Take a moment today and donate The Ada Initiative

10:57 am Uncategorized

As you enjoy your weekend, take note that today is the last stretch of the Ada Initiative fundraising campaign.

I actually promised at the first AdaCamp in Melbourne that I would blog about Imposter Syndrome, and so now I will finally make good on that promise. The experience at AdaCamp was amazing for me and the more support we can drive to The Ada Initiative to be able to continue their good works the better! I was so lucky to attend, as I was keynoting LCA and Marina Zhurakhinskaya suggested I look into going a couple of days early for it.

AdaCamp was actually my very first unconference, and I remember being a little bit nervous when I put a post-it up on the wall suggesting an Imposter Syndrome session. I had never talked about Imposter Syndrome in public before and I wasn’t sure it was the best topic to propose (especially around so many talented and accomplished women). When the time for the session came, the room was full. I was floored.

For those of you who don’t know about it, Imposter Syndrome is exactly as it sounds. It’s the feeling (no matter how capable you are) that you are a fraud and that at any point you will be found out to not know what you are talking about. There are many better descriptions that a basic web search will bring you to. In my case, I am lucky enough to be in such niche fields that I *know* there aren’t that many people who know as much or more than me about the particular issues. I mean, how many people have thought deeply about free and open source software in medical devices from a public safety perspective? How many freedom fighting cyborg lawyers can there be? And yet, every time I’m asked to do an interview or make a speech I worry that I’ll be asked a question that I won’t know the answer to and it will turn out that I don’t know what I’m talking about afterall. I scour my research in a panic beforehand, every time. Of course it turns out that when I don’t know the answer to a question, it’s for good reason. But when the presentation or interview is over I am so relieved to have scraped by again. Rationally, I’ve known for some time that this is a bit silly.

I was once asked to be interviewed for a documentary on software patents (Patent Absurdity). I referred the interviewer to a number of other experts, including Dan Ravicher, Eben Moglen and Mark Webbink, saying that I wasn’t the right person to speak on the issue. The interviewer told me that he had asked quite a number of women to participate in the documentary but that they all had said the same thing as me. He told me that in fact, more than one person he’d consulted had suggested me for the interview and so he was sure I was right for it. He also told me that he was having the hardest time getting any of the women who other people had suggested as knowledgable to agree to an interview which made the documentary look very off balanced (especially as compared to the recommendations he was getting from other experts). So I agreed to do the documentary. It was very eye opening for me.

When I found out about Imposter Syndrome the first time I couldn’t believe that what I was feeling was actually part of a documented phenomenon. I read about accomplished women (and some men too) who felt the way I did and I started to feel like I had some tools to deal with it. But really it was during the AdaCamp session that I felt I had turned a corner. I still feel small waves of panic when I must hold myself out as an expert, but I have much more confidence in my knowledge and value as someone worth consulting on all matters related to software freedom.

The Ada Intiative is such an important organization (I’m one of their advisors now). Please take a minute today to give them a donation. Our free and open source software communities are already better for their work. If you’re reading this after the fundraising campaign is over, please still give them a donation!

One Response

  1. Jonathan Wilkes Says:

    Thanks so much for bring up Imposter Syndrome. I’ve seen it rear its ugly head on several free software mailing lists in the past month alone.

    I’m interested in techniques that can be used to minimize its effect in online forums and mailing lists. What I have so far is fairly simple:

    No. 1: 100% unmoderated discussion (spam excepted). Imposter Syndrome is typically associated with being a dissident in some respect– whether its lack of formal education, innovating that’s hard to understand or convey initially, or merely having a trait that seems tangential to a topic but nonetheless strays from a norm or stereotype. It’s a truism that in these cases the sufferer of Imposter Syndrome needs more space/time to express/explain their ideas than one espousing conventional wisdom. In a moderated medium– especially on a heated topic– the sufferer is always anxious the thread will get cut off before he/she can be understood, leading to a vicious cycle where either a) the sufferer communicates, worried they’ll appear as a troll, or b) they choose not to communicate and make the problem worse. Alternatively, on an unmoderated medium even the act of testing for unmoderation in good faith– e.g., seeing that one’s dissident views in a heated discussion remain posted and visible– can alleviate some of the symptoms.
    No. 2: 0% sarcasm, or at _least_ 0% sarcasm/shorthand aimed at newcomers. No need for an explanation, just vigilance.

    These are necessary but insufficient as a starting point. On the other hand: show me a moderated list that encourages sarcasm/shorthand and I’ll show you an insular boys’ club that punishes participation.

    It’d be neat to have an iconic badge that can be displayed when these (and possibly other conditions) are met by the discussion medium.