In Summer 2019, I started an Industrial Placement, due to last 12 months, as part of my BSc Computer Science degree. It was my first ever experience as a Software Developer. Unfortunately, I decided to leave the position after two months, taking the rest of the academic year (2019-20) as a gap year. In this article, I want to talk about the things which led me to leave so early on.
Disclaimer: This is not a post where I bash my previous employer, but rather, the things which I experienced which were too much for me, a newbie to the industry who suffers from anxiety. The purpose of this article is to help anybody out there in a similar position to me.
After two months, I believe I reached a point of burnout. If you haven't heard of this before, I've included a definition below:
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands - HelpGuide
A lot of people may reach this point because they have too much to do. In my case, I felt I had too much to get to grips with in a short space of time, rather than an excessive workload, and for this reason I believe I burned out.
Due to the working environment I was in, it was fast paced from day one. I had a lot of knowledge and working practices to get to grips with, and believe me when I say, I was giving it my all every single day. I can remember getting up each morning and putting on a positive, brave face to try and make progress with my day. However my anxiety would, more often than not, catch up to me. I'd often wake up to a new day thinking: "I can't do this". Did this stop me from going in to work? It actually did on two days where I called in sick. I've worked before this job and never felt like taking a day off like this, so I knew this wasn't a good sign for me. (Note: nothing wrong with taking days off when you don't feel like your best self, it just wasn't ever a thing I had to do before!)
Back to the point I'm trying to make here, I just didn't feel good enough. The work environment I was in meant I needed to be more bold and confident in my work, and I wasn't quite there yet as a new developer.
Due to how new I am to the development world, the work environment I was in wasn't supportive enough for me. There was often tons of things going on, meaning I had to grapple with everything that came my way, with little breathing room. This just added on to my anxiety as I felt I was holding back my employers in the work that they were trying to achieve.
I wanted to be perfect from day one. Read that again. I wanted to be perfect from day one. Is this even possible for a brand new developer? In most cases, no (unless you're that super genius kid we all want to be). Was I going in with this expectation of myself each day? Yes. I wasn't comfortable with making mistakes and being vulnerable, and that hindered me a lot. I was giving myself undue stress which wasn't necessary - this itself will have impacted my performance and ability to do my role.
Leaving the placement so early on made me feel like a complete failure, and sometimes still does. However if anything, that was the best decision I could've made for my own mental sanity. If I didn't think of my mental health first, who knows how I would've ended up a few more months down the line. Leaving something for the sake of looking after yourself doesn't equate to failure - we just like to make ourselves feel like we've failed because...we're human.
Below are some points regarding what I learned from my experience:
- Put your mental health first before anything, and talk to someone about what you're going through;
- Don't aim to be perfect in a new role, but be open to failing and learning from said failure, working to ensure it doesn't happen again;
- Talk to your management team sooner rather than later, your workplace may be more accommodating than you think!
- When job searching, try and imagine if the environment you're looking into is the best fit for you. You could spot a bad environment for you before you accept any prospective offer.
This was a quick overview of my first developer experience as a student, purposefully kept quite brief. It has taken me a while to pluck up the courage to sit and write about my first ever developer experience, being that of one that wasn't quite as planned. However, I've learned and grown from the experience, and actually picked up some team leading skills this year (on my gap year) as I was a Team Leader at M&S Foodhall - during a global pandemic! The soft skills gained this year are invaluable and I look forward to applying them to my next future developer role, which I hope to find for 2021 (hope to finish my Computer Science degree by then!)