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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome as an Engineer

As an engineer, have you ever felt as if you didn’t fit in? Like your friends or coworkers are going to find out you’re a liar who doesn’t deserve your job or achievements? If that’s the case, you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome in engineering is fairly common.

There are many workplace factors that can affect or instigate imposter syndrome. If you’re wondering, What is imposter syndrome? and whether overcoming imposter syndrome in engineering is possible, read on. We’ll go over how imposter syndrome affects engineers, how common it is, and the pros and cons of this phenomenon.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

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Imposter syndrome is a psychological state in which you believe you are not as capable as others say you are. This concept is often seen in intelligent and successful people, but it can affect anyone. Psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance coined the term in the 1970s, believing that it exclusively applied to high-achieving women. 

The syndrome can stem from perfectionism or from a person’s social environment. People who have imposter syndrome feel like they could be exposed as a fraud by their peers at any moment.

Is Imposter Syndrome Common in Engineering?

Imposter syndrome is widespread in the engineering industry, and it is more prevalent among high achievers who come from groups that are underrepresented in the industry, such as women. It also occurs at higher rates among those in the industry who don’t didn’t obtain a college degree in engineering or who come from a lower socioeconomic background.

The phenomenon is thought to be more common in engineering and tech than in some other fields because of the high number of overachievers in these jobs. 

In terms of prevalence, studies show that between nine and 82 percent of people have felt like an imposter in the workplace at some point. If you’re an engineer with imposter syndrome, you may feel that you won’t be able to complete your daily project design and development tasks correctly. However, realistically, you are completely capable of doing so. 

How Imposter Syndrome Affects Engineers

Inability to Judge Your Skills Realistically

People dealing with imposter syndrome feel that their accomplishments aren’t due to their hard work. Even if they have obtained a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Mechanical, Civil, or Software Engineering, they feel inadequate. A study at the University of California even found that among computer science students, 57 percent have experienced imposter syndrome before graduating. 

Fear of Not Living up to Expectations

If you believe you are a fraud, you will always be afraid that you’re disappointing your superiors who have high expectations for you. In engineering, this pressure might be felt more often than in other industries because the field requires a lot of teamwork to get a project to completion.

Denying Your Own Success

If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you probably downplay a lot of your accomplishments to your peers and to yourself. You might engage in a negative internal dialogue, telling yourself that you don’t deserve to be successful. Yet the reality usually is that you’ve put in a lot of time and effort into the project you’re designing, whether it’s a software system, a bridge, or a building.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Family Upbringing

Controlling or overprotective parenting may instill thinking in children that will manifest as imposter syndrome later in life. This is common in households where the parents’ behavior emphasized that success was a priority, or if they alternated between offering praise and criticism. The syndrome is also more common in households with a lot of conflict and little support.

New Work or School Opportunities 

Stepping into a difficult job, perhaps as a senior software engineer or engineering manager, might trigger imposter syndrome. The same goes for students just starting an engineering program, whether at the bachelor’s or master’s level. In these new jobs and classes, the pressure to perform and succeed combined with a lack of expertise can lead to serious feelings of inadequacy.

Social Anxiety 

Imposter syndrome and social anxiety often go hand in hand. In social contexts, including regular exchanges in the workplace, someone with social anxiety disorder will feel extreme stress. Then, besides being worried about interacting with others, they also become concerned about their work performance.

For example, giving a presentation on a project design in front of a large group of colleagues would be extremely worrisome for someone who has social anxiety and imposter syndrome.

What Imposter Syndrome Looks Like in the Workplace

There are a few types of imposter syndrome that you may experience at work. For some people, feelings that they are inferior pushes them to become a perfectionist. Others want to be the hero of every project, so they push themselves hard to complete more work than their colleagues.

Others deal with imposter syndrome by constantly trying to learn more about engineering and are never satisfied with their knowledge level. Some people attempt to combat imposter syndrome by working alone as much as possible, hoping that no one will notice their inadequacies. 

Can Imposter Syndrome Be Cured?

Although there is no specific therapy for imposter syndrome, people who are concerned about its influence on their lives should seek support from a mental health expert. Following the steps below can also help a person manage and overcome their imposter feelings.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome in Engineering

Concentrate on Others

While it may seem paradoxical, you may feel better if you attempt to assist people who are in similar situations to you. If you see someone who appears socially uncomfortable or lonely at work, ask them a question about the project they’re working on. You will gain confidence in your own abilities if you help them out. If they’re also experiencing imposter syndrome, it’ll remind you that you’re not alone.

