7 ways to know if you are suffering from impostor syndrome

Have you ever suffered from impostor syndrome? Most of us can relate to it. And it’s more prone during certain times of your life, like new jobs.

Impostor syndrome[1] is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women. – From Wikipedia

Having recently started a new job, I thought I’d make a list of the signs that you are suffering from impostor syndrome:

    1. Not accepting praise. Usually when someone says you did a great job, you should say “thank you” not “but I goofed here and I could have done better here.” My performance in my OSCON talk was not as good as my CiviCRM keynote, but I should still accept the nice comments people say. And my OSCON talk was better in many ways – like working with someone else.
    2. Announcing your mistakes or shortcomings. Telling everyone what you don’t know. There’s a lot of technologies in Cloud Foundry! I’m learning them. Just please don’t ask me any detailed questions about exactly how scheduling works.
    3. Being afraid of making mistakes. Everyone is afraid of making mistakes but you find yourself going out of your way to avoid situations that might put you on the spot. You hesitate just a moment before stepping up – a moment you don’t normally hesitate in.
    4. Feeling stupid. Not asking questions you have for fear of looking stupid. I’ve got lots of questions. I’ve asked about 90% of them. I’ve also asked some of them twice – the key is just to ask the same question of different people in hopes that somebody will answer it in a way you understand. That’s a trick I learned in karate. We would take turns pairing up with everyone in class. Eventually someone would explain the move to me in a way that just clicked with me.
    5. Writing lots, publishing nothing. Because nothing is good enough to you. I’ve got a book’s worth of blog posts at this point. Should make life easier later.
    6. Feeling uncertain in other parts of your life where you know you are competent but suddenly you are doubting yourself. Seriously, we’ve had a boat for over 10 years and I suddenly couldn’t get it started last weekend. Luckily for me and my 8yo, I did know how to use the trolling motor (or rather together we figured it out) so we weren’t stuck in the middle of the lake.
    7. Researching and writing about the impostor syndrome. :)

How do you know when you are suffering from impostor syndrome?

What labels are applied to you every day?

When you hear that a 13 year old, black girl is giving a keynote at OSCON, what do you think?

  1. Wow, she must be a child prodigy, what did she do?
  2. Who are her parents?
  3. She got that keynote because she’s a 13 year old, black, girl.

I’ve heard all three options and a few in between.

The truth is that Keila Banks is pretty awesome. She’s an accomplished blogger/technologist and her 10 minute keynote (to a 4,000 person audience!), “The Undefinable Me”, is well worth watching.

And Keila’s parents are pretty awesome too. They have given Keila lots of support and encouragement as she explores the opportunities around her. They are as inspirational to me as a parent as Keila is.

Join the Open Source Track at Grace Hopper this year!

There’s a Free and Open Source Software Track at Grace Hopper this year! Submit your proposal now and come join us.

Grace Hopper is the largest gathering of women technologists and it’s a super energizing conference. They are expecting 11,000 people this year – which I find kind of scary. But my experience at Grace Hopper has always been very welcoming – a place to see old friends and a great place to meet new people. I always see quite a few women from the industry that I know and I always meet a couple of more – usually a couple each time that I still remain in contact over the years. It’s how I met the HFOSS folks and where I met Corey Latislaw who is now a Kids on Computers volunteer. I also always see at least one speaker who makes a huge impact on me. One year a keynote speaker made me cry and laugh several times all in one talk. Another year, the President of Harvey Mudd College was on the imposter panel. She talked about how she felt like an imposter asking for a $25 million donation when the people all around her were much more successful and wealthy. GNOME owes part of its financial success that year to her. Because of her stories, I had no problem going and asking all of the advisory board member companies if they could double their contributions.

Heidi Ellis and I are co-chairing the Open Source track and we’re both excited to bring the new things happening in the open source world to a larger audience. We want to get more of the women at Grace Hopper involved in free and open source software. Or at least aware of the opportunity. Please consider submitting a proposal to the track. Formats include presentations, lightning talks, panels, workshops, and birds of a feather.

Men and women are welcome at Grace Hopper although I warn you (both men and women!), if you’ve never been, it feels very strange at first to be at a technical conference that is almost all women! There are also a lot of students at Grace Hopper and that too adds to the energy and the unique feel of Grace Hopper.

Who’s helping who?

At Philly Emerging Tech some girls from TechGirlz came into meet with me and Molly Holzschlag. I think we were supposed to be role models for them but two minutes into the meeting, I realized the girls were the role models!

