Mae Capozzi


Imposter Syndrome, Music, and Coding

I grew up playing the piano. When I was a little girl, I had no problem imagining myself on stage, performing in front of thousands of people. I used to sit at the piano and watch a reflection of myself play the musical equivalent to gibberish in the glass door that led to the porch.

As my musicianship improved, my confidence vanished. Initially, this disappearing act was hardly noticeable, although there are a couple of memorable moments. The first happened in third grade. I wrote a song about mealworms for a school project — obviously a masterpiece. I’ll never forget how I felt while I squirmed in front of my giggling class; I vowed I’d never sing again.

Eventually, I decided that my love of music was worth more than one minuscule — albeit painful — experience. It took seven years for me to sing in front of someone ever again. I promptly received an anonymous message online that intimated I find someone else to sing my songs. That insult would be painful even now, but for a fifteen-year-old budding songwriter, it was the end of the world. Occasionally when I’m playing music for a friend or I’m on stage performing that memory still burrows into my skull. I always feel my face start to burn, and my fingers slip or my voice wavers. I’m not proud to say that it still affects me seven years later.

As I got older, I slowly stopped feeling like an imposter, most of the time. Every now and then, I fear that I’m not good enough at playing the piano, (even though I have fifteen years of experience now), or at singing, (even though I have been told many, many times that I have a beautiful voice). For some reason, I only remember the insults.

Naturally, as someone who experiences imposter syndrome in a discipline that I have been studying for more than half of my lifetime, I decided that when I graduated from college with a degree in English, I would pick up coding. Yes, I would become a web developer. I have been asked many, many times what compelled me to do this, and I have answered hundreds of different ways. In truth, I think I wanted to test myself. I wanted to see if I could do it.

I ended up applying to Dev Bootcamp in NYC, which meant I had to move to not just a new city, but the city. And on top of it all, I had to code for 60–80 hours a week for nine weeks straight.

I want to say that it was easy and that I overcame all of my feelings of imposter-ship. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The feelings I had about never being good enough came flooding back — I thought I would never complete the program, let alone get a job as a developer.

I was lucky to make beautiful, brilliant friends and to have wonderfully supportive instructors. Whenever I doubted myself, there was someone to fall back on. I know this is not always the case.

My point here is that I learned much more than to learn to code in the past year. I learned how to approach learning a new skill. I learned that every single person not only feels like an imposter at some point but actually genuinely is an imposter. This means that every single expert in any field, (particularly coding), once had no idea what they were doing. Keep that in mind when you think you can’t do it.

It is really hard to keep going when you are frustrated. Other people might code faster than you do. They might be better at algorithms. They might have cleaner commit messages, or write better tests, or just really understand OO design. That’s not the point. The point is that you’re you, and you’ll bring a perspective to your code that others won’t have. You’ll catch their mistakes, and who knows, maybe you have really good git hygiene and will fix a star developer’s merge conflicts later on.

As a lifelong pessimist and self-proclaimed hater of fun with a really spicy dash of masochism, I told myself I would fail at every step of my journey, both in music and in coding. But I’ll admit it: I have yet to fail. I would have failed if I quit music after that mealworm song, or because some fifteen-year-old decided I couldn’t sing. I’m a musician. I’m a developer. And yeah, I’m an imposter.

Bring it on.