Building my self-confidence at work

As a woman engineer, I often hear that we need more women role models in leadership positions. One reason is that they can inspire other women to come or stay in tech. I do agree with that, but we also need to build our confidence, for those of us already in tech. Luckily, self-confidence is a skill one can build up.

A few days ago, around 15 female students from Hasso-Plattner Institute at University of Potsdam visited the HQ of SoundCloud in Berlin, where I currently work as a mobile engineer. I had 10 minutes to speak about my career, with the goal to motivate them in one way or another. I decided to talk about self-confidence, and how I created mine, during the last 8 years.

Here are the aspects I mentioned:

1. Education. Being one of the top students in my generation made me really proud. I had a score of 9.67/10 and I thought I could get every job I want. That was true, but it was not true that I was ready to take every job I wanted. Why? Because I was afraid. I rejected a project from one of my professors, because I thought I didn’t have the skills to do it. I was sure I would fail. I didn’t have mentors to learn from and I made up lots of other ‘No, I can’t do it’ reasons in my head. I felt terrible, ended up crying and with lots of worries about my future career. Then I decided to enroll in master studies, instead of looking for a job. I was not ready, so I chose a safe path. So yes, good education can bring self-confidence, but only that is not enough.

2. Knowledge. More knowledge leads to more self-confidence, it’s that simple. The more we know, the less fears we have. I had luck on my first job to be mentored by an extraordinary engineer. I’m so thankful. I was eager to know every day more and more, to create more, and I still have that desire. Having this in mind, I always tend to be in an environment where I can learn from others, where I can learn on the projects I work on. It is fun!

3. Challenges. Accepting challenging projects and succeeding at them, brings my confidence up. It is a great feeling when I accomplish a challenge. It is a feeling of power, a moment when all doubts disappear, a moment when I’m relieved and free, a moment when I smile.

I was 27 when I was appointed technical coordinator on a new project. A lot of responsibility was given to me, as it was our first mobile product, with lots of money invested. On our first kick-off meeting in Zürich, I was one of two women in the room. I had a feeling that the developers from our partner company, that had much more experience than me, didn’t even want to discuss about the technical details. Maybe it was only in my head, because of the lack of confidence, or not being able to present what I know. I felt really bad. I could have given up, but I did not. It was a period of struggling, stress, but also lots of learning. I was so passionate and happy for the product, could not wait to go to work and complete one more piece of it. Do you ever have that feeling?

Challenges are for learning and growing, no matter if we succeed or fail. Failing is ok, as long as we are able to understand why did we fail and what can be learned from that. No one can build confidence working on boring projects, no one. Challenge yourself, because no matter of the outcome, your knowledge will be enriched.

4. Trust. Having someone’s trust is very important. When someone has confidence in us, there is a bigger chance that we will challenge ourselves. Once we make that step, we will become more self-confident. Here, I will mention honesty as well. Presenting reality and naming the problems to all concerned shares the responsibility upon any taken action. Therefore, the possibility for failure is much smaller, or better to say, the possibility for success is bigger.

5. Commitment. Being a committed person and finishing things I’ve started is another way to build my self-confidence. Obviously, finishing something that I have planned, is a confirmation that I’m capable of doing, capable of accomplishing tasks.

6. Never give up. Never, unless you see that all possibilities for the given time have been assessed. Never give up because of fear, or because knowledge is missing. Ask for help, ask for support.

Once, in a hard period at work, an older colleague of mine, met me in the kitchen and said, ‘Aleksandra, what will you do if you are on an island, and you have problems?’ I couldn’t answer that straight away. He said, ‘You will ask for help.’

7. Celebrate. Celebrate what you have achieved. It is a great moment to do a retrospective, to see how much was done. Also, to confirm that it was possible to complete what was started. Celebrate with yourself, go on a weekend away, go on vacation, give yourself a reward. On the next challenge, remind yourself on these moments, remind yourself that you can do it.

8. Share. After a few years working as developer, I volunteered as a creator and lecturer for a iOS development course. Twenty students had a chance to attend the classes in a period of three months. Many of them became iOS developers as well as others who studied the course material. It is an amazing feeling of doing something good and valuable. Another way of sharing is by giving talks and presentations about what you are working on. Through the process of sharing, we learn so much from the audience, their questions and their feedback. All this will make you better in a specific topic and will increase your knowledge.

9. Be good to yourself. Words are very powerful. Be careful with the things you say to yourself. Instead of doubting, questioning, not believing, blaming yourself, be self-supportive and self-encouraging.

10. Be good to others. Honestly, I don’t have an argument that this behavior builds up my confidence, but it is definitely my way of working and living. By respecting others, we respect ourselves. No confidence can be created when respect is missing.

As I’m building my confidence, I also have moments when I’m losing it. At that moment, I observe why that is happening and what can I do in order to go back to my normal state, before I start building up my confidence again. I confront myself and I ask for feedback from others. You will be surprised how much harder we are to ourselves, than others are.

Building self-confidence is a game of ups and downs, but definitely more ups as my experience grows.