Finding My Inner Rockstar

I had a relatively non-traditional path into software development. I majored in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research in college — it’s a combination of applied math, comp sci, and business, so I knew how to solve problems with code, but four programming classes wasn’t enough to really consider it a career path. When senior year came around I did the finance and consulting interview loop, figuring I’d end up in the typical Columbia student career path…until ESPN came to campus.

I love sports. I really, really love sports. I had no idea what kind of job ESPN had to offer, but I was suddenly like a kid in a candy store, imagining a dream job working at the mecca of sports fandom. So I walked into an interview for a web development job with nothing but the difference between an object and a class, a few SQL tricks, and the ability to recite the Jets regular season record from the past ten years. I got the job, thanks to an awesome team taking a chance on the crazy Jets fan without a CS degree, but with a drive to learn.

I spent the next seven years at ESPN — progressing up the engineering ranks, moving to the mobile team, and ultimately growing as a product leader. I built some really awesome stuff — Grantland, the NFL Playoff Machine, some of ESPN’s flagship apps, and the redesign — and overall had a career I’m really proud of.

But looking back, there were only a few, distinct moments out of many where I felt like I truly deserved to be there. Part of it was due to literally knowing nothing about web development when I started, part of it was always challenging myself with new projects and roles, but part of it was this subconscious feeling that I could never be the “rockstar”.

Imposter syndrome is well-documented, and I’ve read so many accounts of women feeling like they weren’t qualified for a role they very clearly were. But it still took me a while to realize it was something I felt pretty much my entire career. I was lucky to have a wonderful team of people around me every step of the way at ESPN, some of whom are still my closest friends. I was even luckier to have extremely supportive managers who were my personal cheerleaders, promoting me and rewarding me for my efforts. Most importantly, I have parents who raised me with a real love for math and sports, and the belief that girls kick ass. Given all that, it’s so crazy to think that in the back of my head, I always had this vision of someone who could do my job better. That person was a “rockstar” — usually white, male, and with confidence through the roof. I constantly felt like I was striving to be that person, and faking it the whole way.

Realizing all this was a huge step for me. Once I did, I’d go to work every day and force myself to believe that I was that person, until it became something I truly believed. When I left ESPN last year to take on an exciting, challenging new role at theSkimm, it was so important that I felt that inner confidence, and it’s been an incredible journey so far. What’s also helped? Having some amazing women as mentors and role models — all rockstars.

I found that confidence and hope we all do more to make women, from an early age on, feel like they can rule the world.