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Computer Science Barbie aka Fake It til You Make It

The best career advice I ever got was:

Fake it ’til you make it.

I don’t remember the name of the lady who said that, it was at an Amazon internal conference a few years back, but here is a public thank you to that amazing woman.

My entire life I had felt like I wasn’t good enough. No matter how well I was doing in life, I always felt it wasn’t deserved. The fact that I was a woman in a man’s industry and working at some very hostile environments did not help that feeling. I realized that no matter how much I know and what I can do won’t matter until I am sure of myself.

I needed to become confident.

I knew this wouldn’t come easy, so faking it seemed like a reasonable first step. Of course, I wasn’t really sure how to do that either. Looking back now, I think it came to me at the moment I joined Intercom – I changed my GitHub and Slack avatar to be a computer science Barbie. In case you don’t know which one I’m referring to – it’s this one:

Yup, two years ago I started a new job presenting myself with this image. Even my partner, the most confident person I had ever met, asked me if I’m feeling a bit overly confident. I looked at him and answered in the most calm tone I ever produced: “Nah. Pretty AND smart.”

So how did I go from a totally insecure person, through faking it to finally becoming sure of myself? Here are some of the things that worked for me:

  1. Focus on your strengths
    Another great career advice I got was to become better at things you’re excelling at. As other insecure people, I used to put too much focus on the things that need improvement. Of course you should always aim to become a better version of yourself, but guess what? If you focus only on things that need improvement, don’t be surprised if you end up being good at everything but not great at anything.
  2. Own your mistakes
    When I was younger, I used to blame my mistakes on others. The colleague is an asshole, the deadline was unrealistic, the neighbor’s dog was barking too loudly and I couldn’t focus. It works wonders for a short period of time. Like when you go out drinking and you are all pumped and you promise yourself you’ll run a marathon in the next month a become a CEO within a year, only to find yourself waking up with a bad hangover the next day and scrolling through your phone hoping you didn’t drunk dial your ex. Got a bit carried away there. The point is – there is something very humbling and at the same time incredibly strong in standing up and sayin “I fucked up”. Caveat: don’t take blame for mistakes of others. The goal is to improve yourself, not to be a scapegoat.
  3. Speak up
    This is probably the hardest one. When things bother you, don’t shrug it off and say “nothing will change anyway”. Speak up. Start small. Go to the person Z, saying “why did you go to person XY with a question when I have more context than them?”. Start by asking “why did only person XY get called out for doing a great job when we worked on the project together and shared effort equally?” See what answers you get. They might surprise you.
  4. Always challenge yourself
    Confidence need reassurance. Doing the same thing over and over again will make you feel dull and not particularly confident. Setting small challenges that you need to overcome and sense of accomplishment  once you do overcome them will do wonders for confidence. Caveat: be careful not to burn out. Challenges need to be stretching you, not burning you out.
  5. Where body will go, mind will follow
    In my gym there is one of those inspirational statements printed on the wall. It says “Where mind will go, body will follow.” For me it has proved to be quite the opposite. Whenever I’m working out regularly my confidence is boosted. The way I see it: if I can run 20km, which I had trained for over the past 6 months, or if I can do 30 push-ups which I had achieved over the course of 3 months, then for sure I can nail this project, since I spent past 15 years training for it. I understand this one may or may not work for you, but I’m putting it here.

I realize that a lot of who I am today was influenced by amazing people around me, people who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, people who challenged me and pushed me. It was influenced by people who said “you did a great job” when I wanted to hear it, to the ones who knew how to say the things I didn’t want to hear, and most importantly – it was influenced by the ones who listened. Immense thank you.

To all the incredible women out there – I hope become stronger. I hope you use International Women’s Day to celebrate your strengths. To realize you have this incredible potential that just needs a bit of nurturing before it comes out.

Shine. If you can’t yet – fake it ’til you make it.

 

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