Several years ago, I had a nightmare that haunted me for weeks.
At the time I was going through a major transition in my life.
I had just left the security of my corporate developer job to run my own business.
It was sink or swim—and my family (including my 1-month-old infant son) was counting on me to make this new venture work.
Many nights I would lay awake in bed, my stomach writhing inside me, wondering:
"What am I DOING?!?"
Then came the nightmare:
In the dream, I had somehow landed a major project.
This project involved working for a mentor of mine—a highly successful businessman and consultant who I've followed for years, and who has taught me most of what I know about business and entrepreneurship.
As I worked on this project, there came a point where my mentor reviewed the work I had done.
And he just tore into me, screaming and cussing me out at the top of his lungs:
"What is this $#%&? How dare you call yourself a professional!?!"
"You're a joke—a complete fraud! GET OUT!"
I snapped awake, sweating and trembling.
And for weeks after that I found myself replaying that movie in my head whenever I faced the uncertainty of a challenging task.
Now that dream had no basis in reality.
The mentor in the dream is the kind of guy who will encourage you even as he corrects your mistakes.
And I was plenty competent at what I was doing—I had put in the hard work and study to hone my skills.
Looking back, I was well ahead of many people I've met since who call themselves "professionals."
None of it mattered.
That accusation, "YOU'RE A FRAUD!", snarled at me by a person I deeply respected—
It rattled me.
The reason this dream affected me so deeply is that...
Throughout my career I have harbored a secret dread of being "found out"
Hi, I'm Josh Earl, former .NET and iOS developer and, these days, CEO of Simple Programmer.
I've come a long way since that day when I first fired up a text editor and tentatively tapped in a few lines of alien-looking symbols.
And one thing I've noticed along the way is this:
There's a voice in the back of my mind that seems to wake up whenever I take a significant step forward.
"You don't deserve to be here," it says. "The only reason you made it this far is just blind luck. And guess what buddy—your luck is about to run out. Then everyone will see what you really are. You're just a fluke, a phony, a fraud."
It was there when I picked up a programming book for the first time, with the intention of changing careers:
"You're just a writer, a liberal arts major. You're not smart enough for a technical career."
It was there as I interviewed for entry level software jobs:
"You don't know what you're talking about, and they can see right through you."
It was there every time I'd have a performance review or one-on-one with my manager:
"This will be the time, I just know it—he's realized his mistake. He's on to me now."
And you can bet it's been yammering away since I stepped up and took a more public role as the CEO of Simple Programmer:
"You're no John Sonmez—who are you to give anyone advice on their career?"
For the longest time though, I thought it was just me.
I remember the first time I heard the term "Imposter Syndrome"
At the time I was working as a SharePoint developer—a job I somehow landed after teaching myself rudimentary HTML and PHP.
I was home from work because a snowstorm had clobbered my neighborhood the night before.
So I was out in my driveway, heaving giant shovelfuls of snow and listening to a podcast with Scott Hanselman.
Scott was describing how he has this irrational worry that any day now he's going to be found out as a fake or a fraud.
"When I was 21 I was untouchable. I thought I was a gift to the world and you couldn't tell me anything. The older I get the more I realize that I'm just never going to get it all, and I don't think as fast as I used to. What a phony."
And I was like, "Hey, that's me! You mean someone else feels like that too?"
Over the years, I've had the opportunity to speak to lots of other developers about this.
They've told me things like:
I feel that I’ll get a tap on the shoulder at any moment, letting me know I've been fired.
I’m the highest level (and paid) software engineer on my team and I’m just as insecure in my abilities as ever. I feel like I’m actually over paid for what I do. I didn’t ask for the higher level and I know I don’t deserve it, but that’s how it ended after converting from contractor to perm. I have confidence in my abilities in learning new stuff but when it comes to algorithms and patterns, I feel like I’m lacking. Before my current position, I had an interview with a major bank; it was one of those interviews where they give you a program to write and sit right next to you. The interview had four sections (1 hour each) like that and I just buckled. There are time when I still make junior mistakes and I feel like such a dumbass.
I definitely struggle with my self-confidence. I’m a self taught front-end developer. I work at a fairly large company with about 150 developers and engineers. I’m grateful I was able to break in to the field, especially at a company with so many intelligent people. I definitely feel the imposter syndrome though, I’ve been here almost 2 years. I’ve always been able to figure out almost any task, but I don’t get too many tasks that really challenge me. They go to the more senior members on the team. I also often just don’t feel educated enough to even participate in some of the conversations we have at work around technologies. A lot of it is really just not feeling educated enough. I can do my work, but just feel super inexperienced even after doing this a couple years.
