Dunning Kruger Effect and Imposter Syndrome

Dunning Kruger Effect vs Imposter Syndrome - The Opposites?

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This article has been in my drafts for a long time but I never clicked that Publish button as I was skeptical whether people would connect with these kinds of topics on my blog or not. But because now this thought is constantly juggling in my head, So here it goes!

Software Development is one of those fields that is fast-paced, and always in flux. It’s what makes the field so challenging, interesting, and fun all at the same time.

But that also means that you will constantly keep coming across the stuff you don’t know. And even the stuff that you use to think you know but actually you don’t, which is why a lot of us face the situation like the imposter syndrome and the Dunning Kruger effect (a lot!).

Imposter Syndrome


For those unfamiliar with the term imposter syndrome, It is when a person starts to doubt their own capabilities & accomplishments and believes that they are a fraud and have succeeded only through luck and soon people will realize they don't know what they are talking about.

It is when someone is being too hard on themselves and not giving themselves the credit for what they deserve and achieved. Instead, the achieving individuals believe that they have been only lucky in their achievements and they haven't done anything major to achieve it.

Is it good or bad?

I think the imposter syndrome is both good and bad.

It's bad because this can become a cause of anxiety and unhappiness in someone's life, who by all means should be proud of their work and accomplishments.

Furthermore, I think why so many software developers face imposter syndrome is because -

  • Measuring all the work

Whatever solution you come up with, it’s very easy to measure the “efficiency” of that solutions. And no one would feel proud if another developer came in and improved the code by 500% in a just few days where you have spent perhaps weeks or months.

This leads to the thinking that they're not qualified enough and all that they have achieved is solely through luck.

  • Global Competition

From online coding contests to interviewing to raising PRs for open-source to full-fledged industry-level product development. The software industry is very big and growing very fast, so the competition is inevitable and global – it’s not limited by physical/geographic distance.

And that is just another reason to not feel comfortable at all times.

  • Forgetting the difficulty of things

In the process of comparing, or working alongside highly capable developers, it's very easy to lose track of the high quality of work that’s going around. But I think it's OK to feel mediocre as long as you know you’re learning, growing, and contributing back to the community.

At the same time why I feel it is good is because -

Here are some reasons why:

  • It Indicates you’re pushing yourself

  • It acts as a signal that you’re gaining expertise

Dunning-Kruger effect


The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias stating the relationship between an individual’s perceived knowledge of the subject matter and its ACTUAL knowledge.

In 1999, Dunning and Kruger conducted a study: Unskilled and Unaware of It: How difficulties in Recognizing One's Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments

The result of their study found that those who are incompetent tend to overestimate their abilities, while those who are competent underestimate them

If you observe the above graph you’ll see that beginners or less experienced devs are mostly under the impression that they are familiar with all that exists in their field and they're Pro.

In the simpler way of interpreting the graph, we can say, The inexperienced do not know what they do not know.

But WHY does it happen?

It happens because the experienced developers, or those on the track to becoming experienced, know how vast the field of software development is. They know what they don’t understand.

Can you see how this can cause an imposter syndrome to come up?

By knowing this effect in addition to being aware of imposter syndrome, we can handle imposter syndrome better.

Managing Imposter Syndrome

In general, I believe the following tips help to handle imposter syndrome while understanding the Dunning Kruger Effect:

  • Make a list of your accomplishments Track your achievements. All of them. It doesn't matter how big or small it is. When something good happens, just make a note of it with a description of the effort you took to achieve it.

  • Understand the bell curve The bell curves depict that most of us are indeed average, so by learning a bit more each day or week you gradually move towards the right part of the graph. And that's what we should aim for as well. bell.jpg

  • Peer Pairing Making a “peer pair” with someone who is going through the same situation as what you’re going through. It can be helpful as you'll be able to discuss both your success and failures with them. There’s a lot of fellow beginners out there in the developer community and everyone is a newbie in something. So, you can easily find someone with whom you can share your learnings.

Apart from these suggestions, I also believe the most important part in preventing imposter syndrome comes from focusing on becoming a life-long learner. Take some time to yourself each day to read about new developments in your field, train on a technology you haven't yet used.

Pick something and practice it, regularly.

The Dunning Kruger Effect shows that the more you know, the more you feel like you don't - accept and prosper from this. If you ever feel like you don't know anything, just remember It actually means progress, It means growth, It means you still have areas where you can grow and learn

Thanks for reading :)

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Kamil Gierach-Pacanek's photo

🔥 Man that was an awesome piece to read! I'm missing these psychological and cognitive topics among the IT guys. Where I live (Poland) there is one, former, developer Maciej Aniserowicz. I tend to watch his videos as often he depicted the similar, analytic point of view, from the perspective of IT guy.

I find it refreshing that you rise the Imposter Syndrome topic but also mentioned the Dunning Kruger Effect, which I didn't recall, but understood the meaning of.

Apoorv Tyagi, please don't feel the pressure, but I would gladly read more of these, if you consider ever writing about your thoughts about #devlife in the future.

One question though: you've said that "imposter syndrome is both good and bad" - but you just focused on the disadvantages. Mistake or am I missing something :)?

Apoorv Tyagi's photo

Thanks a lot Kamil Gierach-Pacanek for your words🙏

I am glad that you've liked it because as I mentioned I never thought someone would connect with such a topic and especially for me because I was writing it for the first time.

and thank you for the suggestion, I don't know if I have anything more to say but I'd definitely consider writing about more such topics in the future as well.

And to answer your question, yes, that's a mistake on my part 🤦‍♂️, I missed writing about why I think it is good (I will update it)

But in short, Why I considered it to be a good thing is because I realized that I was making myself grow in my career and making it more challenging which is why I started getting these thoughts :)

Thanks again! 😃

Kamil Gierach-Pacanek's photo

Yeah, that's why we are here, right? To share what we are learning both for others and for documenting our path for ourselves.

To keep us away from thinking we are "too dumb" - because all these articles didn't write themselves.

George Silva's photo

Interesting article. I think at some levels - all human beings have some sort of imposter syndrome.

In some cases, it is aggravated by a competitive environment. In other cases aggravated by a perception of a competitive environment - even if it's a properly interesting collaborative environment.

Your article covers well a range of interesting points for us to keep an eye on - but I would add another one: understand your environment.

Toxic environments or highly competitive environments are not interesting for anyone and we, as professionals, should understand what are those and tell tales signs of "bad".

All in all, self-knowledge is super important and I'd recommend for everyone investing a bit on this. It will help you as a life-long learner, as a professional and a human being.

Again, good article.

Apoorv Tyagi's photo

Thank you very much George Silva!

I completely agree with you on both the points you mentioned especially investing in your self knowledge. Because in any field where we are making progress so fast, it is important to keep learning and investing in yourself otherwise you start to feel like you've left behind even if you have several achievements under your belt from the past.

Melanie Loomos's photo

Human Factors and Ergonomics in the coding community. You may be one of the first to write about it.

Apoorv Tyagi's photo

Probably. I hope you liked it though :)

Lakshya Singh's photo

I recently started feeling impostor syndrome because of a major success that I got, and now since day 1 of results, I started having thoughts that will I even be able to work the thing for which I was selected. I will try to do what you suggested. Thanks a lot for this :)

Apoorv Tyagi's photo

Lakshya Singh I am sure whatever success you've got, you totally deserve it.

These tips helped me and I am sure they can help you as well👍