Software Developers Journey Podcast

#156 Clare Sudbery surfing on her own imposter syndrome


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Clare Sudbery 0:00
I remember very clearly several times asking my line manager to explain something to me or show me how to do something. And I would sit next to him at his computer and just watch his hands go. And like he seemed to think so fast and move so fast, and he could navigate a keyboard so fast, I would just be kind of hobbling to catch up. And it felt like all of these people in general, it was actually quite true that all of these people had been doing this since they were teenagers. Like my boyfriend. It had been their hobby before it was their job, and that I was just not one of those people. I wasn't in that club. So I always felt like they knew more than I did. And they were better at it than I was. And I never I never really got over that.

Tim Bourguignon 1:02
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast, bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bouruignon. And on this episode 156. I receive Clare Sudbery. Clare is math graduate with 21 years of software engineering experience. Nine years ago, after a small detour, teaching high school math, Claire came back to software engineering, and is now a lead engineer with Made Tech. She has a particular interest in teaching mentoring, banishing impostor syndrome. And she is on a mission to awaken the inner geek in clever woman and men everywhere. Clare, a warm, warm welcome to DevJourney.

Clare Sudbery 1:47
Thank you. Hello.

Tim Bourguignon 1:48
So Clare, as you know, this show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like, and imagine how to shape their own future. So as always, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your developer's journey?

