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How To Not Suffer From Imposter Syndrome

It’s been almost a year since my career switch from banking to coding and boy what a ride it was, well, still is. The first time I heard the term impostor syndrome was at Hackbright Academy, where I was learning computer science principles, web and software development. Gulnara Mirzakarimova
Jibe Software Engineer & Hackbright Graduate
Gulnara was an Engineering Fellow at Hackbright Academy, and prior to that, she was working in a bank in Washington DC. Gulnara also leads the DC Nightowls group, the District’s after hours co-working community of self-starters turning big ideas into exciting projects. This is her story of a career pivot from finance to engineering.

By Gulnara Mirzakarimova (Hackbright Academy – spring 2013 class)

The first time I heard the term impostor syndrome was at Hackbright Academy, where I was learning computer science principles, web and software development. In a nut shell, what it means is – when you are not confident in your abilities even though your work says otherwise, you doubt yourself and are constantly afraid of people finding out that in reality you know nothing, which in itself is not true.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, mentioned it in her book Lean In, where she says that women tend to underestimate themselves. And even though men do it less, I am pretty sure there are plenty of men who have problems with confidence as well.

There is a great talk on TED by Amy Cuddy on how to boost your self-esteem but I want to share what I learned from going though a career switch and making it work.

See, while I was Hackbright I didn’t worry about not performing on the job, because I didn’t have one yet. My goal was to finish my final project where I was writing my own programing language and then prepare for interviews to get the job.

Lesson #1: Do not stress about something that doesn’t exist.

Now, fast forward through the process of interviewing and me landing a job as a software engineer at Jibe. I didn’t have time to worry if I had an impostor syndrome or not, I had a list of things I needed to learn as soon as possible, that included a new programming language, interaction with databases I never worked with and etc … They say you can teach a monkey to read; so, there is no reason why I couldn’t learn all of the things that were needed for the job.

Lesson #2: Make a list of things that you do not know and the things you “think” you don’t know. Just learn them. You will be so busy you will have no time to worry.

When I was picking a job, I was actually picking a team. I can learn new things in any job, but culture fit is not something that is easily found. I was the first female engineer hired at Jibe, and no, it didn’t scare me one bit, because I met the whole team before I made a decision and I knew I wanted to work with them. They are very smart and supportive.

I cannot write this and not mention Brian. Brian is a senior developer and simply put is a genius, but most importantly he is a patient teacher thanks to whom now I do not hesitate to take on huge projects because I know I can deliver them.

Lesson #3: Surround yourself with smart people, from who you can learn.

If you are thrown in a wilderness with no idea how to fend for yourself, what are your chances of survival compared to being in a company of person who knows how to survive.

When I was given my first solo client integration. I was determined not to ask for help, because I wanted to test myself. The project was not easy and was pretty big. So, I broke it down into pieces and made a timeline for myself; i.e. if I do not complete this part by this day, then I ask for help, but I will stay working late nights and on weekends and I will complete them on my own. Again it is nothing to do with ego; this was the final point for me to see what I learned and what I am capable of. I did deliver project on time, on my own and the client loved it.

Lesson #4: When the problem seems big, break it down into small pieces.

Solve one at a time and celebrate your achievements, tell others about your achievements, this way your confidence will be growing with real things to back it up with.

Finally, there is so much I do not know yet, and it is amazing, because otherwise why to live if you know everything.

Lesson #5: Accept the fact that there are thing that you do not know, there are thing that you will never know and there are things that You Can Decide To Learn.

This post was originally posted at Gulnara’s blog.

Switching Careers – A Pragmatic Guide (Or “How I Left A Four-Year Career In Finance And Became A Software Engineer In Five Months”)

Gulnara currently works at Jibe as a software engineer. She attended Hackbright Academy in the spring of 2013. Prior to Hackbright, she spent four years working at a bank on the commercial credit side. She is actively growing the Washington DC Nightowls group, the District’s after hours co-working community of self-starters turning big ideas into exciting projects. Gulnara Mirzakarimova
Jibe Software Engineer & Hackbright Graduate
Gulnara was an Engineering Fellow at Hackbright Academy, and prior to that, she was working in a bank in Washington DC. Gulnara also leads the DC Nightowls group, the District’s after hours co-working community of self-starters turning big ideas into exciting projects. This is her story of a career pivot from finance to engineering.

