Job Interviews & Imposter Syndrome

I was talking to my friend who has about 18 years of industry experience predominantly on and around Java stack. He has many certifications and is totally capable of building, running and maintaining a production level software project – working with a team of people.

He mentioned that he has been interviewing and was surprised that how even after all these years people ask him questions about syntax of writing code. It’s like they ignore all the experience he brings and over looks all the success he had with delivering projects – but get hung up on how well he can write a Java annotation example or the difference between abstract class and an interface.

He mentioned that most of the interviews he can coast easily but some of them end up make him feel real bad. Like put the insecurities back into him – which he worked on all these years. He was shocked after one interview, he felt totally useless about his work and had to take a break and think deeply about his career path.

I think software job interview process is broken. I think there are sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees. I understand how complicated the process is. It takes months to co-ordinate people and resources to get them in one place to make it happen. I believe we probably have better tools to solve dating than job interviewing.

And from my experience it feels like it all comes down to timing and luck! Which it totally shouldn’t be and it’s huge loss of time and energy for both sides. I have been to interviews where because of miscommunication, the person interviewed me for a completely different position and the HR realized it only after the fact.

The tech screens are horrific! Giving me a chance to prove myself everything I have done in my career and everything I can do in 30 mins on a coderpad boggles my mind. I have learned like my friend – to say no, to tech screens which basically assign the most easily available person in the company to screen (likely on a short notice) with an overly used tricky problem set (invert a tree, find a duplicate) and using those 30 mins to kinda yield a fake power over an anxious applicant.

Given how fast the technologies & tools change (remember Apache Storm? Lambda Architecture?) – it’s really impossible to keep up for any person in this field. But when we are being tested – it’s kinda assumed that the person who is applying should know everything about the subject, including the arcane stuff which he/she will never use on the job.

So, my discussion with my friend naturally went towards imposter syndrome. In Silicon valley, it feels like everyone is on the edge – playing the imposter game and ready to be stripped of the title, honor, dignity in any given job interview. It feels like, everyone is working hard to hide the fact that it’s literally impossible to keep up with the ever growing technology and are pretending to be know it all and playing safe, meekly walking around and scared of being found out as a fraud.

My friend pointed out that job interviews actually promote and perpetuate imposter syndrome. Which I think he has a point.

The things I am really good at it is – thinking in big pictures, connecting the dots and fast learning. But none of the tests they put me through in the job interviews test that. Once in a while I come across someone who is aware of the broken interview process and sees past me not being able to syntactically write something correct on a first attempt (That’s what an IDE is for).

As we talked more, we realized that it’s our own responsibility as an applicant to be honest and strive to keep our confidence when going through the interview process. Because at the end of the day both the applicant and the company are trying to see if they are fit for each other – but in this case, we are using wrong metrics to measure the fit.

Shrink Wrapped Me

I have learned something new in the past few months. It’s very critical for me and I am kinda obsessed with it. To put it in simple words – we all have 2 things going on. One, what we are doing (or what is . happening to us) and another – how we go about telling a story about it! It makes all the difference!

Yuval Harari is extremely right about how we humans use language to create fiction and weave stories and if I can extend on what he is saying – we fill our world with fiction stories and tell them repeatedly to people around us.

What I didn’t know was simple. I thought if I speak what feels true to me – I would be ok. But, to my dismay I am realizing more and more that people don’t want my true story – people love it when I package it in a nice bubble wrap. It’s fascinating to me, when I started to count the number of people who would rather have my true self and true stories – it literally came down to single digit number! I mean I have more people in my life, who would rather want me to wrap my thinking, vulnerability in a shrink wrap and give it to them than give them the real deal. Also, these are the same people who would talk around in circles and keep it safe.

I think it’s ok. I am not judging them. But what’s happening to me about that bubble wrap is that – these people mean less and less to me. I actually have started avoiding them. My work and what I do mean a lot to me – but it has been so unfortunate that predominantly my work is filled with people who would rather have me bubble wrapped than be talking about work, meaning etc

I am getting used to it. But on other hand – I am also building this core group of people I open up to and be who I am. It just means that some times it’s going to be lonely. I am ok with it – as I think it’s ok to be honest and vulnerable with few than be fake with many,

Speaking my mind

I have always had trouble speaking my mind. The few close people who know me well, know this already. I always think I have two issues with speaking my mind. One, what if I am wrong? Two, What if the other person doesn’t like what I said? These two bookends dictate my life – social, personal and professional. I struggle with it everyday.

