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.
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.
Dev friends, do you ever feel like you're not technical enough? Because I do, constantly.— Taryn (@TarynEwens) June 30, 2020
So what are the lessons here?
- That little voice in your head lies a lot (or at least mine does!)
- You can do the difficult things, it might just take some hard work
- 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.