Examine Your Abilities

If you’re starting to feel like an imposter, look inward and think practically about your skills and abilities. Then, think about how your strengths have helped you build successful engineering projects. When thinking clearly, you may find that you are more competent than you let yourself believe. 

Start Small

Don’t worry about doing everything perfectly. When you’re working on a new engineering project with a team, take it one step at a time. Anytime you take a small step forward toward accepting your success, reward yourself for taking action. For instance, if you’re in a team meeting about a recent design, challenge yourself to express your opinion of the project as a way of recognizing your own intelligence.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

When you compare yourself to others at work, you will always find that you’re different. When it comes to imposter syndrome, this means that when you’re looking at others, you’ll feel that your skills are inferior and that you don’t belong. Instead, if you’re talking to a colleague and feel inferior, listen to them and try to learn from your conversation. 

Upskill Regularly

As an engineer, you should be aware that the learning process is never-ending. For example, if you become an electrical engineer, you’ll be entering a field where new advancements are made all the time. This means you’ll have to regularly attend new engineering courses and should also be studying independently when you have time. 

How a Coding Bootcamp Can Help You Get Over Imposter Syndrome

Short, intensive coding bootcamps are a good way to overcome imposter syndrome because they are jam-packed with training in the latest technical developments. Attending a software engineering bootcamp is a great choice if you’re working in the tech industry.

Plus, bootcamps update their curricula often to make sure they are teaching the latest skills using up-to-date software. If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, learning these new skills should help you become a more confident person in the workplace.

Can Imposter Syndrome Be a Good Thing?

If you can control your imposter syndrome, it can be a good thing. Having a small amount of self-doubt can make you more humble, which means you’re likely to be a good engineering team member. However, your self-doubt must be balanced by a certain amount of confidence in your own skills and expertise. Below are some pros and cons of imposter syndrome.

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Good

Strong decision-making skills: According to some studies, having imposter thoughts leads to better interpersonal skills, such as decision-making. This is because you are willing to second-guess yourself and conduct further study before making a choice. 

Work ethic and ambition: If you have imposter syndrome, you’re likely to try harder to prove yourself than people who don’t suffer from the phenomenon. You will complete projects correctly and on time, which your superiors will recognize.

Curiosity and open-mindedness: You tend to be more curious and open to new ideas if you doubt and question yourself. This willingness to change your thinking and admit when you’re wrong is conducive to teamwork. 

Why Imposter Syndrome Is Bad

Burnout: Burnout symptoms can include emotional tiredness, a lack of motivation, and a decline in performance. If you’re dissatisfied with your job and your performance, it will cause constant tension, anxiety, and fear. Long-term experience with imposter syndrome can prevent you from reaching your full professional potential.

Isolation: If you don’t know how to hold your imposter syndrome back, it could cause you to withdraw at work. If you’re in a job that requires teamwork, like engineering, this can be a major problem. 

Complacency and uneasiness: Sometimes, if you’re too humble at work, it can make you appear complacent and leave yourself and your colleagues feeling uncomfortable. This is why imposter syndrome must be balanced out by some amount of self-confidence.

Don’t Let Imposter Syndrome Hold You Back

It’s important to remember that these feelings are natural. Imposter syndrome can strike anyone, regardless of how successful they are. Even Albert Einstein reportedly referred to himself as an “involuntary swindler.”

Self-doubt can paralyze your progress at work. However, if you know how to detect and cope with imposter syndrome, you should be able to shake off your insecurities. Just follow the steps above so you can start appreciating your own knowledge.

Imposter Syndrome in Engineering FAQ

Why is it important to learn about imposter syndrome?

Knowing how to recognize and label imposter syndrome can help people talk about it more openly. Doing so in a group setting at work can be very beneficial and therapeutic for engineers.

How does imposter syndrome affect work relationships?

People who show signs of imposter syndrome are afraid that they’ll be exposed as unintelligent or undeserving of their engineering role. This can cause them to sever personal relationships at work and choose to isolate themselves and work alone.

How does imposter syndrome affect engineering students?

At college, imposter syndrome doesn’t just stay in the classroom. Among a group of students in the same major, insecurities can seep into social settings. Once pupils have withdrawn from their peers, it can lead to failure in class. 

Can social media cause imposter syndrome?

Using social media too often can easily make people feel like they are inferior. Hence, imposter syndrome can be worsened by social media. 

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