how not to suffer from an impostor syndrome
It’s been almost a year since my career switch from banking to coding and boy what a ride it was, well still is. The first time I heard the term impostor syndrome was at Hackbright Academy, where I was learning computer science principles, web and software development. In a nut shell what it means is - when you are not confident in your abilities even though your work says otherwise, you doubt yourself and are constantly afraid of people finding out that in reality you know nothing, which in itself is not true. Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, mentioned it in her book Lean In, where she says that women tend to underestimate themselves. And even though men do it less, I am pretty sure there are plenty of men who have problems with confidence as well. There is a great talk on TED by Amy Cuddy on how to boost your self-esteem but I want to share what I learned from going though a career switch and making it work. See, while I was Hackbright I didn’t worry about not performing on the job, because I didn’t have one yet. My goal was to finish my final project where I was writing my own programing language and then prepare for interviews to get the job. So, Lesson #1 - do not stress about something that doesn’t exist.
Now, fast forward through the process of interviewing and me landing a job as a software engineer at Jibe. At this point I didn’t have time to worry if I had an impostor syndrome or not, I had a list of things I needed to learn as soon as possible, that included a new programming language, interaction with databases I never worked with and etc … They say you can teach a monkey to read; so, there is no reason why I couldn’t learn all of the things that were needed for the job. Hence, Lesson #2 - make a list of things that you do not know and the things you “think” you don’t know and just learn them. You will be so busy you will have no time to worry.
When I was picking a job I was actually picking a team. I can learn new things in any job, but culture fit is not something that is easily found. I was the first female engineer hired at Jibe, and no, it didn’t scare me one bit, because I met the whole team before I made a decision and I knew I wanted to work with them. They are very smart and supportive. I cannot write this and not mention Brian. Brian is a senior developer and simply put is a genius, but most importantly he is a patient teacher thanks to whom now I do not hesitate to take on huge projects because I know I can deliver them. Therefore, Lesson #3 - surround yourself with smart people, from who you can learn. If you are thrown in a wilderness with no idea how to fend for yourself, what are your chances of survival compared to being in a company of person who knows how to survive.
When I was given my first solo client integration. I was determined not to ask for help, because I wanted to test myself. The project was not easy and was pretty big. So, I broke it down into pieces and made a timeline for myself; i.e. if I do not complete this part by this day, then I ask for help, but I will stay working late nights and on weekends and I will complete them on my own. Again it is nothing to do with ego; this was the final point for me to see what I learned and what I am capable of. I did deliver project on time, on my own and the client loved it. Lesson #4 - when the problem seems big, break it down into small pieces. Solve one at a time and celebrate your achievements, tell others about your achievements, this way your confidence will be growing with real things to back it up with.
Finally, there is so much I do not know yet, and it is amazing, because otherwise why to live if you know everything. So, Lesson #5 - Accept the fact that there are things that you do not know, there are things that you will never know and there are things that You Can Decide To Learn.