Finding My Value

written April 12th, 2021

No matter who you are, if you have a heartbeat, you've probably experienced some form of imposter syndrome. A quick Google search returns over five million results. It's that feeling that you aren't enough. A feeling that doesn't go away even as your list of accomplishments grows.

It's a feeling I've been very intimate with my whole life. From the moment I picked up my first guitar to the time I got my first programming job. It's always been lingering deep within my gut.

Even though I've been trying to embrace my failures, the failure of my startup last year brought along feelings of inadequacy. I was left with a question I didn't know the answer to. What would I do next?

I started applying for jobs. This was pretty logical since I spent 2020 without an income. My search started with a few of my top choices. Stripe, Shopify, Spotify, 1Password. I eagerly awaited responses. While doing so, I began to think about the interview sales pitch. What value would I bring to these companies?

This is where things started going wrong.

Even before December, I knew both Wrabit and Bard were going to be done by the end of the year. I was embracing the lessons from those failures but self-doubt began to build in my mind.

Was I good enough to be a software engineer?

Would anyone interview me without a computer science degree?

I wasn't getting out of the house much then (see COVID-19). As a consequence, these thoughts began to snowball. It wasn't long before there was no truth outside of my inadequacy. I wouldn't hear back from any of the companies I applied for. Why? Because there was no value for them here.

In my eyes this just seemed like another failure so I decided to embrace it. A month before the fall semester started, I applied to school and I got in. Since I love learning, I told myself I'd get that computer science degree everybody was looking for. I'd finally create some value for these big tech companies.

A few weeks into my first semester in college, I got a few responses from those job applications I sent out. Spotify and 1Password both reached out to me. I politely declined the interviews. Those responses meant nothing to me because I had no belief in myself.

I knew I had no value to add.

I put my head down. I started getting the best grades I'd ever had in my life. I was getting that computer science degree. Still, something wasn't right. I felt empty.

After my first semester was done, I started looking at jobs again. I was torturing myself. I wasn't feeling challenged. I wanted to build and collaborate with others. I'd look at jobs I wanted every day but I wasn't applying.

I knew I had no value to add.

Things started to change when a friend of mine sent me Steve Jobs' 2005 Stanford commencement speech. I'd watched it before but it never had quite the impact as it did on me this time.

Steve talks about how you should love what you do.

I started school telling myself it was a perfect fit because of my love for learning. Who wouldn't want to spend all week studying astronomy and philosophy? All my time was going into learning. I was obtaining knowledge at least. The size of my flash card decks were proof.

But was I really doing what I loved? I started to dig into that question. I started to look at where I was with curiosity and honesty. Did I want to go to school or was I there because I knew (was afraid) I didn't have any value to provide to Company X?

It took me a while to come around but I came to terms with everything. I do love learning, but that's in service of something greater.

I love building.

The truth is, I wanted nothing more than to collaborate with other amazing folks on impactful products. I let my fears of inadequacy, that imposter syndrome, drive me away from this love.

I knew leaving school at that moment would be a mistake. I still held the belief that I had no value to add to a software company. But I decided to test the hypothesis. In order to continue doing what I was doing, I needed evidence that a computer science degree was the only way I could add value to a company.

I collected evidence in two ways:

  1. I started applying for jobs again
  2. I applied for the deCODE hackathon.

deCODE is a a hackathon that pairs students and grads with companies looking to hire software engineers and designers. If the company you get paired with likes you in the end, you're invited to interview with them.

After two days of hacking, something clicked. I started to remember what it was like to work with others and contribute in a meaningful way. Somehow 2020 made me forget about all the practical experience I've gained over my career. The hackathon helped me remember.

League, the company I worked with at the hackathon, also saw value in my experience. They invited me to interview. At first, I couldn't believe it.

Then I started to get emails. Responses to the new job applications. Square, Plaid, Prisma, Deliverr, Samsara, Monthly, and more.

I hadn't read the book on coding interviews but I knew what was coming. It was time to start practicing interview questions. The Leet Code grind was inevitable.

The morning of my first technical interview with Square, I was gifted with my first ever panic attack. I tried to solve an algorithm problem that had been asked by Square in the past. I couldn't do it. I panicked. It felt like my entire world was falling in around me. The early evidence seemed to imply that maybe I did have value to add, but on this day it was all proven to be false.

I did what any logical person would do. I cancelled my interview.

Okay, it wasn't logical at all. But it did open my eyes to something important. The stress of searching for a full time job while maintaining my focus on school wasn't working. I had one foot in and one foot out and it was taking a toll on me.

I knew it was time to make a decision. Perhaps the biggest one of my life.

I fired up Notion and started listing the advantages and disadvantages for going to school versus getting a job. I gave each item weighted values so I could try to weight each option according to the happiness I (thought) it would bring me.

My hope was that this exercise would help me decide between a close race between the two options. I was so, so wrong. Going to school, according to the weighted values I created, didn't even come close to getting a job.

I didn't just want any job, I wanted to work somewhere I believed in. Somewhere that I knew I could make a positive impact with my code. A place where I could call home for the next few years as I grow into myself as an engineer. And nothing was more exciting than that possibility.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy but I decided to commit to searching for a job full time. When I wasn't interviewing, I'd be studying for interviews. I was going to learn how to sell myself. To prove my value. In the end, I was going to get a job.

Over the period of one month, I had 28 interviews with 10 different companies. I received 3 offers and 2 rejections. For the first time in my life, I rejected companies because I was happy with the offers in front of me.

I did receive some rejections (and probably would've gotten more if I kept going) but multiple great companies were interested. I was hirable. I had value.

In the end, this interview process isn't what gave me my value. It was there all along.

The hackathon, the application responses, and my encouraging partner all helped plant the seed of belief. That seed grew into the self-belief I have today.

Today is my first day at Monthly where I'll be helping learners around the world express their creative selves! I've never felt more aligned with a product and the people behind it are incredibly inspirational.

Finding my value has been a long journey. At times it feels roundabout but I know I couldn't have arrived where I am today any other way.

If there's anything I can do to help you on your journey, don't hesitate to reach out!