Marc Beinder

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as a New Professional Software Engineer

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Marc Beinder

We’ve all been in this situation at least once. Starting a new job in a new industry. Some of us are extremely lucky to work in an industry that excites us, while others work in an industry that pays the bills. I am lucky enough to be in the former. But that doesn’t change some of the self-consciousness I have around my work when it comes to what I know.

On June 12, 2023, I started a new position as a Software Engineer at RCS. For those who are not familiar with this company, RCS is owned by iHeartMedia and writes software that radio stations use in their daily operations, such as scheduling the music you hear on the radio, selling the ads and commercials you hear, and even the automation system used to play the audio on the air. That last one is actually much more complicated and interesting than you might think. Think of it as iTunes on all the steroids. It plays the music but also interacts with remote feeds and hardware inside the studio. It’s one impressive beast of an application.

Before joining RCS, I had worked in a couple of different places in different industries. I got my Bachelor of Science in Digital Marketing from Lindenwood University, worked at an e-commerce company doing advertising, worked as a Report Writer in the utility industry, and now I’m here. Most importantly, I have been a self-taught developer and radio station nerd since 2015. That’s eight years.

On the radio side of things, I learned everything I know from Mike Couchman, the program director for BOOST RADIO (KXBS) and the former PD for JOY FM (KLJY). For that, I am eternally grateful!

However, I am completely self-taught on the software side of the equation. This comes with both good and bad consequences. The good includes that I was able to explore different technologies that interested me and excited me freely. The bad is that I really didn’t have any formal training. Through the various projects I would work on, I would gain skills that helped me get the job I have today. However, these skills may not have been the most efficient or even beneficial way to accomplish a given task. Another note is that I may understand a given concept in the abstract and sometimes in practice but may not know the official name or term that it is referred to by. This can lead to misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication with co-workers and other teams.

If I didn’t know the correct terminology, how the heck did I land this job? During the interview process, I informed my now manager that I am a self-taught developer who may know a given concept but not its official name. When faced with a technical question that I didn’t know the answer to, I let him know that I had never encountered this scenario, so I didn’t know to answer that question. I didn’t pretend that I knew something I didn’t. But I drew on my previous experience and asked if what they were asking was related to something else I knew. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t. By doing this, I was able to show I had the ability to grasp what they were referring to, even though I might be wrong.

Great! So now I’ve got the job, and I’m learning from the team, right? Absolutely! But that doesn’t change the fact that sometimes it’s intimidating to work with a bunch of developers who know way more than I do. I find myself asking, how the heck did I make it here? There’s no way they’ll keep me; I don’t know what I’m doing!

Whenever I encounter this, I remind myself that I know more than I think I do and way less than I think I do. There is always something new to learn, especially when learning a completely different language. And if there’s one thing that I can say without any doubt, software engineers are very curious people, sometimes to our own detriment. But, when encountering an issue that we can’t solve, we commonly won’t say no to an extra set of eyes to help get us on the right track. This has been my experience so far at RCS; I’m learning something new; I hit a roadblock and tried to figure it out myself. Sometimes I did, and it felt great! Other times I am completely lost and have no idea what to do next. I ask for help, and it is freely given. Sometimes we’re both just as lost as the other, and we work together to figure it out.

The point I’m trying to make is that even when you feel like you don’t belong in the room, you do. Everyone is always learning something new. Sometimes is life-changing, and other times it’s something super simple. It’s easier said than done, but believing in your abilities is paramount to your success.

You may never be the smartest person in the room, and that is perfectly okay. I love the quote saying, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.” There is always something new to learn from someone. If there is no one around you you can learn from, you either are not paying attention or are delusional.

But if you’re ever in a room with Tom, there is a lot you can learn from him. After all, Tom is a genius!