Episode 4: Imposter Syndrome

February 20, 2019
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Angie Chang: Welcome to another episode of the Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you to the best in tech from women in tech. I’m Angie, founder of Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek Dinners where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Hi, I’m Sukrutha, CTO of Girl Geek X.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m Gretchen, COO of Girl Geek X.

Rachel Jones: And I’m Rachel, the producer of this podcast.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be discussing impostor syndrome. This is a question that we get a lot of at our Girl Geek dinners and I wanted to get a sense from everyone here. Why do you think this topic gets asked so much at our Girl Geek Dinners?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I remember the first time I heard about it, I felt like they were talking about me and I got super emotional. I’m like ‘This is what I’ve been dealing with all week.’ I wonder if people really, really want to hear more about it because every time they are struggling at work, or they are dealing with a new challenge, they mistake that for failure and so they want to learn how to cope with that and this sort of gives you hope that this is just in your head and you are not actually struggling. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I think that’s a big reason why it comes up, is because you are always stopping and questioning yourself. And to know that everyone else is sort of going through something similar I think just makes you feel better because everyone else is sort of like the duck on the water and it looks like they’re moving along so smoothly, but underneath they’re like paddling like crazy.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And then I think it comes up a lot because there’s a name for it now. Like I don’t know how many years ago you heard it. I certainly didn’t hear it for the first several years of my career, when I most struggled with it, nor was I around, I didn’t have a community like Girl Geek X to have other people talk about their experiences, so I thought I was like the idiot in the room all the time. But I don’t know. Angie, what do you think?

Angie Chang: I think I don’t hear about impostor syndrome day to day which is why at Girl Geek Dinners, I feel so safe, where people will be like putting a name to this feeling they have experienced and want to hear more about how to combat it so they can improve and not have those moments of pause when they want to be moving forward in their jobs and their careers.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah or even just like what are the hacks, what are the life skills that you can learn from someone else that they … You know, I hear people say “Well I just rehearse and rehearse and rehearse” or I … You know, like for a presentation or whatever, or I go and research every single possible outcome of this so that I can go in and feel confident about what I’m talking about and speak up. But what are those ways … because we’re all going to do it differently in our way of sort of overcoming it and going in and at least looking like a duck above the water and moving smoothly along even if you are kind of paddling like crazy.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I remember before meeting someone and I would really, really struggle to like speak up. I’d have so many things to say, but I wouldn’t say anything in meetings. I read about power posing and I started to do that before every meeting. So basically you look in the mirror and you pose fiercely. You feel great.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Another tip that was given to me was to just go into the room before the meeting starts in that room and walk around and that helps. So things like that unless we talk about it, we’re not going to be able to come up with these ideas for what would work for various people because there’s only so much you can do with tips that maybe don’t work for you, right?

Rachel Jones: Yeah. And I think another possible reason for why this comes up at so many dinners is just people wanting to know that they’re not alone in this feeling. They think a lot of what’s behind impostor syndrome as having this idea that everyone else around you is so confident all the time and so capable. So knowing that other people, other women that you admire, even as high as they are in their career still experience this is really comforting to hear.

Rachel Jones: So what is impostor syndrome? Does anyone have like a definition now that we’ve been talking about it?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. For me I guess impostor syndrome has typically been related to my annual performance or like how much of a leader people perceive me to be and I would always find reasons and excuses for other people to not take me seriously and all of that, I would say is what my experience and my perception of how I’ve gone through impostor syndrome and what’s it’s been for me. What about you, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I was plagued, and still am to some extent. I grew up really, really poor. I was the first person in my family to go to college. And so I was living in a world that I’ve never experienced before, knowing that I was very different and trying to learn the ways of well-educated people and professional roles and always feeling like everyone could tell that I was just a girl who grew up in a trailer and didn’t belong in the room.

