I would describe fear as an unwanted feeling that prevents you from attempting something you think about, or long to accomplish. I can say without a doubt that I’ve been afraid. Many times, probably on a regular basis. For me, that fear can spill into major anxiety, and held me back from pursuing a career in tech.
As Karen Thompson Walker presents in her TED talk, What Fear Can Teach You, we are taught to think of fear as a weakness but humans are actually hardwired to be optimists. Think of when you were little and how you didn’t give two thoughts about going straight down a ski hill, or dove headfirst into the lake not questioning how cold it is.
So what happens to us, why are we afraid?
Self-belief can take you further than you imagined
Three years ago you’d find me terrified to tell my family I was going to quit my nursing career two years in, to pursue a career in tech and become a software developer. You’d find me fearfully thinking about going back to school, and what it would mean for my finances.
About moving from a career with mainly extroverted females, to one with a significant proportion of introverted males. Fearful of my own ability to be a developer. Fearful of not being smart enough, not good enough at math, not having a plan, having to go back to a “student” lifestyle… the list goes on.
I had so many thoughts of “what about this, or that”, and “what if…”. I’m sure I’m not the first person to think like this when making a decision.
It’s easy to avoid doing something because of fear. It slowly but surely creeps into our minds and sends us spiralling into the unknown of a million things that could happen (but probably won’t) as a result of taking action.
If there is one thing I have learned over the last few years, it’s that a little bit of hustle and belief in yourself can take you further than you ever imagined.
There are always things that stop us from chasing our dreams. For me, it was the fear that wanting to do software development was just something else that wouldn’t work out for me. I was in such a funk that I knew change was the only thing left.
Do the work, and have faith in yourself
I was lucky enough (and still lucky) to have an incredibly supportive partner. He taught me that when it comes to your happiness and mental wellbeing the only opinion that matters is your own.
So I started to immerse myself in tech culture. I started reading tech blogs, going to local tech meetups, and following tech girls on Instagram. That inspired me to chase my dream, to have a career in tech.
It’s certainly not all rainbows and butterflies. Going back to school was difficult. Losing motivation, and wondering if I made the right choice was a constant battle for me.
It might sound silly but the (tech) Instagram accounts I followed really helped me. It helped me to picture myself doing what I loved. I found computer science classes really difficult. I am a slower learner compared with most of the individuals in a typical computer science class. People would pick things up so fast it blew my mind.
One guy played games on his computer during a lecture, and only studied the night before the exam, and was one of the top students in my cohort. While I’m second from the front, furiously handwriting beautiful notes, studying at least a week before the exam and barely getting onto the Dean’s list every semester.
I wouldn’t trade the hard work for anything because I’m incredibly proud of what I achieved. However it was a struggle not to compare myself to the brilliant minds I went to school with and made me question my entitlement to be there.
I’ve realised though that all of the fear, anxiety and comparison melted away when I became confident in my choice to join the tech industry. When I legitimately believed in myself, that’s when I wasn’t afraid.
One of the best decisions I ever made
Now I have been in the workforce for 4 months I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Today I work for a company that builds public administration software. I love my job.
I’m so lucky to work for a company that values its employees. I work with wonderful people and have incredibly supportive managers and mentors who want to see me succeed and be the best that I can.
I know that isn’t always the case for everyone. At times my job can be stressful, meeting aggressive deadlines or getting stuck on a problem. Even at its most stressful I still enjoy the challenge, and ability to collaborate with some really incredible software developers.
A 2016 study on the outlook of jobs in the tech sector in British Columbia, Canada stated that “nearly 30,500 job openings will go unfilled by 2021”.
It also stated, “Women represent 45% of the Canadian labour force, and yet represented only 15-20% of BC's technology labour market in 2015”.
This is just in Canada. Imagine if we could take our fear of starting a new career and turn it into a passion, and drive us to where we want to be, and support other women to join the tech industry.
Changing careers can be scary, understandably. However, happiness should come first.
Ways to beat fear
Recognising fear and having the confidence to know what to do with it can be key. Not only in changing careers but in every area of your life.
Here are some ways to beat fear:
- Recognise if it’s preventing you from doing something
- Address the “what if” – change the negative to a positive
- Find ways to stay motivated and dream
- Believe in yourself
Get started on your career in tech
Try some online coding tutorials or watch some tech vlogs. Start to get yourself motivated, and dream of the life you want to live. The only thing I wish I had done differently is start my career in technology sooner.
There are endless possibilities and things to learn. Take the time to confront your fear, don’t let it dictate your life. Hold yourself accountable to the assumptions you make about “what if”.
I’ll bet you’ll find the negatives you originally thought would happen will slowly turn to positives, and soon enough you’ll be enjoying your new job in the tech industry.