Terrified to keep going and almost ready to quit

Hi all,

I was fortunate enough (SO fortunate) to have landed a junior dev role at a fantastic company early this year. Previously, I worked as a technology assistant and project coordinator who wore multiple hats and had fun teaching myself new skills on the job in order to grow my network and tool belt. One of these new skills was site building/configuration and SOME (very little) backend work on a popular CMS platform. After a lot of encouragement from my mentor and others in my life, I applied for this junior dev role. After the technical interview, I had never felt more ashamed and defeated in my life–I had so much more to learn before I’d feel qualified. But, my interviewer (now supervisor), saw something in me and said if I had the grit, I’d make it and be able to take advantage of the resources and training that the company provides. To my shock, I was hired. I felt so, so lucky and since that day I have come to work determined not to let anyone down because a more experienced programmer could have snatched up this role in a second.

Fast forward to today, and I’m struggling. I have so much anxiety every day about my progress, which feels SO slow. I work with two mid-level developers and they are always really busy handling tasks with tight turnarounds, so I rarely ask for help unless I’ve been trying to find the answer myself all day to no avail. Our primary language is OOP php and you all, I am just NOT getting the concepts. I’ve never been good at math and have never taken a logic course in my life. I’m starting to just feel like I am not smart enough because practicing for the last 2 months has not left me feeling accomplished at all. It is a federal job for which my clearance has not yet gone through, so I don’t have access to the code or our environments. I really enjoy the site building and testing tasks that they ask of me, but they don’t really have a true need for a site builder long-term. I feel less-than for enjoying the easy stuff and being terrified of the backend.

I used to be so curious and enthusiastic and I try to stay that way but feel like I am hiding a mess underneath. My boss told me on day one, that he expects me to become not an average programmer but a stellar one because he took a risk in hiring me, and he doesn’t want to look bad. He did tell me that if I’m just not getting the concepts, that they will just place me in a job I’d enjoy and they won’t let me go. I know I am smart and capable and bring a lot to the table, but I am afraid that I’m not cut out to be a real programmer (or even that I would like it.) Every week, someone new tells me “wow, you’re in this field? Are you sure this is what you want to do?” Usually, comments like this I could brush off easily but because my skills aren’t up-to-par yet, I’m starting to believe they may be right.

I have lost so much sleep over this. I feel guilty for being paid to learn, essentially. And I miss being confident in my job, having my daily tasks, and getting things done–and being trusted and relied upon! Now, I am the junior of the group and rely on my coworkers, who themselves need to grow their own skills and enjoy their jobs (not babysit). I do NOT want to sound ungrateful because so many people would do anything to be in my position. But what I thought I’d love, it’s so different than what I had imagined it would be. Could some of you please offer your perspectives? Any similar experiences? Should I transition into another area? I am also interested in cyber security (broad term, I know, but there are positions that require less coding but are still technical and involve problem-solving, which I love) and so I have been very active networking on-the-job and am meeting with a career counselor next week.

hey i haven’t got a job myself yet so i cant relate to most of what your going through but it does sound like Impostor Syndrome, maybe reading up on how to deal with it might help you a bit…

Wow, this was so long–I’m sorry! I should clarify that this junior role is still within the CMS platform that I did site building for over the last 4 years. I taught myself HTML and CSS years back, took a R course in college (which I loved even though it was really tough), and had limited experience working with MySQL (not command line but phpmyadmin). At my interview, I was extremely transparent about all of this and not having any solid backend experience. Thus, I was VERY lucky to even be considered. I have tried so hard to keep myself positive and not be a victim. I am just afraid that maybe programming is not for me after all, and how do I not let anyone down.

Thank you so much for replying! I wish you all my sincere best on your own journey. I am a little familiar with imposter syndrome but always thought it didn’t apply to me because I feel like I genuinely am “missing something” that my coworkers don’t have. I’ll go check out your link, though. Thanks again.

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The one thing I think we can agree you lack is experience, which is understandable as your just starting out. Even including other stuff you could be lacking all is stuff you can gain, stuff like self confidence, grit, and determination are all states of mind. Its not like you need a “developer organ”, or a certain IQ, you just need to commit more time and effort to improving your skills.

Wait what are you practicing on for 2 months if you don’t have access to the code or the environments? This is like trying to build something without knowing what was built before, or having any pre-existing tools or standards to work off of. Your essentially flying blind.

