female data scientist, woman leading team

Establishing confidence as a female newbee to tech

female data scientist, woman leading team

By Davinder Kaur, Head of Software Delivery at PensionBee

The interlinking of performance with a sense of self is common in the tech industry – this can sometimes manifest itself as imposter syndrome, perfectionism or anxiety.

The industry is full of knowledgeable, skilled and driven people. Some view those people as someone they can aspire to be – they are optimistic of their own skills and ability to advance themselves. Others, however, find it very daunting: we will never be as intelligent and as perfect as those people. They seem to know everything, or understand things easily, and they rarely seem to ask for help or make mistakes.

When I first started out in tech nearly five years ago, I undoubtedly fell into the latter camp. Half way through the coding bootcamp I had enrolled in to retrain as a Software Engineer, a small growing feeling became all encompassing. I felt that no matter how much the course taught me, I would never know enough to be the ideal candidate for a company. But I had started down this path and so would deal with that feeling after graduation. Job hunting as a Junior Software Engineer is tricky to say the least – “I really don’t know enough, nor have enough experience, so how do I get someone to hire me” – but when you are a career-changer, trying to find a place (if at all) for your previous skills, feels like a bit of a confusing mess. PensionBee saw through my disarray and hired me as the fourth person in the tech team.

I’d like to say that my fears were all nonsense and that there was sunshine and rainbows and beautiful code everywhere. But alas, I spent the first few months trying to use what felt like a “starter” toolkit to tackle some heavy-duty real world challenges. And when the tech got too difficult to understand or I got frustrated with having to ask for help all the time, I fell back into doing what I knew I was good at thanks to my previous jobs: software delivery.

PensionBee needed a process for delivering software and I had the knowledge and skills – sounds like a win win? But there was very little about it that felt like progress or achievement, for me personally. Deep down, I was hiding behind the procedural aspect of being a Software Engineer because I felt like I just wasn’t good enough at writing code: I was too scared to start a feature, I would just write and rewrite code, I feared code review. I just felt so out of my depth, trying to build software despite not really knowing as much as everyone else in the team.

So how did I get past this and find myself still here at PensionBee nearly five years later? By silencing the voices in my head, taking it one task at a time and finding some love and compassion for myself. Being brought up in a British Asian household, there was always a hard push to become more accomplished. As a girl, I was always encouraged to prove myself as at least equal to a male counterpart. This resulted in a very strong determination to succeed at everything that I do, in a way that doesn’t allow for mistakes and failures. But that approach doesn’t work when changing careers – especially given, it in itself feels like failure. And it most certainly doesn’t apply when you are a Software Engineer – where so much of the role is about trying out solutions, “learning on the job” and from others. This truth has been coached into me through weekly feedback with my manager, company wide ‘Show n Tell’ sessions, and an incredibly supportive company which have helped me treat myself more kindly.

My fluency with technology has completely evolved and I’m now a much more confident engineer, leading a team and running several key aspects of software engineering. My role as Head of Software Delivery recognises the value in the experiences from my previous career, combined with the skills I’ve learnt on the engineering side.

In recognition of the hugely positive impact this support has had on my own career, I started PensionBee’s ‘Time to Talk’ initiative in August 2020. It’s a safe space for female members of our tech team to recognise individual experiences, share support, advice, bounce ideas around and anything in between.

It’s natural to doubt yourself sometimes, but as a group, what have we learnt? Well you don’t have to have all the answers or be wonderful at everything to be a successful woman in tech. But we’ve helped each other understand that we have good engineering skills even when we can’t see them and through overcoming our own challenges, we are inspirational role models for one another. We’ve also helped one celebrate our victories no matter how small, and set goals to stretch ourselves in a way that will help us recognise our own achievements in retrospect.

Davinder KaurAbout the author

Davinder is Head of Software Delivery at PensionBee, working to ensure that all projects are delivered in a structured and repeatable way. Davinder is passionate about using technology to build quality tools to make people’s lives easier and loves honest feedback to continuously improve the delivered changes.