It has been 6 years since I overheard this question/comment about me. My co-workers were reviewing my pull request. One of them got frustrated and thought that it was appropriate to discuss the authenticity of my Computer Science background. I overheard his comment and also the laughter of the other coworker. I spent the next half hour hiding in a bathroom and crying. I was embarrassed and exhausted.
For the next 1.5 years, I dreaded going to work. I avoided talking to those two engineers. I was conflicted. Do I belong in this industry? Am I good enough? Are other engineers laughing at my code? Am I ever going to be able to create a pull request without major anxiety? Would I ever give any valuable technical insight to my team? Oh the hiding in the bathroom and crying for hours continued too.
Today, 6 years later, I am a Lead Software Engineer at Nike and also good friends with both those engineers. I still find myself conflicted or questioning my skills sometimes, but I no longer feel the need for crying breaks. I also don’t feel afraid of pull requests and technical discussions. My struggle has changed from “Do I belong here?” to “How do I grow myself further?”
I am writing this to summarize the steps I took to overcome my fear and find my confidence.
This was most important for me. I found coworkers who were technically experienced and humble. They not only taught me how to be a better coder, but also were my support system on bad days. You should choose your allies carefully. Don’t reach out to people solely based on how successful they are in their jobs. Find people who are willing to give you time and who appreciate what you bring to table. Find time to get coffee with them or go on quick walks.
Focus on Learning
When I first started in Software, I was more interested in finishing the task at hand than deeply understanding the domain or technology. I wanted to be a star of finishing tasks. After my co-workers started tearing up my pull requests, I made it my mission to research more about each improvement they suggested in my code. It took me longer to finish my tasks initially, but spending time on learning the best practices and problem domain helped in boosting my confidence. I started to contribute in the technical discussions.
Get Involved in Local Tech Community
This was accidental. In 2012, I heard that a co-worker was starting a local chapter of a global tech non-profit. I went to their launch party out of curiosity. They were planning to offer introductory tech classes and I decided to volunteer with them. I started TAing a few classes and growing my network. Teaching others forced me to learn more. Networking with other people in the industry also helped me in seeing tech as a more friendly place.
Stop trying to be like John, Dan and Jesse. This sounds cliche, but once I stopped trying to be like other engineers and found what I do best, everything started making more sense. I found out that I can deal with business and technical folks without losing my audience. I cannot talk hours about Reactive Programming or how to increase revenue but I can communicate at each level effectively to get my point across. I can simplify things and drive the team towards the end goal. What is one thing you do best? Find that thing and perfect that instead of attempting several great things that others are doing.
Make Peace with Co-workers
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone to be friendly. A simple smile and once in a while coffee will connect you with co-workers. This way you won't feel alone in every battle. You are going to spend your 8 hours or more everyday with your co-workers. A friendly environment will ease up day to day life.
Engineers love to teach. I have never once came across a developer who would decline the opportunity to show their intelligence. Often times, we hesitate to ask questions because we don't want to admit that we don't know something. Give up the habit of being perfect in every situation and lean on others to help you. Ask questions and next time you will know the answer to help others.
That's all for now!