Imposter Syndrome...Almost Gone (Startup Stories 17.01)

Liza Wilde, Boxcar Studio, 2017 HF

Liza Wilde, Boxcar Studio, 2017 HF

Like most of my journey into the tech industry, my introduction to Hacker Fellows was plagued by imposter syndrome. I’m too old, I don’t have a degree in Computer Science, I already work at a startup… Trust me, any excuse you’ve ever made about why you shouldn’t do something definitely crossed my mind at least once in the last few months.

My journey through the tech industry has been a long and winding one, with Hacker Fellows being only the latest bend in that path. The 2017 cohort I am a part of, has been told we’ve got the most variety in tech backgrounds. I was both excited and a little intimidated to bring my experience into that mix, to see how I could work with 14 other talented developers.

Imposter Syndrome, a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”
— Wikipedia

I’ve been learning to code since I was thirteen; literally for half of my life. I spent the majority of my high school career manipulating MySpace and Livejournal layouts. Eventually I found the few tech-related classes my high school offered, and a college program that let me dive further into web development and design.

When I graduated Michigan State in December of 2012, I was still fighting that imposter syndrome. My degree was technically an engineering degree, but I didn’t think I had the skills to make it in the startup world. Instead, after graduation, I settled for mediocre management position at the restaurant I’d worked at all through college.

Cut to three years later when I was miserable and hadn’t touched anything remotely development-related in two years. One day I  packed up my stuff, moved to Ann Arbor, and spent six months working on anything I could get my hands on until I managed to find a position at a local startup, Boxcar Studio.

Team photo from my first month, during our team trip to LA for Drupalcon. Clearly I’m the ham of the group.

Team photo from my first month, during our team trip to LA for Drupalcon. Clearly I’m the ham of the group.

Fast-forward another two years, when I receive a too-good-to-be-true email, asking me to apply for a fellowship here in Michigan. It was the kind of email that looks like it could be spam, except that based on the personal anecdotes included in the email, they had done their research on me. So I took a few days, analyzed the email with some trusted friends and family, and decided to write back.

We were wondering if you’d like to apply/interview for a position in Hacker Fellows. We’d love to have you in the program, continuing your work with Boxcar Studio, grow your freelance career and podcast. Having a developer from GDI in our 2017 cohort would be incredible!
— Email from Hacker Fellows to Liza

As it turns out, my active involvement with Girl Develop It (GDI) Ann Arbor, and the personal brand I’ve been building for myself online, had caught the attention of the Hacker Fellows program. In its third year, the program still isn’t widely known, and even less so to the female programmers and tech-interested students getting ready to graduate. And while I didn’t fit their demographic to the T, Sam still thought this would be a great opportunity for me, and that I could help bring more awareness to the program through my GDI connections. So a few phone calls, a video chat (while on vacation in Bali!), and a couple of signatures later, I was committed to Hacker Fellows with the blessings of my bosses.

Now I just had to accept that I would be heading back to dorm life for five weeks, away from my dog (we both survived 😅) in order to train the 14 other Hacker Fellows.

Me with a few of our office pups, Maisie (mine) and Obi

Me with a few of our office pups, Maisie (mine) and Obi

Hacker Fellows has both met and exceeded my expectations over the past few months. Between the 5-week training bootcamp including a product centric group project, to our tours and events around Detroit, I’ve connected with so many amazing people in the entrepreneurial and tech space.

My imposter syndrome still flares up every so often, but I am so amazed by the support and encouragement we received from everyone we met. My time at Hacker Fellows has been invaluable in the new languages and skills I’ve learned, as well as the connections I’m able to bring back to Boxcar.

I also can’t neglect to mention the amazing support I received from everyone at my startup family. There were many Slack messages exchanged about how they could help make my time in Detroit the most valuable learning experience for me, including sending emergency pizza when I claimed to be living off of PB&J sandwiches and Hopcat crack fries. They also used my being downtown as an excuse to come visit. (Hello Slow’s BBQ and Atwater Brewery field trips!)

Most of the Boxcar team at Slow’s BBQ in Detroit for a field trip during Hacker Fellow

Most of the Boxcar team at Slow’s BBQ in Detroit for a field trip during Hacker Fellow

It’s going on three years that I’ve been a part of the Boxcar Studio team, moving up from a part-time position as a front-end developer to their Lead Wordpress Developer. We’ve built dozens of beautiful websites for educational institutions and non-profits. In those three years, I’ve grown my own skills, while also working to help the Boxcar team grow. We started an internship program, expanded our community involvement, and now I’m hoping to bring some of my knowledge back from the Hacker Fellows’ bootcamp to help expand our business model.

So cheers to the 2017 cohort, and all the fun we had and will have for the remainder of our fellowship! And a huge thank you to everyone at Hacker Fellows, Invest Detroit Ventures, and everyone else that made this opportunity possible.

🍻🍻🍻


Liza Wilde is a 2017 Hacker Fellow and Media Information Systems graduate from Michigan State University. She currently is Lead Wordpress Developer for Boxcar Studio, a company that builds websites for educational institutions and non-profit organizations.