For me, self-confidence is holding me back in a number of subtle, and not-so-subtle ways. I ask myself questions like this pretty often through the day:
- Who am I to ask for a meeting and talk about how we can improve the team structure? People would probably not want to be in that meeting.
- Why should I push people to help me? I will just be an inconvenience.
- Why should I assertively draw a line? Then people won't want to be around me because I'm not a nice, deal-with-everything kind of person.
How is that that developers ranging from new graduates to experienced veterans—and even "celebrity developers" like Scott Hanselman—all deal with this nagging sense that all of the success they've experience in their career is just an elaborate shell game?
What is going on here?
Where does Imposter Syndrome come from, anyway?
Imposter Syndrome isn't something you're born with—it's something that takes hold over time.
It's ironic, but Imposter Syndrome usually affects people who are high-intelligence and high-achievers.
(Sound like any software developers you know?)
The process starts when you're young.
As a kid, you're constantly growing and learning, and you start to gravitate toward things where you have some innate ability, and away from things where you don't have as much of an advantage.
This happens very naturally due to positive and negative reinforcement.
Maybe your friends were impressed the first time you hacked one of your favorite games—positive feedback.
In other areas you have negative experiences—your classmates laughed when you tried to kick a ball and missed.
Over time you start to derive your identity from your successes, the things that get you praise and acceptance.
And at the same time your brain is also building an "anti-identity" of things you're NOT good at—the things you've tried that caused negative feedback.
These negative events may seem relatively minor.
To your brain though, they are NOT.
For much of human history, "having a negative experience" meant you wound up dead.
The world today is much safer—but your brain doesn't know that.
Your brain responds to negative experiences by going into "life or death" mode.
This is great when your survival really IS on the line, but it can also cause major problems.
When I was a kid in the '80s, my favorite show was Knight Rider.
The show featured the crime-fighting duo of Michael Knight (played by David Hasselhoff) and KITT, an autonomous talking car.
KITT was this killer tricked out black Trans Am—he was bullet proof, could turn his tires into a hydrofoil to traverse water, fire his "turbo boosters" to jump huge ravines, etc.
He had one weakness though:
KITT was programmed to always, unquestioningly preserve human life.
I remember one episode where an enemy exploited this and forced KITT to drive himself straight off a cliff trying to protect the life of his partner, Michael.
Your brain is a lot like that.
Your brain is wired first and foremost to keep you alive.
So when you're doing something that your brain associates with "danger,"
it's going to throw all kinds of roadblocks in you way to try to stop you.
This is a normal, protective function.
Here's where things can go haywire.
If you're challenging yourself and growing in your career, it's inevitable that at some point, you're going to have a significant negative experience in an area where you've always considered yourself strong in the past.
Maybe you graduate from high school where you were one of the top students, and get accepted into a university where you're now "average"—and you find yourself struggling to keep up.
Maybe you land a new job that's a major step up from where you've been, and you look around and realize you're the dumbest guy in the room.
Maybe you switch technology stacks and find that a lot of what you already know is instantly irrelevant.
Maybe you even get *fired* from a job that was a little over your head.
In other words, something happens that challenges you in an area where you've always considered yourself strong.
Your armor is breached.
Suddenly you feel vulnerable.
All the negative emotions you've always associated with areas where you're weak start to flood in.
Your brain doesn't know the difference between this kind of stress and a true life-and-death situation, and it kicks into "keep him alive" mode.
You start to have all kinds of mental resistance getting thrown in your path.
Since this is the ONE area where you've always thought you had your $&*^ together, you start to question EVERYTHING.
"It was all just a fluke."
"I just got lucky."
"I didn't earn my success."
"I don't deserve to be here."
"Pretty soon they're going to figure out that I don't belong."
"I'm a total fraud."
Now the immediate problem with Imposter Syndrome is pretty obvious.
You feel insecure about yourself and your work, even miserable at times.
A sense of dread looms over every code review, team meeting and lunch conversation...
"Will this be the time I say something that finally gives me away?"
Here's the real problem with all of this:
Any immediate discomfort you feel is just the tip of the iceberg.
