Impostor syndrome, women in tech, freelancing

When I was seventeen or so you would find me staring at lines of code, resolutely programming a custom CMS in PHP or designing yet another layout for my blog. I was that kid, the one terrified of speaking to people. Who had a bizarre fear of the telephone. Whose social circle was limited to playing D&D and who truanted from just one class – Physical Education.

By all rights I should have ended up a developer. Maybe a designer. The place I actually ended up was… communications and marketing.

It seems bizarre now, looking back on it. The kid who once let a store short change them rather than risk making a scene ended up managing relationships with people for a living.

The reason I didn’t study computers or programming at University is probably down to a combination of things. Neither of my parents went to Uni, I had a vague idea I wanted to create comic books for a living, my career advisor was crap. I ended up doing English & Creative Writing. It was a good degree. It even had a web design module, which taught us how to use Dreamweaver. (I sidestepped it and just wrote my code directly.)

My first ‘proper’ job after University — after a six month stint in a call-centre — was working for a Video Game start-up. I was super-excited! They hired me because I said I wanted to work in something that would use both my writing and my tech skills.

I used my writing skills. My tech skills were limited to copy&paste. Somehow I got pushed more and more into the marketing and PR side of things. I organised LAN sessions — but I didn’t play in them. I wrote peppy news-posts and managed the forum.

At some point, I got the chance to write a fiction blog detailing the lives of two ‘background characters’ caught up in the video game’s universe. I developed a character: an older woman, struggling with arthritis, a missionary in a strange land. The artist did a fantastic job drawing her.

Then our lead designer came back: “What is this shit? She looks sick! We need her to be SEXY.”

I quit not long after. For lots of reasons. I wasn’t getting paid even minimum wage, I was expected to be on call at 7am and 11pm. And I had realised I would never be much more than the peppy female face of the company, not someone who had any real input into the games.

All the designers, developers, programmers were male. The PR staff were mainly female.

After that I ended up in a part-time admin job, and decided to set up a freelance web-design business on the side. I worked pretty hard, coding up around twenty websites over the first year or so. I even built another custom CMS, this being before WordPress and its like had really taken off. I developed e-commerce sites. I learned Magneto’s templating system.

Then my part-time admin role went full-time. I couldn’t really afford to say no. I kept the freelancing up but on a very ad-hoc basis.

After three years or so doing the admin job, I eventually landed a new job. Digital Communications Offer for an environmental charity. Some of the essential skills included HTML, CSS, experience with Drupal, even Flash. There was to be a core coding component to the role.

But it was still a marketing role, not a tech role. It was the most ‘tech orientated’ of any of the jobs I have had. I built internal sites, including custom php scripts to manage an internal bulletin system. I built a localhost site for a touchscreen. I managed a linux server. But day-to-day? Producing fun graphics and running social media. Writing newsletters. Managing bloggers.

Don’t get me wrong. I have come to enjoy that side of my job — and I’m good at it. I tripled web traffic and increased conversion rates. I launched our social media strategy. I gave presentations to rooms full of people. But the days I really enjoyed my job were the days I spent picking apart php code.

I struggle with impostor syndrome — the feeling that I’m never good enough, that I’m out of place. When I meet ‘real’ developers I stay silent, unable to contribute.

Whilst working for this charity I liaised with a web development agency that managed our main website – one of the top London agencies, charging £750 a day — and discovered that many of their coders were no better than me. I frequently suggested solutions to the bugs I found. We had many problems that I ended up working around with code over-writes (a terrible solution, by the way).

I left that job, to try and move to the USA, and in the last couple of weeks I’ve launched myself as a full-time web developer.

I do know my stuff. I’ve been reading tech blogs for fun my whole life. I love learning about UX principles. I can solve css issues. I’m not up to speed on things like Ruby on Rails, but I can build a damn website.

But the voice that says I’m not good enough doesn’t go away.

Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I’d ever managed to get one of those developer jobs at an agency that I applied for. I applied to so many of them! Was it my skills that weren’t up to par? And yet my social skills, my marketing skills, they really were not ‘up to par’ when I started my career, and that’s where I ended up.

I guess I will never know.

 

 

 

 

A is for… new beginnings

The Letter A

Welcome to the very first blog post on suziehunt.co.uk.

Holy crap, I think that calls for some fanfare. *blows a trumpet and bangs a drum*

In order to get things moving, I have decided to participate in the A-Z Blogging challenge. This basically means I have to write 25 blogs posts this month, with a fairly arbitrary A-Z structure. That’s okay. Prompts are a good thing.

Today’s post is inspired by the letter A.

I could write about aardvarks. Arachnids. Avocado. But instead of giving you a recipe for avocado on toast (try it! It’s delicious.) I’m going to get a bit more abstract and talk about beginnings, since A is the start of the alphabet and… well, you get it.

So let me tell you about this blog. Topics will be pretty unstructured. I’m not going to even attempt to provide writing tips, or how to self publish successfully tips. I will share some personal anecdotes from my journey of writing and publishing, but ultimately I’m making about 99c a month from this whole deal, so you probably want to do the opposite of what I do.

I’m interested in lots of other things. Like food. So I will share recipes (avocado on toast, man, just do it) and occasionally foodgasms. I’m also interested in media, new media, social media, the way digital revolution changes society. In my other life – the one that pays me more than 99c a month – I work in digital communications. Blogging has been good to me. It got me my first offer of a book deal (under a pseudonym, natch, and it eventually fell through). It got me an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco to review some video games. It got me my first real job, as PR & Community Manager for a start-up video game company. Blogging has also connected me with people all around the world, to the point where I know the secret dreams, fears and hopes of people I’ve never met.

So, yeah, I might share some thoughts about blogging and online relationships and playfulness and digital nomads.

I’m also super interested in the environment, formerly a card-carrying hippy, now I work for an environmental charity. I worry a lot about vanishing resources, climate shift, and the great rapacious monster that is unbridled capitalism. I’m also fascinated by the way technology allows us to circumvent a lot of predicted problems. I’m fundamentally an optimist, I guess, and keep the faith that tech and new ways of working/living will enable us to manage our damage.

I’ll probably participate in blogging challenges, so look out for weirdly themed series of posts.

Welcome aboard. I’m sure this will be a fun ride. As always, questions, comments, strange tangents and crazed ramblings are welcome. Just don’t be boring.