Angie Chang: Having worked at an all women’s coding boot camp, I heard the word impostor syndrome a lot, both from the students and as well as the instructors who are anticipating the questions that would inevitably come about. The feelings of imposter syndrome that were surfacing in women very frequently.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So for a more official overview of what imposter syndrome is, we’ve got a great quote from Aline Lerner who is the CEO and founder of a company called Interviewing.io that helps people prepare for technical interviews. If you haven’t checked it out, you definitely should. Aline is one of my favorite people and she spoke at our Elevate conference in 2018 and here’s what she had to say through all of the data that they’ve collected at Interviewing.io over the years about imposter syndrome.

Aline Lerner: So what is imposter syndrome? It means you think you did poorly when you did well. Now, here is the crazy part. If a candidate did well and they think they did poorly and you don’t give them immediate actionable feedback and let’s say you let them sit on it for days, they’re going to get into this whole self-flagellation gauntlet, so they’re going to leave that interview and they’re going to start thinking one of two things. Either they’re going to think ‘man, that company didn’t interview me well. I’m good at what I do and I don’t think that company knew how to get it out of me, so they suck.’ Even worse, what’s going to happen is you’re going to think ‘oh, I’m a piece of shit. Now they know I’m a piece of shit and I totally didn’t want to work there anyway.’ Right?

Aline Lerner: So, what ends up happening is unless you tell people they did well immediately after they did well, you end up losing a lot of good candidates because by the time you get back to them, they completely talked themselves out of working for you, so don’t let this happen. Don’t let them gaze into the abyss and give people actionable feedback as soon as possible.

Aline Lerner: Actually, I saw one of the comments … I want to leave a few moments for questions, but one of the comments on the side was ‘Imposter syndrome is a women’s curse’. We actually ran some data on our platform to see if imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women or whether it’s distributed across both genders. As it turns out, both men and women are equally plagued by imposter syndrome and the other interesting thing that we learned, and we haven’t written about this yet, but we will, is that the better you are at interviewing, the more prone to imposter syndrome you are and the worse you are–There’s the opposite called the Dunning-Kruger effect where you think you did well when you in fact did poorly.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think when I originally heard her say that men and women were plagued by imposter syndrome equally, I wanted to just play it back over and over and over and over again, but I’m curious. Why do you think that is? And maybe this is only in an interviewing context, but I think it’s probably right for a more wide application of it, but why do you think women feel like it is over-represented with them?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like it’s not really the fact that only women feel something or perceive something a certain way, it’s how you deal with it. Right? Like how you deal with that feeling and I think that’s where women are probably different where like, you know? Obsessing about how something went. Over-analyzing. Thinking more. Worrying more. Instead of probably moving on and forgetting and I think that’s probably where women are different, just speaking for myself. I know I definitely think about things a lot more than my male co-workers and my male friends and even my husband. They definitely don’t over-analyze the way I do. I think her quote, in general, really, really spoke to me because she spoke about the two sides, right? She spoke about imposter syndrome and the Dunning-Kruger effect. My only thing is I wonder if it is more about when you’re better at interviewing than you are more prone to imposter syndrome or is it that when you’ve worked harder and you’ve really, really put in a ton of effort, then you’re more prone to imposter syndrome. That’s something I was thinking a lot about when I first heard her talk about this.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What do you think, Angie?

Angie Chang: I’ve seen … Having trained to work with a lot of male and female engineers that the male engineers do also admit when they’re asked and prompted that yes, they also have imposter syndrome here and there and in our training and orientations, we always welcome the men to share those experiences and they’re like ‘oh, you want me to talk about them?’ And we’re like ‘yeah! We want you to talk about that because it’s very human. It’s very encouraging to your young mentee at the coding boot camp who’s starting out in this career to know that you, too, 15 years ago or whatnot also had similar feelings, they’re completely normal, and to be able to recognize that and move on.’