Your boss sounds like he is being selfish for telling you that you need to be better. Do the best you can regardless of what he needs. Be the best you for you, not so someone else looks good. Worrying about someone else will only cloud your own judgement, especially if your just “treading water” at this point.

So whats the difference between what your doing now and what a “real programmer” does? Real programmers struggle, feel lost, need help, and overcome after a while. Real programmers don’t go about their day with 0 problems or run into no issues, these sorts of people don’t exist, or are lying about it. Its still possible your struggling more then most, but then you just started out so that’s only natural. Seek help, as you need it to perform at your best, doing any less is just beating around the bush.

This actually sounds like the usual sexist stuff. (I assume your a woman based purely upon your name, I’m very sorry if I’m wrong) Its prevalent in the industry, which I assume you already know, but as you already said, just brush this off. Do what you want to do, don’t let some other people’s biases impact what you want. Just stay aware people are biased.

First of all if your not learning as a developer your not working to your highest capacity. Tech changes constantly, if you don’t keep up, your falling behind. Learning is part of the job, hell it is the job. Its easy to get complacent and just “do the work”, and that’s fine for many, but often that means things could get better, or dramatically better depending on your current work quality.

Generally the best time to learn is to learn on someone else’s dime, while still doing the job. Let’s say you learn how to do something that is better then before, you can implement that knowledge and thus improve the business a little. If you just did the work how it always was done you aren’t improving the business, heck you could be hurting it by not innovating or continuing to expand the “tech debt” by doing stuff non-optimally.


My main piece of advice is that the answer of what you should do is within yourself. It may be true you don’t want to learn and become the best developer you can be, and you can transition to a cyber security role. It also may be true you don’t want to go out and grind out the knowledge you need to go from “average programmer” to a “stellar programmer”, and not because your boss wants you to but because you deserve to be the best version of yourself.

However, if you are the best damn developer you can be and still don’t like the job, then alright change careers to what you think you’d enjoy more. Don’t bail just because your struggling now, as that’s unfair to yourself, especially if you wanted to be a developer. Programming is hard, it always has been and always will be. Even the best programmers have to deal with bugs, getting stuck and solving tough problems.

I always say anyone can be a programmer, it just requires time, grit and an internet connection. You need the time to get the experience, the grit to stick with it when it gets tough and an internet connection to leverage the vast knowledge out there. It seems like you do have the time, but are lacking some of the grit to stick with it as things have gotten rather “rough”.

Stick with it, get help regardless of how “busy” other people are as you need it to get to where you need to go. Learn to catch up, seek the knowledge. Don’t be scared of not knowing something, acknowledge you don’t know something is the first step in learning. The goal isn’t to be able to know everything, the goal is to be able to learn anything. It might take a while, might end up with you bashing your head against the wall, but don’t think you can’t do it, because you can, it just may take time.

Do your best, to become your best self, and do it for yourself. :smile:

Good luck!

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You are so, so generous in replying so thoroughly and thoughtfully to me. In hindsight, I gave a total word dump (I think because I have not talked to anyone about these worries.) Thank you so much for reading through all of that and for responding to so many points. I really felt like a friend was talking to me.

I will re-read this every day for a while. Your advice that we all deserve to be the best versions of ourselves resonates in other areas of my life, too. I hope if anyone else reads your reply, that they are moved by this, too.

You gave me a lot of perspective and the reality check that I am not possessing as much grit as I thought I was. I will also start to reach out to my colleagues for help more often, as you’re right, I need help to perform at my best.

I am practicing using php tutorials and by setting up my own instances of the CMS platform and my own dummy database, to practice writing custom modules, web services, and other things. I recently started just focusing on php and OOP fundamentals because I was so overwhelmed trying to work backwards from examples I found online of custom modules and web services. And yes, I am a girl :slight_smile: No one has been cruel to my face, which I am thankful for–actually, the guys here have been pleasant and I get along with many of them. I think you are right that they may not see me as fitting the typical “programmer image” and that’s why they make those comments. I have experienced this before in other tech spaces, even from other women in tech.

Thank you again so much @bradtaniguchi. You really made an impact on me!

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Hi Saabrina,

Please don’t give up. You’re lucky to have job.

Here is a link to a php course which I found very helpfull.

https://www.wa4e.com/

Hope it helps!

Ronan

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Thank you so much for your response, @ronimac52! I will definitely check out that resource. Really appreciate it!