Anna Felicity Friedman


Fighting Impostor Syndrome through Coding Affirmations

It’s no breaking news that being a woman learning to code presents a steep psychological hurdle (especially when undergoing a mid-career transition). Due to the tech world’s competitive nature, many people (not just women) suffer from what’s called impostor syndrome — the tendency to doubt one’s aptitude to achieve in this field.

I thought I’d present one of the ways I psych myself up to keep working away as I struggle to balance my current jobs (plural is not a typo), single parenthood, and all the usual responsibilities and headaches that life requires one to manage. I think this everyday stress makes impostor syndrome rear its ugly head more often. But I like to approach strife in my life with a healthy sense of humor, and I’ve always enjoyed subversive tactics, so why not put a feminist spin on my coding exercises?

A feminist spinning? What does that have to do with writing code?

As my newest form of continuing education, I’m one of the mentees in this fall’s Chipy (Chicago Python) mentorship program, primarily focusing on leveling up my web development skills. My Chipy project will create a web app that can interface with an existing website I built (the Center for Tattoo History and Culture) to present the results of a predictive analytics model that I made as a tattoo-book popularity calculator. I’ve only ever created websites using the basic version of Wordpress, so learning to create one using Python and Django is a big (and exciting) learning curve.

My awesome mentor, Joe Jasinski, has been walking me through the various steps to get this all set up so that I can not only have the results presented to website users, but so I can also store the user inputs in a SQL table and track and analyze that data as well. Data-geek me gets puppy-dog excited about that possibility.

I’m that super excited one drooling all over the floor.

One of our recent lessons involved just getting a basic web page working to test that everything with my Django installation had been set up properly and to work through some basic concepts. Joe and I have settled into a mentorship routine of weekly lessons of sorts, where he’ll walk me through what logical next steps are, and then I replicate it on my own after the lesson to practice what I learned. This is similar to how the educational structure went when I was in the General Assembly data science bootcamp.

With both of these coding-education experiences, after every lesson when I sit down to practice what I learned, I have a moment of “crap, can I really do this myself?” And then I get down to work. And once I start seeing success, I like to work in some little affirmations or other inspiration, which also help me understand how to alter the code and really reinforces that I properly learned something new.

Here are some screencaps of my recent lesson. This code creates a very simple, super basic, “hello, your website’s working” test. I’ll explain for other novices in the image captions what is going on here:

By creating an .html file in the “templates” directory, you make the beginnings of a webpage.
When you run startapp, Django sets up a whole bunch of stock code for you. It creates a mostly blank script that you can then modify with things you’d like your webpages to do. Here this hello_world function hardcodes a little dictionary that gets fed into the code on the hello.html script.
This is how the hello_world view gets linked to the hello.html page.
And this is what the output of the above looks like!

Sitting alone, I carefully went through these steps, but to reinforce what are Python-necessary commands and syntax and to separate what are things that are user-determined variables, I made some alterations. Here’s a screencap of my affirmation-tweaked version’s output:

I never used to like pink, but being a woman in tech has gotten me to embrace it as my signature test color.

Even just looking at this screencap right now, it makes me feel like I can do this! So, for anyone needing a psychological boost while learning to code, I highly recommend working some affirmations into your tests and practice work.

If you’re reading this because you are also learning to code and you’re interested in how I did this and what changes I made, here’s the code I changed. This is nothing earth shattering, but I’ll mention I felt particularly accomplished when I thought to add in a line of very basic HTML to change the text color to pink. (Celebrate baby steps, celebrate small goals — they really help! Senior coders might scoff at being proud of something tiny like that, but I’ll tell you, when fighting impostor syndrome and in a steep learning curve pat yourself on the back for every little success.)

Yes I like to use a “girly” color theme in Sublime too.
Note I changed the “hello-world” view to an “affirmation” one for extra feel-good emphasis.

Finally, I’d like to give some serious applause to the way this Chipy mentorship program is structured. Having to blog about what I’ve done in the program really helps reinforce what I learned. I wish I had the time to write about each and every step I’m taking.

[As a mentee in this fall’s Chipy (Chicago Python) mentorship program, we’re required to write a 3-part blog about our experience in the program. This is part 2 (you can find part 1 here).]

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