3 lessons of feeling 'not technical enough'

Do you struggle with imposter syndrome? Same. This isn't a story of how I overcame it. This is a story of my struggle. Maybe it will help you feel less alone in your own struggle.

A long time ago...

When I was in primary school, I was a straight 'A' student. When I went to high school I was forced into a class for "students with high intellectual potential". My teachers had high hopes for me and there was a lot of pressure from the school to choose a "successful" career.

However, after school I decided to give University a miss and went to TAFE instead. My decision was purely financial. I had no idea what career I wanted and I didn't want to go into debt to study something I wasn't sure about. TAFE was affordable and yet, people assumed I was there because I didn't get the grades for University.

I'll never forget the time I ran into an old acquaintance and he asked me what I was studying at Uni. I told him I was working full time, having already completed a double diploma at TAFE. He responded "...but I thought you were smart?".

Fast forward another few years and my boyfriend at the time told me I could never have a successful career without a University degree. I was pursuing cake decorating at the time and his friend said to me "It's not really a career though, is it?".

I actually met a lot of incredibly smart people at TAFE, and I went on to have quite a successful career as a pastry chef. However the damage had already been done. I felt like I would never be considered 'successful' or 'smart' because of my choices.

Two years ago..

When I changed careers to tech I was considered to be someone from a 'non-technical background'. Add that to my insecurity about not being smart enough and having never attended University and I was just a giant ball of self doubt. The phrase "not technical enough" floated around my brain constantly.

Since day 1 of starting as a junior front-end developer I've worked hard to prove that I deserve to be in this industry. Part of it is proving to my colleagues, managers, employers so that I progress in my career. The other (much harder) part is proving it to myself.

It didn't matter how much I achieved or how many challenges I overcame. Every day I struggled with the constant doubt, never really sure if I was capable of doing my job well.

More recently...

A few months ago, with the encouragement of a friend in the community, I decided to try something scary. I applied for a job at a company I've always admired. Working there was a pipe dream, not something I thought was attainable with my current skillset. I was mostly just treating it as a learning experience and interview practise.

There were 3 technical interviews, and 2 cultural interviews, over 3 sessions. I wasn't too concerned about the cultural aspect, but I didn't think for a second I could pass the technical interviews. My firm belief was still that I wasn't "technical enough".

I studied my butt off and then attended the first technical interview, a very collaborative pair programming challenge. I logged off convinced I hadn't passed. I only completed one section of three and I needed a lot of hints along the way. I made silly mistakes because I was so stressed.

The following week I opened my email. I had passed and I was through to the next round. WHAT?! "Don't get your hopes up" I told myself. "You won't get through the next round, you're not technical enough", the little voice said.

Again, more studying like my life depended on it. I attended the second round with two more technical interviews. The first interview being a question & answer session, the second being another coding test (again, quite collaborative). I felt a bit better after this interview. I still didn't think I'd pass, but I at least felt confident that I hadn't made a fool of myself.

A few days later I opened my email. I had passed all technical rounds. WHAAAAAAAT?!

Suddenly, little ol' me who was 'not technical enough' had passed every technical interview.

Let's talk about now...

I tweeted recently about feeling 'not technical enough' and it quickly became my most popular tweet ever. I genuinely thought this feeling was to do with my 'non-technical' background, but it turns out it's a feeling that many people relate to.

So what are the lessons here?

  1. That little voice in your head lies a lot (or at least mine does!)
  2. You can do the difficult things, it might just take some hard work
  3. You are definitely not alone in feeling this way

So is my imposter syndrome gone? Of course not. But recently when it pops up, I remind myself of everything I've achieved, every challenge I've overcome, and especially those technical tests that I somehow passed.

I will continue to prove to myself again, and again, that I deserve to be here.