Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at AppNexus: The Path to Feeling Genuine
Daniel Van Horn is a senior at Oregon State University studying Computer Science with an option in Computer systems. He enjoys cycling, fishing, hiking, reading, and of course… writing code.
Since the beginning of my journey into Computer Science, there has been a constant stream of challenges to overcome which included new learning experiences, failures, and successes. It can be intimidating when there are difficult problems to encounter or when a key concept is just beyond the reach of understanding. These obstacles can put me face-to-face with my own perceived inadequacies, make me feel as if I don’t belong, and expect failure to be met with anger, ridicule, or being “found out.”
When I started at AppNexus, I knew that imposter syndrome would return, as it had many times before, whether it was attending my first CS class in college or beginning my first software engineering job. Engineering is nothing if not complex, and with that complexity comes uncomfortable situations where the path is not clear. During the onboarding week, the other interns and I were introduced to the vast world of ad tech and the huge complex system that AppNexus has brought to the industry.
On my first day in the office, I met with my manager and mentor to talk about the two projects that I would be working on. They were much more complex than projects I had done in the past. I knew that it would require a lot of time and careful thought to be able to write clean, fresh, lemon-scented code. My manager and mentor both made me feel comfortable by voicing their support, allowing me to choose what I wanted to work on, and reassuring me that they were there to help me whenever I needed it.
When I was first programming, I could feel the fear creeping in if I didn’t understand something fully, and there were even a few times where I didn’t ask questions for the fear of a negative reaction. This is a perfectly natural feeling, and one that even the most experienced software engineers share. The fear that I felt at first changed very quickly.
Within my first week, I began to experience the AppNexus core values in action. First and foremost was “Learn and Teach,” which encourages failure and learning by experience. At AppNexus, the culture is collaborative, and it feels like everyone is on the same team. Everyone shares their failures, successes, and general knowledge freely, openly and with a smile. People are eager to share the newest things they learn, and that helped me feel extremely comfortable to try new things, and even teach them myself. There were a few times that I was able to teach something to my mentor; he was extremely receptive and grateful, and that made me more confident to take risks and constantly improve.
Another value, “Make Greatness Happen,” means making the world a better place by helping colleagues reach their highest levels of ability and achievement. In the office, all of my coworkers genuinely wanted the best for me. If a community of coworkers constructively supports each other to be the best that they can be, then greatness will undoubtedly happen. When greatness happens, it is a feedback loop that benefits everyone in the community.
With a healthy work environment and such supportive coworkers behind me, I felt my own perceived fears melt away almost immediately. Imposter syndrome didn’t stand a chance in the AppNexus environment because I felt a sense of belonging and the community welcomed me with open arms. I felt empowered to move forward confidently with my projects and use the given opportunities to take risks, fail fast, adjust, see and improve the whole system, empower our customers, and accomplish feats that I can be proud of during the internship.