This year marks my tenth anniversary of working in tech. I graduated from university in Denmark at the end of 2013. I moved to London in the spring of 2014 and took a graduate Java developer position. Except for the odd 1-2 month break between jobs, I have been working full time in the past decade.

I take immense pride in my career and my achievements, but the road has not been easy. Sometimes others wanted me to fail, sometimes I doubted myself, and sometimes I dreamt about packing it all in. But here I am, a decade later… still standing! 💪

When it comes to your career, the race is an ultra-marathon through the desert in cheap shoes, not a nice jog on a manicured lawn. Keeping a sustainable pace is the key to success.

This post is a collection of lessons that I learned the hard way, which helped me stay consistent and show up another day. I hope they will also help you.

💐 Happy International Women’s Day! 💐

You don’t have to be beyond reproach.

When I first started as an engineer, I felt like I could not make any mistakes and my work should be the best I could possibly deliver. “Push yourself, work harder than everyone else, show them that you mean business!” became the mantra that I would repeat to myself every day. Of course, this affected my mental health, pushed me to drink alcohol to cope with anxiety and stopped me from learning. Within the first two years, I was miserable and questioning my career choice.

True equality in tech does not mean that the minorities need to be better than everyone else, but still get paid the same. You are allowed the same grace and understanding as your peers.

  • You are allowed to make the same mistakes.
  • You are allowed learn at the same pace.
  • You should be given as many chances and opportunities.

Your place in tech is just as valid as everyone else’s. You don’t need to outperform to be worthy. Give yourself the space to make mistakes and learn from them, so that you can grow and have a sustainable tech career.

Never make yourself small.

I worked in-office jobs up until the pandemic in 2020. Six years of 2hr travel time each day. Six LONG years of showing up to the office every day and having to sit through in-person meetings. When I attended meetings, I would sit in the back, pull my shoulders forward, and hope that nobody talks to me. Typically, I didn’t speak in these meetings. On the rare occassions that I did, I would state my opinions as questions, hesitantly and unconfidently. I made myself small.

When you feel like you don’t belong, you don’t want to be noticed or singled out. However, people who don’t get noticed also don’t get given interesting opportunities, don’t get promoted and they definitely don’t get raises. Trust me, I know.

It can be helpful to imagine you are playing a part, a work persona. You can imagine who this person is, the kind of questions they ask and how they are perceived by others. Then, use your imagination to apply your mannerisms to your work persona. You are playing the part of a lifetime, so you’ve got to sell it! As you reconcile image of yourself and your work personna, you begin to show up to work in a confident way. The work personna is a crutch you won’t need forever, but it will allow you to let go of your perceived limitations.

As I mentioned in the previous section, you should never question your place in tech. You should be free to ask questions and voice your opinions when you go to meetings as well. Your thoughts are worth just as much as everyone else’s, so don’t hold them back. Getting noticed, demonstrating leadership and confidence, will craft you a sustainable tech career by setting you up for success when the next performance review comes around. 🤞

You are not an impostor.

At the beginning of my career, I was fully convinced that I was the person in the room that knew the least. That was fine because I was going to work extra hard and get better. Being a newly minted junior engineer is extremely liberating. Your job is quite simple: soak up knowledge, deliver work as instructed, and keep improving. This freedom doesn’t last, so make sure you enjoy every minute of it. As you get experience and credibility, the expectations of those around you increase. It was around the four-year experience mark that I first experienced the dreaded impostor syndrome, even though I did not know how to verbalise it.

Impostor syndrome warps all of your experiences, as if through a skewed magnifying glass. All of your achievements are minimised, all of your little failures are catastrophised and everyone around you appears to be effortlessly better than you. As these warped thoughts constantly swirl around in your head, the impostor syndrome is reinforced and the magnifying glass gets stronger.

At my lowest point, I thought I was sure to be let go on the basis of performance. I walked into my performance review expecting the worst. I was absolutely ecstatic when I got a meets expectations! It was then that I realised how warped my thinking had become.

The best weapon you have against impostor syndrome is reality.

  • Start to write down every thing you do well and everything you learn, no matter how small.
  • Document your wins even when it feels like you have nothing to celebrate.
  • As the practice of celebrating your small wins becomes habit, you will see your improvements and begin to advocate for yourself.

In my experience, this process will help dismantle the impostor syndrome that has taken hold of your thinking patterns. You will begin to believe your own track record and improve your self confidence.

Impostor syndrome can cause a lot of people, especially minorities, to feel alienated and eventually leave tech. You can overcome it! Check out this page from the Calm blog for more techniques.

Lift yourself by lifting others.

As I look back at my career, I don’t remember code, tickets or problems. I remember the people I met along the way and the impact we had on each others’ lives. I think that’s really lovely. 🫶

Make it your priority to support others, in little or big ways. Show up for others, be compassionate and build a support network around yourself. Even in a larger city like London, I have found that tech is a quite small community. It’s quite handy to have friends in important rooms. 💪

If you’re not sure where to start, get involved with your local tech communities on meetup or engage online. I’m a firm believer in fostering in-person relationships though, so do try to cultivate a professional network in your area, not rely solely on online connections.

Working in tech can be lonely and difficult due to the complex nature of the work. Fostering connections with others will make you feel like you belong, as well as provide support to those around you. A sustainable tech career isn’t nurtured in isolation and you are not an island. 🏝️ Personal relationships are sometimes even more important than your technical skills.

Parting Thoughts

I can’t believe it’s already been TEN YEARS since I started my career. The last thought I’d like to leave you with is that if I can do it, so can you. It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to get your first job in tech or are looking for a new opportunity following a redundancy, you will find your next opportunity.

We can do hard things and will overcome whatever this ultra-marathon in the desert throws at us. 🏜️

Comments or Burning Questions?