Angie Chang: I think there’s something to acknowledging that equal-ness that everyone feels these feelings of things we call imposter syndrome, anxiety, a lot of stress, doubt, feelings of failing because you’re not sure often times after an interview or anything whether you were right or not, whether you did a good job or not, so I think that Aline did a great job in underlining the importance of us as people in a community and society to confirm or deny whether someone did well or not and that’s just part of being a good mentor or coach or manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It is interesting in an interviewing scenario though, like how do you give someone feedback that they did well or not without over-creating anticipation of whether or not they’ll get the role? Right? If someone tells you you did really well, then you think ‘oh, I’m much’ … And you are a bit closer, but I think it can work in the opposite way too possibly where she’s saying if you don’t get the feedback, then you go home and you talk yourself out of the job in whatever way that you do that, but you may go home and talk yourself into the job, so I don’t know.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I remember I conducted an interview where every time they were trying to solve the problem, I would say ‘this is good, but what if …’ and I felt like that probably sent a more positive vibe because I wasn’t making them feel like what they were suggesting was wrong and it felt like they left positive even though they didn’t really meet the bar, necessarily, based off of their experience level. Their suggestions … I didn’t shoot them down, you know? So, I wonder if things like that, as opposed to just saying ‘Okay, you did great’, but you sort of, in a more positive way, tried to pull out more out of them in the interview, if that would help to … But yeah, it is definitely challenging to be like ‘how do I give positive feedback or actionable feedback in an interview that quickly?’

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right, and also if you’re in a non-technical interview, what are you really giving them feedback on?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Mm-hmm (affirmative)- Yeah, that’s very true, but this perspective is really, really interesting because to me imposter syndrome has been largely outside of the interview cycle, right? Like, for me, it’s always been how I’m doing day-to-day and how I’m contributing, but this specific example, specifically because of what Aline works on, you know? Her whole company is around interviewing. It’s been really, really interesting to think of imposter syndrome very focused on interviews.

Rachel Jones: Are there any examples that you can think of of imposter syndrome that you’ve seen outside of the interviewing context in your work?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I’ve seen it when people are asking for promotions or asking for raises. Who is the one who asks for it when there are multiple equally competent people or when there’s a job listing and who actually applies for it? So there, I feel like there are instances of imposter syndrome in the people who don’t put their names forward or they don’t put themselves out there.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s kind of the same thing that she was talking about, about going home and talking yourself out of something.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Uh huh.

Rachel Jones: Even if it’s outside of interviewing, you’re thinking about just going for a promotion, before you even try, you’ve had a whole conversation in your head about how you’re not the kind of person who could go for that kind of thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah.

Rachel Jones: So I think it’s definitely relevant.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think I’ve seen it with people on my team who you’re trying to get them to work on a project and they come back and they’re like ‘I can’t do that.’ I’m like ‘You absolutely can. I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you were capable of it.’ And I remember that super, super early in my career. It was my first job. I had no background in anything and they were like ‘go out and find a 401k plan’ and I was like ‘I don’t even know what a 401k is’. We didn’t have retirement plans in my family or anything, so at first I had to find out what 401k plan was and then I had to go find one for the company, but they just were like ‘Of course you can figure that out. Just go figure it out.’ And so, I took that early learning from how I was managed early on and sort of brought that in to ‘I wouldn’t ask you to do it if I didn’t think you could do it. In fact, I think a couple days from now, you can come back and tell me more about than I know about it right now.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Don’t you think that sometimes when somebody is suffering from imposter syndrome, that also impacts how they’re doing, like their performance? It’s sort of like this awful cycle and catch-22 situation and then over time, they don’t push themselves as much just because they’re so afraid. And then it becomes hard for even their boss to see in them that they can actually do it.

Angie Chang: There’s a common criticism of the tech industry and I’m sure this is a trait of many industries in many places is that managers are often ‘not good’ because that’s a common criticism that you hear, right? Everyone’s like ‘Oh, managers are terrible. They don’t get enough training.’ Even as a new manager, you have maybe two or four years of being a mediocre manager at best, so if people are not being empowered by ‘good managers.’ thatI means there’s always that amount of people who are left wondering and possibly getting hung up on their imposter syndrome and not being able to accelerate their career as much as they could.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think that’s a really good point because if I … You’re making me think that just as you were saying early on when I was a manager, I didn’t really think about ‘how do I pull this out of somebody?’ And now it’s all I think about is ‘how do I get in and get to the root of …’ Recently I was managing … He was doing inside sales calls and he really wanted to go do field sales, but he just kept ‘Well, yeah, maybe next week or whatever’ and I could tell he was really frustrated because the field sales person that he was giving the leads to wasn’t following up on his leads. He was like ‘I should just go there.’

