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Kayla Reopelle
Kayla Reopelle

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Combating Fear & Imposter Syndrome

This post was originally published on my personal blog during May 2018. As I begin searching for jobs, this advice is truer than ever. I hope it helps other transitioning to a career in tech.

This week, I went to my first MeetUp — a Women in Tech gathering for my area.

Learning to code online can sometimes feel like I’m in a separate dimension. Like this new pursuit is only virtual, there aren’t any people who I go meet or specific places I get dressed up and drive to for work.

I have this voice in my head that tells me programming is just a dream. That sure, I’ll go through the tutorials and pass labs, but won’t be able to hack it as a programmer (no pun intended). I feel like an imposter — which is exactly how I felt when I walked into the MeetUp.

Too early and too nervous, I smiled and introduced myself to the people around me, slowly remembering what “networking” feels like.

Everyone was kind. I felt a little embarrassed characterizing myself as a student with a totally-unrelated full-time job, but smiles and thoughtful questions about my journey softened me.

The theme was about unconventional paths to tech (how perfect), told by three women working in different roles at the company hosting the event.

The first speaker was a fashion designer in South Asia who, underpaid and overworked, sought something more. Fashion, based on predicting trends before designing items, satiated a quantitative curiosity. She started taking on extra projects that would allow her to learn data analysis, found other jobs that gave her mentors to help improve her skills, and eventually came to the US for a Master’s Degree. She now works as a Data Analyst.

The second speaker misled into a music degree at a liberal arts college, realizing upon graduation that she was not interested in the life of a musician, worked at a Starbucks for a few years. She didn’t believe she could do more until a regular customer asked her what she was still doing there. He saw the speaker as smart, thorough, personable, and highly capable. It was the nudge she needed to look for a customer service job at a company, any company — that happened to be a tech company. She worked her way up, eventually moving from customer service to taking Java night classes at a community college to working in QA. Programming made sense like music theory made sense.

The final speaker had a zigzagged journey across industries, positions, and coasts that took her from working as a stenographer fresh out of high school to a VP at a tech company. She kept showing her skills, and people higher up kept noticing and giving her changes. She joined new companies. Companies closed. She found new jobs. She was laid off. She hated some companies. She found new hobbies. She kept in touch with people she met at her various jobs and inadvertently built a network of support that eventually took her to find her niche — web development and project management.

Remember that voice in my head, the one from the beginning of this post — I don’t think it’s ever going away entirely. However, after the meeting, I felt like that voice had a new sparring partner — a voice that could point to these women who switched from “dream” careers that weren’t so dreamy, who found new confidence by chance, who refused to settle for environments they were half-interested doing things they half-enjoyed.

I’m so glad to have found a community of people who understand this journey. Wonderful, generous people who want to help others succeed in this field as best they can.

On this journey to a new career, I hope to remind myself to:

  • Be open — don’t be afraid to see how your passions, talents, and skills may be suited to a seemingly unrelated field
    everyone feels like an imposter at some point, the best way to get over it: keep taking chances.

  • When you stop learning, it’s time to make a change

  • You are doing yourself a disservice to stay in a job that’s not your thing; find a path that makes you happy–it’s out there

  • Be willing, be flexible, be patient — own your unconventional route, and ask for help if you don’t see your next step

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