Me, Myself and Imposter Syndrome

17 Feb 2018
closeup of girl's face wearing snorkel mask laying flat under water against white background

This weekend is a good weekend. Friday night I headed home with a huge smile on my face and a whiskey waiting for me. Why? I’ve just spent uninvited time with Little Miss Imposter Syndrome and sent her packing.

This week was the start of my third week at my new job as a junior full stack developer. It was also the week where I’ve been left to my own devices with the senior developer and CTO either on holiday or in meetings. Which left me pretty much representing the platform team on my own. Just me, myself and then… Little Miss Imposter Syndrome showed up.

In at the deep end

Work was carefully scheduled in advance bearing in mind that I’d be alone, with the focus on front end tasks and graphics – my comfort zone. I was working on a react app and trying to couple it with the zurb foundation front end framework to handle the UI I’d been set to design. I have about a day’s experience building with react and even less exposure to foundation.

Pressure was on, all eyes on me to keep the team’s velocity and productivity going on Pivotal Tracker. Was I nervous? Of course. I’m still trying to navigate my way around a complex Rails system which is feeding data to the app. Every time I take a look, those lyrics from Start Trekkin start looping in my head, “it’s Rails Jim, but not as I know it”.

Maybe I don’t really know it at all. Developer life was much simpler at bootcamp. Here I am, about to be found out as the fraudster, pretending I can code. Little Miss Imposter Syndrome keeps nudging me. “Those pesky recruiters had been right” she whispers. “Go on, admit it, you’re just playing at this! Go back home.” she taunts. She projects panic images into my brain making me revisit those hellish recurring nightmares of stepping off the train only to look down and realise I’d forgot to put on my skirt this morning.

Fear of failure

Of course, she’s wrong, and this awful, debilitating fear affects more people than you think.

As a newcomer to any dev team you do feel exposed. Coming from a background of working solo, I’m not used to having my code reviewed. What if it’s crap? What if I do something really stupid? You panic search through stack overflow hoping the answer will scream out at you, before you’re found out, tick tock. Tick tock.

But it pays to remember that the world of tech is fast paced and constantly shapeshifting into something new. We are all learning, all of the time. I meet up once a month with other local developers from a mix of coding background. Last week, we were celebrating my new job, and as conversation flowed a couple of the guys opened up to regularly experiencing Imposter Syndrome. That admission did surprise me.

These are well seasoned contractors, they’ve written books, worked on great projects and built impressive stuff. They have brains the size of planets. Yet here they were confessing that the first few weeks of any new contract start with an overwhelming feeling of being completely out of depth. Of trying to understand an unfamilar code base which may as well be written in gibberish.

So I’m in good company. I must remember that local development is my playground. I’m learning not to be scared to explore and experiment and I’ve made a new post-it note for my mac to serve as a reminder. Make it, break it, fix it, learn.

It took half an hour of sitting with the CTO, watching him bash away at the keyboard trying stuff, head scratching, and trying some more. The solution wasn’t obvious. But that was all I needed to give me the confidence to give it a try. Sure enough, an hour or so later I’d fixed it, got react and foundation working together like a dream and was ready to demo that afternoon.

I know there’s a lot of knowledge I need to acquire. Putting together a learning plan is my way to stay in control. After all, I couldn’t ask for a better learning environment than that provided by Skills Matter. I won’t be scared to own up and talk about it when I’m feeling out of my depth, I know I have the support of my team behind me.

And I’ve told Little Miss Imposter Syndrome to take her things and do one. Hopefully she won’t be back for a while.