re: Share Your Experiences with Impostor Syndrome VIEW POST


I'm 36 years old, and have been working in industry for a year now. I have an existing BA in Criminal Justice and Criminal Law, but couldn't go into that field because of The Great Recession, so I started doing customer service for a Bay-area tech company about 6 years ago. During that time, I realized that while the company takes very good care of me and my family, I was still 30+ years old doing what amounted to call center level customer service. If I wanted to get ahead in life, and be able to provide for my family, I had to change fields.

I started going back to school, this time for a CS degree, and I'm 3/4 of the way through that. Generously, my current company allowed me to intern for them last summer as a front-end dev, and unfortunately, that's when impostor syndrome set in. I've always been worried that, as a 35+ yr old newbie, I'm already 10-15 years behind my colleagues in terms of experience, but my first internship really cemented my fear of failure, because I felt like I had one shot at this. Ageism in this industry exists, and while my current company is great, if they go under, I'm woefully behind the curve when it comes to experience, vis-a-vis my age.

I think, as a dev, that I have a tendency to try and see the entire picture. I'm still, from school assignments, expecting to have the beginning, middle, and end of an assignment / project explained to me. Transitioning from school to real world is one of the hardest things about this process, because industry is so radically different from the finite world of school. In industry, it's rare that you get to start from scratch and design a project exactly how you want; 99% of the time you're dropped into an existing codebase, with existing quirks, and style guides, and bugs, etc etc and you're expected to just grok it all and keep the ship afloat. My personality is such that I have a hard time if I don't have an understanding of the whole flow of the entire project; I don't do well in compartmentalization. If I'm designing a new widget for the front end, I want to know where it's getting the data, how that data is being parsed, how the data is being captured, how it's being stored, and retrieved, and sanitized and and and, lol. That has definitely been exacerbated with school, and that is a huge contributing factor to my impostor syndrome. Couple all of that with the proclivity of our profession to be socially awkward, and sometimes lack social skills, and now you've got senior devs that are probably really nice people, but who don't know how to help you, so they appear stand-offish and demanding!

Fortunately, my mentor was amazing. He spent a lot of time talking to me about impostor syndrome, explaining that it was something that he dealt with on a daily basis, and helping me see the forest for the trees. He kindly took the time to explain the flow, from back to front end, and then weaned me off of that desire to know by giving me small, bite sized chunks to begin with, before moving me on into something that was more a part of the whole.

To combat impostor syndrome, as a newbie, it is crucial that you have good mentorship. The young (experience wise) coders are like little seedlings; they need support, and something to hold them up until they're ready to stand on their own. Clear, and concise expectations are key, along with a sensible, and reasonable timeline to accomplish them. Be up front with the newbies; let them know that they're going to feel this way, it's completely ok, and they have a reasonable amount of time to work on it.

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