Gretchen DeKnikker: And so finally, I just kept digging down, and digging down, and digging down and we had this conversation and what I thought was going on is he thought people wouldn’t take him seriously and eventually I got him to admit without saying what I thought it was that he was … He’s like ‘I’m too young. No one’s going to talk to me’. And I was like ‘Okay, well why don’t you just go do it for a day and see if that’s true because you’ve decided that, but you don’t know if it’s true. I would talk to you. I don’t think you look too young to be taken seriously. You know everything you need to know about this business to do well.’ And then he started doing it and I couldn’t get him in the office anymore which is this amazing success story, but …

Sukrutha Bhadouria: That’s awesome.

Angie Chang: It sounds like people really need a good manager or coach or maybe even someone like a therapist or career coach who could be that person to give them encouragement help, talk them through, and assure them that they can make that next step. So in my line of work, it seems like speaking and engagement seem to be where imposter syndrome can rear its head. I remember I showed up at Harvard Business School for a panel and I was like ‘I’m the only one here, on this panel, who didn’t go to Harvard Business School and then run a giant company.’ And I had feelings of imposter syndrome, but I also … I remember speaking with, at the time, Sheila Lirio Marcelo, the CEO of care.com and she mentioned that she felt imposter syndrome when she was at, I think it was Davos or walking down the forum where she was like I’m at this great, grand, global stage and I also felt a twinge of imposter syndrome, so I felt comforted to know that everyone feels this thing called imposter syndrome and they’re able to accept it and move on.

Angie Chang: I think it’s just a matter of addressing it and moving forward and doing the things that you need to do.

Rachel Jones: I think, for me, imposter syndrome comes up a lot when I’m thinking about what words I use to describe myself and what I do. Even just doing podcasts and having that hesitance to say I am a podcast producer or I am a podcaster, feeling like when I actually claim that for myself, there’s some level in that career that I need to get to before I can honestly think of myself that way even though I’m doing so much work in podcasting. I think there’s a separation between the work that I’m doing and I know I can do versus internalizing that and letting that become a part of my identity.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wow, I never thought you’d say that! I totally look at you as a podcaster, so …

Rachel Jones: Well, thank you!

Angie Chang: We’re going to give you a business card that says ‘Girl Geek X, Podcaster’.

Rachel Jones: I think having a business card would make it feel a lot more real and tangible. [crosstalk 00:19:06]

Angie Chang: I remember when I was working at the women’s coding school, we would give business cards in the middle of the program to all of our students that said their names and the words ‘software engineer’ on it and that way people felt similar to how scientists feel when they put on a white lab coat, that they are that thing. I think we see that if you’re a student, oftentimes you’re like ‘I am just a student’, but everyone else is like ‘well, you code, so you are a programmer’ or ‘you are a software engineer’ and it’s just kind of helping people really hand out their card and say ‘yes, I am a software engineer’ or ‘yes, I am a podcaster’. ‘Yes, I’m CEO.’ ‘Yes, I am this’.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it plagued me at kind of each time I leveled up in my career. So, I talked a little bit about in the beginning, but then I think the next point where I was really overcome was when I founded my own company and going into these rooms and it’s just next level, right? These are top-tier investors and I’m in there supposedly to market myself and my company and just feeling particularly … You know, these are men … wealthy men. They’ve been wealthy their entire lives. I wasn’t expecting, I guess then I was around 39-40 years old, to have all of that feeling of ‘I grew up poor. I don’t belong in this room.’ to all come rushing back. You know? You think at some point you’ve accomplished enough that that doesn’t flood you with fear anymore, but it did.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. That reminds me. My first time, I think was when I moved to management and when people don’t like you as a new manager, they just don’t tell you. They just don’t want to do their work and it’s like ‘why is no one wanting to do it?’ I’ve now been on a team where people didn’t like working with me and I don’t think it was so much they didn’t like working with me when I was a new manager, it was just they were still adjusting to my style and expecting me to be perfect. So, I went in one meeting and I was like ‘Hey, I’m not going to be perfect. I’m learning. Help me!’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And I think that changed things a little bit, but it still took some time until they got to know me and I got to know them and there was a little bit more trust. The funny thing is that I kept thinking that ‘oh my gosh, I’m failing. I’m awful.’ So, I was talking to a mentor of mine at work and he was like ‘I can’t believe you’re saying this because your boss and I met and he said you’re doing amazing.’ I was like well, I guess I should have heard that more from him or I wasn’t listening when he was telling me I was doing good.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I do know that someone once told me that if you’re doing well, you know? People will tell you. If you’re doing excellent, people will tell other people and just hearing it that my boss had told other people made me feel better and I think that I would have to keep reminding myself of it every time I was worried that I wasn’t doing so great.