Some of the stories I tell myself to make myself feel good about this are – I have a lot of people who like me because I seem to agree with them, I don’t have any social embarrassing situations where I cringed myself to death.

This is a problem. I am working on it and at this moment don’t really have a coherent plan of action. But I just want to get this out of my head and admit. I know that my life would be far far better if I speak my mind and ask for exactly what I want. My life would be efficient if only I encourage only the things, ideas and people who matter most to me.

I feel that being agreeable all the time has turned me into a fake. I am pretty sure people have noticed it but I feel like a fake in those moments. It’s ironic – when I feel smartest in the room, I act dumb to help other and fake I am lost and when the room is filled with smart people – I fake smartness and fall for that empty feeling. In either case, I could be myself and leave others to decide who I am relative to them. But the things I do, not to speak my mind are scary and fascinating!

I don’t have any big proclamations to make. I am in awareness phase – becoming acutely aware of my problem and how inactive I am in that area. I might end up losing a lot of friends and not be popular at my work. But I think at the end of the day when I closeout, at least I don’t have to keep tabs on things where I need to be careful with some person or situation – I can just be me.

That to me feels like a relief.

Safe Places

“Daddy it’s too hard, I can’t do it”, said my daughter to me.

I followed up the cliched response -“It’s ok baby, you can do it”

Then it hit me…..

I can’t teach my daughter what I don’t know.

We were at her gymnastics class. She just moved on to next level. New teacher and a harder routine. Balance bars, flips and non-stop activity for 1 hour.

From outside it looked great to me as a parent that my daughter moved on to next level. No change in my schedule, I still keep taking her to the class at the same time. But something has fundamentally changed for my daughter and I wasn’t paying attention to notice it.

This happened last month. Since then I have been taking her to the same class every Saturday and trying to convince her to fight it. To be honest, it hasn’t been going well. She comes back crying half way through – some times I spend 30 mins talking to her just to get her to attend 10 mins of class. Those are hard moments for me and I am completely split during those moments.

I spent a lot of time since then thinking about what is it about failure, that freaks me out and avoid it. I mean the reason why I didn’t have a great supporting response to my daughter was – I don’t know how to respond to new conditions that freak me out and fail me immediately. I have been cocooned myself past several years in safe places where I am welcomed and there is nothing at risk. It’s a great place to be, but on the other hand – it had made me complacent and abhorrent of taking any kind of risk.

So to be able to honestly answer my daughter – I looked back in my life and found 1 thing that I have been scared of all my life. Swimming. Growing up in India, I never got any opportunity to learn swimming and I never made any attempt. But after coming to this country I felt like I can learn it easily, but never attempted it as I felt like I never need for it.

So after a lot of internal chatter – I joined a swim class. Boy it kicked my ass! I realized I am scared of getting my head under water. I feel completely scared to get all the way in water and I panic a lot. So far I have attended 2 classes and I fucking hate it – but I have decided to not to quit and keep facing my fear of risk.

I still don’t have any answers to my daughter. But at least I am in a place where I can sympathize with her. I may suck at swimming and can’t take it anymore but I have decided to face it no matter what – so that I can learn how to face my fears and be able to talk to my daughter about it when she actually needs my help.

I realized that the safe place I call home is limiting me in my personal growth.

4 people

I feel like there are 4 people who live in me.

  1. The wild child – This is the core part, but predominantly hidden. This is the most fun part of me incidentally – but the downside of this guy is – he is so deeply hidden it takes copious amount of alcohol to bring him out. But once he is out, he is fun. Like to think up wild things and will cross every frigging line there is in humanity. Unfortunately a lot of my friends love this guy – so being sober is hard when there is such a demand for him! Oh I also love the beer!!
  2. The Mundane Normative Guy – This is the guy who predominantly lives most of my life. He is the one, who takes care of the family. Who shuttles his daughter and her friends around parks. Who shows up for her kids activities. Who pays the bills, takes the garbage out, recycles, pays taxes, follows the speed limit, automates his life around with widgets and gadgets. The good guy who loves his family and friends.
  3. The Analytical/Intellectual guy – This is the guy who keeps tracks of societal change, reads up about stuff happening around the globe. Parses what’s being reported in media. Doesn’t believe everything he hears. This guy judges, analyzes, summarizes. Nothing is sacred for this guy. If there is a holy cow of anything, this guy will put it on a grill and eat it. Very divisive thinking, but also has the capacity of breaking stuff down to basics and being creative to draw conclusions.
  4. The night time Shaman guy – This is a very secretive part of my psyche. Deeply embedded as the wild child. This guy doesn’t respond to alcohol, but lone time. As I sit alone with my thoughts and think about bigger stuff, when I look up at the vast sky and feel the sensation of Universe staring back at me – I know it’s this guy.

