Redundancy Diary: Impostor syndrome

This is part of a series of articles talking about my experience of being made redundant from Arista. I am writing these articles as the events happened, though out of respect to my former employer I held off publishing them for several months. The hope is that writing about this will give some encouragement to other people who find themselves in the same position.

This weekend I settled down to do a coding test sent to me by a prospective employer. I had a good feeling about my chances with this employer: they got back to me promptly, and I’d already had a good conversation with the CTO on the phone. Unfortunately the coding test didn’t go at all well: It should have taken me an hour, but after 90 minutes I was still struggling with how to correctly calculate monthly repayments under compound interest. Of course, I should have looked up the formula on the web, but when I first looked I couldn’t find a formula in a form that would be useful to me, so I assumed a more clever implementation was needed. In the end, after some panicking, I ended up with code that looked very rushed and barely met the requirements.

This was a major blow to my confidence. I was prepared to have my mettle well and truly tested by the hedge funds who pay 6-figure bonuses, but frankly I wasn’t expecting the same challenge from the test at a web start-up. With only this one recent experience to generalise from, I ended up despairing.

My experience of applying for jobs has been that it’s almost impossible to be objective, and to put experiences into the proper context. Thus after a single failure I was ready to conclude that no employer would want me. Perversely, I believe some of this has to do with the fact that I’ve found getting job offers so easy in the past.

I’ve mentioned in the past how having a Cambridge degree (even a mediocre degree like mine) seems to attract employers to a degree that seems irrational. With Cambridge on your CV, you can generally count on sailing through the early screening rounds and get a flying start in the final interviews. I’ve managed to maintain something like a 90% success rate of getting job offers from my applications, and I can’t shake the feeling that it just can’t be that easy.

Along with this goes the nagging feeling that some day things will catch up with me, and I’ll find it just as hard to get a job offer as everyone else does. And right now, I’m starting to worry that that day is today.

I don’t particularly want to add to the high number of people on the internet with self-diagnosed Impostor Syndrome, but it seems worthwhile to point out that this is a recognised pattern.

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