Photo by Monique Hawkins
“What would you attempt in life if you knew you could not fail?” This question was posed to me by a friend over dinner. It sent me through a quandary of emotions that only my Career Karma family could help me maneuver my way through. That simple yet powerful question led me back to my experience in a bootcamp. The instructor on day 2, introduced what I now know many of the students were dealing with, Imposter Syndrome. My mind raced with thoughts asking is he talking to me? How did he know? Would I succumb and become another casualty, or would I conquer my fear of failing and become a full stack developer in 6 months?
His version of a pep talk was like opening Pandora’s Box and strategically placing it on my shelf of fears. He explained it as a “phoniness in people who believe they are not intelligent enough, capable or creative despite experiencing prior success in similar circumstances. I literally clutched my seat to make sure I was still in it. I was scared for a second that I had jumped up belting out a loud southern baptist, Hallelujah! That definition summed up how I was feeling. This was not the first time I was walking in unfamiliar territory. After college there were two careers I said I would never do, retail and teaching. I was a retail store manager and an educator for the past 20+ years combined. Both of these professions were unknown to me and I did very well. Often receiving praise and accolades from my superiors was never enough to get rid of my Imposter Syndrome. Everyday, I fought and would defeat my thoughts of ineptness by working harder, putting in extra time, and teaming up with those with a similar work ethic or better, to learn from. I knew what to do, how to own and charm the room, and was respected by my peers for my work ethic and passion for whatever I was doing. So why now, why would I question my ability to do well in the bootcamp and question if I would succeed. Why hearing a formal name to described how I had felt numerous times. What was so scary about this unknown journey I was embarking on.
I was the first to graduate from college in my family, to buy my own home, and even move out of state alone. . Why should I be fearful? Curious about the syndrome, I did some research. I am the self-proclaimed Google Queen in case you don’t know. I will stop what I’m doing and randomly look up anything and then I will look up who created the site. Thank you, Whois.com! There are too many ignorant people out here, so I’m always mindful of the fact tellers in the room (glasses on my nose, shade ?). I, like so many had repeated the phrase, “fake it until you make it” to overcome that feeling. I didn’t realize that it affects millions of people everywhere.
I finished the 6 months of the bootcamp. I was one of 15 present at our closing day presentation and graduation ceremony– despite being a member of a group 50+ on day 1. Where did they go? Did they go back to the lives that they professed at the beginning of the course as mundane and not their passion? I remember one person introduced themselves as a doctor; he was smart, had a great personality, and yet, he didn’t make it to the end. I remember thinking, “Surely, they are just as smart as I am.” Today, I hope to share the story of my experience with the syndrome, how it affects you when you allow it to consume your reality, and more importantly, how we have access to the tools to conquer our fears and break into tech.
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will”
-Writer Suzy Kassem
The Lies They Tell
The first step to weakening the syndrome is to change its name. Let’s call Imposter Syndrome what it genuinely is: a lack of confidence. Sadly enough, this lack of confidence is often triggered by our greatest supporters, both directly and indirectly. In my case, my former instructor. It was day 2, and I was scared. There I was, jumping into something I knew nothing about, with my work stress boiling over and not improving. As an educator the salaries are limiting. The amount of work that goes into preparation and planning is a job within itself. I knew it was time for something different, and the promise of going from not even knowing HTML to becoming a full-stack developer in 6 months sounded doable. Whoever said, “Ignorance is bliss” lied. However, my taste of coding came from having to transfer my schools website to a new platform. This was the watered down version of coding. I had a webpage builder. I could pick the colors, create the layout, but entering the camp with no understanding of HTML was not the best decision. I was assured you could go to no knowledge to gainfully employed. I loved building the school site. I didn’t like not getting paid for work that continued through the summer and became, “as assigned duties”. In contrast to coding,, in order for you to see change to properly evaluate a program, we need 4 years of implementation and consistent data. Coding is different, I could manipulate things and cause change immediately.
Back to discussing day 2 I’m in the front of the room, nervous like everyone else dealing with the fear of the unknown. They didn’t have these amazing income sharing bootcamps, like they offer now. This was all on me. They had engineers, a doctor, lawyers and a host of other professionals in the room to my surprise ready to dive in and become developers. In walks a scruffy guy looking like he purposely bought this awesome Big Bang Theory t-shirt, but his shorts were fighting gravity. I had already silently volunteered to pick whatever he might drop for that reason. I will be honest, his clothing choices made me begin to question him as a person. He stated “from the moment you start writing code, call yourself a developer.” My confidence had not shown up and to make matters worse, I’m now thinking he’s delusional.
Have you ever had a moment when something happens or the words being spoken feel like a defining moment that you should remember? Your mind literally takes notes and records of everything that happens at any given moment for later recall. I didn’t feel like a developer. Besides, I don’t put a bandaid on my arm and call myself a doctor. He shared how many developers deal with this. Gazing around the room, he makes eye contact and says,don’t let it over take you. We will be with you step by step.” My instructor did what he was supposed to do, he warned us about this potential obstacle. However, I made his warning the elephant in the room. It was my fear everyday and ultimately became my nemesis throughout bootcamp.
