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GirlCode x Storyblok Coffee break: talking about imposter syndrome

Life at Storyblok
Olena Teselko

Meet Arisa, Josefine, and Monica, Storyblok developer relations engineers and ambassadors of the GirlCode, an organization that teaches women how to change careers, become developers, or study programming. Even though GirlCode is based in the UK, people from all over the world join the community to share their experiences.  

As a part of the community, girls host monthly meetups where they discuss various problems they even had during studying or working in tech. You can watch the recording of the latest episode here or read the recap below. So let's start! 

Arisa: I always wanted to find a place to meet people similar to me, and it was not easy a few years back. That's why we decided to create a space where we could have a broader overview of different perspectives and opinions and open discussions. Even though it all started with the GirlCode, you don't have to be a member to join and take part in our conversations. It's an open safe space for everyone. So, let's start by introducing ourselves.

Monica Fidalgo - Frontend Developer at Storyblok

Monica: Hi, I'm Monica, a front-end developer from Portugal with five years of experience. Before that, I didn't work in the industry as I switched careers. Initially, I studied marine biology but then decided to take another course of my life and signed up for a web design course. The classes I liked most were programming ones, so that's how I switched to web development. Since then, I have never stopped, so now I'm finally here. 

It's funny that we all here have the similar experience of changing our careers. I met Arisa before joining Storyblok. It was in the organization called Front-end Foxes, where Arisa was a mentor. We connected on LinkedIn, and that's how I discovered Storyblok.

Josefine Schaefer - Developer Relations Engineer at Storyblok

Josefine: I originally came from a communications and marketing background, got fired, and figured out that I have to do something with my life and find a safer job. I joined the programming Bootcamp in Hamburg, and now I have been working as a front-end developer for two years in the DevRel team, where I basically combine communication skills with coding, which I never thought would be possible.

Arisa Fukuzaki - Developer Relations Engineer at Storyblok

Arisa: I'm originally from Japan and used to work as a flight attendant. But I understood it's not a job for me from a long perspective. Many of my colleagues were looking for other professions at that time, and I followed what the rest did. I found out that programming was quite fun, although I didn't come from a computer science background or something similar. In fact, I studied liberal arts, but when I tried programming, I felt it was the thing I was looking for and what I wanted to do. And it was the first time in my life that I found what I wanted to do. I felt that I could keep this spark, so I resigned and changed the job. After that, I joined one of the online Bootcamps in Japan. And then, I wondered if I could get the clients by myself because I didn't want to belong to the company anymore as previously I had a negative experience. I was hoping to be a freelancer developer. Eventually, I started to find clients. After that, I had a goal to become a mentor to educate future developers and also shine in the industry, so I began to work 50% time mentor in a programming school and 50% as a freelance developer. Then I started to give a public talk about a year ago, and I really liked it and communicating with other developers. My now-colleague Samual noticed me and offered me an open position at Storyblok as a DevrRel (developers relations), which I'm happy I accepted. 

So now, let's move to our discussion. We don't have any script and would like to hear your questions. Meantime, we want to discuss a couple of topics that we have in a backlog. 

Section titled Have you ever had imposter syndrome, and if yes, what were the reasons? 

Josefine: Before we start, for those who, by chance, are not familiar with imposter syndrome, or maybe you've heard about it but are not entirely sure what it is, I'd like to outline it briefly. For me, it's when I feel that somebody's going to find out that I don't belong in tech. I sometimes feel like my skills are not enough or not as good as the others. It could be because I didn't study computer science, or perhaps because I'm missing some other skills. And it feels that somebody will say, "Now I know, Josephine, you are an imposter." I guess that's a rough way of putting imposter syndrome.

Arisa: I agree with you, and that's also how I would describe imposter syndrome.

Josefine: I definitely had imposter syndrome, and honestly, I still do. Mainly, it's because I had just 3 months of Bootcamp when finding my first job. I was scared that it was not enough, as it seemed a short amount of time, right? And these days, whenever I face a new challenge or do something I've never done, I doubt if I can do it. And it comes creeping out again, and I have little voices in my head saying: "No, no, you can't do this. Why are you doing this job? How are they paying you to do this? You're not fit." And I have to work hard to remind myself that yes, it's okay, you have earned your place here, and honestly, you don't have to earn something. So, yes, it definitely comes up. 

