On Being a Capable Impostor

I've been doing some form of computer engineering or another since I was about 4 years old when I first copied a bunch of lines of BASIC out of a spiral bound systems' manual for the family RadioShack Tandy TRS 80. My father showed me how to do it and helped me debug it when it didn't work at all the first time. It's one of those fond memories I have of my father.

A TRS-80 sits with monitor and tape deck drive sits on a small kitchen table next to manuals and cassettes. In the background is a space heater and curtains
TRS 80 - Internet sourced image of a model similar to the one I had as a kid as I have no pictures of the one we had. I can still picture it in my head, though.

The point is that computers and I have a storied history. I came between the age of those who thought the computer fad was cute and all, and kids growing up with the concept of networks and connectedness and glowing rectangles containing the entirety of human knowledge with them wherever they go all the time, always. I've always know that I wanted to do something with computers when I grew up. That may not mean as much these days, but that certainty was a bit ahead of its time in the 1980s.


One of the first applications I ever built was a DOS front end for entering baseball cards into a database so I could have a spreadsheet to see all of my cards. Years later I would do something similar on Windows using Visual Basic to create an Access Database for my comic books.

These things were awful, of course.

That didn’t stop me. I read manuals (which used to be made out of paper) and help files, I poked and prodded, I tried things out and eventually I got better.

And on and on it went.

In the 90’s I was making gaming websites, forums and clan sites. In the late 90s I was making sites, building computers, and setting up networks for friends & family, and for the people those people knew.

I was getting paid.


The first time I made money for doing computer stuff felt pretty good.

It still does decades later.

That’s the thing of it, I have been doing this personally and professionally for several decades now. Typing that out makes me feel old, but it remains a true statement.

My journey from kid playing with a computer from RadioShack to Engineering Manager has been a wild adventure of trial and error, and whole lot of education.

I started working at CompUSA as a kid in the 90s - I quickly, at the speed of retail, rose from cashier to customer service, to front end lead to manager. I was cross trained on the tech desk. A+. I continued with MCP+, MCSE, etc. One thing I really remember about CompUSA was Chumbawumba’s Tub Thumper, which played incessantly. I also remember learning and learning more about how to learn.

I had CompuServe, then AOL I had a ISP's dial-up, and eventually a 56k modem, before finally broadband. I gamed online. I played a lot of games and took part in a lot of game communities.

I discovered how much information to which I had access at a very young age. It was vast, and I learned how to navigate.


Education takes on many forms, while it’s not exactly possible to obtain an education through a sheer force of will, though I sure gave it a good try.

Being connected at an early age gave me unprecedented access to the all the knowledge of humanity. I was around for early BBSs and USENET.

I’m still saddened by the eternal September.

But still, I learned.

I learned by doing. I made things. Then I made more things. Then I made other things, sometimes I made there early stuff better.

But... No Pedigree?

Yeah, that's what's really killed me on the impostor syndrome most of my left. I'm smart. I know I'm smart, and many people who know me tend to suggest that I'm smart. When your computer science experience comes mostly from learning by doing, as well as reading books, blogs, and code, however, you feel inferior to the people who can prove they paid to and successfully learned their craft.

How do I prove it?

My ability to do the work and a reasonably high level of success. My intuition that comes from years of success computer operation in a wide variety of different levels and environment.

It's crazy, to me, that I've been doing this long enough to get how it all works. I read books, re-read books, and think, "yep, mm-hmm, etc." because I already know a most of this stuff, it's just being further reinforced.

So it is, I think of myself as a capable impostor...

I am a person who has put in the work, learned from a ton of mistakes, and now is a pretty darned good engineer.

This is part of the reason that I think of what I do a "Light Blue Collar" work.

What I do isn't quite "White Collar", because it's skilled labor that's quite intensive. It was learned through a variety of methods, most of it directly and hands-on. Not entirely unlike of being a skilled tradesperson, no unlike a lumberjack.

The main difference: less chance of being crushed by a tree.

Hence "Light Blue Collar".

The Point?

The point is that I have to constantly remind myself that I am, as much as anyone, an impostor, but I'm still mighty capable.

That's how I came to feel that I'm a capable impostor.