That feeling of inferiority continued to grow as my bootcamp continued. I thought that all I would need to do was show up and do my homework and I’d be fine. Three weeks in, I felt like I was drowning. My instructor would just smile, tell me I was overreacting, and that I was progressing just fine. Two issues with his solution and “trophy talk”. You know the story about everyone gets trophy. On one hand he is a salesman. On the other hand I know me. When I enrolled in my coding bootcamp, I had been an educator for 14 years. I expected mastery at a high level. What I did not understand at the time, my preparation for the course was not to level where mastery could have been achieved. The level I hoped to attain doesn’t come quickly. Coding takes time, it’s dynamic. Languages can change and new ones are created. My anxiety about programming was being manifested from a real place. Breaking into tech requires consistency, putting in the work, and lots of discipline. In schools across the country, students show up and get fed what they need to learn. I would send my students home with notes, homework, or a project that would help them display, retain, or practice the skills I had taught them in class. If your preparation to learn code is not up to par. If you can’t explain to others what you are learning and what you have going on inside of your code, then don’t listen when people say you are fine. You need to know what your standard of learning is and hold yourself accountable to that, but be realistic. There is no imposter, I had to be honest with myself and recognize you have to do certain things according to how you learn and put in the work to fully understand what you are doing. In my case, an accelerated program on information I had never heard of requires work. I just knew I loved computers, the logic and creativity you are allowed to display. Programming is much different than just working on a computer. That statement about the devil being the details, must have come from a developer. A simple syntaxerror can cause your code to return an error. In hindsight, I now realize there will be some things that will come naturally easy. I forgot about all the hard work to making my store increase its daily sales for two years in a row. It was all the long hours, taking up time on the weekend, and putting an enormous about of work to ensure my students would be successful. Yes, I had a lack of confidence on both of those jobs, yet succeeded the expectations by not lying to myself and putting in the work.
Nearly halfway through the camp, my confidence would take another blow. The bootcamp I attended would bring in other professionals that were there to mentor and encourage. One particular mentor was always so brash and would provide no fluff. If he didn’t like it, he said it. e didn’t do the oreo cookie technique, a truthful target area in need of improvement,sandwiched between two positive. His feedback was ideal for my personality. I value people that are honest and upfront about job performance. That is the only way you will grow. I wanted time with him and his direct feedback. I knew if anyone could see if anyone would tell me the truth, answering my question,” am I truly a developer and what can I improvel, it would be him. We were wrapping up the mock interviews and a small group of us wanted to talk to him. He’s a CTO for a company in the Houston area. Hoping to impress him I remember this moment also and what I felt like as he stated these words to a group of us made our way over to talk to him.He’s a CTO for a company in the Houston area. Like others I silently hoping to impress him by implementing the changes he suggested previously to my application. I remember this moment also and what I felt like as he stated “those” words to a group of us. Normally he would share a tangible nugget you could apply and grow from. However, not this day. In an ethnically diverse group, he immediately started sharing what I can see now as his ignorant biases our his reality of truth of public education in the United States, but at that time it sounded hurtful and when you are lacking confidence in yourself you are more susceptible to allowing other people’s words to manifest in your life. He could predict if different ethnic groups would either be qualified or unqualified. He stated, when a black candidate applies, he knows they will not be qualified or unqualified That is because the education system is not balanced in the U.S. He is not that far off with his observations of public education. I have traveled to school districts in 7 states training other teachers, the disparity on the east coast to the west or the north to the south is so egregious. One school may have a lot and newer resources, while another in the same school district won’t a lot of resources. The weakest of our population will have less. That is a fact. He’s european and didn’t grow up in the US, so I didn’t take it in offense racially, but if most CTO’s think like him, what are my chances of breaking into tech as a black woman? If a person in his position, level of education, and exposure to a global perspective, could be so short sighted and eliminate the progress made by Blacks despite the intentional obstacles we’ve dealt with. I began asking myself, is my hunger and drive to leave public education not enough? I looked around to the faces of the others in the group listening and no one flinched. Here I am, silently saying, wait hold on, I’m black, that’s me. Are you saying ALL black people in the US will always be ill equipped for a job as technical as a software engineer. I knew I had two choices, show him differently or allow that to become my truth.
The lesson here is to ignore the words of others, both good, bad, or biased. Don’t let the words of others seep into your head. Those words are the opportunities self-doubt waits for. I should have addressed my legitimate concerns head-on andmade a plan. Write my reasons for doubting myself and devise a plan to overcome them. When he made that comment, I should have walk away from that conversation, not giving it any energy to become my reality.
