In this letter, I’d like to address the serious matter of newcomers to AI sometimes experiencing imposter syndrome, where someone — regardless of their success in the field — wonders if they’re a fraud and really belong in the AI community. I want to make sure this doesn’t discourage you or anyone else.
Let me be clear: If you want to be part of the AI community, then I welcome you with open arms. If you want to join us, you fully belong with us!
An estimated 70 percent of people experience some form of imposter syndrome at some point. Many talented people have spoken publicly about this experience, including former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, actor Tom Hanks, and Atlassian co-CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes. It happens in our community even among accomplished people. If you’ve never experienced this yourself, that’s great! I hope you’ll join me in encouraging and welcoming everyone who wants to join our community.
AI is technically complex, and it has its fair share of smart and highly capable people. But, of course, it is easy to forget that to become good at anything, the first step is to suck at it. If you’ve succeeded at sucking at AI -- congratulations, you’re on your way!
I once struggled to understand the math behind linear regression. I was mystified when logistic regression performed strangely on my data, and it took me days to find a bug in my implementation of a basic neural network. Today, I still find many research papers challenging to read, and just yesterday I made an obvious mistake while tuning a neural network hyperparameter (that fortunately a fellow engineer caught and fixed).
So if you, too, find parts of AI challenging, it’s okay. We’ve all been there. I guarantee that everyone who has published a seminal AI paper struggled with similar technical challenges at some point.
Here are some things that can help.
- Do you have supportive mentors or peers? If you don’t yet, attend Pie & AI or other events, use discussion boards, and work on finding some. If your mentors or manager don’t support your growth, find ones who do. I’m also working on how to grow a supportive AI community and hope to make finding and giving support easier for everyone.
- No one is an expert at everything. Recognize what you do well. If what you do well is understand and explain to your friends one-tenth of the articles in The Batch, then you’re on your way! Let’s work on getting you to understand two-tenths of the articles.
My three-year-old daughter (who can barely count to 12) regularly tries to teach things to my one-year-old son. No matter how far along you are — if you’re at least as knowledgeable as a three-year-old — you can encourage and lift up others behind you. Doing so will help you, too, as others behind you will recognize your expertise and also encourage you to keep developing. When you invite others to join the AI community, which I hope you will do, it also reduces any doubts that you are already one of us.
AI is such an important part of our world that I would like everyone who wants to be part of it to feel at home as a member of our community. Let’s work together to make it happen.
Your supporter and ally,