Here at Lighthouse Labs, we launched our Career Accelerator initiative earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Career Accelerator is a community and information platform for our community members who have had their career trajectory interrupted because of the virus. It’s not just that people have lost their jobs, or changed career fields — many people have also had extra time to reflect on what their goals and values are, and maybe need a bit more guidance and support to help them enact positive changes in their lives.

Of all the workshops, events, networking opportunities, and resources we’ve provided to our community through the Career Accelerator, one series in particular has really stood out. The Imposter Syndrome Series has resonated with many of our community members from a variety of different backgrounds. This series has touched on the prevalence of imposter syndrome within the tech industry. Imposter syndrome can be defined as intrusive thoughts and feelings that you don’t fit in, aren’t good enough, and are living a lie.

On December 1st, we partnered with email marketing company Dyspatch to host another virtual conversation around imposter syndrome, the fourth one we’ve had so far over 2020. The event featured our partnerships lead, Caroline Lauder, in conversation with Sadie Freeman, a developer and web dev instructor. Sadie had a lot of great insights about her own experiences with the tech industry and imposter syndrome, and how we can work to keep mitigating its impact on our mental health.

From HR Rep to Game Developer

Sadie Freeman’s career as a developer has made great strides in the last few years, but working in the industry isn’t something she always foresaw. Going back a few years ago, Sadie was living in London, England, and working in a Human Resources role. Her work dipped into a lot of different areas, from learning and development to workshop facilitation. It’s in these roles that she began to develop a curiosity about programming.

“I found a lot of the time when I had to ask developers to work things, I really wanted to know how it was done, so that I could do it myself,” Sadie recounted to the audience. After moving back to Canada, a friend of hers recommended Lighthouse Labs’ web development bootcamp to her. Recalling her interest in coding, she decided to dive head-first into a web dev education and move to Vancouver. Soon after graduation, like 95% of our graduates, she found a job in tech. She started working as a junior developer for a game studio, and so began her brand new career path.

Experiences with Imposter Syndrome

outsider Imposter syndrome can make you feel like you don’t fit in with others.

“Imposter syndrome was something that I’d always had, but I never put a name to it until I got into tech,” Sadie reflected. “It’s like your inner critic. That voice inside you that tells you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. It made me feel like I had scammed my way into my job, like I didn’t deserve it and that people were going to find out that I was a fraud.”

Sadie recounted how the feeling of imposter syndrome was different between her two careers. Though she still experienced it while she was working in HR, it wasn’t the same. She guessed that the gender demographics of the industries was partially behind this difference — HR is an industry that employs a lot of women, whereas tech is infamously male-dominated.

“When you’re the only woman in the room, it’s hard not to feel like you’re kind of on the outside,” Sadie said, echoing a common feeling. “If you aren’t seeing people like you, it can sometimes be hard to feel like you belong.” The issue of diversity in tech has spurred us at Lighthouse to take on initiatives to try and make the industry more diverse, partnering with organizations such as the Ontario Women’s Network and the First Nations Technology Council.

Want to learn more about what we’re doing to bring more diversity into tech?

Check out our Impact Initiatives here.

Work-Life Balance in the Tech Industry

Another thing Sadie spoke to that influenced her feelings of imposter syndrome was the idea of a work-life balance. Though discussions about self-care and the maintenance of a balance between your job and your home life are becoming more common, it’s still typical for workers in certain industries to feel pressure to work all the time. “In my first year of starting a job, I felt guilty if I wasn’t coding every single day,” Sadie reflected.

She spoke to how the lack of work-life balance is particularly prevalent in the tech industry, more so than within HR. “Coding is really fun, so it’s something that people will do both within and outside of work,” she mentioned. “At work, it’s common to see colleagues talking about the big projects they’ve been working on for fun. It’s really easy to feel pressure that you have to be coding 24/7, and if you’re not engaged on that level, then you aren’t as strong of a developer.”

But Sadie maturely reflected on the importance of separating work from life to some extent, and paying attention to your own individual needs. For some people, they can remain happy and energized working on programming projects every day of the week. If you aren’t that kind of person, it’s important to take time to recharge in order to avoid burnout. “The things I do outside of work make me a better developer, because they give me time to recharge,” she opined. It’s easy to feel imposter syndrome if you aren’t engaged on the same level as others in your field, but try and remember Sadie’s advice.

How Our Bootcamps Help Alleviate Imposter Syndrome

learning to code Lighthouse Labs’ bootcamps are designed to make you feel safe and comfortable

Though Sadie spoke to how experiences of imposter syndrome have occurred at different stages in her life, she also mentioned how Lighthouse’s bootcamps helped to mitigate imposter syndrome a bit. She recalled how on the first day of her bootcamp there was a long chat about the concept of imposter syndrome, and that the people at Lighthouse were aware that it was a relatively common experience.

“I think it’s really hard not to feel like it’s just something that exists in your own head,” said Sadie. But as the popularity and resonance of our imposter syndrome series has shown, it’s an experience that many people can speak to. Sadie reflected on how helpful the supportive environment and community at Lighthouse Labs was for her imposter syndrome. “The important thing to remember is that you don’t have to do it alone. You need support and encouraging mentors, all of which are available to you at Lighthouse,” Sadie said.

Solutions to Imposter Syndrome in the Tech Industry

One of Sadie’s great points was that there’s a lot more that companies, organizations, and senior employees can do to help address imposter syndrome within the tech industry. She recalled having a senior team member go out of his way to tell her that if she ever felt stressed or wanted to talk, she could approach him. “That’s a small thing that more senior developers can do for their newer colleagues, and it makes a huge impact,” Sadie reflected.

One of her other points of advice was the importance of normalizing talking about mistakes. No matter your experience or seniority, everyone makes small mistakes from time to time. No one’s a perfect worker. “Management should foster a culture where employees feel safe and comfortable talking about making mistakes,” Sadie insisted. When talking about mistakes is more normalized, less experienced developers have a chance to see that no one’s perfect.

Speaking to the audience, Sadie also advised that we can try to alter our perspective a little bit. As humans, we have a penchant for focusing on what we can’t do more than what we can do. This is especially true within tech. “Because coding is so broad, we spend so much of our time looking forward to things we don’t understand,” Sadie said, “and very little time reflecting on the things we do know.”

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