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Taryn McMillan
Taryn McMillan

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New to Coding? Here's How to Beat Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is something we all suffer from now and then. When I first started taking coding seriously last year I flew high for a few weeks but then the self-doubt set in. What if I wasn’t good enough to be a developer? Would anyone take me seriously if I didn’t have a background in STEM?

After about two months of coding, the self-doubt was too much and I had to take a break for a few weeks to recenter. Although I was able to refocus and get back at it, like many of you I still have occasional bouts of impostor syndrome. Luckily, I know how to deal with them now.

Here are my tips for handling impostor syndrome as a newbie in tech.

Don't let toxic people get you down

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We all know that forums can be a great place to get answers when you’re stuck figuring something out.

But truth be told, forums can also be quite toxic for the coding beginner.

Countless times I’ve seen someone asking an innocent question about coding only to be shot down and belittled with comments like, “How do you not know this?”

Unfortunately, not everyone on the Internet recognizes that there are different stages to a coding journey. Some people operate with blinders on and assume that everyone is (or should be) at the same level of proficiency as they are.

And let’s face it-- some people are just trolls.

My advice is-- don’t let these naysayers get you down, especially when you are first starting out learning to code. It feels like a big blow when you are put down for not “knowing enough,” but I think you can pat yourself on the back for having the courage to post on a coding forum in the first place. That means you’re taking real steps to becoming a developer! So keep this in mind and use your best judgement when it comes to following advice on the forums.

Find others like you

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Even if your journey to coding was a wild one, chances are there are others who have taken similar paths. When you’re entering any new industry it is so important to find others like you who can share your experiences.

Connecting with more experienced developers is also important, but you should spend some time trying to find people who are just learning too. Look for people who have similar backgrounds and with whom you share common ground. I come from a Humanities background so it was important for me to connect with other coders who came from non-STEM industries. This made me feel a lot more confident as a newbie because I realized there were people out there just like me.

Once you begin to see how many coders there are who come from all walks of life, you’ll start feeling less like an impostor and more at home in the developer world.

Visualize your success

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The mind is a powerful tool when it comes to success. Studies have shown that people who are able to visualize themselves succeeding are much more likely to succeed in real life.

One thing you can easily do is create a vision or mood board, or place some items that inspire you around your workstation. Something else that I've found really useful is writing a ‘why’ statement. This should encompass all of the reasons you are pursuing coding and should reflect the goals you have for yourself as a developer. Inevitably there will be days when you question why you started this journey in the first place and reading back over your why statement can help you refocus and re-energize. Keep your why statement in an easy-to-access place like a journal or on a sticky note near your desk so you can refer back to it often.

Embrace your mistakes

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Chances are, you’ll make plenty of mistakes as a newbie (and as an experienced coder too!). The difference between successful and unsuccessful people is that they learn from their mistakes and in time, even come to embrace them!

You don’t have to dwell on mistakes, but I do tend to take a few minutes to put them into context. Often I’ll notice I’m making a pattern of mistakes that shows I don’t quite understand a concept or piece of syntax. This is a great discovery because now I know where I should focus my learning.

When you’re suffering from impostor syndrome the shame and frustration that comes from making mistakes is amplified further. Even a small mess-up can lead you to start questioning yourself and making false generalizations about your abilities as a coder. It’s important to nip those thoughts in the bud before they get too big and cloud your mind with negativity.

See mistakes for what they are: small drops in a large body of water. For every small mistake I bet you have an equally momentous win to celebrate. Focus on those wins instead and see any mistakes as necessary steps on your way to becoming a developer.

Learn to accept fear

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This is probably the hardest one for me because I am naturally an anxious person. But over the past year I’ve made big strides in overcoming my fear of new opportunities and embracing anything that comes my way.

If you’re learning something new, it's OK to feel scared. It's important to recognize how normal fear actually is. Fear is our natural response to a dangerous situation and our brains perceive learning something new as dangerous. What if we mess up? What if people laugh at us? What if we don’t really understand what we’re learning? These are questions that a lot of code newbies have had. Thinking about these things is very normal and it shows a high level of self-awareness, which is a good thing! Just don’t let this level of introspection overwhelm you.

I feel like coding has been built up in the media to be this big, scary, inaccessible thing (dare I say, particularly for women?) and that stereotype can also play into the fear. So be extra aware of any messaging you’re receiving about coding while you’re learning and make sure it doesn’t negatively affect your journey.

Conclusion

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When you’re learning to code, it feels like you’re standing high on a diving board, looking down at a pool full of more experienced developers.

You feel afraid and exposed, like any mistake you make will reveal you for the impostor you are.

But if you take a big breath and jump, you’ll find the water down below isn’t so scary after all. The coding community is generally very friendly and willing to help people of all levels develop their skills.

When you’re learning something new, the worst thing you can do is let fear hold you back. It almost happened to me, but I’m so glad I took that breath and dove in.

And you can too. Avoid toxic people, see yourself as successful, and learn to embrace fear and before long, you'll realize the goals you've set for yourself.

Happy coding!

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