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Inspired BlogManaging My Imposter Syndrome as a Road to Hire Mentor

Our Road to Hire mentors are our unsung heroes — they work with Road to Hire students over the course of the program to help guide them through their training, and uplift them on their pathways to opportunity and success. While mentoring within any organization can be a rewarding experience, it can also be challenging — especially if you experience Imposter Syndrome. Dean Doukas, an Associate Front End Developer in our Charlotte office, is here to share his mentor story and shed light on the value of positive reaffirmation.

My name is Dean, and I’ve been a Software Engineer on Red Ventures’ Finance team for about one and a half years, and a Road to Hire tech mentor for roughly the same amount of time. Being an R2H mentor is really important to me because I’ve been on the other side before — I understand how difficult a tech career path can be, and I know what kind of guidance is the most impactful for students on that journey. People sometimes assume that tech professionals have achieved their roles through steady, stable, cookie-cutter paths, or even just luck. But that’s not always the case.

My road to Red Ventures was not effortless, and the truth is that I barely graduated from college. I took the “hard” classes such as Calculus 3, Linear Algebra, and Discrete Math at other universities since I failed them at my own school (State University of New York at New Paltz). There were several professors and advisors who told me I was a failure and would never succeed in the field of computer science. Luckily, those discouraging messages had the opposite effect — they only fueled my desire to accomplish my goal.

I believe Road to Hire students also demonstrate that unwavering drive and motivation to succeed. Many of them have overcome real-world challenges — some that they may face again — to get where they are, and they’ll probably experience failure along their journeys, just like I did. Fortunately, as John Maxwell says in one of my favorite books, “Failing Forward,” “Failure is simply the price we pay to achieve success.”

Because of the pandemic, RV employees and R2H students have had to work, learn, and teach remotely, and much of the process has been difficult. In one instance this year, there was a period of around two weeks where my mentee didn’t have a working computer. Her RV-provided MacBook stopped turning on, and our IT team wasn’t available to fix it due to pandemic restrictions. I met with her via Zoom phone meetings several times during this period, and I could see the fear of failure in her eyes and hear the dread in her voice. A major presentation date was approaching, and she was certain she would receive a zero for the project. 

One trait of a good mentor is to always keep up a positive attitude regardless of the situation — as another great author, Dorothea Brande, once wrote, we must “Act as though it were impossible to fail.” There was no doubt in my mind that my mentee couldn’t overcome this adversity, and I made sure to keep reaffirming that to her. Luckily, she was able to complete the entire project using a pen and paper to draft out the code. (This is one trick I learned from college because they would frequently test us on writing code without a computer.) Once her laptop was fixed, she immediately knew everything she had to do to finish the project since it was already written down.

When I started mentoring, I thought it would be easy. However, I’ve discovered there’s a completely new skill-set required — sometimes, teaching others can be just as difficult as engineering a software project from start to finish. Everyone learns differently, and I believe patience and resilience are important for being a good teacher. Luckily, Road to Hire has some incredible teachers, such as Latori Miller and Toni Clark. I’m inspired every day to become a better teacher when I’m around people like them. Latori once said, “Teaching is fun and challenging at the same time. No two days are ever the same,” which really resonated with me. No matter what challenge the day brings, I feel so lucky to work with Road to Hire.

I sometimes forget that from my tech mentee’s point of view, I’m the expert of the field. I have years of experience and a computer science degree. Yet, I still have doubts that the advice I’m giving is good enough or even useful at all. It’s really easy to let negative thinking and Impostor Syndrome get in our way of succeeding, and it can be one of the biggest issues a mentor can face.

Imposter Syndrome is the feeling of not being smart enough, good enough, or experienced enough. For a mentor, it could mean not feeling successful enough to teach our skills to someone else. We have all felt this way at some point, and it’s especially common in my field. Everyone wants to feel like an amazing programmer and pretend the code just flows out of our heads and onto the screen, like in a movie. In reality, it’s common for us to sit at our computers staring at empty code files and feel like giving up on programming completely. This negative attitude about ourselves is characterized by self-doubt, fear of not living up to expectations, and attributing our success to external factors like “luck” rather than years of hard work.

Why is it that we feel this Impostor Syndrome? I believe it stems from years of negative programming taken in by our subconscious minds. Every piece of information that we consume acts to either nurture or poison us. For that reason, teachers and mentors must make sure they are contributing positive information to their students/mentees at all times. Hearing someone else say, “You can achieve anything you put your mind to, and I’m here to support your endeavor” helps build confidence and stumps the growth of Imposter Syndrome.

Growing up with three brothers, I’ve basically been mentoring and coaching others for my entire life. After graduating from college, I got my first software engineering job and had amazing mentors all around me. They have shaped me into the person I am today, and I’m grateful for the guidance they provided me. I hope to help Road to Hire students in that same way.

My most recent tech mentee shows a lot of promise — one day, she too can become a mentor. She’s navigating her own personal challenges while balancing her responsibility as an oldest sister. She’s not even old enough to vote, yet she’s immensely skilled in Software/Web Development, and I know she’ll succeed in her future professional position. I’m confident that she and many other Road to Hire mentees will one day “pass on the torch” to other students, too.

Now that you’ve read Dean’s mentor story, find out what it’s like to participate in Road to Hire through a student’s eyes.

About the Author:
Constantine "Dean" Doukas

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