Fighting Off Impostor Syndrome: Part II

My First Three Weeks as an Apprentice Developer: Part II

This is the second half of a blog post that shares some insights from my first three weeks as an apprentice developer at Cyrus Innovation. For a brief overview of the apprenticeship program, my initial impressions, and the first generalizable lesson I’ve learned, check out the first half of the blog post here. In this current post, I will explain the second key insight that I’ve discovered as an apprentice:

Question asking is a fruitful art form.

On my first day working with the senior developer who is my current mentor, he told me that my job is to ask as many questions as I can. He said that he promised to take it well any time that I stopped him to ask questions or for further clarification, and he has been true to his word. After two weeks of working with him, I think that there’s nothing better he could have said to me at the very beginning.

I say that question asking is “fruitful”, because many of the most educational moments I’ve had in my apprenticeship so far have come out of questions that I’ve asked. In fact, several of the most productive discussions that my mentor and I have had were spurred by questions that I almost didn’t ask because I had a fleeting feeling that they were things that I should already have known about, like mocking out classes in tests or why some of the names of things in our current code base are prefixed by seemingly misplaced letters like “m”, “v” or “t”.

I say that question asking is an “art form” because I also believe that some sorts of questions are more fruitful than others. For example, while it’s been useful and enlightening to have discussions about general principles behind the syntactical conventions of the code — i.e. why we name things the way we do or when to use certain array methods like “map” or “forEach”, I don’t think it’s a great use of anyone’s time for me to ask questions about every line of unfamiliar syntax we come across which I could Google on my own later. Perhaps even more crucially, though, I think that questions are the most productive when I’ve already spent at least a little bit of time puzzling over the problem and making guesses about possible answers. For one, the more time that I’ve spent trying to understand something on my own, likely the more cogent my understanding of the person’s response and my follow-up questions will be. I’ll also likely be more able to form connections between the question at hand and similar or related concepts that arise later. After a while, the questions I’m asking and our subsequent conversations about the code will feel less like distinct moments but, rather, an evolving dialogue.

In Summary

Being an apprentice developer is fantastic — it’s constantly challenging and rewarding. I know that three weeks in is probably too early to make this sort of proclamation, but this may be the best job I’ve ever had (and I’ve had some pretty good jobs). I sincerely wish that everyone could have the to opportunity to approach their work with an apprentice mindset and receive the sort of mentorship that I’m getting at Cyrus.

My experiences as an apprentice and in trying to get involved in the NYC tech scene outside of work have also underscored the need for places like Cyrus that are trying to increase diversity in technology. I am the only woman on the engineering team of 15 people at our client’s office. While I’ve been made to feel welcome by most of my new colleagues, it’s clear from subtle, unthinking comments people sometimes make (e.g. addressing the group as “gentlemen” even when I’m standing there) that they aren’t accustomed to thinking of women as engineering colleagues. At the various tech meetups that I’ve attended since moving to the city (with the exception of those specifically organized for women), I’ve always been one of just a handful of women out of groups of 50+ people. I hope that places that actively seek to make a difference in expanding diversity in tech like Cyrus will increase, and as I personally grow as a developer, I want to help other people who have felt marginalized in tech communities for any reason feel welcomed and encouraged too.

p.s. My next blog post will be more technically-focused. I already have a list of things in mind from the past three weeks that I’m excited to share! Possible topic choices include: the trials and triumphs of getting Microsoft 10 and Visual Studio running on a Mac via Parallels, how to deploy an Angular 2.0 app using GitHub pages, and an introduction to writing tests with Jasmine. I hope you’ll check back in to see me explain some of the specific technical knowledge I’m gaining too.