Careers in IT can be stressful if you allow them to be. Part of that stress comes from IT infrastructure being the core of many businesses while also having limited applicable training or education for maintaining those complex systems. Those reasons are why we recently discussed implementing blame-free postmortems after incidents. Another source of the occupational stress can come from within. Two sides to the same coin, Impostor syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect can both impact your perception of the value you contribute to the organization.
Impostor syndrome can result in a person feeling unworthy of their successes. They fail to recognize their accomplishments and may chalk them up to timing, luck, or deception. While it might be perceived as an ingrained personality trait like excessive humility, it can become harmful to one’s confidence, self-esteem, satisfaction at work, and career longevity should a person leave because they feel unqualified for the role.
When it comes to IT, the Impostor syndrome can be seen from many angles. One example of the impostor syndrome involves the solution discovery-implementation cycle. It may take a very skilled person to discover a solution to a particular problem. That person finds out the solution and then documents it. Moving past the spike of their success, the implementation of the solution seems very easy or obvious, and they might feel they should have known it beforehand or come up with it earlier. Now, with their documentation, they can hand the solution off to an untrained individual who can follow the steps and implement the solution, just as the highly-skilled person.
A person with impostor feelings might work even harder to “prevent being found out” but this might perpetuate the cycle of feeling like “a fake” as the hard work and diligence leads to more praise and success.
The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where unskilled individuals mistakenly believe their abilities to be much higher than they actually are. This comes from an inability of the unskilled to see how unqualified they are, such as not being exposed to higher skilled individuals.
“The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”
The incompetent, for a given skill, will:
- fail to recognize their own lack of skill
- fail to recognize genuine skill in others
- fail to recognize how extremely inadequate they are
- recognize and acknowledge their previous lack skill, if they are later trained for that skill
In IT, this is more apparent in team environments than the solo sysadmin. It can also be a condemning role if you’re under an incompetent boss and find no room to grow and are calibrating yourself to incompetence.
So, if the competent underestimate their level of skill and the incompetent over-estimate their abilities, what can we do to make the world, or at least our workplace, a better place?
If you have impostor feelings, you can discuss these thoughts with others and get a reality check from an outside perspective. You can also identify these feelings of chronic doubt so you are aware of these automatic thoughts and weigh them accordingly.
Other things you can do:
- Get an outside perspective – an objective, external qualification of your skills such as a certification exam might give you some reassurance and a metric to rely on that you are qualified or give you some areas to work on.
- Invest in yourself – get the training you need to do your job.
- Give an honest introspection on your skills, find your strengths and weaknesses.
- Redo your resume’ so you know how to market yourself and communicate your abilities.
- Keep a list of your accomplishments in case you need a confidence booster.
- Find a mentor, somebody that you can talk to and learn from.
- Question your job’s culture to practice honest evaluations and encourage valued contributions.
This Ultimate Guide to Remote Work addresses impostor syndrome and evaluating employees that work remotely. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in more about the topic.