When you stay stuck in this mode, Imposter Syndrome pushes you toward all kinds of self-sabotaging behaviors that will derail your career
You may turn in low-quality work, because after all you're really just a drag on the team...
You may find yourself procrastinating, because completing a task means facing possible failure...
You may avoid taking on additional responsibility, because drawing attention to yourself will mean unmasking your incompetence...
You may avoid taking on even moderately risky projects, because deep down you just KNOW that you'll fail...
You may withdraw, "go dark" and stop communicating, because every time you open your mouth people see right through you...
All that is bad enough day to day.
Over time however all this puts a huge drag on your career.
For starters, if you exhibit a couple of these behaviors consistently, you'll probably get yourself fired.
Or like one programmer I know, you might find yourself demoted from developer to a support desk role that you "deserve."
Where Imposter Syndrome REALLY hurts you though is during transitions.
For example, when it's time to apply for a promotion:
One developer I spoke with recently has an opportunity to apply for a senior position within a company where he's already working.
He's already doing the work of a senior developer, yet his salary and title are junior level.
When I pushed him about why he hasn't applied, he confessed to feeling scared.
He feels that because he sometimes makes small mistakes, he's convinced he'll be denied the promotion.
And so he's holding himself back from even trying.
This is common.
Even when they've proven they can do the work, developers who have Imposter Syndrome will often rationalize themselves out of opportunities:
"I'm not qualified. I don't have enough experience. I don't know enough yet."
Then there's interviewing:
If a developer with Imposter Syndrome does manage to apply for a new job, they find a way to kneecap themselves during the interview.
They may walk in with their tail between their legs, dreading the inevitable moment when they'll be laughed out of the room...
And spend most of the interview running down their own knowledge and experience.
Or else they try to cover up their insecurity with false bravado and get themselves in trouble by claiming to know more than they really do.
Then there's salary negotiations:
A developer with a bad case of imposter syndrome is pretty much dead in the water when it comes to negotiations.
The most typical scenario is you view yourself as lucky to have a job offer at all.
You worry that counter offering will cause them to take a second look, and decide you aren't really worth hiring after all.
So you grudgingly accept whatever lowball offer the company throws your way.
Or if you do make a counter offer, you do it in such a weak way that the company knows you're not serious. (I've been guilty of this mistake myself, several times over.)
Then there's staying in a job too long:
This is a huge problem for many of the developers who email me with questions.
One developer I spoke with feels completely trapped in his dead-end job.
The technology he works with day in and day out is one the industry left for dead 20 years ago.
He hasn't learned anything new in years.
Every day he spends in this job is one where his skills continue to atrophy and the world leaves him farther and farther behind...
The Imposter voice in his mind tells him he's not good enough to do anything else—and he believes it.
This is an excellent example of how Imposter Syndrome can become a self-reinforcing, downward spiral.
And it can be VERY hard to escape.
Why is it so hard to overcome Imposter Syndrome?
The reason it can be so hard to overcome Imposter Syndrome is that most of what's happening is occurring below the surface, at a subconscious level.
Science has shown that as much of 95% of the actions we take are automatic—your brain is rerunning "legacy code" over and over to conserve energy and help you focus on tasks that demand your full attention.
Most of the time this is a good thing.
You don't want to have to muster all of your mental resources to brush your teeth.
But when your brain gets programmed by powerful, emotional experiences to view certain kinds of challenges as a threat to your very survival...
Then every time you encounter that kind of situation in the future, it's going to default to behaviors designed to keep you alive.
Not only that, but these mental programs get more efficient and more "hard-wired" every time they execute.
So Imposter Syndrome is self-reinforcing—imposter feelings beget imposter actions, which beget more imposter feelings...
So what CAN you do about it?
Because Imposter Syndrome an automated, self-reinforcing response, in order to combat it, you have to interrupt the cycle.
You need the ability to instantly spot when Imposter Syndrome is starting to kick in...
Then you need the ability to set a "mental breakpoint" to pause the legacy code at the critical moment as it begins to run.
And instead of executing the default script, sinking into the same old negative downward spiral of self-doubt and retreating and withdrawing from the world...
You "hotswap" in a new set of instructions that allow you to quickly move past those feelings, recover your footing, engage and take action...
And that action in turn creates new powerful, emotional experiences that begin to rewrite your mental "legacy code."
