This 5-minute story touches on my career transition from journalism to tech, the concept of Shine Theory and some examples from my time in the Berlin community.
Presented on June 1, 2019 in the JSConf EU Community Lounge.
My first job in tech was an internship at a blockchain company. In true startup fashion, interns did everything from writing documentation to getting milk at the grocery store. So these interns had a variety of backgrounds.
About two weeks into my internship I decided to be social and I joined some of my colleagues for beers. I met the previous intern whose job I had taken over... and she was perfect. Really. She was an MIT-educated engineer, she had some experience in backend development and she was also just a really, really nice person.
I was terrified. Really.
I just kept thinking about how I couldn't compete with her. And if you're thinking yourself like, 'Carolyn why would you need to compete with her, she didn't even work there at the same time' - then you need to understand a bit about my background.
So I come from print journalism and there, everything feels like a competition. There just aren't enough jobs or bylines out there for everyone. And it doesn't help that almost every journalism student I know thinks that they're going to the exception to the rule - myself included.
Because of this, I considered all of my peers competitors. This escalated to the point that even when some of my closest friends were successful, I was left with this horrible feeling. I was happy for them, sure, but I just felt so inadequate and if you let it, this kind of feeling can really eat you alive.
So back to my supposed intern competitor. Well, we did end up being friends but that was only because she introduced me to this concept called Shine Theory. Shine Theory is a concept created by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman and according to their website, it's defined like this:
"Shine Theory is an investment, over the long term, in helping someone be their best self—and relying on their help in return. It is a conscious decision to bring your full self to your friendships, and to not let insecurity or envy ravage them. Shine Theory is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?” The answer is almost always yes."
When I first heard about this, I was like nah no way, this is impossible. Like there's no possible way that this can happen. Which is an understandable reaction if you've been socialized to think otherwise.
But I gave it a shot and I made the decision to evaluate all of my newfound tech relationships through this lens. And it's wild how wrong I was. It turns out that this community can be incredibly kind to you if you let it.
For me, this small mindset switch really enabled me to establish a group of unbelievably supportive people who have seen me through a career change. They support me and take me seriously when I explore new ideas despite what my CV might say. And they push me into new opportunities like public speaking or organizing a meetup.
While some of these relationships are like a mentor-mentee structure, most of them aren't. Rather, I've learned how to look horizontally and learn from my peers - which wouldn't have been possible with the mindset that I had four years ago.
On the other side, I'm slowly learning how to pay it forward. I'm trying to learn how to find the joy in watching other people achieve their goals and supporting them along their way towards that goal. It's been a process, but so far investing in others has turned out to be a good way to invest in myself.
But it can be hard to practice Shine Theory. I understand that - and even after years of working on it, I still fail sometimes. For example, a new junior developer was added to my team about a month ago and before that me, as the current least-experienced developer on the team, was immediately freaked out.
I kept asking questions like: Ok, but what if she comes in and she's better than I was? Or what if she comes in and she's better than me now? Wouldn't that be embarrassing? Will I still get a promotion? I spiraled, really.
But now I'm able to recognize those feelings and not let them consume me. Because I know that they're misleading and even if something does go wrong, I now have a support system to help me through it. And I would have never learned how to do this without the community to teach me that this is even possible.