn’t trained in computer science major in college; I am a self-taught programmer. I imagined there were some crucial courses taught in college that I missed. 

I tried to compensate for that by taking Data Structures online course once because that is the one course that I keep hearing about from computer science majors. I took the course and found that I knew most of the concepts taught in that course. I learned by dealing with data in practice. That experience gave me a lot of confidence. There isn’t some secret class that they only teach at college. Everything learned at school can be learned in practice. Self-taught programmers can be just as good. 

I want to say the same to self-taught designers! I am a traditionally trained designer. I went through college and graduate school getting trained in design. I had classmates in graduate school who didn’t major in design from undergrad, and even they would feel insecure about it. They worried that they lacked typography knowledge, visual skills, or something. They were already in graduate school for design! I can only imagine the insecurity for fully self-taught designers.

If you are a self-taught designer, I can tell from the insider perspective that there is nothing you missed by being self-taught. Everything I learned at school can be self-taught either by practice or online education.

You are just as good! 

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