Betting On Yourself
A lack of confidence has a way of eroding certainty. When you say something is certain, that means that there is a 100% likelihood this event will happen. Sometimes I have to remind myself who I am, my skill set, and how I’m qualified. I’m not sure what it is like walking around as man. I can share being a double minority, a black female, nowhere in the world is this a favorable position to be in. Your qualifications must get you in the door to the interviewer. Sure, there is the backdoor, but please tell me where it is? This works when there are others on or have been on the path your on. If there is a crack in the backdoor, it appears threatening to allow another person that’s just as talented in the organization. Maybe it’s their lack of confidence or imposter syndrome kicking in.
Investing in yourself and your abilities is a staple to eliminating a lack of confidence . Don’t let people box you in to the rules they have created for themselves. Bet on your ability to work hard and make decisions that are best for you. You have the power.
Now to confess to you, what are the consequences of letting your confidence dictate to you your abilities. It is my reality at this present time. It’s been about 3+years since I completed my bootcamp and touched code. Yes, I’ve read and dabbled every blue moon. Now I’ve rearranged my life to make my dream of breaking into tech a reality. Everyday I’m coding, reading, listening, and writing. I’m surprised by how much I do remember from bootcamp, but I’m striving for a deep level of understanding. I received my certificate and had no confidence in my abilities. Yes, I completed the assignments, attended class 3 times a week, collaborated with my peers to complete three amazing and realistic apps that could have been easily monetized. I discovered a forgotten passion of graphic design and was able to highlight that skill in the bootcamp. Yet, I still told myself that I was not good enough. There were people with less skills than I, that went on to get entry-level developer jobs and are now commanding the income of an experienced second year full stack developer.
The consequences of not conquering your lack of confidence will lead to regrets, dreams unrealized, and another layer to dig through next time you try to accomplish something. I’ve realized, with the help of Career Karma, that you have to surround yourself with people that are attempting to conquer their own feelings of ineptness in order to succeed. The environment the app provides has been amazing. Everyone is so helpful and encouraging. Everytime we have new squad leader join, I greet them with the same line: “Welcome to the family! This is the best place to be a part of to break into tech!” Reuben, Timur, and Artur, Career Karma founders have done a phenomenal job setting the environment. I call them my little big brothers because, if I send them a message, ask a question, or just need advice, they will respond.
My second epiphany is that, if you want something bad enough, you will work at it until you get it. When I attended the bootcamp, I was working full-time. For salaried employees that’s not the normal 40 hours. It’s the It’s the “as assigned” 40 + 20 plus hours I spoke of earlier. After a day of work filled with the needs and requests of others, I was exhausted.. Most of my study sessions ended with my head hitting the computer screen. I was not managing my time well. Looking back, I should have been touching code daily. That is the only way you are letting the information be absorbed. This is something Career Karma reiterates with the 21 day challenge. Now, I’ve been a CK member for a little over 2 months and, everyday, I’m making time to code. I’ve learned more being a part of Career Karma than I did in my bootcamp after 6 months. Before, I was out there alone. Now, I have coaches and contacts on the ground helping to make sure my moves are intentional.
If you’ve made it this far in this article, you have a better idea of what it will take to rid yourself of Imposter Syndrome, but let me frame it for you with some nuggets you can utilize now. You have to take the power away in the words you use. Statements like, might, try, or maybe when it comes to your dreams should be a non-negotiable. Sometimes we do have to fake it until we make it. Act like it until it is. Be truthful with yourself and address your concern(s) directly. Make a plan before the issue arises. Don’t be reactive– be proactive. My leadership team would always question how I was able to stay motivated for a job to be done right. Some at times wanted to give the minimum effort. My response was usually the same, we shouldn’t have to get ready, let’s stay ready. Let’s make what we do and how we do it the norm. Having a plan in place to address your concerns, if one or more should arise. Putting a plan in place will give you confidence and minimize the anxiety that sometimes paralyzes us with fear. Lastly, remember there will be things that will come to easily. Most things will require more work to achieve success. Put the time in to achieve the results you are desiring. Make it a sure thing. I am a unique learner. I need to touch, do , see, interact with code to get a deeper understanding. As a developer, I’m not trying to memorize my job. It’s the logic and remembering how I approached the problem. Did I randomly sift through possible approaches or did I methodically approach things.
Career Karma advocates for the potential bootcamp attendees. These camps that are hearing from direct feedback of what attendees need. This time around, I am utilizing resources, putting in the work, and holding myself accountable with a team that meets once a week at the least. I’ve found ways to address my reasons for a lack of confidence and are eliminating my fears one by one with a plan to succeed. Become a fullstack developer is a dream, if I don’t believe in myself, why should anyone else? Lastly, know what I would do, let me ask you, what would you attempt to do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Once you have the answer, get started going after it. No one can hold you back but yourself. Tell your imposter, “Sit down, today is not the day,” and get going with the vision you have for yourself.