Monica: I didn't know the name, but I also felt like I didn't belong to this industry because I also did a career change. I thought I was not good enough. Everyone in the company seemed to learn computer science, informatics, etc., and here I am, doing styles. Am I going to be fired soon? This feeling was always there with me, and I thought only I felt that way. But then I discovered that this is common, even for people in senior positions, and that it has a name – imposter syndrome. And it's actually not always related to work. We can have this feeling when doing something for the first time. For example, if I start doing origami, I feel like I can't do it as well as someone else just because it's my first time. I'm judging myself. Actually, we are the first to judge ourselves, not others. But I think we can overcome it!

Arisa: I constantly have the feeling of imposter syndrome, I don't even remember a time that I didn't feel it. Although even in a time when I didn't know about this terminology, I was always the type of person who thought that others were doing everything better than I was doing, and I really cared what people were thinking about me. But you will never know until they tell you. And even if someone praises me, I doubt if they do it genuinely or just to be nice. It's like a never-ending loop of doubt. 

At some point, I understand that I need to trust if people tell me, "You're doing a good job because you did a, b ,c, and we appreciate it." And I need to accept it and know that I have the evidence that I contributed a, b, and c, and everything is good. One of the reasons why I might have this syndrome is not getting enough feedback on every single thing I do at work or anywhere else. But I also think that it is closely related to your personality or the surrounding environment that can make you feel like that. It's like a complex of things. Anyway, even though I'm not sure if there is one solution to overcome this feeling, there are still many things you can work on to get rid of it.

Josefine: You mentioned that you're looking for proof, and I realized that it's a strategy I use. I'm constantly looking for evidence that I don't suck in some things, and I have to repeat it to myself. It's helpful to have a kind of backlog of things in mind where you succeeded. 

Arisa: I also think that one of the ways to ease the syndrome is to share your experience with others. Sometimes we have role models that we are really looking up to – and even they could potentially have this imposter syndrome. And if you realize that even this person goes through it, you know you are not alone. 

Josefine: That really depends on what kind of person you are. Maybe it's not even a bad thing after all. 

Quote from Josefine Schaefer, Developer Relations Engineer

It doesn't make you a weaker person if you question yourself and just try your best.

Josefine Schaefer
Josefine Schaefer
Developer Relations Engineer

Section titled How did you handle the imposter syndrome while looking for your first job?

Monica: It was funny, actually. At that moment, I was still taking a course, and I set a goal to find a job in technology in 3 months, so I applied to many positions at once. I made a list of the companies I would like to work for and applied, even if they required more experience than I had. I was very nervous during the first interview, and they rejected me, but I acquired experience, and each new interview was better and better. What is funny is that now the companies that ghosted me then try to headhunt me, but I don't want to work for those who ignored me when I was a newbie.

Quote from Monica Fidalgo, Frontend Developer

Just go for it, even if you are afraid. After all, everyone has to start somewhere.

Monica Fidalgo
Monica Fidalgo
Frontend Developer

Josefine: I think I acted similarly to you. I also sent a lot of CVs because I felt I needed some traction going, and if maybe a third of them would answer, it would be good. I found it really difficult to stay confident because you are constantly questioned about your skills. But one thing helped me, even though I know it's difficult, I tried to remind myself that it's a two-way street. You don't only get interviewed, but you also are in a position to check whether this is a place you want to work. I had interviews with companies that looked down on me or made it tricky as I only had experience at Bootcamp. And that made me understand that I don't want to work in a place where there is no capability to help juniors develop and to invest in people because I think it's a part of company culture and value that is super important. Of course, you are not always in a position to choose like this, but you must never forget that you have a massive value to give to a company and can choose where to work. 

Arisa: My case was a little bit different because, as I mentioned before, I was working as a freelancer, and I didn't have an urgent need to find a job. Nevertheless, at some point, I realized that staying alone, without the team, would somehow limit me as, in a company, you can grow and learn from your peers. If I continued to be so picky, I could miss the opportunity to get into an environment where I could improve my skills. So I decided to apply for several positions. Since I'm open to communications, the first stages of the interviews typically went great, but it was complicated on the next steps and my imposter syndrome worsened. Of course, I was upset when I failed and received the rejections. Nevertheless, I tried to think positively, as I could always continue working with my clients and teaching my students. So it was a "nothing to lose" situation. 