One of the girls was already writing a game in Python and had already considered the benefits of open sourcing it or not.  Another was concerned with the lack of emotion you can convey in a text message and how we might be able to improve that. A third girl had already set up her own dog treat business complete with an online presence. And the youngest in the group? She was in a Lego club and could build and program computer robots. Her teacher? An older girl in the group. These girls ranged in ages from 8 to 15 and they were already accomplishing amazing things.

We talked about careers in tech, how you can take technology into other fields, the things that frustrated them, the things that motivated them, … I sure learned a lot and came away motivated!

For more on what we talked about read Todd Weiss’ excellent recap.

Thanks to Tracey Welson-Rossman for TechGirlz and for inviting me to participate.

The secret to my success in a field of men? All my friends. My guy friends.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks talking about why we have so few women in open source and web development and how to encourage more women to join. (I even got to spend an awesome afternoon with a bunch of girls. I was supposed to be mentoring them but they were already Python game developers and small business owners – at the ages of 10 and 15!)

But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am in this field because I really like the people. And 95% of those people are men and I appreciate them. I appreciate all the help they’ve given me whether they knew they were helping or not!

So I decided it’s time to thank all the men that I appreciate, who have helped me in my interests and my career.

First, there’s my dad. He not only told me I could do whatever I wanted to do, but promised to make sure I had the opportunities. I think he’s always been secretly disappointed I didn’t want to play football.

To my grandpa. He told me it was his sandbox, so I could play in it. He taught me how to defend my right to participate with out a leg to stand on — it wasn’t his sandbox. (And to Chris who taught me how to play toy soldiers in that sandbox. I still consider that to be one of the most boring games I know but it taught me how to steer the game or the conversation in the direction I wanted it to go.)

To my uncle John who saved all his computer magazines. He asked me once if I wanted to organize conferences. I stand by my firm answer of no, you’d have to be crazy. (But I do help out occasionally!)

To my uncle Larry who used to save me boxes of science fiction books. Boxes! Boxes of science fiction books! When you live in Spain and can’t get them that was a treasure.

To my great uncle Ted who was more delighted than I was when I finally managed to beat him in a game of cards.

To my boyfriend Frank who projects complete confidence that I can do anything. Except mow the lawn. But he is willing to get in a small boat in a big ocean with me. And he listens to my excited stories and my gripes and promises to beat up anyone who bothers me. I know he’s got my back.

To all my friends that I hang out with online and at conferences. I couldn’t possibly hope to list you all in one blog post but you’ve made all the difference. Especially those that welcomed me in the beginning. Meeting all the HelixCode guys. An afternoon hanging out with Havoc Pennington and the Eazel guys in Copenhagen trying to stay awake. Dave Neary encouraging me not just to be GNOME Foundation member but to run for the board! I didn’t run for the board then but he did later convince me to apply for the executive director job.  Dinner with Bastien Nocera, Jeff Waugh and Glynn Foster.  A cab ride with Daniel Veillard during which he explained why he didn’t trust OpenOffice. An afternoon hunting for saffron with J5. Conversations with Bradley Kuhn about free software and community and who was always helpful even when I was causing him great grief. All the questions that Vincent Untz answered for me when I started as Executive Director of GNOME – he was probably starting to get worried there! For Luis Villa, Brian Cameron, Lukas Rocha, Germán Póo-Caamaño, Behdad Esfahbod, Diego Escalante Urrelo, who took all my suggestions seriously and never acted like any question was stupid even when they were. For Jeff Schroeder who regularly pings me and encourages me on the ideas I’ve mentioned. For Paul Cutler for always making time to meet in person even when I delayed his trip home! For Ragavan Srinivasan who taught me we can be the ones to start something. And for all my new friends in the world of JavaScript and web development. Dave Herman, Christian Heilmann, Trevor Lalish_Menagh, Robert Nyman, Peter Svensson … Even after I’ve shown I have no clue how to write good JavaScript, you’ve still made me welcome.

And a whole bunch more people that I’ve talked to on IRC, IM, in hallways, over lunch or a beer, … I’m not leaving you out. But I do have to get back to work at some point.

Thanks to all of you. For all the conversations, for all the ideas you’ve shared, ideas you’ve given me feedback on, questions you’ve answered, trust you’ve shown, … I thank you. Hopefully I am successful in returning the favor or passing it on because I think it’s what makes our communities great. It’s what will continue to bring more men and more women to our communities.

That’s why I’m part of these free and open source software communities and why I’ve chosen this career path. For the people in the communities and the way we are making the world a better place together.

And I love the 5% that are women too! But I feel like I owe the guys a special thank you as we don’t often mention how encouraging and helpful they are.

Help girls discover how cool a career in technology could be!

