In the Beginning..
Finding a starting point for me can sometimes be as easy as opening up my laptop, inversely I could sit for hours without so much as a whisper in the right direction. So far, I have found university an intense learning experience. However, I don’t feel as though it is really the most vital learning I could be doing during these crucial four years. It is definitely important to get these modules done and dusted in the best way I know how, but it’s even more important to see how these modules, albeit seldom related to my interests, can provide valuable starting points.
To begin in something that is so often self taught, in a regimented academic background, can feel so rigid at times. Understanding the fundamentals of programming has been key to my growth in this field, but has left me feeling slightly burnt out before I have even began. I think this is common amongst computing students and professionals- imposter syndrome. I have to say, this can sometimes make those starting points feel like a never ending incline. During my previous career in Chemistry, this notion or feeling was prevalent. Reminiscing, I even remember my old HR manager giving me apps/leaflets to help understand what imposter syndrome was. I didn’t think I needed the guides, as I felt like the tour leader.
“Feelings of ending up in esteemed roles not because of merits or achievement but because of some oversight on the part of important gatekeepers, or due to sheer luck.”Feenstra, S., Begeny, C. T., Ryan, M. K., Rink, F. A., Stoker, J. I., & Jordan, J. (2020). Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024
Software development is exactly that, developing. Constant evolution and expansion opens so many doors, but can make developers and beginners maybe feel overwhelmed with all the possible routes. As the possibilities grow, so do expectations. We are our own worst critics and I know from my experiences that I can be my own biggest fan but simultaneously the reason I allow myself to settle for less. Now, this is normal, but I really think it is something more people should talk about to ensure healthy coping tactics.
This misconception of having to be nothing short than perfect, and the pressure to stay current on the latest trends can lead you to a) distrust your judgement b) forget and dislodge your journey c) make you focus on what you don’t know, and fuels the feeling of inadequacy. Soon enough you’re a victim of imposter syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome for Women
This is obviously meant very tongue-in-cheek. We are all, or should be, aware of the uphill battle that tends to fall on women when trying to make it in tech (although, please note this does NOT mean I believe us women are all the same and feel the same battles, all experiences are individual). Women are widely not represented in tech; employment gap, degree gap, retention gap, representation gap and workplace culture gap are all factors that have had an affect on women getting into/staying in any STEM field. In my own experience what I found was mainly an issue with retention and workplace culture. I found that there were a lot of women working in low-paying or low-level analytical chemistry services, but not really able to move forward. Obviously, some of the ladies I met were very happy with where they were, but the majority didn’t feel there was room for them so inevitably left, as did I.
A lack of representation for women in tech can hinder a woman’s ability to succeed in the industry. It can put limits on their opportunities for mentorship and sponsorship and can lend to fostering “unconscious gender bias in company culture,” leaving many women “without a clear path forward,” according to a report from TrustRadius.White, S. K. (2021, March 8). Women in tech statistics: The hard truths of an uphill battle. CIO. https://www.cio.com/article/3516012/women-in-tech-statistics-the-hard-truths-of-an-uphill-battle.html
But, no matter who we are, we are at least somewhat aware of expectations from the media giving SD a mythos, that only the super-smart people are able to grasp it. The reality is that as programming is developing into more complex natures, what follows is more accessible languages and tools to make the learning curve feel less daunting.
Being Uncomfortable is the New Comfortable
One of the outcomes of imposter syndrome is that you may always compare what you know to what you think other people know. It makes sense that you don’t see other people and their own personal struggle, and so you assume they do not. It can feel quite isolating and personally this is where I think lack of honest communication, even through friends, allows for envious or self destructive behaviour. What I find quite interesting is imposter syndrome makes you over analyse your weaknesses, but I know in my experience when someone asks for my weakness, it’s almost impossible to think of one. This is partly because I don’t want to seem weak to those I assume are much stronger, but also I think it is the reality of saying them out loud- it might make them true. It might, on the other hand, make me realise how ridiculous or untrue it is.
It is important to note that SD will always be like this, it will always grow, there will always be new technologies, new languages to learn. This may seem overwhelming or a bit off-putting as there will then always be something we don’t know. The fact of the matter is, there will always be someone out there who is better at something than us, or further ahead. Really it should motivate us that there’s so much to learn, constant development and learning is such a fun prospect. Especially for those of us who want to be in technology, we were most probably drawn to this line of work for its versatility and dynamic future.
Your Intelligence is not Static
Intelligence is not fixed, and in fact, it is directly tied to effort and challenge. You will most likely not be in the same stage of your journey in 3 years time, 3 months time or even 3 weeks time. You are constantly learning and adapting, something that you might struggle with now may be a thing of the past in the next week. The best thing about accepting the imposter syndrome, is realising you can help others in the same shoes as you. It is also important to know there are people out there that do think their intelligence is fixed, you might think this too, having a deep need to be perfect at everything and to be perfect immediately. This can mean that failures are seen as a reflection of a lack of intelligence, rather than lack of experience. Embrace your ignorance and use that to fuel your growth, not your self-doubt.