Angie Chang: So during our Girl Geek Dinner with SquareTrade, Bonnie Shu shared some of her experiences with imposter syndrome. Bonnie is a product compliance manager at Harbor.

Bonnie Shu: Starting out as a really young female attorney, straight out of law school, of course I felt the imposter syndrome, you know? You have these opposing counsels who are really mean and scary and they’ve been in the business for 40-plus years and all they want to do is bully you around because they think they can and they think that’s going to help them win their case. So, really, for me in those moments, I kind of have this tough love approach with myself where I’m kind of like ‘You know what? You’ve got a job to do. You have a client you have to put your full best effort for and you have to separate out those feelings of insecurity and say ‘look, I gotta get this done and I gotta crush it.’ Taking that to tech, where you’re a first time manager, that’s really scary. All of a sudden, there’s people expecting you to know what you’re doing and you’re like ‘Uh, I don’t know what I’m doing!’ So, you know? You just gotta kinda put those feelings aside a little bit and just look at it from a very objective perspective and say ‘I have a job to do and I’m going to kill it’.

Angie Chang: Bonnie reminds me a little bit about the book I’m reading right now, Michelle Obama’s ‘Becoming’ where she was a young female lawyer working in a firm full of aggressive men and I don’t think that Michelle Obama explicitly talks about imposter syndrome all that much, but you can hear it. I think there’s many different words for it, not just imposter syndrome, but the act of becoming all those things that you experience in a lifetime, very well. I actually highly recommend that book.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s funny. When I first found that I was around a lot of aggressive, assertive people I thought I have to be that person too. It’s even more heartbreaking for a new engineer when you see … or a new female engineer and you’re struggling and you see other women also being a little abrasive, right? And not putting out their human side, so what Bonnie was talking about reminded me of my realization that it’s the environment around you that makes you feel insecure and to always be mindful of what environment you’re creating as well. What do you think, Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I relate to what Bonnie said. I mean I started in tech, what? Now, 21 years ago? So there was no talk of like ‘we should have more women’, right? It was just assumed that women didn’t want to work in tech and that if you did, that you were going to you know, throw down with the boys and so I think for me it was always like I knew I had to be better and that I knew I had to beat them at their own game. I’ve seen that evolve over the years and it’s definitely great for me because I can chill out, but I can pull out the like ‘Really? Do you want to negotiate this deal like that?’ And I can still pull that out of my back pocket now, but it’s not something I have to lead with anymore to be heard or to move a project forward or anything.

Angie Chang: I think the fake it ’til you make it mentality is also very real in industries today, especially in the Silicon Valley where we’re in this age of hyper-growth and super-big billion dollar companies breaking boundaries that everyone feels like everyone has to act very financey because all the finance bros have come to tech and they are now in our companies doing the sales thing, growing the company by leaps and bounds and also having time to go to the gym adn have these perfect lives afterward and I’ve had several women confide that they can’t keep up with the group yoga afterwards and such, so I think just kind of doing your best and kinda faking it ’til you make it, but also being real and hopefully people can do that and come to Girl Geek Dinners and feel like it’s a safe place for them to say this word ‘imposter syndrome’ and be like ‘Okay, we all kind of feel it’ and we can figure out ways to move on.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I don’t know how to … When I’m going through imposter syndrome and I’m trying to go through that whole fake it ’til you make it, how do I strike that balance and not put myself in danger of falling into the whole Dunning-Kruger effect? Does that happen to you all? That you all are thinking ‘Oh my gosh! I don’t want to be on the other side of the spectrum!’

