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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: A Retrospective on My First Consulting Experience

October 11, 2023 | 6 Minute Read

Imposter syndrome is something many professionals struggle with and must overcome at some point in their careers. It can begin with minor feelings of self-doubt and evolve into more significant questions about self-worth and feeling like a fraud.  

When I accepted my job at Improving and was placed with my first client, the symptoms of imposter syndrome surfaced. Feelings of uncertainty and the fear that I would not meet the expectations of excellence upheld by Improving and myself.

Mason Steeger

Photo 1 - Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: A Retrospective on My First Consulting Experience Blog

Luckily, the client I was placed with made me feel like a part of the team instantly. This did not necessarily aid me in my journey to overcome imposter syndrome, but simply fueled my desire to exceed my own expectations.  

After working with the client for a time, I realized I was doing work that met my own and Improving's expectations. I also noticed myself actively trying to build a few atomic habits that helped me in my journey to overcoming imposter syndrome.  

Effective Communication: Interacting with Leaders and Peers 

At the beginning of my time with the client, I found myself constantly asking questions to team members. Not only was I asking about their systems or best practices, but most importantly, I was asking for feedback. Feedback on my performance, feedback on the work I had done, and feedback on my ideas for the work I was currently doing. I was constantly making sure that I was on the right path and meeting the client’s expectations. 

Along with my barrage of questions to the client, I was also asking related questions to my Delivery Lead at Improving. I would talk with him about how I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right things for the client or doing enough work, and he would always reassure me during our one-on-ones that I was meeting expectations. 

This continuous feedback loop made sure I was on the right track, doing the right things, and asking the right questions. It also helped reaffirm that I was on a team of people who all wanted success and to help anyone who needed it. This helped to clear my mind of some doubt that I was in the wrong place or didn’t belong. When trying to overcome imposter syndrome, silence and taking guesses can be your worst enemy. Always ask questions and always seek feedback to keep yourself moving forward.  

For more information on communication, you can explore a fantastic article by our Senior Consultant Emily Stickle on Communication Myths and Truths, which highlights the importance of continuous communication and feedback. 

Embracing Uncertainty: Finding Comfort in the Unknown 

Imposter syndrome can fill you with self-doubt when you don't have an immediate answer. It can make you feel afraid to ask a question for fear of being exposed as a fraud. In reality, not everyone has the answers for everything. In fact, sometimes no one knows the answer to the question you have!  

This was an issue that I faced right when I began with the client. I was presented with an engineering problem that involved a library a former team member was using, which had little documentation. Most of the answers to my questions about this wound up being dead ends, but part of the beauty of engineering lies in discovering the answer! Immediately not knowing the answer doesn’t make you an imposter, it’s simply an opportunity for you to grow. 

Thinking back to my very first program, a simple “Rock, Paper, Scissors” game that you could play from the command line, I remembered how much I struggled to get it to work. I was happy with that program at the time, but now I could easily write the same program with a better solution in under an hour. I came to realize that over my two-year journey as a software developer, I had experienced significant growth, and learning how to tackle new challenges was simply part of the job.  

Learning can only happen when you don’t know something, and it is important to be comfortable with uncertainty when it presents itself. Now, when I am faced with a problem with no readily available solutions, I get excited knowing that cognitive dissonance is the first step to learning something new and learning new things is just a part of the job.  

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Just Doing It: My Approach to Workplace Excellence 

After realizing that I had people that I could rely on to support me and answer my questions and became more comfortable tackling problems without clear answers, the only thing left to do was do the work. The more work I did, the more I became comfortable with the systems and technologies the client used, and my feelings of imposter syndrome dwindled. 

It wasn’t that the problems got any less difficult, I was simply gaining experience and understanding that I didn’t have before. I did the work, not to the bare minimum, but to the best of my current ability. When I was done, I asked about my code, got feedback, made edits, and continued the cycle until it was clean and functional. As time went on, fewer cycles were needed until my code was in a state that I was happy with and was acceptable to live in the client’s codebase.  

Mistakes and repetition are crucial for growth, which is why simply doing the work is so important. People make mistakes at all levels of development, that’s why we review code before merging into production. And that feedback is always valuable, because the next time you come across a similar issue, you already have an answer in your back pocket from experience. 

The journey of a developer doesn’t really end with schooling or bootcamp. It begins at your first job! Every day you work, you are growing and improving in your craft, and if you strive for excellence, that journey never truly ends. 

Admire Your Success: Understanding and Acknowledging Personal Strengths 

After a year with the client, I was informed that I would be moved off the project at the end of the month. My team was upset to see me leave but sent me off with well wishes. On my last day, one of the engineers gave me a compliment: “You aren’t afraid to tackle big things head-on and really dive deep to find a solution, and that is the mark of a good engineer.”  

I still felt good about that compliment after I left the client. It prompted me to reflect on what I accomplished to deserve such praise. Was it the amount of work that I did, or possibly the quality of my work?  

Both may have played a factor, but the biggest and most important thing was that I really did try my best every single day. And because of that, I succeeded in providing the client with the services that they needed, which is something to be proud of.  

The more I thought about the work I did, I found that self-promotion and admiring my work are critical to overcoming imposter syndrome as a common symptom is not recognizing your accomplishments. 

Whether it is from day one of coding to the end of school, or day one of your first job to now, looking back and seeing your accomplishments that are worth celebrating is great! I believe it truly helps demonstrate that you are not an imposter, and you never were. It shows that you are dedicated to learning, and your growth in whatever craft you may practice.  

 Ready to start your journey with Improving? Check out our current job openings here.


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