Own Your Power

This is a guest post from Rizel Scarlett. Enjoy.

Dear Developer,

If you’re experiencing impostor syndrome, you’re not alone. For some people, impostor syndrome will never “go away,” but you can create a healthy relationship with it.

Impostor syndrome in technology is pervasive. Part of the problem is that tech is rooted in elitism and academia, so we feel we have to pretend to know it all. However, it’s impossible to know it all, especially in this industry, because there’s always a new language, tool, or concept you haven’t been exposed to.

Over time, my relationship with impostor syndrome has evolved. In the first two years of my career, I constantly felt:

  • Embarrassed
  • Anxious
  • Incompetent
  • Like I didn’t belong
  • Like I should quit tech altogether

Three years and ten months after starting my first software engineering role, I still experience impostor syndrome, but now I embrace those feelings. For example:

  • When I come across something I don’t know, I get excited because that means I’ll learn something new.
  • I practice vulnerability. Whether the person I’m working with is more or less experienced than me with a specific technology, I say the words, “I don’t know how to do this, but I’m going to work with you and research to find the solution.”
  • I take time to publicly and privately acknowledge my accomplishments, even if they are small. This way, I remind myself that sometimes I DO know what I’m doing, and I DO have some knowledge and expertise.

I recently hosted a Twitter Space, and I gained an additional perspective on managing impostor syndrome. (If you’re not familiar with Twitter Spaces, it’s an in-app audio experience, a.k.a. a live podcast that any member of Twitter can join). I asked the panelists of my Twitter Space to share advice on dealing with impostor syndrome with the audience. Nyah, one of the panelists, responded saying, “It’s important to recognize there is power within you and to own your power.” We often feel impostor syndrome because we are noticeably different in a seemingly homogeneous workforce. However, those differences are valuable to your engineering team.

For example:

  • If you come from a non-STEM educational background or you’re a career changer, you’re most likely bringing transferable skills such as communication. Strong communications skills help developers collaborate, improve documentation, and bridge the gap between business and engineering.
  • If you have less experience than your teammates, you can provide a fresh perspective and a new approach to solving engineering problems.
  • If your abilities, gender, sexuality, race, native language, or neurodivergence are underrepresented in your team, you can bring inclusive solutions to your company’s codebase. Sometimes, homogeneity in a team increases the chances of producing unoriginal, un-empathetic, and possibly harmful applications.

Additionally, your engineering skills will increase with time, practice, and support.

Here are a few tips that can help you own your power:

  • Work with a supportive team – It’s very tempting to accept the first offer you receive when you land your first engineering role, but working on an encouraging team with strong mentorship can make or break your experience. Search for a team that will listen when you speak, set you up for success, and doesn’t place blame.
  • Advocate for yourself – If you built a cool feature, helped a customer, earned a new certificate, or accomplished anything else, let your teammates know. Amplifying your accomplishments increases your visibility within the company and increases your chances of promotion. Additionally, if you need help, ask for it, but as an engineer asking for help can feel humbling and nerve-wracking. An excellent framework to follow when asking for help is:
    • Be specific about the problem you are trying to solve
    • Share your code
    • Describe methods you’ve already tried and the result of those methods
  • Take breaks – It’s okay not to code 24/7. Taking breaks between coding can improve your productivity. Breaks give your brain a chance to absorb what you learned. Your brain may even solve some of the problems while you’re sleeping or taking a job. Many developers like to practice the Pomodoro technique, which requires taking a 5-minute break every 15 minutes.

You are a fantastic software engineer, and you are getting better every day. Recognize and own the power you hold.

Rizel Scarlett

Rizel is a Junior Developer Advocate at GitHub. She moonlights as the Director of Programs at G{Code} House, an organization aimed at teaching women of color and non-binary people of color to code. Rizel believes in leveraging vulnerability, honesty, and kindness as means to educate early-career developers.

One thought on “Own Your Power

  1. About “Take breaks” and overall I of course agree with you. When I was a “simple” developer I was always following the Pomodoro technique however as a manager that’s really hard between interruptions or meeting. Any suggestion to keep owing our power even if we’re a manager and our time is less easy to handle..?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.