Imposter Syndrome

Throughout my time at OSU, I have definitely felt the sneaky self-doubt feeling known as “Imposter Syndrome”. That feeling where you doubt all your skills and feel like a fraud.

It happened again this past sprint when I went down a rabbit hole of trying to solve a certain problem. I started to overcomplicate a problem that had an easy solution. I succumbed to my self-doubt which led me into a google frenzy of trying to find a solution on sites like StackOverflow. If I would have trusted myself and my problem-solving skills instead of feeding into that feeling of “I have no idea what I am doing. I am a fraud.”, I would have saved myself a lot of time and frustration.

So how should you deal with Imposter Syndrome?

  • Self-awareness. At the time, I did not realize imposter syndrome was happening but as I took a step away from my work, I reflected on what I was feeling and immediately thought – “imposter!”. Thus the first step in dealing with imposter syndrome is being aware that it’s actually happening.
  • STOP. When you find yourself going down a rabbit hole of research to solve a problem, STOP. Get away from your computer and take a break. It’s usually in these moments where you have your best ideas, but it’s also just giving yourself a break mentally. If you sit at your computer and continue to fail at the same problem, it’s just going to feed your imposter syndrome.
  • Be your own cheerleader. Instead of being your own worst critic, start to think of all of the things you have already accomplished as a programmer.
  • Let go of being a perfectionist. No programmer is perfect and every programmer looks to Google for help. So stop being so hard on yourself!
  • Know you are not alone. In every professional, there comes a time when you feel like you have no idea what you are doing and that’s okay, it’s part of the learning process. So just know you are not alone with your “imposter” feelings.

And lastly and most importantly, BE KIND TO YOURSELF!

OSU Capstone: 1-month report

One of my last courses at OSU is a Capstone course. Going into the course, I knew I would be working on a team project, but had no idea what I wanted to do or what technologies I would be using. Looking through the suggested projects, I saw a few that caught my eye but nothing that really stuck out to me.

One of my classmates eventually posted that he proposed a web app that generates a custom playlist using Spotify’s API. I thought “Wow! That sounds fun!”, and immediately got in contact with him. Luckily, his proposal was approved and another classmate reached out that he wanted to join in.

Fast forward a month later and we are in the full swing stages of development. As a team, we initially came up with a project plan that included UI/UX designs as well as our project structure. In the first Sprint, I created the HTML/CSS for our login page and my teammates worked on a login authorization flow using Node.js.

For Sprint 2 (our current Sprint), I am knee-deep in the Spotify API docs and have created a couple functions in JavaScript that return recommended tracks based on a user’s top-played artists or top-played songs. The goal is to use these recommendations to generate a customized playlist for the user. My teammates are also working with the API and one of them even found a cool Spotify API wrapper that makes accessing the API a little cleaner.

So how am I feeling about our project 1-month in? Great! There are times when I feel pressure since our project is due shortly in 5 weeks; however, everyone on my team is pulling their weight and we all collaborate very well together. I feel fortunate I am able to get to work on such a fun project for my Capstone and can’t wait to show off the final product.

“Am I too old to be an intern?”

The title of this is exactly what I asked my husband when I first thought of doing an internship. Going into the post-bacc program at OSU, I paced out my courses and planned to graduate in the summer of 2022. As someone in their mid-thirties, an internship never even crossed my mind.

Summer 2021 classes were ending and I kept thinking about how I only had a year left before I graduated. I felt more confident in my coding abilities but also felt I lacked experience. In group discussions, I kept seeing more and more of my classmates mention internships they had completed that summer, and that’s when it occurred to me, “Hey! Maybe I should do an internship!?” followed up with my next thought “But I’ll be 37 next summer, am I too old to be an intern?”. I asked my husband (my biggest cheerleader) and he exclaimed “Of course not! There are a lot of career changers that do internships!”. And it was decided I would postpone graduating until December of 2022 so I could complete a summer internship.

I interned at PNC as a technology intern on their Strategy and Innovation team. The first day of the internship was a Welcome event in Pittsburgh. All of the interns (400+) from across the country were there. I quickly realized that there were not a lot (if any) career changers and I was one of the oldest interns by 15+ years. I’d like to say that this didn’t bother me, but it was definitely a little awkward, especially when a few interns asked me with perplexed faces, “Are you an intern, or are you part of HR/management?”. I started to think that maybe this was a mistake and for the first time in my life, I actually did feel “old”.

We all have those voices of self-doubt that can’t be turned off or controlled from creeping into our heads, BUT we do have control over whether we let them turn what should be a good experience into a bad one. So I decided to make the choice of staying positive and focused on the big picture of gaining experience. Prior to the Welcome event, my future manager contacted me to let me know I would be working as a developer on the Strategy and Innovation team at PNC. I was excited as it was a small team that worked on many different projects within PNC. I decided to focus on keeping that excitement and not let something as insignificant as age get me down.

