Joshua Paling

Feeling like a better developer

If you've come here following my talk at Ruby Conf, thanks for listening!

If you haven't you can watch the talk online.

Preparing a talk limited to 20m was great, in that I had to cut right to the chase. However, it also meant I had to leave out some things, and gloss over some others. So, here's a smattering of related stuff, in no particular order - some references, some stuff I left out, and some clarification of points I glossed over.


In my talk I focused more on my own experience than on scientific research, for two reasons:

But if you're after science, there's a decent amount of literature on impostor syndrome. This is the original paper I mentioned from Georgia State University. This is a more recent paper that mentions the figure of 70% of people experiencing Impostor Syndrome at some point.

Research on overcoming Impostor Syndrome: I was asked if there's any research on what's effective in overcoming Impostor Syndrome. I haven't found any. However, having read a lot of articles where people describe what they found effective, I've noticed a huge amount of overlap (the articles overlap with one another, and also with my own experience).

Other Talks

I'm not by any means the first to talk about Impostor Syndrome. Within the Ruby Community, Julie Pagano and Nickolas Means both gave great talks. If you're wondering if you have Impostor Syndrome, Nickolas also put up a page where you can take a test.

PS - if you're going to give a talk on Impostor Syndrome, it's not necessarily a good idea to watch other's talks. You'll spend the whole time worrying that they're way better at programming than you, have Impostor Syndrome way more than you, and are giving a much better talk than you ever could!

Impostor Syndrome vs Self-Doubt

I mentioned an article by Alicia Liu that presents (among other things) a great visualisation of Impostor Syndrome. Alicia also wrote another great article where she talks about the difference between Impostor Syndrome and self-doubt. I used the two terms fairly interchangeably in my talk (largely because 'doubters' is less of a mouthful than 'those with Impostor Syndrome'). There is a difference, though, and Alicia hits the nail on the head.

When is it healthy self-doubt and when is it Impostor Syndrome?

I don't know. It's grey-scale. A health dose of self-doubt is a good thing, and over-confidence is not. I guess self-doubt becomes a problem when it's strong enough to affect your wellbeing as a whole, and to prevent you reaching your full potential. If other people think your level of self-doubt is silly, I'd say that's probably a good indication that you've got more than a 'healthy dose' of it.

It's common in tech

I mentioned that Impostor Syndrome was particularly common in tech, but that I didn't have time to talk about it. Very briefly:

Tech evolves extremely quickly, the internet keeps us all extremely connected, so we're constantly dealing with the code, the products, and the writing, of the absolute latest stuff, from best in the world. And we're putting names and faces to all those achievements. Our industry, along with a few others, is in the minority in that regard.

This makes it easy to take the best person in each individual area, and use them as the yardstick with which we measure our own capabilities in that particular area. And comparing yourself to the world's best in each individual area can be pretty humbling!