Giving you a systematic way to do this is the purpose of...
The Imposter Solution
The Imposter Solution is a three-week program designed to give you a set of practical strategies for triumphing over Imposter Syndrome.
In this course, you'll discover how to recognize the patterns and situations that trigger the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome—feelings like overwhelm, inadequacy, and fear of failure and being "found out."
Then your instructors, Simple Programmer coaches Jason Humphrey and Josh Earl, will walk you through creating your own, customized Imposter Syndrome action plan.
This one-page action plan is like a "cheat sheet" that you can refer to when you find yourself in a difficult situation.
Whenever you start to feel Imposter Syndrome start to rear its ugly head, you can grab your action plan and see at a glance what technique to apply to short-circuit destructive thought patterns and get yourself moving in the right direction again.
In addition, you'll build long-term habits that will begin to reprogram your brain to avoid the "I'm a fraud" downward spiral.
None of this is "woo woo" navel gazing BS.
Everything you'll get in this program is practical AND actionable.
Here's a preview of what you'll get:
Get personal, hands-on coaching from Simple Programmer instructors Jason Humphrey and Josh Earl.
Jason and Josh will guide you as you apply the program to your own specific situation—then hold you accountable to IMPLEMENT what you've said you're going to do.
You'll get an invitation to a private discussion group where Jason and Josh will answer your questions in weekly "office-hours" sessions.
And you'll have the opportunity to schedule 2 live, 1-on-1 coaching and accountability sessions with Jason.
Meet Your Instructors
Jason Humphrey is the creator of MEAN Stack JS and the top career coach for Thinkful, the largest online developer bootcamp in the industry.
At Thinkful Jason has personally coached more than 250 developers and, in the process, earned himself a reputation as a "fixer."
Thinkful is unusual because it guarantees its graduates a job. And when a student is struggling, they bring in Jason.
As a result he works with the students facing the biggest challenges—not the ones who just need to work a little harder, but the students with major confidence problems, and even pathological liars.
Over and over, Jason's helped these tough cases overcome their challenges and launch successful careers.
In addition to these "SOS coaching" sessions, Jason has also mentored 36 students from start to finish in the 6-month-long Thinkful program.
Developers routinely sign up for Thinkful to mentor under Jason, and Thinkful has had to create a waiting list to accommodate requests for his coaching and mock interview sessions.
Students he's mentored have received offers and jobs from major companies including Google, Intel, Apple, Lyft, Twilio, Fidelity, IBM, 3M, BBVA Bank, and GE.
Jason is also one of the few developers to have personally mentored under Simple Programmer founder John Sonmez. Jason worked with John for two years while building his reputation as a full stack developer and career coach.
Josh Earl is a self-taught .NET and iOS developer and the CEO of Simple Programmer.
Josh first partnered up with Simple Programmer founder John Sonmez in 2015, and together they grew the company by 400%.
Josh coaches developers who want to grow their careers and launch their own businesses.
I ultimately came in contact with Jason through Thinkful when I was seriously struggling to progress and debating quitting.
Before I gave up Thinkful paired me with their "SOS" mentor—they said he was the best.
Jason matched his reputation completely.
He was a mentor in every sense of the word. He was social, intelligent, confident, and empathetic, everything I aspired to be as a developer.
Not only did I progress technically, but I gained so much confidence that I could step into an interview or an entry level position and succeed. Our conversations helped me learn to treat coding interviews less like an inquisition and more like a conversation in itself, which absolutely helped me land my current job.
I would highly recommend Jason as a mentor.
The ultimate way to hack the coding interview is to walk into a room that's already "warm."
The people you're meeting already know and like you.
You don't have to prove anything—they already know what you're capable of.
You're feeling relaxed because you don't really need this job. In fact, you didn't even apply—you're only here because they invited you.
Instead of the usual gauntlet of technical challenges, the "interview" is more like a friendly chat.
You're their first choice for the job—they may even make you an offer on the spot.
That may sound far-fetched, but as many developers have discovered, it's actually fairly common when you position yourself as a respected authority with the approach outlined by John Sonmez in How to Market Yourself as a Software Developer.
The techniques in this course take some time and consistency to work—it's not an overnight process.
Developers who follow this plan report that they've had interviewers recognize them and say they've been following their work for years.
Others regularly receive unsolicited job offers and consulting engagements.
This course is regularly priced at $299.
You get full access at no cost.
