Don’t let imposter syndrome get in your way: advice from a new engineer

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Lou Reade

October 7, 2021

Lou recently joined the Cutover team as a Junior Engineer following a significant career change and an intense course learning to code with the Makers Academy. She shared her experience of taking this exciting (but slightly scary) step and how she overcame her imposter syndrome. 

 

Before my career change, I was working in the People Team at a fast-growing tech startup. While I learned a lot in the role and had some great experiences, it definitely wasn’t something I saw myself doing long term. I studied fine art at university and have continued to make art since then, so I’d dabbled with the idea of being an artist. But I’m no Picasso, so I knew that wasn’t for me as a full-time profession either. So what did I want to be when I grew up?! 

Coding had already piqued my interest through my community of friends and colleagues. At the pub, they all had fun stories of things they’d made, or ideas for future endeavors, ‘simply’ by knowing how to code. They used vocabulary I didn’t understand. I had this feeling that I was the odd one out and I would hide behind my drink because I felt like I couldn’t join in the conversation. This inevitably led to the trickle of internal assumptions: Maybe I should already know this stuff? Maybe they’re just smarter than me. Maybe I should have done a Computer Science degree. I’ll never be at their level. 

As time went by, I collected advice from peers about learning to code. The most common piece of advice was to do a coding boot camp. Everyone was telling me that you didn’t need a computer science degree anymore, so it was entirely in reach as something new to learn and even career change into. 

I started by teaching myself to code through platforms such as Codecademy and FreeCodeCamp. I wanted to get a feel for it, to see if I enjoyed it. Then when I felt ready, I applied to Makers Academy, a coding boot camp. It allowed me to gain experience with pair programming and team projects and learn more about the day to day of being an engineer. At Makers I was learning alongside people at a similar level to me, so I could try and avoid those thoughts and assumptions of people being better or smarter than me. 

Makers was an intense full-time rollercoaster, but it was rewarding in knowledge, peer support, and the reality of a career change being even more possible. I chose Makers over other boot camps because of their compassion towards mental wellbeing. With yoga and meditation from a dedicated wellbeing coach, we were able to balance a very full brain with some refreshing deep breaths and awkward yoga positions that we couldn’t hold for too long! 

If Makers taught me anything, it was to feel more comfortable about not knowing stuff and being ok with things not working out how you expect. Most of the coding sessions are about things not working, writing failing tests, or debugging. You get used to that really quickly and somehow it makes you feel a bit more ok about making mistakes, not just in your code but in general, too. You also get used to not knowing things and having to Google a lot. Then you learn that that’s basically what being an engineer is, and even those at the most senior level have to use Google, too! The secret’s out! 

My journey of learning to code, as well as being able to build and test drive basic web applications, was also a lesson in learning to deal with imposter syndrome and the anxieties that accompany it. If you hadn’t already spotted it, imposter syndrome was evident in all of my assumptions about feeling inferior to others. 

Imposter syndrome is really common, even amongst the most confident seeming people. It can come in many forms. It’s a wired-in habit that dies hard.  When you regularly practice noting those thoughts and assumptions as they appear, you can eventually start feeling more comfortable about who you are and how much you know and have a little more compassion for yourself. 

Finding the right sort of environment for mental health support is important. Over the years I’ve learned how important it is to work at a company that supports your wellbeing as well as your career growth, and luckily that’s becoming more thoughtfully present in many companies these days. Hurrah! 

I’m now starting my new exciting adventure as a Junior Full Stack Engineer. I did it! I career changed!

Despite occasionally feeling like someone will discover I'm no good at this and that I found a loophole to get a job, I also must acknowledge the reality that I've worked really hard to get here. I’ve been brave enough to note my anxieties and feel comfortable to shout out loud about things I don’t know. I mean, how do you gain knowledge about something until you start learning about that something, anyhow? I’m always open and honest about mental health and wellbeing, not only because it’s important to share and offer an open safe space for others who may feel the same, but it helps your peers to know where you’re at, too. 

I’ve only been at Cutover a short time, but already I feel the warmth of open doors and safe space. I’ve already been told that there are no dumb questions and the only dumb question is the one not asked (thanks CTO Kieran!). I’ve been reassured by those who were in the same junior shoes as me that I’ll be absolutely fine (thanks Engineer Ellie!). Everyone I've met so far has been unconditionally lovely and full of genuine passion for the knowledge they share. It’s a reminder that people are nice, people are supportive, and people are knowledge sharers. 

I’m really excited to get started and learn so many more new things that I will confidently and unashamedly ask lots of questions about. 

Cheers to the start of my new adventure (and maybe even yours too!)! *clink* 

 

If you’re thinking about learning to code but feel anxious about the change, I say take a deep breath and go for it! You can do this! I remember holding my breath and closing my eyes as I anxiously clicked the apply button to Makers Academy. But in retrospect, I needn't have been afraid. You just take it one day at a time. 

If you can’t learn full time there are many online courses or even some boot camps you can attend part time. There are also coding communities and workshops you can regularly take part in. 

Take each day as it comes and remember to note any thoughts that hold you back from being compassionate towards yourself 

If you’re interested in learning more about imposter syndrome you should definitely watch this talk by my good friend Jo Franchetti who also covers perfectionism and anxiety.

 

Looking for a change in your career? Check out the open roles at Cutover.

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