Imposter For Life…
If I had to describe the first five or so years of my journey as a programmer, I think late and fake are probably the most apt adjectives I could use.
Some people worry that starting in high school is too late, others that by the time they get to college it’ll be too late. For me, I went through college and then decided to start. Late much?
I spent four years bouncing around a very middle of the road school you’ve only kinda heard of. I went to UNCC, you know, like UNC Chapel Hill, except not.
Try UNC Charlotte… Don’t get me wrong, I loved it there, but it’s far far far from a Stanford or MIT. Not exactly where you read about golden tech geniuses coming from.
Recommended =/= Required.
After four years I was set to graduate with a double major in Political Science and Finance. I had started in Political Science and taken up Finance at the end of my sophomore year.
By that point I felt like I knew how college worked. I had busted through the pre-req’s to the upper level courses for two majors and was about halfway through wrapping up the second set (finance). At the end of fall semester, a year before I was set to graduate (planning on a winter graduation), I saw my business college counselor (a new one, I always had a new one, they were never very helpful) who told me I was actually about 25 credits away from graduating. Not 12….. What…..
You know that overview sheet for a mjaor, the one where they tell you what courses are pre-req’s, required, recommended, etc… Yeah? Thought so. They had a bunch of recommended courses. Well, apparently, much to my surprise, I was required to take them. WTF?!?!
Recommended =/= Required. At least not in my dictionary.
I already didn’t have much of an idea what I was going to do after college, now I was looking at another year, at least, of debt; plus courses that I didn’t really like or care about. I was going into Finance. Not management, not law, and certainly not marketing. Demoralized doesn’t begin to cover it.
I started to look around for options. I was pissed at business and wanted a major that I could burn through and come out marketable as hell on the other side? Not something that’d leave me with maybes. Something that’d leave me with YES for miles. What was in demand?
Thankfully, I’d saved a lot of those crap, easy, general ed. courses you’re supposed to take as a freshman until my senior year. So I had a semester of easy courses I had to take regardless. So I had some time.
Cue: Job research. Something every senior becomes damn good at damn quick.
I had my demoralized month or so, but pretty quickly I got pretty pissed. How the hell had this happened? This is bullshit. I feel nowhere close to ready for anything outside of academia. Nothing I’ve learned seems like it translates or matters, anywhere. At least for anything that pays.
That’s when I found the Software & Information Systems major (see: Computer Science minus most math, i.e. the B.A. version, not the B.S.)
I could burn through it in about two years and actually come out with a god damn skill on the other side. Rather than just how to write a paper in MLA format. I was already stuck for another year, so what the hell, why not make it two and guarantee that I learn something useful for once.
I signed up for classes for the next fall semester in programming. I also signed up for summer courses. Unfortunately, the pre-req’s for most of the courses are pretty stringent. So I could basically piecemeal my way through it, but summer courses gave me time to do that. Perfect!
Now, maybe if I was just a bit more… oh I don’t know, CONSCIOUS, I’d have really thought this through. You know what summer courses need? Two things, really. Time, and money. I had a lot of one, not so much of the other. FAFSA (Federal aid) doesn’t really help much if you didn’t tell them you’d be taking summer courses (because I didn’t know, and hadn’t planned, at the time).
So basically I was left either with A. parents or B. bank. Parents were not a chance in hell. So that left bank. Luckily for me I waited until the last day payment was due for summer courses and couldn’t get an extension on time.
Yes, I suck. At life.
The upshot though? I had registered for Fall courses that depended on my summer courses. The summer courses fell through. But nobody bothered to check that for the Fall semester! I’m taking advanced courses without the pre-req’s, awesome!
Not so much. They’re advanced for a reason.
I hadn’t coded before. EVER. But sure, let’s take a software architecture & design course. Because that’s a great idea.
I struggled that semester, pretty hardcore too. I wasn’t off to a great start. But I made it through, mostly. Now if I had learned anything from four wasted years of college, it’s that internships fucking matter. They matter a lot.
Now that I had got a semester of software under my belt, I could code in C++ (yeah, okay…) and in SQL (kinda), what’s next? Apply!
I applied, for weeks. I sent out dozens of resumes, went on interviews, the whole schtick. Internships, co-ops, whatever. Wherever. Whenever. During the school year, over the summer, nights, weekends? Sure. Thankfully I was still pissed and still determined as hell to make this work. Otherwise I’d have probably given up somewhere around here.
But up to that point I’d fucked up 4+ years of college. Basically done nothing worthwhile with my life whatsoever up until then. I was damned if I was going to fail at this too.
One day I had an interview, about 10am if I recall correctly. I think it was a Tuesday. At the time I didn’t know that though.
Why? Because that night I forgot about it and that morning I overslept. I overslept so much when they called asking where I was they woke me up…. Yup, that’s me. Loser #1, present and accounted for.
You know what I did in that panic stricken state? I lied. I said I was stuck in traffic, probably be 30 minutes late.
I am not in the least bit proud of that, but I was terrified, absolutely mortified, that wanting to fall into a black pit and die embarrassed. And in that moment, at that point in my life, I was nowhere close to strong enough to tell the truth. Maybe now I could tell the truth, probably, maybe.
I got there, at least 30, probably more like 45, minutes late. I have literally and absolutely no idea how, but apparently I did get something from four years of Political Science. After about 25 minutes they offered me the co-op…..
I had just BS’ed my way into the co-op.
A PAID co-op no less.
You’ve got to be kidding me?!?! I’ve done this stuff for a semester, this is insane!!!
I was tired, practically falling asleep after the adrenaline induced panic wore off. But they asked me to sit in on a meeting they were about to have. I can only imagine what was going through their minds as I was sitting there struggling to stay awake… but they told me to come in first thing Monday. #MindBlown
And that is the grand and glorious tale of how… I was super late and faked my way into being a programmer. I still feel fake a lot of the times. Imposter syndrome is so very real.
There are so many brilliant people in this field and I feel like an absolute moron most any time I peruse GitHub, SO, or most blogs. And I got that co-op about five years ago now.
I’m about halfway through those 10 years to exalted expert-status. Though, truth be told, I think I’ll still feel like a child in this field after 15 years.
But I figure this is as good as any time to start trying to share what I’ve learned on this ride. Maybe it’ll help someone else, or maybe it won’t. But hey, A for effort, right? Right…. (that’s the sixth of the 10 Loser Commandments, in case you were wondering)