I got assigned to work with Jason as my mentor when I was going through the Thinkful program.
Jason shines the moment you start talking to him. After my first session I knew I had a good mentor.
He was very open to me asking stupid questions. Like really stupid questions.
There's a famous physics professor called Dr. Feynman. His theory is if you understand something well, you should be able to explain it to four year old kid.
Jason can do that.
He also gives very practical advice. He doesn't beat around the bushes—he's the type of mentor that will demonstrate rather than talking about it.
I'm living proof that Jason's approach works.
No matter what point you are in your readiness for an interview or for finding a career, Jason can prepare you even better.
He can bring you to that next point where you don't get nervous and you seem prepared. He just makes me feel really calm.
To go into your interview feeling prepared and confident in yourself is worth all the money in the world.
There aren't a lot of opportunities in the world where you could actually pay for that, but I think that that's something Jason can legitimately offer.
And it might come with a little tough love, but it's worth it.
Jason's the reason that I chose this specific field. Watching him be successful in it, and knowing him personally, knowing that I could definitely do this too was a huge motivator.
But then after that he helped from everything from technical questions to imposter syndrome, to interview questions, to my career path.
Jason's clearly understands what he's talking about, and he has pushed through the same fears that you're having.
There was a waiting list to get mentored by Jason, but I was able to book two mock interviews with him.
He gave me really good feedback on the interview process in a way that I didn't get with other mentors.
He was really good at pinpointing things that I was missing from the interview process that I wouldn't have been able to pick up on my own.
On one of our interviews, I wasn't able to finish the exercise. And he said, "I want you to finish it and send it to me this weekend."
And I went and did that. He held me accountable—that was important.
Working with Jason was like working with a friend I've been knowing since childhood.
Jason's approach to learning was very compatible to mine, and he was very effective at explaining seemingly complex coding concepts to me.
I think Jason is flexible enough to be able to effectively mentor/work with any kind of personality type, so long as the aspiring developer has some enthusiasm to learn.
Working with Jason and implementing as much of his feedback as I could to improve my interviewing skills led to a massive boost in my confidence. I was able to carry this confidence into all of the interviews that I went into. At one point, I actually had an interviewer comment to me that he felt like he was being interviewed.
I honestly had a ridiculous success rate for my job hunt. For most of the companies that I spoke with, I was able to make it past the phone screen / culture screen.
Of the in-person interviews that I attended (three total), I received offers for all three positions.
Jason's coaching strongly contributed to quickly obtaining the job that I wanted after I graduated from Thinkful.
At Thinkful you have your mentor assigned.
Jason was never assigned to me, but he accepts people scheduling calls with him just because he wants to help people.
I deeply appreciate that. I'm thankful for him for taking time to help me.
Jason was more than just a coach on programming.
More than just the technical parts, he taught me how to have a routine, how to troubleshoot, not only in code but what's going wrong in my life; get organized, get clear, become professional.
What I've learned about Jason is he's a guy that puts in the work. He's not good at this by coincidence.
And I try to emulate him by doing the work and keeping myself going.
I had four different mentors when I was at Thinkful.
Most of the other guys were clock watchers. You know? They were down to the second, and if they didn't have your stuff ... it was, "Deal with it tomorrow."
Jason isn't that way.
Jason is concerned about people individually.
He's not somebody that just says, "These are the exact steps that you go through."
He is very interested in you as an individual, and will adapt to your individual needs.
He's also very encouraging. He can go through things that, he's comfortable with dealing with difficult issues.
He can also tell you that you're being an idiot without telling you you're an idiot.
Which is actually a pretty useful skill.
Jason puts you at ease right away.
He's a very talented, knowledgeable and personable mentor who seems very adept at finding whatever particular struggle you are having and focusing on that.
My experience mentoring under him was very fruitful and I was very lucky to have him.
The material you'll get in this program is the most practical, actionable help for overcoming Imposter Syndrome that you'll find anywhere.
Still, I recognize that you're making an investment here.
The last thing I want is for you to pass on this because you’re not sure it’ll work for you. I *know* it will, so here’s my offer to you:
Take this course for a 90-day test drive.
Go through the entire program.
Try out the strategies you receive.
And if for some reason you don’t agree that this program has given you the tools to overcome Imposter Syndrome, I will cheerfully refund your money with no hassles at any time within the next 3 months.
All the risk is on me.