Quote from Arisa Fukuzaki, Developer Relations Engineer

I would recommend reflecting from different perspectives. If you think in the direction "a", there is always "b", "c", and so on. You should look for a better way to motivate yourself.

Arisa Fukuzaki
Arisa Fukuzaki
Developer Relations Engineer

Josefine: We've just got a comment from one of the viewers that she was crying when she got her first rejection, as she thought it was a dream work. 

I'm very sorry and hope that you've already found a solution to that and feel better. Even if it sounds cliché, if one door closes, another one will eventually open, and it will be even better. When I applied for front-end positions and got many rejections, even after working for two years already, I wondered what was wrong with me and got so frustrated. I didn't even know that a developer relations position existed until my now-boss told me about it. And in the end, that is a perfect fit for me. 

Monica: I want to add here that once, I had a company I dreamed of working at and applied to several times. Ultimately, they invited me for an interview. There were rounds of complex technical tasks, but I managed to get a job. But once I started working there, just in a month, I realized that I didn't like the company and that it was different from what I expected from the position. So, I accomplished that, even after being rejected a couple of times, and in the end, I decided to go in a different direction. Sometimes things happen for the reason that we are meant to be in another place. Don't think you're not good enough; maybe it's a company that's not good enough for you. 

Monica: For me, having a mentor or someone more senior than me to talk to and discuss my struggles is critical. Often these people say that your problems are not unique, and it makes you much less stressed when you realize that someone you think is better than you also doubts or feels nervous sometimes. And, of course, the main advice is not to overthink. 

Arisa: Absolutely agree! And one more thing that helps me is setting boundaries at work in terms of time. Even if I didn't finish some task, but it's the end of the work day, I force myself to stop working and do some hobbies like aikido or yoga. Having enough breaks and rest helps me work more efficiently the next day, without thinking about how many undone things are waiting for me. Instead, I feel more confident in what I'm doing. 

Josefine: Yes, that's what I also feel when I do things other than work. When you overwork, it's easy to associate yourself only with your job and forget about your personality. But you are not what you do, and there is so much value in your hobbies or other things fulfilling you. That's why meaningful quality time apart from your job is crucial. 

Section titled Any techniques to help with imposter syndrome?

Arisa: It might seem stupid, but I have a technique that helps me, so let me share it with you. 

Whenever I have a public talk online, I typically feel nervous. My hands and feet are cold and start to shake, and so does my voice. So I take a blanket and a bottle of warm water with me to keep warm and comfortable. Behind the scenes, there are a lot of tricks to calm down. And you know, when I shared this tip on our Slack channel, I felt silly, but people started commenting on how useful it was and that they also tried to keep warm to feel better. 

Josefine: I remember this day! At that time, I had just started working for Storyblok, and I knew you as a famous person, the one who seemed very confident to me. I was so relieved when you shared these tips, and I learned that you also have these "human" problems.

Arisa: Sure, it's important to remember that we are all humans, not completely perfect robots. And what about you, girls?

Josefine: It's interesting how different people have their rituals when imposter syndrome kicks in so that you can return to your routine that brings you back to a comfy situation. When I'm going to have a talk, I usually go for a walk without a phone to keep calm. Also, searching for proof or evidence that I'm doing okay helps. You can't always feel like a superhero. Sometimes, taking small steps helps. For example, say to yourself, "I'm doing my job well. Today I tried my best, maybe it's not perfect, but it's okay." This is how you teach yourself to think positively, which helps me. 

Section titled Do you have any tips for dealing with imposter syndrome while negotiating a salary? 

Arisa: I'm not the best at negotiating a salary because I have a Japanese business culture background where asking the amount of compensation is taboo. That's why it was challenging for me to discuss this topic in job interviews in Europe, where this question is standard, and you are supposed to have an answer. So when I had my first interviews in Germany, I was confused as I didn't know about it. That's how I came up with research from the open data on Glassdoor, for example, and looked for average pay for particular jobs and responsibilities in my location. So, in addition to my values and perspective, I also research statistics and facts.

Josefine: I typically do the same, even though it is sometimes weird for me to evaluate my time. I also once worked for a company where, as we later found, it was a huge salary gap between women and men for the exact same responsibilities and qualifications. That was an eye-opener for me, and ever since, I have become more demanding because, for me, it is about fairness. If I do the same work, I want to be paid the same. 

