Second Year

  • My MSc Goals: Part 3/3 – Tackling Imposter Syndrome

    (If you haven’t read the first or second chapters of this post trilogy regarding my goals for this academic year, I highly suggest you do so!)

    Imposter Syndrome infographic
    Image credit: Hugh Kearns on Twitter

    Imposter Syndrome is a well-documented issue, and it is widely acknowledged to affect software engineers quite predominantly. When a lot of what you do involves copying solutions seen on Stack Overflow, or utilising already made frameworks and libraries to power your own solutions, it can be easy to feel like a fraud. For me, it is an issue that I’ve struggled to deal with since around my second (sophomore) year at Aberystwyth University.

    Being surrounded by people you perceive as far more intelligent, motivated, naturally enthusiastic, or gifted than you can make you question your own success. I found myself wondering how on Earth did I get the results I did, and how I was going to hope to stand out amongst them when they were just that better than I. I tried to remedy this by branching out to other paths and making my skill set and experiences more diverse, rather than attempting to directly compete with my classmates in programming ability, since I felt as though I’d never catch up.

    This did some great things for me; I nurtured a new found love for work in mental health volunteerism and student welfare, which helped me develop a wide range of strong soft skills and awards for public contributions. Great things honestly, and I would recommend these sorts of undertakings to those genuinely interested in making a difference in a heartbeat. The problem though, is it left me trailing further behind in software and my confidence as a programmer (as explored in my write-up about MSc Psychology) took a bit of a hit.

    When I managed to secure a place at Amadeus Germany for my industrial year internship, I felt like the planets had once again realigned and shifted the natural order back into my favour. I was absolutely thrilled to be joining such a wonderful international company that I would later find to be full of some of the most motivated and bright minds I had ever met. My internship was prematurely concluded six months in (half way) due to mental health issues exacerbated by numerous factors, one of which was severe Imposter Syndrome. I was surrounded by incredible people, especially my own classmates from Aberystwyth, and that far into my internship I felt as though I just had nothing to show for it. It made me feel like a failure. I had somehow cheated and lucked my way into a position for an international corporation and whatever code I could hope to write just wasn’t good enough.

    I know now, that that wasn’t the case. I was doing just fine and I was growing just fine in ability at Amadeus, but to the mind of someone hopelessly unhappy and being choked out slowly by the abyss that is major depression and living alone in a dingy underground apartment, I obviously couldn’t realise this. By the time I returned to England, made a full recovery, and had written my Industrial Year Report, a long report written in German detailing my experiences and what I learned, it all became apparent. I truly hope to remain on good terms with my former colleagues over at Amadeus, because they’re incredible, and it’s a workplace I would return to without hesitation.

    Fast forward to my final undergraduate year, I was plagued with feeling like an imposter throughout, and it wasn’t until I embarked on my final project (dissertation) that this was eventually overcome. Especially was the case when the results came in. I finally wrote something that I was proud of and felt as though my hard work had paid off.

    How do I hope to maintain this positive mentality? I have a three-step approach (everything comes in threes on this blog doesn’t it?) that I am hoping to use to leapfrog into industry following my graduation with absolute momentum:

    1. Keep learning. A good software engineer is one that is continuously learning, so if I keep learning new things and expanding my skill set and knowledge, I know that I’m giving my best.
    2. Don’t compare myself to others. What other people are getting up to is interesting and a great reference for my own learning and development, but ultimately, it is only my own professional development I should care about. Observe, praise, and assimilate. Don’t judge. Embrace kaizen.
    3. Maintain open dialogue. Something that I have learned from my experiences as a mental health volunteer is the importance on talking with others. I am not the only person going through what I am going through. Share my experiences with others, and learn from theirs.

    That concludes this trilogy of blog posts regarding what I am planning on doing for this academic year! I hope that it has been an enjoyable read for you as it was for me writing it, and I look forward to my continued publishing of personal anecdotes and editorials here on my website. It’s part of my own professional development (and personal enjoyment) to be more proactive online, as well as part of my commitments towards those supporting me over on GoFundMe. Stay tuned for more weekly content (minimum two posts per week), and I’d love to see your views and musings in the comment section.