“Do I belong here?”
“Am I smart enough to be here?”
“Did I make a huge mistake in coming here?”
“Do I have what it takes?”
“How can everyone else get it but not me? Is there some secret formula or special quality that I lack?”
“How is everyone else so much faster than me?”
If you’ve asked yourself any of these questions, you might be experiencing imposter syndrome. Luckily, here at Turing, we have a community of people who know what it’s like and have stood in your shoes. In this post, I’ll share some tips for dealing with imposter syndrome when it strikes as well as general advice for students moving through module 1 and beyond.
Somewhere along the line during module 1 (the exciting starting point for all new Turing students), most have a minor or major struggle with feelings that might be totally new depending on the student—a struggle known as imposter syndrome. This can continue for many throughout our time at Turing. Imposter syndrome takes many forms, but is generally understood as the sometimes-paralyzing belief that one’s place in a program like Turing or general successes in life are due to fraud or luck rather than intelligence, capability, or skill. I felt this way a few days into module 1 when I couldn’t understand some of the basic concepts we were learning even after a few passes, and then in subsequent weeks when I found it difficult to keep up with the curriculum and new concepts heaved at us each day. I took that as a sign that I had fooled the admissions staff into letting me into Turing and didn’t belong among my peers who all seemed to understand what was going on while I was flailing.
Like so many, I came to Turing for numerous reasons. I was tired of and unchallenged by what I was doing professionally. I wanted to learn something new. I wanted to build things people could use and might even love. I wanted to know what it’s like to be on the other side of technologies I use daily. Turing, for me, represented that which I believed would quench my curiosity and thirst for knowledge on top of providing a new career that could bring financial stability, no shortage of challenge, and professional flexibility I also craved. I was thrilled to begin.
During module 1, I suddenly felt crushed by the weight of all that I did not know. I felt panicked most days and studied late into each night after working on homework trying to catch up despite knowing I needed sleep as badly as I needed to understand new concepts. I had gaps in my knowledge that were real and frightening. I felt like I’d made a mistake, that Turing wasn’t for me, and that at any moment, my instructors and my peers would realize this as well—they would realize exactly how much I didn’t know. I was acutely aware of the fact that the highest math I completed in high school was trigonometry, which made me feel even more out of place. I felt stupid and incapable despite knowing in my heart that I was neither.
It was around this time I discovered the Turing Imposters Lunch and worked up the courage to attend a lunchtime session. Just being in a room of supportive people who felt like I did at one point or another immediately gave me strength. The honest and caring advice I received from others during these lunches was invaluable and has carried me through difficult points in this journey. I’ve since become the co-lead of the group and find myself offering the same helpful advice and support to others. Before I talk more about what Turing’s Imposters Lunch offers to its members, let’s talk a bit more about imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a commonly used phrase today and describes feelings that up to 70% of people will experience at one time or another (or repeatedly over their lives). Most of the time a lack of confidence plays a major role, but other common feelings and indicators include:
- Feeling stupid
- Admiring or overrating the abilities of others while underrating your own ability
- Seeing yourself as incompetent, even though others see you as competent
- Feeling like a fraud (and fearing everyone will find out)
Sometimes these feelings have particular triggers:
- Emotions. For many students, Turing is an emotional roller coaster. In addition to being in a very challenging program, your identity may be in flux due to a career shift.
- Mastery in a previous life. It’s hard to start something new after you've already mastered something else. Getting used to being a novice again is tough.
- A perfectionist orientation. You may have a strong desire to attain perfection and avoid failure at all costs.
- Unfair comparisons. Everyone at Turing comes from a different background, and some students have much more comfort with and exposure to this subject matter than others. Don’t compare your start to someone else’s “middle”; we’re each on our own journey.
- Being overwhelmed. Most of us are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of all that we do not yet know.
- Pride. When you don’t understand something, it can be a big hurdle just to admit that you need help. Keep asking for help. Do not let your ego prevent you from succeeding.
Around the middle of my module 1 experience, I noticed a bunch of activity on Twitter on the theme of imposter syndrome among developers and others in the tech industry. Many high-ranking people in the industry tweeted about their own issues related to this topic. I found the following tweets to be immensely grounding and helpful. The first is authored by the creator of Rails, and the second is a 30+ year developer employed by Google:
At Turing, the benefits of joining the Imposters Lunch are many. You’ll find community and the support you need at critical points in your time at Turing, but you’ll also find the following:
- People who feel like you do (or have in the past); you will know you aren’t alone
- Community with those same people after lunch
- Socializing and a safe place to ask all the questions
- Confidence-building activities
- Practice delivering lightning talks and coaching if you want it
- An opportunity to go to some Meetups together
- One surprise catered lunch during the module
Finally, I’d like to offer a few tips that worked well for me when I was struggling:
- Come to Turing Imposters Lunch and share your own and hear others’ experiences.
- Fight those self-defeating thoughts.
- Suppress imposter feelings and use the power of positivity to move on and stay focused on your work.
- Be brave. Be confident. Ask for help after about 20 minutes of struggle.
- Growth mindset is a savior: Tell yourself “you’re not there yet” often.
- Focus on what you do know and trust that you will get it soon.
- Pair. Over and over again (pairing is when two programmers work together and share one screen; at Turing, it’s common to get help from an upper module student in a pairing format).
- Find someone in your class who is a natural teacher and who has a strong grasp of the content. Pair with them, again and again if they are willing.
- Pair with an instructor who might “speak your language” better than others.
- Make a list of the things that are fuzzy for you and bring them to each pairing.
- Use the pairing channel to find upper mod students to pair with you on particular topics—I found that hearing an explanation about a topic from many perspectives was key to my understanding.
- Talk to upper mod students about their resources, tips, and tricks and use what they recommend. Then share what you learn with your classmates.
- Trust the Turing curriculum.
- Do not compromise sleep.
- Control distractions.
- Focus is critical to succeeding in a program like this and your cognitive resources are precious and limited, so start now by turning off notifications to everything, letting your family and friends know that your success depends on a heads-down approach over the next several months, and doing your best to get into a flow state while studying.
- Be mindful about why you are here and let that guide you back to focus when you are distracted. This, as you’ll often hear at Turing, is a marathon, not a sprint.
Most importantly, when you feel like an imposter, remember that you are not alone. If you don’t believe me, come to Imposters Lunch and experience it for yourself. We’re waiting for you!
Turing Imposters Lunch happens every Wednesday at noon in Clarke Hall.