If you have some time this Saturday, take half an hour or so to help show girls how cool a career in technology can be. Dare 2B Digital is a conference for girls to learn more about careers involving computers.

What can you do?

As part of the conference, the girls will be making videos. (Mozilla is sponsoring the event and Lukas Blakk will be teaching the HTML5/Open Video workshop.) We need volunteers to help transcribe the videos and translate them real time to show them the power of the community and technology. The software being used is Universal Subtitles (which is a really cool tool).

Spend half an hour this Saturday and help show girls how cool our world is. You can sign up here.

Why help girls learn about computer science?

As many of you know, less than 2% of open source software developers are women. This frustrates me for two reasons.

  1. A bunch of women are missing out on some really awesome opportunities.
  2. The open source community could be twice as big! Imagine all we’d get done!

But it’s hard to recruit more women when the pool of women in computer science in general is small. I helped out at a technology event for girls once. They were sixth graders (about 12 years old). When we asked what they wanted to be, none of them picked any kind of technology field. Studies show that by sixth grade, girls have already decided not to pursue math and science careers.

This is our chance to show them how cool those fields can be. And that they aren’t alone, that there’s a whole community of interesting and motivated people they’d get to work with.

So sign up now. You can help in person if you are in Mountain View or you can help transcribe and translate if you are not. Bilingual people are much needed!

Too skinny and too fat: what happened to normal?

Photo by Camera baba' aka Udit Kulshrestha

You hear a lot about how the media potrays super-skinny models and they make poor role models for young women.

Today I turned on the TV and there was a cartoon with an obese girl in it. Interesting, I thought, they’re trying to portray reality. Then I noticed that every other character had a waist the size of their arm. (Literally, I paused and checked. The male characters had muscular arms and so had slightly bigger waists. The girls all had thin arms and ridiculously thin waists.) So there were a whole bunch of super skinny characters plus one obese girl and one obese boy.

What kind of body image message is that sending?

Should women stay on the technical track?

When my friends and I started in our careers as software programmers, we noticed a trend. All the women who were good in their programming jobs got promoted to management, either project management or program management. We wondered why women never seemed to become architects and CTOs or even stay programmers for very long.

When I was offered a promotion into management, I took it. However, one of my friends did not. She said their were no women role models on the technical track. If we all got promoted out, then how were young women supposed to know that women could succeed as programmers and architects? She stayed a programmer.

So I’ve been really excited this year to see several women I know personally, prominent women in the free and open source software world, get high level, very technical jobs.

Congratulations to Danese Cooper who is now CTO of the Wikimedia Foundation and Allison Randal who is now the Technical Architect of Ubuntu.

I’m sure they will be great role models and mentors for both genders, but I hope young girls in particular will be influenced by seeing women in successful technical leadership roles.

(And I do see my role as technical. I don’t think someone without a programming or technical background would do as well. But I haven’t written any code or made any technical decisions other than for my own home network in a very long time, so I don’t feel like I’m showing young women that women can succeed in technical jobs, rather that they can succeed in leadership roles in technology related organizations.)

Do men and women have different standards of success?

This quote has been haunting me because it rings so true:

men tended to stick with their studies as long as they completed the coursework, while women did so only if they earned high grades

I don’t see that in all fields but I definitely see it in computer science. I wonder if it’s because only really competitive women tend to stick it out in a field that’s often less than 20% women (and comes with all the problems that entails.) They are used to working hard, competing and doing well. And when they don’t, well they figure they should be doing something else. Something they excel at.

I’ve seen it happen. (And for the record the women I know went on to be really successful in other scientific fields. I think they would have excelled in computer science too.)

What do you think?

How does Malaysia encourage so many women in software?

 In 2003 I gave a talk in Malaysia. What I noticed immediately is that my audience was well over half women. This was really noticeable because they were all wearing brightly colored hijabs. Usually I scan the room and count how many women I can find – usually on my fingers even in a room of hundreds. Hijab-programmer-womanYet here were hundreds of women attending a talk about the economics of open source software!

I've wondered ever since what they do so differently in Malaysia that they get so many more women involved in software. Is it something we could do as well?

A recent study offers a theory:

in Malaysia jobs in technology
are seen as appropriate for women: Men do not perceive indoor work as
masculine and much of society stigmatizes women who work outdoors as
lower class. Computing and programming are seen as “women-friendly”
professions, with opportunities opening up since men are not
interested in competing for these types of jobs. “It’s a woman’s world
in that respect,” said Mellstrom.

So women that work in software are higher class. Where as in my experience it's often been insinuated in the US that if you are attractive or social, there are better careers for you. "You're a programmer?? You don't look like one!"