Impostor syndrome

I’m seeing now that I used to be a super confident person.  I was a queen.  People tried to take advantage, they tried to manipulate me to get what they wanted, but I set the rules and rarely bowed to pressure.  I STILL feel most confident and comfortable in my car, a weird and strong environmental influence on my state of mind, nearly a year after I quit full-time cab driving.

After 14 years settling in to a job that became second nature, the career shift has left me feeling anxious and panicked.  I don’t know how to stand up for myself to my coworkers in a way that won’t harsh the workplace.  I don’t know how much push back to give when management is being unreasonable.  How important is longevity in this field?  In this tiny office, am I willing to speak up and suffer the fallout?  What will the fallout even be?  It was so much easier to pull the cab over and curse at the drunk asshole until he got out.  Censoring myself is much harder than I thought it would be and it’s having a field day with my self-confidence.

Most people don’t know what a NOC Technician is, so I’ve gotten into the habit of saying, “I babysit servers and networks.”  I also do help desk stuff in the middle of the night.  Loads of resetting passwords, troubleshooting internet connectivity, and printer issues.  This is REALLY good practice and very rarely do I ever come across the customers other people become impatient with.  I think I am still thankful I’m not dealing with drunks, so I have extra patience with people who can’t figure out where the start button is.

At one point in my life, before I even considered going into IT, I volunteered and was on the Board of one of my favorite non-profits in town:  The Tenant Resource Center.  I met some great people there, one of whom was a software engineer.  Through him I met several other tech people and eventually last year I was asked if I would be willing to volunteer for a conference that was coming to town.  With volunteering I would get a free ticket (they were $200!) and be able to attend some of the talks.

DevOpsDays Madison was a “touchy feel-y” tech conference that discussed and encouraged communication between branches of the industry.  The annual conference is an extension of the monthly meetups.

Here’s a better definition (stolen straight from Google):
DevOps (development and operations) is an enterprise software development phrase used to mean a type of agile relationship between development and IT operations. The goal of DevOps is to change and improve the relationship by advocating better communication and collaboration between these two business units.

While most of the more technical talks were out of my scope and never will be within it, the other talks about how to deal with technical crisis clean-up, continual release scheduling stress, and impostor syndrome were right up my ally.

This year I helped organize the event.  I found out that sponsors LOVE to sponsor tech conferences and the vast majority of funding comes from them.  It almost seems self-propelling (financially).  The $200 ticket cost covers all meals, after-party, and drinks and is a very competitive price.

I also re-learned that this is a gathering of people who are on my side.  They don’t mind that I don’t understand most of the acronyms flying around.  They want to nurture and encourage so they have more people like them- who are just plain nice and considerate- to work with once I get my feet under myself.

So, impostor syndrome.  About 20 of us had broken off in an open space to talk about this during some allocated time at the conference.  People who had been in tech for 20 years and people like me.  People who get flown around the world to talk about how much of an expert they are on something.  People who look like they got their shit together.  Everyone wants to know how to handle it because everyone has a jerk for a brain.  A jerk that tells them, “What the hell are you doing here?  Do you even know what you’re doing?  You just copy/paste this shit from github, they don’t need you.  They’re going to figure it out any minute.”

This is where I can lose myself for days, as I’m sure others can as well.  Being at a conference where literally EVERYONE ELSE knows more than me doesn’t help.  The motto “fake it ’til you make it,” only reinforces that I’m faking it and everyone knows.  At least I’ve fooled them long enough to get a few free T shirts and granola bars out of it.  …I should just show myself out.

Everyone echos these things and adds their own thoughts.  No matter how much they succeed, they remember the one big time they failed and become frozen in place with that memory.  Everyone around them is so much better than them at x, y, or z and they see nothing that they themselves contribute.

Just having this talk and listening to everyone else eased a load of the anxiety.  We moved on from empathizing to trying to figure out how people deal with it.  Personally, I had a terrible therapist that thought CBT would be helpful for me, but again, I got stuck for days over the winter holidays thinking about the negatives instead of breaking through to the step where you think about the positives.  I moved on to another therapist who now gently guides me through just talking about things and letting me get things out instead of keeping them inside, stuck in a thought spiral.  Other people in this talk keep a journal of their accomplishments and projects so they have something physical they can see they’ve done.

From this point we moved along to how to spot this in others and how to encourage and amplify them.  They’ll try to brush off any compliment, so keep giving them until they listen.  Call out their accomplishments to others, use their talents and give them credit, hold them up and talk to them.

I think the most effective way I’ve been battling this feeling is by asking as many questions as I can think of.  Everyone knows I’m a noobiepooper anyway, I might as well capitalize on it.  What I lack in knowledge I try to make up for in motivation, cheerfulness and attendance.  If I’m nice and happy, maybe my coworker won’t mind so much that I’m asking them questions on a daily basis about how to do things that are relatively elementary.  I’ve become proud that I’m the most dependable person on my shift, even if no one else seems to notice.

Following the conference, my first shift back to work was 6 hours after the conference ended.  I’ve been working myself hard and log hours, still in school full-time and working graveyards.  Most of my shifts I work by myself because we’re short staffed and have been for the last 4 months.  Not ideal, but after a few days of continuous socialization the quiet is welcome.  Also, when I got incredibly busy sifting through tickets of CPU levels and disk space over thresholds, down router interfaces, and logging in and out of devices to verify restarts were maintenance related or backups ran successfully… I realized I do know things, I have learned things, and I am not big fake poseur.  I have a universe to learn, but I’m not useless and I have worth.


About yellowandblackmail

I pick people up and take them where they want to go.
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3 Responses to Impostor syndrome

  1. Ken (aightysix) says:

    My co-worker was at that talk.. I was in the kubernetes section. Too bad we didn’t connect! If you ever want to chat about fundamentals of computing that you feel you’ve missed, and impostor syndrome makes you nervous about asking people you work with or know, let me know. You only kinda know me from ingress (outside the computing context), which would, I hope, take off the pressure! 🙂 (I also get legitimate enjoyment out of helping people learn about computing, so that’s what’s in it for me… everybody has their motivations, right? 🙂 )

    Hope that things continue to progress well!

  2. Ken (aightysix) says:

    BTW, funny quote I just saw from folks at the LISA conference: “I’m not good enough to have impostor syndrome.”

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