Quote from Josefine Schaefer, Developer Relations Engineer

Be bold and ask for more, and you'll be surprised how much the companies are actually ready to pay.

Josefine Schaefer
Josefine Schaefer
Developer Relations Engineer

Also, even though salary is a sensitive topic in many cultures, you can always find people in your industry and ask them for a rough estimate to understand the average numbers in the industry or a particular company.

Monica: Don't be shy to ask what you want to get, especially if you are looking for a job in a country other than your residence. For example, if a European company wants to hire you, you can ask for a European salary instead of the one you are supposed to get in your country. 

Another critical thing to consider when going through the interviews is soft skills. Often companies don't care about your education or even technical skills, as they can be learned during the work process. Instead, they check if you can work in a team and how fast you learn or solve problems. 

Josefine: To sum up, don't be shy when negotiating a salary and bring it as an equal discussion. Another thing is that sometimes, companies give more holidays or other perks instead of offering more money so that it can be about something other than the money. 

Section titled How do you distinguish between imposter syndrome and actually being bad at your job?

Monica: You can always ask your manager or peers for feedback, I think it's the best option. A lot of companies have special tools for that to help employees grow in their skills. Also, it's not always our fault if we do something wrong or not good enough. If you are a junior, there should always be someone more senior than you to help you move through this growth path. 

Suppose the workload is too big, or you are on a project when the client expects to get a new feature quickly. You start working on it, it's hard, and you struggle with it, but then someone more senior comes and steals the task instead of explaining how to fix it. You can think that you are not good enough and hesitate, but the reality might be that the company simply doesn't have the tools for you to learn and grow. I was in such a situation when I felt stuck doing the same tasks every day without the opportunity to learn something new, so I changed companies. Now I can spend time fixing a bug, suppose two days. But when a new bug occurs, it takes me less time to deal with it. In other words, I grow all the time.

Quote from Monica Fidalgo, Frontend Developer

When you struggle for maybe more than 15 minutes, please don't feel bad about asking others for their perspective. Sometimes talking it out solves the problem.

Monica Fidalgo
Monica Fidalgo
Frontend Developer

Arisa: That's a good point! I usually do like that. If I am stuck on something, I message my colleagues to ask for their thoughts, and typically the problem magically disappears. Also, when I taught my students, I told them, "If you feel that you're stuck, set the alarm for 15-20 minutes, for example, so that you understand that maybe you don't have the knowledge or idea how to solve the problem yet. So it's faster and better for you to ask for advice."

Quote from Arisa Fukuzaki, Developer Relations Engineer

It's a good skill to know when you should better ask for help to solve a problem faster and more efficiently.

Arisa Fukuzaki
Arisa Fukuzaki
Developer Relations Engineer

Josefine: Agree! And also, as Monica mentioned, it's the company's fault if they don't have the capability to help juniors. After all, the junior position supposes you will get mentorship and learn from more senior colleagues. So it's okay not to know something; it's natural. And if people give you the feeling that you should have known something, then they should rename the position because then it's not a junior, then they are looking for someone else. It's a big and common issue in web development when people expect more than they should. After all, everyone has to start somewhere. 

And regarding distinguishing the imposter syndrome and being bad at work, I sometimes start hesitating, but then, I think if I have any negative feedback or warnings, and if not, I try to calm down. Another thing that I noticed is that often, people who are very good have this syndrome as they try hard to be even better. So sometimes, if we start hesitating, it means that we are not bad – we just don't have enough confidence.

Arisa: I also agree that feedback is the best option to discover how others perceive your work. In my team, I try to give feedback to everybody and feel happy to receive t back. Another important thing about feedback is the correct wording. Even if you have to give slightly negative feedback, you can always do it nicely. And you should always remember that even if you receive negative feedback, it's not because people don't like you, it's because they want to help you improve. 

There is also one great thing that we practice at Storyblok. When some project or complex task is accomplished, we share the news in general chat on Slack. Something like, "Hey, the x project is now live! Kudos to a, b, c people for their contributions. Good work!" That always creates a pleasant feeling, like a virtual clap on the back and appreciation that everyone is happy to receive. 

Now, it's time to wrap up. We hope you liked our discussion and will be happy to see you joining our future coffee calls. Subscribe to our Twitter account to follow the news about different events and much more!