Embrace your Imposter Syndrome

K Hodges
4 min readMar 6, 2018
“Wait, you’re Nelson Bighetti? You were on the cover of Wired!” “Yeah, and actually on the inside too.”

Someone close to me messaged today and asked a strange question.

“What do you say in the mirror every morning to give you that unbridled confidence in what you do? I need to know.”

I was flattered, but I didn’t have an answer. In fact, I didn’t realize that I was even perceived that way. I certainly don’t always feel that way. I thought about the question, and it turns out the answer is both simple and a major attribute of many successful people (and also me, a grown man who watches anime).

Embrace your Imposter Syndrome.

“Impostor syndrome 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’.” — Wikiedia

In other words, it’s that feeling that you suck at $thing because you aren’t like $person_who_is_good_at_thing or can’t do $hard_thing and therefor don’t deserve to be where you’ve gotten.

If you can’t relate to this, I’m jealous. Just continue being awesome, this is for the rest of us.

Step 1: Appreciate awesome people.

One of my oldest friends and I started writing code around the same time. He is now a Ph.D. and one of the biggest names in the field of Deep Learning and Computer Vision. One drinking buddy of mine gives conference talks about hacking the Russian mafia. I sit across from the guy that wrote the most used big data analytics platform in the world. The two engineers next to him, are both Army SIGINT. I’m never the smartest guy in any room.

When you have imposter syndrome, this sucks.

You end up thinking silly shit like “I’m not a Ph.D. who writes books on Deep Learning, hell, I’m a GED who probably couldn’t even read a book on Deep Learning. I’m not a real programmer” and end up not picking up that really good book

In reality, this comes from a weird combination of envy and admiration. The trick is start identifying these qualities that make these people extraordinary. ____ is an awesome ____ because they ____. The other trick is to realize that if these extraordinary people are around you, there must be something about you that is worth their time. You’re not that good of an imposter.

Step 2: Do Hard Stuff.

Here’s something I’m not sure I’ve ever even actually admitted to anybody:

A number of years ago, I got a call from an Amazon recruiter. I was beyond excited, (and also wondered how I had fooled them into calling me). We got to the tech interview, and all of the questions were about very Computer Sciencey stuff, like O(n) and HeapSorts and stuff. I bombed. It sucked. I actually went through a long bout of depression.

I wasn’t a real programmer because I didn’t really understand Computer Sciency stuff like Data Structures and Algorithms.

Turns out, that sentence itself was an algorithm. The imposter syndrome algorithm. I’m not _____ because I can’t ______.

I had decided that I wasn’t a real programmer. I wasn’t sure I had what it took to even learn that stuff, but I figured I’d better find out before I looked for a new career. So I bought a book called Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and got to work. Astoundingly, while really really difficult, I actually understood some of it and it felt really good.

Achieving something that you had previously deemed out of your reach feels really good. It’s critical that you learn to accept that accomplishment feeling. After all, if you weren’t a real ____ because you couldn’t ____, and you learned to do that- doesn’t that mean you’re at least on the right track to becoming a non-imposter?

Step 3: Learn to Love the Hard Stuff.

I started keeping track of every time I felt like an imposter. I didn’t know Java. or Functional Programming. I didn’t know how to build an Operating System. I didn’t know how a compiler worked.

Something that you learn after you start knocking off these listen items, is that to some degree, most of these challenges are well within your scope. Maybe not mastering the subject, but there are plenty of options to do things that you previously thought impossible. Yes, even OS Dev.

The beauty is that the more you identify and conquer these challenges, the easier they’ll seem. The easier they seem, the more you want to take on challenges.

It’s absolutely addictive, and it simple enough to make a habit out of. So find that ‘real programmer’ in your life, identify $thing that makes you an imposter, and go figure out how to do it.

At the very least, it will make you a better imposter.



K Hodges

“Defense Researcher” according to Reuters, Chelsea Manning Fan Fiction Author, Delightful Degenerate