The following week I met the team and right away all my worries and self-doubt of “Was doing an internship the right choice?” washed away. The team consisted of five intelligent guys who all had very diverse career trajectories that led to them joining this team. I could see their passion for technology but what surprised me, even more, was everyone’s willingness to be a mentor and to share their knowledge. This was exactly what I hoped for when deciding to intern!

As I worked this past summer as an intern, I never felt like an “intern”, I was made to feel a part of the team and was thrown right into complex projects to put my coding skills to use. To say my internship exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. It not only gave me more confidence as a programmer, but it also ended with a job offer!

It’s true that our own worst enemy is ourselves, but we have the power to overcome our negative thoughts. If I would have let something as trivial as age stop me from being an intern, I would have forfeited an amazing experience. And as Robert DeNiro proved in the movie The Intern, “Experience never gets old!”

Image Source: IMDB

Pandemic Career Switching: Going from Education to Computer Science

As I start my last term at Oregon State University, I keep thinking about three things:

  1. My former career as a teacher.
  2. The pandemic and how it pushed me to take this leap into CS.
  3. How excited I am to start my new career AND how relieved I am that I made this choice to leave one career to start a whole new journey!

Let’s address my first thought: my life as a teacher. I worked in the education system for almost 10 years with most of my career spent as a Reading Specialist/ Intervention teacher in Title 1 (high poverty) school districts. While teaching had many rewarding moments, it also had many tough moments, especially working with students who had experienced many traumas in their young lives. I don’t ever regret teaching as it taught ME so much, but I also don’t miss it and feel like I am now entering a career that is more suited to me. With that said, maybe I would not appreciate the science of programming if I had never been a teacher. I definitely learned how to manage time, stress, and problem solve as an educator which are skills that go hand in hand with programming.

“How did you go from teaching to programming? It seems like a big jump?!”

A question I get a lot is “How did you go from teaching to programming? It seems like a big jump?!” Well, like any good (love) story, it all started when I began dating my husband. At this point in my career, I was getting burnt out but also bored with teaching. Even though every day was different, I was not feeling challenged cognitively anymore but had no idea of what I wanted to do next to fill that void. When I meant my now husband, he was coding and developing iOS apps. I immediately (like 2nd date) asked “Hey, can you show me how to code?”. The next day I downloaded Xcode, and from there he started to give me little coding assignments to do in Swift. I started to develop a reading fluency app (that I never finished but was still good practice!) and began to dive deeper into Swift. I thought to myself “I think I really like this!”.

It’s March 2020 and I’m still teaching full-time and dabbling in programming on the side.

Fast forward to about a year later: it’s March 2020 and I’m still teaching full-time and dabbling in programming on the side. I started to take a very long Swift boot camp course on Udemy earlier in the year and am about mid-way through it. If you haven’t connected the date yet, this is when the pandemic begins which brings me to my second thought: how the pandemic pushed me to take the leap into CS. I remember getting notice that school would be shutting down for a week and like most of us, never imagined that it would turn out to be indefinitely closed. I don’t remember exactly how far into the shutdowns we were when my husband and I discussed my going back to college for Computer Science; all I remember is one of us saying “Well, if you are going to do this, now seems like the ultimate time.”

And of course, there is that sneaky self-doubt voice saying, “What if you fail?”

I researched a ton of programs including popular coding boot camps and read a ton of student reviews on Reddit. Being that I had former degrees as an educator, OSU’s post-bacc CS program seemed to be the best fit for me so I applied, got accepted, and started courses in the Fall of 2020. To say I was nervous and scared is an underestimate! I kept thinking to myself, “I am comfortable as a teacher and know my craft so well, why would I leave to start completely over?!” And of course, there is that sneaky self-doubt voice saying, “What if you fail?” or “What if you hate it and are making a horrible decision?”.

I know I am where I am supposed to be.

This brings me to my 3rd thought: how excited and relieved I am that I made the CORRECT choice to leave one career and start a new one. My first term was not easy and I may have shed a few tears on some of those early programming assignments, but there is NOTHING like the feeling of that moment when you finally get your (YOUR!) code to work. It’s magical! I knew after that first term that I made the right choice but was still scared of what lay ahead. Like many of us in programming, I often felt like an imposter but as the terms moved on, I gained more and more confidence in my skills as a programmer and now in this last term at OSU, I know I am where I am supposed to be.

It (life) just looks like what in the world is going on? And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel.

As I start the latter part of this journey I keep thinking of a quote from Joe Walsh in the Eagles documentary, “You know, there’s a philosopher who says, ‘As you live your life, it appears to be anarchy and chaos, and random events, non-related events, smashing into each other and causing this situation or that situation, and then, this happens, and it’s overwhelming, and it just looks like what in the world is going on? And later, when you look back at it, it looks like a finely crafted novel. But at the time, it doesn’t.”

I can’t wait to see what is written in the next chapter of my novel.