Gretchen DeKnikker: Like you don’t want to think you did well when you sucked?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah! I want a sense of self and be like ‘You know what? I didn’t do so great. I can do better.’ The reminder than I can do better, not just being like ‘No, no, no! I’m sure I did just fine.’ Even though, like I didn’t do well, being able to correctly assess myself is what I want to be able to do consistently.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t think I’ve gotten good at that, but I have gotten better at ‘Okay, so you did this one thing and you were terrified and it worked out fine and you figured it out. Then you did this next thing and you were terrified and it worked out fine and you figured it out.’ So why is it, if you look at past data that you think the future is not going to replicate that and why are you freaking yourself out right now?

Gretchen DeKnikker: And that’s sort of the … I just sort of go through that cycle and then do a little bit of fake like ‘You got this!’ Like I’m some cheesy coach or something. Then the superhero pose. I’ve never done that, but I’ve seen people do that where you stand and put your hands on the hips. I think it’s awesome and I think it can make you feel powerful, so … I’ve never done it because it didn’t come along until recently that I heard about it and I was like ‘I really need to do that.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Totally works for me. It’s a little hard in these shared bathrooms though at work where you’re looking at yourself like that and someone walks in.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I didn’t know to look in the mirror too because I was like ‘Oh, you can just stand in the stall’ awkwardly as a superhero.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Angie, what’s your superhero pose going to be?

Angie Chang: I don’t know if I have a superhero pose. I think it … You can always have like … I’ve seen a show where people are like ‘I have a special tie that’s my lucky tie.’ So, you can have your lucky pin or your lucky shirt that says something witty that you wear under your blazer at work for those important meetings, that little thing that helps you feel like you have an edge on the day. I don’t know if it’s probably power posing. I also have heard of evidence that it doesn’t actually work, recently, unfortunately.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Poo on you! It’s still so fun! [crosstalk 00:28:54] Don’t listen to Angie, anybody! Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: If it works for you, then do what works!

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. I think it’s the act of tricking your brain into thinking things.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Have you even tried to power pose, Angie?

Angie Chang: I have. I also think there’s many things to be said about sitting at the table with your … with some kind of assertive stance, making sure that your body language reflects the power that you feel in your head.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. I think, for me, when you’re talking about when you have to do a presentation. For me, if I do it to one person, like one of my closest friends or a spouse or whatever, nothing will be harder than doing your presentation for one person who knows you really well. After that, it’s so easy. So if I’m really, really struggling with something … because they can’t help but smile and laugh at you and whatever. That’s far worse than anyone in the room is going to do, so once you get that out of the way, it makes it easier.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I’ve got different advice for how to deal with imposter syndrome. What’s really worked for you? Is it something where you have to try something different every time because it changes based on scenario? I’m curious what your thoughts are. Gretchen?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think the self-talk, for me. Going into the rooms with the investors that I was talking about, it was just telling myself over and over again ‘You have worked so hard. You belong here. Even if you don’t belong here, this is your dream, so you’re going to go in and you’re going to make it happen.’ And like ‘You are not going to be your own worst enemy right now. You are not going to talk yourself out of this thing that you’ve worked so hard to have the opportunity to go in and make an idiot of yourself’ if that … You know? At least take the opportunity to do that. [crosstalk 00:30:56]

Rachel Jones: For me, it’s really similar to what Bonnie suggests, just coming back to the objective reality of a situation because imposter syndrome really is a thing that lives in your head regardless of whether you actually know how to do the job, which you generally do. I think, for me, when I start to feel it just coming back to ‘No, I actually know how to do this. I have done this. I’ve been doing this well.’ And kind of self-talking my self out of that place and coming back to just what I know to be true is helpful.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You know what’s really strange that’s helped me is my to-do list. I look back and I’m like ‘Hey, I did this and I did that’ because I sort it by month. Just being able to go back and remind myself of what I was able to do in the last six months helps me feel confident for the future.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: What do you think, Angie? What advice would you give?

