How to be fierce, kill heroes, and conquer imposter syndrome

It was Saturday 4:30AM. I was 30 hours into at the Hawaii Uber/@devleaguehawaii hackathon when React-Native doesn’t work. Someone had already asked why I needed to do hackathons. At the time, I said because they were awesome and you can’t hold me down. Now the caffeine was gone and I’m getting too old for this shit.

My team had already built a quick and dirty Rails app called Nightout. Nightout is a quick way to vote on where to spend your night out and get around safely with Uber. At the moment, I was suffering from envy of other teams that had tests (tests!!!), edge cases, and nice graphics. In my mind, our mobile web app desperately needed to be a native app. Panic was starting to set in. I’m a web dev. I can’t pull this off. The hackathon have 9 teams across the state with younger pros with impossible hair and mobile chops. I was dealing with imposter syndrome.

This is how imposter syndrome feels to me.

fierce-warriors-in-great-outfits (1)

It can be paralyzing in the moments you need to be the most decisive and productive. Learning requires a certain mental flexibility and faith. A fixed mindset about your abilities and capacity to improve can be blocking.  While being humble about your abilities is a valuable trait, it can be self-defeating. My sister is learning Rails and she sent me a great post by Allison Kupter.

Julie Pagano did a great talk at PyCon 2014 titled It’s Dangerous to Go Alone: Battling the Invisible Monsters in Tech. One of her suggestions for a way to combat impostor syndrome was “kill your heroes.” Don’t put other programmers on a pedestal, don’t say “that person is so different from me.” Fixed/growth mindset is a really useful framing for this too. If you have programming heroes, do you consider them to be totally different from you? Could you become more like the kind of person you admire? If you don’t think so, that’s some evidence of a fixed mindset.

Source: Effective Learning Strategies for Programmers

At the end, my team won the Hawaii Uber/Devleague Hackathon this weekend. It was fun and exhausting. While we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to, we scaled back, polished our Plan B app, and shipped. Hackathons are a great microcosm of the whole startup experience. Instead of spending years building, making mistakes, and learning, you can learn similar lessons in 50 hours.

About Me

Hi, I’m Ben Ward (he/him). I’m an developer and entrepreneur based in Maui. My passions are Ruby on RailsReact, making, and triathlons.

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