Clare Sudbery 2:05
I mean, I'm already going to give the consultant answer and say it depends there is there's more. I mean, there are probably several answers I could give to this. But I'm gonna give you two alternatives. So one, you could say when I was 11, I had my first experience of computer programming. So I'm quite old. I'm 51. And so that was 40 years ago. And it was around about that time that the Zedeck spectrum made an appearance. And somebody gave me one as a present. And in order to program it, you had to I mean, I can't remember all the details, but the program's themselves. And the code was recorded on magnetic tape of all things. And the commands that were available were very simple. It was using the basic language, there were lots of go twos. And the thing that I really loved was the beep command. And that was pretty much the only command I ever used. I just used to make it sing songs. And that was kind of all I was interested in. And then it ended up in a cupboard and I didn't do very much with it. There were some computers at school, there were some BBC micros, and there was a computing Club, which I think I belong to, to for all of five minutes. And then that was it. You know, I didn't touch computers again for quite a long time. I did do a maths degree, as you mentioned, but I actually so I have to confess that it shows my bias, I tend to tell people, I have a maths degree rather than telling people I have a philosophy degree, what I actually have is a maths and philosophy degree joint honours. It was 5050 of maths and philosophy. And what that meant was that I couldn't do all of the math syllabus and I couldn't do all of the philosophy syllabus. And the things that got dropped. One of the things that got dropped as a result was computing. So I did no computing in my degree. I did a lot of logic, though, I did a lot of mathematical logic and a lot of philosophical logic, because that's the one area where maths and philosophy are obviously connected. But I didn't do any formal computing. Not only did I not study computing, I didn't use a computer. So this is long enough ago that I could do everything with a pen and paper. So my philosophy essays were written on paper with a pen. I didn't use a word processor. I didn't own a word processor. And again, it's long enough ago that a word processor was actually a separate object that had its own identity, independent of a computer, you could own a word processor, and it was an electronic typewriter effectively. I didn't even have one of those. I had a typewriter, but it was a manual typewriter. So I didn't use a computer at all. And I graduated from university to having really very little idea of how to use a computer. And I thought that what I was going to do is do a maths degree and become a math teacher. I came from a family of teachers and mathematicians It was what I'd wanted to do since I was really quite young. But while I was at university, I met teachers who said you really don't want to be a teacher. It's not what you think there's lots of bureaucracy and lots of pain and You don't get to actually do teaching. And it was around about that time. So in 1988, there were a lot of changes in British education, which did have a massive impact on the teaching profession. And it's when they brought in the core curriculum. And when teachers started having a lot less freedom over how they taught, and there was a lot of feeling that teaching, you know, was was was no longer an enjoyable profession that you didn't get to actually teach that there was a lot of bureaucracy and a lot of pain and a lot of prescription. And so I decided not to become a teacher. But that meant that I didn't really have a plan, the obvious things to do with a maths degree were become a math teacher, or work in finance, or work in stocks and shares. So accountancy or the stock market was the two obvious other professions and I had no interest in any of that I wasn't a big fan of capitalism. So I didn't particularly want to do that. It did mean that I really didn't know what I did want to do. And I just ended up working as a housing officer for the local council, which wasn't a you know, it was okay. But it certainly wasn't my life plan. And then I had a boyfriend. This is where we're finally getting to it. I had a boyfriend who was a games programmer. And he was writing computer games. And so were all of his friends. And he was using computers, he had been using computers playing with computers working with computers since he was, you know, in his early teens. And I thought, why aren't I doing that? That is obviously what I should be doing. It played to all of my strengths, logical thinking, analytical thinking, being able to sit in a corner doing cerebral stuff, not having to talk to people. It just seemed like it was the perfect career for me, you know, I knew nothing about computers. So I actually at the time, was sharing a flat with a woman who herself had gone back to university and done a master's, and it was called a conversion masters. And it was specifically designed for people who didn't have a computing degree. And it was to convert your degree into computing was was the concept. And it was a 12 month course. So it was longer than an academic year, it was full 12 months, six 50% to 50% dissertation. And that's what I did, I went back and did a master's in computing computation is what it was called. And it was, you know, quite intensive, it was kind of cramming you full of computing knowledge in 12 months, basically. And I popped out the other end of that, already to be a computer programmer. And the way that they structured the course was they kind of said to you, you could either choose to become a computer programmer, or you could choose to become what they call the software analyst. And I never was quite sure what an analyst was supposed to be. But the thing that I enjoyed was the coding I really, really enjoyed. But they taught to C++, and Pascal, I coded in Pascal on a on a Mac, and C Plus Plus in Windows, I think. And the C Plus Plus was the thing that I really enjoyed. And so I decided that I was going to be a C++ programmer. And because of the way things were set up, there were careers fairs and stuff. And there were basically a lot of local employers were kind of hovering at the edges waiting to pluck us all out into jobs. And it really wasn't difficult to find a job, I had several interviews, and I got a job as a software engineer, but the problem was now this sounds like a fantastic happy ending. But the problem was that I had only been talking to computers for 12 months, if beyond that, there had been the brief flirtation with the BBC micros and, and the Zedeck spectrum. But really, I was not I didn't feel like I fitted in. And there were lots of different ways in which I didn't fit in the obvious one was that I was a woman, you know, so the first job that I had, I was the only woman there and for the next for my whole career. That's that's been normal, you know that I've been in the minority. And that wasn't a new concept. To me. I was in a very much a minority as a maths students there were I think there were maybe five or 10% of the math students were female. So that wasn't when I did my maths a level I was the