The imbalance I have realized is – the mundane guy has millions of people he can relate to. The wild child – has enough drinking buddies to hangout with. But the analytical guy has very few options. It’s been such a long time this guy engaged in an intellectual banter with anyone. He misses it. He feels like the world is getting dumber and dumber – iconized and minimized to an app based culture of chasing virtual stuff around. The analytical guy can’t stand the stupidity that keeps pouring around him. The spiritual guy – is totally alone. Just sitting there – in awe of the immenseness of this beautiful world around him, but none to share it with.

Emotional Wrenching

I avoid reading fiction. The main reason being when I read – I associate a lot of my life with the book, characters and then feel the pain, pleasure and trauma of the characters. The only kind of personal stories I like are mostly biographies. Other than that, it’s mostly non-fiction.

Recently I have taken  a leap of faith and took a deep dive into a book – which I knew would make me sad from the beginning. It’s a posthumous biography of a neuro-surgeon named Paul Kalanithi. It’s an amazing book. I think so far it has made me cry every 10 pages! I feel so much of what he is talking about. Not in a way I relate to what he did or what has happened to him, but more at a core level of his Soul. He has a beautiful soul and I can at some level feel and understand what he is talking about.

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The writing is just amazing. I have read everything about him online and tracked all his writings. He was a great soul. It’s heart wrenching that he died so early.

This book has really been a test for me. I never thought I would be able to handle so much pain slowly delivered page by page. But in a weird way, the book makes me more reflective on my mortality and makes me feel more appreciative of things in my life. It also makes me feel strong about my life.

It made me become very polarized to appreciate every moment with my daughter. IMG_0014

Next I do plan to read – Oliver Sacks’s biography! I think that would round up the mortality of our lives and fleeting nature of our moments!

My Dad, a big fish

Like most people I have my share of childhood “stuff” or trauma to blame it on my parents. I do however have come a long way to accept most of it as my very own karmic debt. Last month was my dad’s 9th year death anniversary. I have been thinking about him for quite some time and I think I have coherent enough thoughts now to put them on here.

Growing up me and my sisters watched my dad make a lot of proclamations. Huge and big ideas which at that time sounded like he was bragging. Some of it, he probably was but what I realize now – now that I am a parent and how I sub-consciously imitate my dad’s style to my daughter sometimes! he was actually a big fish in a small pond.

My dad saw some of the toughest situations in life. He was part of family of 8 siblings and my grand dad (whose name my dad gave me) was an extremely poor man who tried his hands at anything to keep his family going. Having not much of education, my dad literally ran away from his hometown at the age of 15 to make and build his own things. What he endured for the next 10 years is – all this magic stuff he was made of. I believe he endured a lot of pain. On streets and no food and doing some odd jobs. Through that process he developed a story. Basically an amazing response to his reality around him – a story he told himself to keep him alive and survive. He believed in some higher force guiding him and helping him and him doing amazing things while going through that period.

So, when he had kids – he would relay parts of that story to us and I never understood most of them. I know he believed that a strong will is a choice and can be built through practice. He also believed miracles would happen out of thin air and told us a lot of stories. Some of them may not be true through scientific lens but what I realized is that – that was “his” story. That story was hand painted colorful because the paleness of reality was too much to bear.

These thoughts reminded me of the movie Big Fish – whose story line kinda fits with what I had seen in my dad.

Now that I reflect back – I think he passed on a lot more than just the name to me. I believe in the same force guiding my life. Every moment. I am spiritually inclined in stuff which he showed me in my early life. I tend to read books about these amazing fakirs, babas and Gods – who my dad claimed to meet and has been blessed and transformed.

On a day like this – where the candles are lit around me and I can still smell that incense and all this peaceful ambiance around me – the one thing I miss most is – I wish he is here relating me one of those stories to me. Today, I would give anything to sit and listen to his stories without judgement. I miss you dad.

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