Like many of the developers at Braintree, I didn't study CS in college. Instead, I stumbled onto an online Python course four years after graduating with a degree in economics. I remember the thrill of writing my first program, which not only worked, but actually did something useful. Admittedly, the "usefulness" of the program -- which found the most common word in a text file -- was debatable, but the experience revealed to me that tedious manual tasks can be accomplished with problem-solving logic and a few lines of code.
I recently attended a DjangoGirls meetup hosted by Braintree, where I spoke with a number of female developers whose experience was similar to mine. We all shared a passion for the problem-solving aspect of programming, but we had grown up thinking that software was the domain of the solitary geniuses who had been rebuilding computers and configuring servers since early childhood. Even until recently, I often wondered if I could ever be a "real" software developer because I didn't have the right background.
What attracted me to programming was its logic -- identifying a problem, then figuring out how to write code to solve it.
I quickly discovered, however, that logic is only one component of software development. In my first few months at Braintree, I faced a continual stream of terms and concepts that were foreign to me, but which seemed elementary to everyone else. Proxy servers, gpg encryption, database clusters, middleware, worker queues, continuous integration, ssh agents, program threads....¹ I was fortunate to have coworkers who responded to my questions with patience and understanding instead of open shock at my ignorance. But even their helpful explanations sometimes left gaps in my understanding. I often turned to Google, which led to Wikipedia articles containing even more terms I didn't know, and a seemingly never-ending "wiki-hole." At times, I took this struggle as a sign that I didn't belong in the software industry.
I know that this feeling of imposter syndrome is not unique to female developers, but because women are less likely to have been encouraged to explore programming at an early age, they are more likely to enter the field unfamiliar with fundamental concepts.
Braintree is committed to breaking down the barriers that keep women out of tech, so I share my story with the hope that it will encourage women who might otherwise think they don't "have what it takes" to be a developer. An innate understanding of the software ecosystem is not what makes a great developer. A love of problem-solving and the willingness to work through difficult concepts, to ask questions, and to be honest about what you know and don't know -- these are the essential qualities of great developers.
I also write this as a call to more senior developers. When working with less experienced developers (male or female), share not only what you know, but also what you once didn't know. One of the most helpful things I was told in my first few months at Braintree was, "Don't expect to feel like you know what you're doing for at least six months. Maybe a year." Knowing that I was not alone in my confusion allowed me to ask questions and make mistakes, and to do the best I could within the boundaries of what I knew while working to push those boundaries further. I can easily imagine quitting if not for the encouragement of those around me, the positive feedback on the things I was doing well, and the reminder that the things I had yet to master took time.
I've now been at Braintree almost a year. I still ask a lot of questions. But increasingly I find myself in conversations where I'm using and understanding language that would have been gibberish to me six months ago. And the biggest difference isn't just in terms of what I know, it's that the new questions I have no longer make me question whether or not I belong here.
- ...SSL certificates, SDKs, ports, sockets, deploys, cron jobs, Redis, virtual machines, builds.
Worried about those moments when you feel like a fraud at work? Learn how to see imposter syndrome as a good thing
Below is an article originally written by Candace Whitney-Morris at PowerToFly Partner Microsoft, and published on March 23, 2018. Go to Microsoft's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.
Question: Sometimes I feel like I'm in over my head at work, like I don't belong, or like I am not good enough. Any advice for how to overcome this feeling?
Answer: Anyone who tries to achieve something new or who moves out of their comfort zone could feel like a fraud at one time or another. And while there might not be an official senior manager of imposter syndrome, Trish Winter-Hunt has certainly seen and worked through the phenomenon enough to develop expertise on the matter. If you haven't experienced imposter feelings yet, said Winter-Hunt, senior content experience manager at Microsoft working with Windows devices, it's just a question of time.
In all her years as a professional communicator, working in public relations, marketing, and communications with PhDs and C-suite executives across a range of organizations, Winter-Hunt never met a single person who didn't experience imposter syndrome—the fear that arises when people can't internalize their success and worry they'll will be exposed for the fraud that they believe themselves to be.
Imposter syndrome was first identified by clinical psychologists in the 1970s and has been a topic of study ever since. A wide variety of articles have been published on the topic, and the issue has received more attention in recent years with new research and as career coaches, business and self-help books, companies, and publications such as Harvard Business Reviewhave addressed it.
Whether you are familiar with feelings of faking it or newly acquainted with your inner imposter, here are some tips to build confidence and beat back imposter syndrome so that you can achieve great things.
Self-talk really works, for better and for worse
First, Winter-Hunt said, "there is nothing wrong with you."
If your inner dialogue is spinning thoughts like "I am not good enough for this job," "the hiring office made a clerical mistake," or "any moment now, someone's going to find out how much I fake it every single day," then welcome to the club.
According to one study, these feelings are especially prevalent among highly ambitious people, notably women, who have self-imposed standards of achievement. You can feel good about the presence of that voice; it means you are taking a risk. When you are venturing into new territory, there's just a certain level of ambiguity that we have to learn to be comfortable with, explained Winter-Hunt.
But imposter syndrome ceases to be a helpful motivator if those feelings limit your ambition—if they stop you from going after what you want, a phenomenon that Winter-Hunt said she sees all the time when she interviews candidates. Because one place that you can almost guarantee that your inner imposter will show up is during a job interview.
"It's really disheartening to hear so many people self-select out of a position, even when they've already landed the interview," she said. "I tell them that I'd likely not even be interviewing them if I didn't think they could do it."
"One striking characteristic of the syndrome is that although impostors crave acknowledgement and praise for their accomplishments, they do not feel comfortable when they receive it," according to Psychology Today. "Instead, praise makes them feel anxious because they secretly feel they do not deserve it. After all, they think, I'm just faking it—unlike everyone else here who seems to know what they're doing."
Imposter syndrome also likes to show up uninvited when you are beginning something new, but the feelings of fraud don't necessarily indicate that you are about to make a mistake.
Winter-Hunt said that one way to combat those feelings of inadequacy is to turn those phrases on their head. Repeating mantras like "I am good enough" or "I deserve to be here" are small but mighty steps toward undercutting self-defeating thoughts.
So go ahead: just for a few seconds, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, "I've got this."
Foster the imposter
Feelings of fear and inadequacy are uncomfortable but also natural. It's tempting to try to hide it, to overcompensate with your coworkers or in an interview. But usually that inauthenticity only makes you feel like more of an imposter.
Instead, "foster the imposter," encouraged Winter-Hunt in a recent article. "Because you most likely will never overcome feelings of fraudulence. Instead of viewing imposter syndrome as a defining characteristic, embrace it for the transitory experience it is," she wrote. "One that forces you to evolve, try new things, and question your previously held philosophies."
Some people welcome it and even use the opposite feelings—comfort, security—as signs that it's time to try something new . . . that perhaps the very presence of imposter syndrome indicates that you are itching to grow in areas you've become stagnant.
Talk through it
Research shows that for people who can't shake their imposter syndrome or feel their lives are overtaken by it, talk therapy can really help. And not even necessarily with a trained professional.
Winter-Hunt said that even just being up front with her boss and vulnerable with her coworkers has made a huge difference for her. In all the discussions she's had, she has never been met with a reaction that wasn't encouraging and supportive.
So go ahead, learn to love that imposter, but never give it decision-making power. Winter-Hunt lives by a quote from bestselling author Seth Godin: "Begin. With the humility of someone who's not sure, and the excitement of someone who knows that it's possible."
Why? Because the world needs your talents, your persistent exploring, and your desire to keep challenging yourself. We need your help to push into what's next.