Talk Follow-up

Imposter Syndrome

This is a quick write-up of my near-impromtu grok talk on Imposter Syndrome I did at DDD East Anglia.

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. — Wikipedia.

I wanted to talk about Imposter Syndrome in relation to talking at User Groups or conferences, such as DDD. The common complaint is that “I’m not good enough”.

Way back in the early days of Scottish Developers (2004), one of the organises suggested I do a talk on SQL Injection Attacks as I had been talking about it in the pub after an event and he recognised I was quite knowledgeable about how to prevent it. I protested, but he continued to try and persuade me. Eventually I did do a talk the following year and I got good feedback from it. I thought I was behind the curve and everyone knew more than me, but it turns out that wasn’t the case.

Last year .NET Rocks came to Scotland and one of the interviewees, Chris McDermott, said he felt a little like an imposter after they had interviewed such luminaries as Dan North, folks that had published books. But, having worked with him, I know he really knows his stuff, and he gave an awesome interview.

But don’t just take my experience or others in the developer community with imposter syndrome, some really clever people including Professor Richard Feynman, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1965 for, as a he described it, as a result of piddling about with plates. He also helped develop the atom bomb in the 1940s and worked out why the Callenger Space Shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986. Yet, in a speech in the mid-1970s he said he felt like a fraud. He said he was just playing and having fun.

Meryle Streep once said in an interview: “You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Daniel Radcliffe said: I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: “Am I doing the right thing?” “Is this what I’m meant to be doing?”

So if these talented people get impostor syndrome and they’re really talented, maybe you are too. Maybe you could do this, and be really good at it.

So I encourage you to try, ask to speak at a local user group. Maybe just start with a grok talk or a lightening talk and work up. But you are better than you think you are!

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