By Gulnara Mirzakarimova (Hackbright Academy – spring 2013 class)

(Disclaimer: I am not urging everyone to become a programmer; so, keep your pitchforks to yourself. I merely use my experience as an example of achieving a set goal)

Step 1: Figure out what you want by trying different things.

Most of us are scared of drastic career changes. I didn’t let that fear stop me only because I was a miserable, self-loathing, unhappy human being. I knew I needed a way out but I didn’t know what is that I wanted to do.

So, I started trying things. It went from feeble attempts in journalism where I interviewed startup founders, mentors and investors from Washington, DC area and posting those video interviews online to co-organizing co-working events around town with DC Nightowls. That’s when my sleeping hours declined to about three to four hours a day. Granted, it was not healthy but I was getting close to finding out what is that I like.

By being in the heart of a startup ecosystem, I saw possibilities for myself. I learned more about new technologies, how businesses are run, and skills that are needed. I started taking programming classes online. I spent about four months coding after work and on weekends. Once I realized that I enjoy staring at hundreds lines of code trying to figure out where the bug is, I had to come up with a plan on how to leave finance behind and dive into software engineering.

Step 2: Come up with a plan.

I believe that switching careers should be treated as a startup. You need some funding to stay afloat, you need milestones to measure your progress and most importantly you need a solution to a problem you are solving. For me, the solution was to attend Hackbright Academy in San Francisco for 10 weeks, where I would learn principles of computer science and necessary programming skills.

Now about funding. I was pretty sure that if I work my ass off, I would get a job within two to four months; so, I needed money to survive for about eight months. I also needed to cut all possible expenses and find where to live while in San Francisco. The milestones were primarily related to the skills I was about to learn.

Step 3: Execute.

I applied to Hackbright in the beginning of February. In two weeks, I was accepted and then I had only two weeks to arrange everything and move to San Francisco. This is when I submitted my letter of resignation (one of the happiest days of my life). But right before I quit, I took out a loan; so, funding was secured along with extra motivation to make this career switch successful.

As of cutting expenses, I terminated all unnecessary subscriptions, canceled my apt lease, sold my car and all the furniture. By pure miracle, my sister found a friend of a friend who let me stay at his place with his daughter for as long as needed for free. It was still pretty far from where my school was, but I took it. I stayed there for a month. Then moved closer, by renting an apt in Nob Hill with a great guy who became a great friend of mine. The last few weeks I spent on a couch of one of my classmates.

At Hackbright, I studied hard. I also pretty much lived there, since I slept only four to five hours a day. For my final project, I wrote my own programing language, you can read about it here. After the Hackbright career day, I had more than 20 companies interested in me but I had to say no and come back to DC where my husband was bootstrapping his startup (yes, I also got married right after I quit my job).

DC is not San Francisco, and honestly there is no other place like San Francisco (in the sense of a job market for developers). My classmates at Hackbright have starting salaries of about $90k and none of us have degrees in computer science or prior experience. The biggest problem I faced in DC was that I had to prove that I am worth hiring.

Back in California, Hackbright did that job for me. Doors were open and I just had to stay in San Francisco, but here in DC I had to fight. I tried freelancing first, it was a bad idea. I will write a post on that later. Eventually, I got a part-time job with Jibe as a software engineer. It was great way for me to see what Jibe is about and for them to see what I am capable of.

Five weeks later and I am a full-time software engineer. My salary is still higher than the one I left in my previous career after working there for four years. I work with an amazing team of smart and bright people. I wear jeans and t-shirts, because I want to. I walk to work and it takes me only 10 minutes. I sleep about 9 hours a day. I learn tons and I contribute a lot. I am happier.

All in all, a five month turnaround for a career switch, not bad I think :)

This post was originally posted at Gulnara’s blog.