How I dealt with impostor syndrome as a Frontend Engineer

Tips that helped me as a self-taught Frontend Engineer

Published: July 29, 2021

Updated: August 10, 2023

A little background

I started learning to code in 2015 (Aug. 2015). A few friends and I wanted to build a social e-commerce platform in the University. However, things never took form because none of us could code or were technical. We spent hours discussing and increasing our never-ending features list.

In the midst of this, the others were also motivated to learn how to code, and I didn't want to get left out. So in some way, peer pressure pushed me to learn also. You could say that from the beginning, I already felt that I was not good enough but peer pressure kept pushing me to go on.

I was able to learn HTML and CSS well after about 5 months (Dec. 2015) and practiced frequently. They were both fun because I enjoy fiddling with design elements and being creative. Then I was ready for the next stage and started learning JavaScript. It was interesting at first but started getting confusing and not intuitive enough. So I hit a stumbling block with JavaScript after a few weeks. It had been going so well that the first major pushback and obstacle scared me so much. Then I thought to myself that "Why was I even learning this"? So I dropped everything.

The following year (June 2016), I stumbled on some practical tutorials during my semester break. These tutorials were enough to show me practical applications of JavaScript in the real world. I started playing around with these till I felt a bit more confident. However, this was not enough to put me back on track.

Later that year (Dec 2016), I attended a 3 day event that introduced me to the possibilities of technology in today's world and the future, and the role that Software Engineers play in bringing that to life. I'll say this was a major turning point in my journey because from that moment because I felt proud to associate myself with Software Engineering ;).

Lessons from my career

When I got my first job as a Frontend Engineer, I was made responsible for owning the user interface of the application - both design and frontend. And I must admit, it was overwhelming. The first day, I got scared by the sheer amount of things I did not know or could not pick out from the general meetings. Looking back, it is clear that was perfectly normal.

Judging by the amount of work I needed to do, I began to note things I needed to learn and created some learning plans to start. I followed it for a while but it became stressful because I retire to bed early. So I decided to spread out my learning across work hours through articles.

With time, I realized that with more knowledge, I find out that I only knew so little and it was daunting. I kept learning gradually and picking up skills over the years. Most of the new skills I learned needed to be applied so I found a way that worked for me to apply these skills. That way was interviewing. Interviewing was like the test or exam that evaluated whether my skill level was employable and practical. Plus the deadlines (usually 7 days) forced me to pick up more skills along the way, enough to submit a great project. Then the technical interviews helped me with presenting my thought process and aligning them with what was required in the task.

Unfortunately, interviewing is mentally exhausting and the constant rejections got to me. It kinda took me back to feeling like an imposter - "If I'm not good enough to be employed, then am I truly good?". When these negative thoughts come, it's great to have a support system of friends that keep you encouraged to keep going. I had a lot of them that kept reassuring me that a big break will come and it eventually did.

Before I got a big break, I searched for a mentor to guide me but I couldn't find one. Instead, I started mentoring newer developers (also co-workers) and encouraging people to start. This filled in that gap because it helped me to revisit the basics more than I normally would. I recommend this, if you can because it's also a way of giving back. Also, I read a lot of stories from other developers and realized that this feeling doesn't ever leave. It gave me some assurance - "If everyone feels this way, then it's normal". Sometimes, it is also a consequence of fear. Recently I changed jobs, and in my first week, I felt scared that I wouldn't live up to their expectations. But I reached out to a few friends to share this feeling and they made me realize that change is not always comfortable. In a short while, I felt my confidence return.

In summary, imposter syndrome is a lot to deal with as developers. A few ways that helped me was:

  • Have a great support system for reassurance
  • Read other peoples stories
  • Mentor other developers
  • Evaluate and appreciate how far you have come
  • Have some learning plan but find solace in knowing that you can't know everything


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