Angie Chang: As someone who’s been an entrepreneur many times and done so many different job titles, I feel like I don’t have time for imposter syndrome because I’m always trying something new and I’m always failing in a way. I don’t really have … I guess through time that imposter syndrome has reared its head was after a successful event. Someone’s like ‘That was a really successful event’ and I was like ‘really?’ It happened. And they’re like ‘Yeah.’ I celebrate it for a minute and then like ‘Oh, right. Gotta have our drinks and dinner and celebrate and recognize we did an awesome job.’ I was ready to move on and tackle the next huge problem on my list. So I think it’s good that people around were able to help me recognize like ‘Okay, that was a big thing we did.’ That was probably my imposter syndrome rearing its head, saying ‘that was not a big thing’ when it was a big thing.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah. Every time you achieve a goal because you were so close to it, you don’t … By then, it doesn’t feel like as big of a goal anymore, right? As you get closer to it. Maybe noting down every goal that we have and then ticking it off when you’ve achieved it?

Angie Chang: I think the reflection at the end of the year, at the end of 2018, I looked back and all the things I did that year, I was like ‘Oh my God, that’s a lot.’ I would never have planned for that, but looking back ‘oh, okay’. That makes me feel good about next year.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, like a self-evaluation–‘exceeded expectations.’

Angie Chang: It’s because I had no expectations.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I passed my own performance review.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: So when we had the Postmate sponsored Girl Geek Dinner, we had Christine Song who’s a software engineer there who gave her own advice on how to fight imposter syndrome because there was a question asked by a new boot camp grad about it.

Christine Song: I think that imposter syndrome is something that specifically plagues boot camp grads a lot and I think a lot of what it is is knowing what it is that you have to focus on. When you’re at a software engineering company, you’re assigned tickets. Forgetting all of the outside pressure that is applied on you, you just focus on what’s in front of you. Your only focus and your only job is to do the things that you were assigned and to do it to the best of your ability. So when people do ask you questions about your work, you can answer those questions and you research everything so thoroughly that you’re confident in what you’re saying.

Christine Song: I think that when you take a step back and you think of the bigger picture, you’re like ‘Oh, crap. I’m a woman. I’m in the tech company. Oh crap! How did I get here?’ You know? Because my background wasn’t technical in any way whatsoever and the only way I am able to get through that fear of ‘I don’t belong here.’ or ‘I’m not good enough for this’ is just looking at what it is that you’re doing and focus entirely on it. Don’t let the outside influences distract you from what it is that your job is. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do. Just focus on what you’re doing and you’ll be fine.

Angie Chang: I think there’s a lot of possible potential in imposter syndrome from boot camp grads, for sure, because that means that you did not study computer science in university and a working in an industry as software engineers. But also, when you look back, a lot of people who are currently working as software engineers, many of them don’t have a computer science degree. Many of them were self-taught, were hobbyists that become professionals. So, I think it’s important for everyone to be transparent and encouraging from wherever they are in saying that it is entirely possible to transition your careers into engineering, into tech, and it’s not so strange. I mean, I myself have a social welfare degree from college and I’ve worked at a handful of companies where I was on the engineering team, so I feel … Maybe I’m biased in that way that I can see the easy translation of humanities majors to technology companies.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think this sort of comes back to what I was saying earlier about it just affects you differently at different points in your career. So, I think initially, you worry about whether or not you’re good at your job and then you worry about whether or not you’re good as a manager. Then you get decent at being a manager and then you become a manager of managers and that’s a whole new level. So, I think maybe each time you’re feeling it is also like Angie was saying, a time to stop and celebrate, right? Like, ‘Oh! Now I must be doing something that’s harder or new which means I’ve gone to another level. So, maybe while I freak out, I should also be like it’s so awesome! I get to freak out right now!’

