The Ada Initiative and Imposter Syndrome Training

Finding your self-confidence in tech is like finding your voice in a black hole.

Maybe it was functioning perfectly well when you entered, but if you try and make a noise, all you will hear is the sound of air being sucked out of you.

Last summer, I reached what I felt was a dead end in my career. I went to AdaCamp as part of figuring out what was going on and why I was miserable despite putting in so much effort. It is often the case that people who look to be highly successful from the outside are actually living in their own vacuum of pain and self-doubt.

Career Dreams

The hot, humid summer in Portland dragged through my lungs as I walked to the AdaCamp venue for the first morning of the conference. Voiceless, tired and beaten, I sat in a chair for the imposter syndrome training session. This session was the traditional kickoff for AdaCamp and had a large attendence. I made a few notes:

“The reason you have imposter syndrome is that you’ve been treated like an imposter…”

…If there are people around who are trying to learn and you say to yourself, I’m too far beyond to help them, you are treating them like they are imposters…

…We are trained to say we understand things when we don’t…

…We are trained to pretend to know the answer when we think we can look it up later…

…You need to be able to look at someone and see that they are having a hard time, even if they act ok.

This workshop kicked off a weekend of recognizing the denial happening in my own life and career. It was like looking in a mirror for the first time in ages and seeing that, indeed, the bruises were real and in no way self-inflicted. It’s not like Imposter Syndrome training and AdaCamp magically fixed everything, but it gave me permission to start believing in myself again and to start seeing that I had been dealing with some endemic problems tech likes to hang around the necks of women and people in marginalized groups.

Although there will not be an AdaCamp this summer, The Ada Initiative will be doing Imposter Syndrome Training in Oakland, California and Sydney Australia during August.  I highly recommend that women working in tech, especially women in tech who do not have a developer job title attend this training.

If you would like to see more of this type of training, consider making a donation to the Ada Initiative.

Here is a description from the EventBrite:

Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you aren’t qualified for the work you are doing and will be discovered as a fraud. It is prevalent among women in open tech/culture, who’ve been socialized to value others’ opinions over their own and to do things “by the book”. Imposter Syndrome is a common reaction to doing publicly visible and publicly criticised work like that done in open technology and culture. In this workshop, The Ada Initiative will discuss solutions for overcoming Imposter Syndrome. This workshop is only open to women, and those who identify as a woman.

I will miss AdaCamp, but if it means more time for The Ada Initiative to do Imposter Syndrome Training, I say it’s a net win.

Just so you know that AdaCamp wasn’t all heavy, intense moments, here is my drawing from the Riot Grrrl session.

sketchnote from AdaCamp session

Rock on Ada Initiative \m/\m/

The grassy roots of growing developer skills with Growstuff

In my last post, I wrote about how I’m transitioning into a development role.  A big part of that transition has been working on the Growstuff open source project led by Alex “Skud” Bayley and they are in the last few days of their IndieGoGo campaign to fund API development by Frances Hocutt.

This Summer, I got to meet both Alex and Francis, although I had been following Alex for quite a while on Twitter and I was first introduced to Francis through her beautiful writing for Model View Culture.  Allow me to introduce you to our feminist corner of open source.

Screen Shot 2014-10-18 at 1.05.02 PM

Food Stuffs:
Growstuff is an open source platform that helps connect people who are growing their own food which people do for many reasons.  Aside from the pleasure of gardening, growing your own food means that your food will likely contain more nutrients.  In areas where a good supply of high quality produce choices is lacking, it can allow you to grow produce that you otherwise would not be able to find.  It is also a way to shortcut the cost and expenditure of fuel needed to transport vegetables from farm to store to your home.

If this has peaked your interest about the benefits of food gardening, this Mother Jones article is a great in-depth look at the benefits for you and for the planet of growing your own food.

Open Source, Technology and Learning Stuffs:
Open Source and Good Software Engineering are two things that, I have learned, cannot always be put together in the same sentence.  There are good, non-trivial reasons for this.  Open source projects typically have to be distributed which means fewer opportunities to pair and fewer opportunities to mentor.  It also means a project might have to compromise on good engineering if it wants to move forward.

That said, one of the paths to web development, the path that I am following, is to write code for an open source project (Not everyone has the privilege of time and money required for a “bootcamp”). This creates the conundrum of learning good software habits and finding a project that is willing to work with intermediate web developers who are slower and will need help.

Growstuff has solved this problem by adopting a focus on agile and learning culture.  It is ok to ask questions.  Pull requests are not eviscerations.  Everything is organized between a wiki, Pivotal  Tracker and Discourse.  Pairing and TDD are emphasized wherever possible.  The CI is kept green.

I feel safe here.  That is an accomplishment.

Feminist Stuffs:
Encouraging diversity in tech is about so much more than teaching kids and also grownups to code and love computers.  There are a lot of efforts right now to help women and other diverse groups learn how to code, but there is a dirth of places for an intermediate engineer to go after they’ve done tutorials and small side projects.

With my intermediate skills, I put out feelers for writing code and helping out in a few places and was pretty shocked at some of the places that proved, shall we say, less than welcoming.

Growstuff has been the place that has finally let me work on some code.  I’m slow, I have to work with a pair, and sometimes I really don’t know what I’m doing, but that is ok.  I know that whatever I end up contributing will be something the project needs that will be of value for users.  This means the world to me.

The reason why Growstuff is running their funding campaign is to bring on Frances Hocutt as an api developer.  I had the privilege of meeting Frances along with her mentor, Sumana Harihareswara this Summer at the AdaCamp conference in Portland.  They both helped me immensely with the guts of a talk I did this Summer with Ryan Dy on mentoring.

You can help!

If the news about diversity in tech feels overly depressing or intractable, throwing a few dollars at the Growstuff campaign is a very direct way to encourage support for women who, against the odds, have kept going and will keep going in tech.  I’m including myself in this category and hope you’ll give to this project that has already given so much to me.