Third/Fourth 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.

  • What happened to pursuing Psychology?

    Acceptance Email from the University of Essex
    Email of Acceptance to the MSc Psychology conversion course

    I’ve received this question a few times now so I figured it might be time to write a proper answer down, with my thought process and reasoning fully documented.

    Let’s turn back the clocks to January of this year, which was when I initially applied for the University of Essex to study their MSc Psychology conversion course. It was before receiving my results for the first semester of my final academic year and I was feeling very under-confident in my abilities as a software engineer, and whether my ambitions to attain a First in my degree were even remotely achievable; it felt as though all of my peers had pulled substantially ahead of me and despite my best efforts, I felt that I was becoming disheartened with the discipline and this was especially the case with my Ruby on Rails web development module that I was having a hard time in, when web development is typically my forte. You can imagine what kind of number this was doing on my Imposter Syndrome, which is something I have a hard enough time with anyway.

    I’m the kind of person who likes to put safety nets in place, or to have some kind of redundancy plan. Perversely, it goes against my natural inclinations towards spontaneity, but like a dog who learns to slow down after running into a glass door one time too many, I’ve become more methodical in my decision making. My best friend is also very strategic, so it rubs off somewhat on me. To cut a long story short, I had planned to use my expertise and enthusiasm for mental health, Active Listeningand student welfare to springboard myself into a psychology-oriented career path should everything turn sour. Several years of volunteering for a student helpline is nothing to scoff at, along with various volunteer undertakings in the name of student welfare and mental health, and I wanted to use these potentially to my advantage.

    Ollie for Wellbeing Officer 18-19 / Ollie am Swyddog Llesiant 18-19
    Ollie am Swyddog Llesiant 18-19 / Ollie for Wellbeing Officer 18-19

    The cherry on the sundae was my running the Students’ Union student elections for the position of Welfare Officer around March. Sure, it would mean deferring the Master’s by a year, but it would put me in good stead for such a career and be a year of concrete, paid experience. I came third place, which is still really good, but I’ll admit, I was really disappointed. I’ll update this blogpost with a link to an article I’m writing about my experiences running in that, what I learned, and what I took away from my brief stint in student politics.

    Eventually, I got my semester results. I did tremendously, despite all of my doubts, and what this really did was restored a lot of my faith in myself. But of course, there was still one more semester to go, and it would involve the largest software project I ever embarked on – a PHP based tool for extracting data from FGM-3 magnetometers, rendering the data using Chart.js, and also making datasets available via POST request, kind of like a diluted RESTful service. It was a great success, netting 77% for it, with my department planning on using it as the basis for another undergraduate project next year.

    If that was just a big whirlwind of jargon, let me break it down for you. After struggling for a semester and having my confidence really stunted, it made a rapid recovery following my results and then my success with my dissertation. Not to mention my degree overall! It rekindled my desire to learn more, and despite the sleepless nights and the hard work I put into my program (and its mountains of documentation), I look back fondly. It was a lot of fun.

    Ultimately, I decided that mental health activism, Active Listening, and Nightline helpline volunteering would remain as hobbies, and that it would be more fruitful for me to continue pursuing what I set out to pursue in the first place. It was no fluke I achieved what I did, despite the Imposter Syndrome in me trying to persuade me otherwise. I really hope that this year will continue to build my confidence, along with a badass portfolio. More on that tomorrow.

    Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in more posts, including ones that don’t focus on me (I promise!), follow me on Twitter! I always tweet whenever I’ve written anything new, and you won’t want to miss my retweets – they’re great.

  • General Update

    Yeah I know I know – my whole New Year’s resolution basically went to crap – I promised that I would do a weekly blog post but I’ve simply been so crazy busy that I just haven’t had the opportunity to do so.

    So what’s new? I’ve been busy with my campaign to become Wellbeing Officer in my Students’ Union annual elections. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful, and came in third place. Nevertheless, I am very happy with where I came. I’ll be writing about that hopefully soon both on LinkedIn as well as the student paper if I can.

    I got my results for last semester! 74% in Agile Methodologies, 72% in Internet Services Administration, and 64% in Developing Internet-Based Applications. I also got a wonderful 79% in my Year Abroad, although this is worth only 0.25 on the degree cascade.

    Other than that, I’ve just been busy with my major project and German work. There’s been a lot of disruption to my teaching due to the recent university strikes, which I totally empathise with, so I am for the most part playing a lot of catch-up and dealing with a near endless barrage of work.

    This week, I need to ensure my major project is demonstration ready by Wednesday, to prepare numerous German translations for Thursday, as well as sit an assessed listening exam on Thursday, and finally present a topic on a random German politics topic for Friday.

    Thankfully, I can go home this weekend for the three week Easter break.