Rachel Jones: It’s super exciting!

Angie Chang: It’s very exciting.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right.

Angie Chang: Instead of thinking ‘I’m so nervous. I’m so scared.’, I think the recommended thing is to think ‘I am so excited. I am so excited.’ And that re-frames that in your mind when you’re nervous and anxious that you are also just really excited at this opportunity, at this challenge.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s so funny. I think when you get into tech, you learn all these life lessons that could apply anywhere. But yeah, I mean, I guess one would think that it’s mostly boot camp grads that would feel this and perhaps they would feel it more strongly, but I didn’t have a computer science degree. I had an electrical engineering degree, but you know, I did more programming for hardware and as that’s what I studied, but then when I wanted to work, I wanted to work in purely software, so just that whole transition. I didn’t do as many Java coding classes as I wish I had done and then you’re like I ramped up in Java and the interview is in C++. You know? You’re always going to feel like you’re not good enough, so when I have mentored boot camp grads before, I have tried to explain my perspective that, you know, you’re always going to feel like you don’t have exactly the right credentials and the right degree and everyone’s like that, so … don’t let that hold you back.

Angie Chang: It’s so interesting to hear because I would never expected an [inaudible 00:37:51] major to say that because to me, I’ve always like [inaudible 00:37:53] was so hard core, that’s computer science for sure. I never thought about the electrical component being the barrier in someone’s mind.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s all perception.

Rachel Jones: Any final thoughts on imposter syndrome?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I’m against it.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No one likes it. I remember the first time I learned about imposter syndrome and I Googled it. I found out that there’s several quotes from Meryl Streep doubting her ability as an actress and Sheryl Sandberg and other amazing, amazing women and so I printed posters out with quotes from them that I would look at regularly until I actually decided that I wanted to cope with it and figure it out. So, I feel like just find what works best for you to stay positive and stay motivated because the worst thing that you could do to yourself is come in your own way.

Angie Chang: I think the best thing to do is surround yourself by people who are going to be encouraging to you and whether that’s on purpose or by accident, I felt very lucky when I was in college to have people around me who are like ‘You can code and make websites? I will give you … I will point you to paid jobs.’ And I was like ‘I never thought of that’. So, definitely surround yourself with as many encouraging, smart people that can give you the right pieces of advice whether it’s encouraging or not and sometimes they’ll be like ‘You need to do this thing’ and they’ll point you in the right direction because you don’t know what you don’t know and they will help you get to a better place whether you have to learn Java or C++ or just … It doesn’t even matter.

Gretchen DeKnikker: One final way to sort of look at it is … ‘If I look five or 10 or 15 years in the future, will I regret not taking this opportunity?’ And sometimes it’s just framing it that way and putting it into perspective, will keep you from holding yourself back or from self-sabotaging in whatever way because no one ever lays on their death-bed and is like ‘I really wish I’d never gone for that promotion.’, but they definitely will ‘I really regret not taking that opportunity because I was just too afraid.’

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Wise words.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s really important just to know yourself and figure out the kind of things that can help you personally combat imposter syndrome. Some people, having that affirmation from other is helpful. Other people, no matter what anyone tells them, they’re still gonna doubt themselves.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Sukrutha.

Rachel Jones: So knowing just what works for you. Are you the kind of person who needs to just talk yourself down? Do you need to reframe and focus on what you have accomplished? Yeah. Just do some work to think about just how it works for you personally.

Angie Chang: Well said. Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. We’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Angie Chang: This podcast is sponsored by SquareTrade, the top-rated protection plan trusted by millions of happy customers and offered by top retailers. This podcast is also sponsored by Postmates. Postmates helps people unlock the best of their cities and their lives with insanely reliable, on-demand anything network. Launched in 2011, Postmates pioneered the on-demand delivery movement in the US by offering delivery from restaurants and stores previously only available offline.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones. To learn more about Girl Geek X or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. You can also find video and full transcripts from the talks we went through today. If you’re interested in hosting a Girl Geek Dinner, contact sponsors@girlgeek.io.


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