So I work as a software dev, which you may have gleaned, you smarty pants, you. I started late in life, had the wrong degree and was never that much of a nerd to begin with. Through study, some luck and a lot of reading, I landed a job, then another, then another and another yet again. I’ve been getting paid to code for a little over two years now. But you know what? I still feel like I’m one bad piece of code away from someone ‘finding me out.’
The first three months of my first job as a dev, I felt like I might get fired everyday. It was awful. I wondered if they had made a mistake, were the just filling a quota by having me, was there literally no one else that applied? I felt pretty useless, made more bugs than I fixed and one particularly bad program I wrote in my first year actually cost the company around $10,000. Fuck.
Around year one, I felt like I belonged. I started having the answers to difficult questions, creating user stories and offering my opinion during code reviews. I even created a few full stack applications on my own that affected hundreds of stores across the nation. Then… I left. I worked at a couple bootcamps during my first job which allowed me to sharpen my skills but then I took the big plunge and joined a start-up as dev #1. Double fuck.
Here I am, two years in as a dev, at 34 and with 3 kids and still feel like a kid playing dress up. Part of me knows that I’ve been here before and this too shall pass, another part of me wonders why I and others feel like this in the first place. Working in a super technical environment can be tough: there are clear benchmarks for your success and your product, for better or worse, is on display and open to criticism. Developers are also a smart bunch. I work with an MIT grad, a former Googler and a guy that wrote a fucking testing library that we and thousands of others use. The amount of big brains in the room can be a little daunting at times.
If you’re starting off your first developer job or in my case your second and you’re feeling like me: I can tell you, after talking with a lot of engineers from non-traditional backgrounds, that the feeling will subside after a while and when you begin making regular contributions you’ll feel more at one with the team. I can also say that in the last two years, despite all the cringe-worthy things I’ve said in interviews, on the job or making small talk over code that showed my lack of knowledge and noob-ness, not once was I ever laughed out of the room. Turns out devs aren’t such a bad bunch.
I was surprised to see just how far up the rungs impostor syndrome can ascend. I spoke with the VP of Technology at my last job, a man who I respected as one of the smartest guys in any room. He told me how he felt like the dumb kid, even now, 25 years into his role when he was around other CEOs. My lead developer, a stone-faced prodigy who seemed to be able to tackle any problem, told me he almost quit during his first six months on the job because he felt he would never figure it out. The more devs I’ve spoken with, the more variations of this story I get. Triple fuck.
I guess the bad news is, that feeling of imposterism might be yours for a while. The good news is, you’re in good company.