In May of this year, I graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and almost immediately started my career at PQA Testing Ltd. as a Junior Tester. Since then, I have had the opportunity to work on a number of exciting projects with an intelligent and supportive team. More recently, I was offered the chance to attend the Techwell STARCANADA 2017 conference in Toronto. There, I heard some truly inspiring talks and learned something new from every single one of them. The Women Who Test event, organized in collaboration with Techwell and a network of women software testers, was held on the final day. The event focused on creating goals and building confidence for women in STEM, and was a motivational, refreshing, and stimulating event. Everything was very exciting and I feel very lucky. What have I done to deserve this?
No, really. What have I done to deserve this?
In her book Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg speaks of a talk Dr. Peggy McIntosh delivered at Sandberg’s induction to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. It was titled, Feeling Like a Fraud. Sandberg writes, “She explained that many people, but especially women, feel fraudulent when they are praised for their accomplishments” and that “despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are – imposters with limited skills or abilities”. Reading this, I felt just as Sandberg said she did when she heard the talk herself – she confesses, “at last, someone was articulating exactly how I felt.” As it turns out, I was, and still am, experiencing something called “imposter syndrome” and it felt good to know it was both real and common enough to have a name.
I felt a distinct pang of it when I walked into the conference room on the final day of the STARCANADA Conference to attend Women Who Test. I was certainly the youngest person in the room and everyone seated at my table had been in QA for years, not months, as I had. The longer I was there, however, the more it seemed like maybe they didn’t necessarily feel like frauds, but that perhaps they weren’t so sure of themselves either.
One woman was nervous about learning automation, because it was “too technical”. Another woman wanted to change career paths but didn’t think she met all of the qualifications to do so. A woman at another table shared a story about how she stayed in a job that she hated for months until she was laid off, too afraid of what would happen with her career if she left. Jaimee Newberry in her talk, It’s Not All Rainbows & Unicorns (The Picture This Clothing Story), shared that even though she knew she had to leave the job she hated, the excuses kept piling up – I can’t afford it, I’m too old, I don’t have training in anything else, I don’t have time.
In this room, I was not alone.
In Dorothy Graham’s talk, The Tester’s 3 C’s: Criticism, Communication and Confidence, she shared that women tend to assess themselves as 20% less able than men, despite generally having equal ability. Whether due to a lack of confidence or something else, we aren’t seeing our value and it is holding us back. Jaimee Newberry not only spoke of how sincerely frightened she was of leaving her job, but also about all the great things that she was able to do once she did, including her newest, incredibly successful project, Picture This Clothing, a company that creates children’s clothing from designs that can be made on a template. When we stop doubting ourselves, or at least start acting like we aren’t doubting ourselves, we make space to start moving forward and achieving goals that are truly important to us.
One exercise Jennifer Bonine did with the group in her talk Building Your Personal Brand for Success was to have us close our eyes and picture ourselves in five or ten years. We didn’t have to share our visions with the group, but she encouraged us to think of where we were, who we were with, what we were doing, and then to open our eyes and write it all down.
The purpose of this list is to help you visualize what you want out of life. Now that you can see it, you can not only set clear goals to achieve it, but also share them with your superiors so they can help you work towards those goals. She also shared this incredible piece of advice, an excellent reminder to self-doubters and would-be imposters: “You have already earned where you are. You have already proven yourself.” She suggests to “act as if you are who you want to be” – if you don’t have the confidence to not feel like an imposter, at least don’t act like an imposter.
Being surrounded by like-minded people with similar life experiences to me, listening to their stories was an excellent opportunity for growth. I felt that every woman who spoke represented what can happen when we stop focusing on who we are not, and start focusing on who we can be. Yolande Grill said in her talk, Create the Life You Want: How Asking the Right Questions Will Open Doors to Your Future, “changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly is hard because change is hard. You have to want to fly so badly that you are willing to kill the caterpillar part of you.”
I would also argue that changing from a caterpillar to a butterfly is hard if you are constantly insisting you are only a worm.