only girl in the class. So, you know, I was used to that idea. But what was new about this was before I'd been in the world of maths where I felt comfortable because my I come from a family of mathematicians. My father is a maths professor. My My parents met at Cambridge, where they were both studying maths. My mother is also a mathematician, and aunts and uncles and cousins. I mean, so So I belong there. But I didn't feel like I belonged in the world of computers. And what was what plagued me and still plagues me was this idea that everybody else knows more than me. Everybody else belongs here. And I don't everybody else's brain works in a different way to mine. And the obvious problem that I had was that I would ask, I had a lovely, lovely line manager, lovely man, I'm still in touch with him. In fact, I'm still in touch with all of the people I work So that with that we were a great team, we were really good friends. And I remember very clearly several times asking my line manager to explain something to me or show me how to do something. And I would sit next to him at his computer and just watch his hands go. And like he seem to think so fast and move so fast, and he could navigate a keyboard so fast, I would just be kind of hobbling to catch up. And it felt like all of these people in general, it was actually quite true that all of these people had been doing this since they were teenagers, like my boyfriend, it had been their hobby before it was their job. And that I would do was just not one of those people. I wasn't in that club. So I always felt like he knew more than I did. And they were better at it than I was. And I never, I never really got over that, even despite the fact that I was successful. My colleagues, were saying, you're really good at this. I got, I mean, like, the amazing thing was the salary and the promotion. So I had been working for the Council on a salary of 12,000 pounds a year and thought that I was doing quite well, I think when I started with the counselors or housing officer, I was on something like 9000. And when I left I was on 11, or 12,000, it was something like that. And then I started at this new job on 15,000. That was the starting salary. And this was a long time ago. And then it just they just kept giving me pay raises without me even asking for the pay raises and promotions. And within four years, I was a senior engineer. But I still didn't really feel like I knew what I was doing. And actually, here's the interesting bit it was it was that long ago, only four years into my career that I decided I wanted to be a novelist. And what was going on was that I had friends who were of various different artistic bent. So I had friends who were dancers and actors and musicians and performers, circus performers. And there was me, I was just a software engineer. And I remember moaning it was New Year's Eve, I was moaning to a friend of mine, I was saying, Oh, I just do this really boring job. And all these people I know have these interesting, exciting, creative things that they do. And she said, Well, why don't you do something, then what would you like to do? I said, Well, I'd really like to write a novel, but I don't have time. And she said, Well, do you need all that money that you earn? Do you have to work five days a week? I don't think so. So I just went to my boss and said, Look, I want to write a novel. And I think the way to do it would be to go down to a four day week. And then on the fifth day, I'll write. And that way, I'll have taken a 20% pay cut. And I will have that one spare day a week. And I will I'll tell everybody, I already have told everybody that I want to write a novel. And then that will force me to do it. Because I've told everybody I'm going to do it, I've taken a 20% pay cut. So I really have to do it. And I did they put me down to four days a week. So that was before I left so less than four years. And I started writing a novel. Now this was such a typical story. In those days, I wonder if it still happens as much. Certainly part of it still happens, the management so to speak, this idea of management being some separate species of people, the people that run the company, say you software engineers, you're so slow, we keep asking you to do things, and you never you never get anything done. Everything always takes longer than you think it's going to and never takes as fast as we think it should. Uh, we found a company based in India who say we can they say that they can write all of this software twice as fast as you can. And so we're going to outsource a bunch of stuff to this other company. And we said nonsense, it's absolute, they just, they're lying to you, or they're going to give you a substandard product. They can't do it any faster than we can but they didn't believe us. And that caused massive eruptions. And basically, we all left. So it's around about that time that I was like now not having this. I'm like all human beings, I'm contradictory. So there's a part of me that has really low self esteem that doesn't trust in my abilities that thinks everybody else knows more than I do. Everybody else is better at this than I am and has really low confidence. But there are other aspects of me that absolutely won't take any shit. So apologies if I'm not allowed to swear, but I just and so I was like, Well, I'm not having this, I don't need this. I can, there are other jobs out there. So and I was one of the first to leave. And that has always been true throughout my career. I mean, to the extent it's a problem in another way that if I get bored or set up, I will just leave a quite quickly and easily and I know other people who are very, very wary of change and will stay and stay and stay and stay long after the point when they obviously should have left. I'm complete opposite and it doesn't mean that I don't always give things a chance. So that's that's that's the weakness in that. But I am very confident in saying I'm just going to get another job. And of course, the more I've done it, the more I've proved to myself that is something I can do. I think it's easier for me than it is for other people because I love to talk. And I have a unique set not unique other people have the skills to but I have a particular set of skills that are skills that are a little bit unusual in this industry, all of which add together to being good at interviews. I'm very good at persuading people that they should give me a job.

Tim Bourguignon 16:07
It's a very good skill to have

Clare Sudbery 16:08
It's very, it's very useful. Yeah, yeah. And I can't, you know, there are various things that I can, that I can pass on. The obvious tip is be yourself. And it's something I didn't do originally, at first, I just wasn't good at talking and just used that skill. But then I worked out that if I talk about me, honestly, and be me, honestly, and be excited about the things that I'm excited about, and don't pretend to be excited about the things that I'm not excited about. And I will get jobs that suit me out, people will be giving me a job for me that is in front of them rather than some fictional person who then may not live up to their expectations. So they'll get what they see and what they expect. And also they'll get what they want. And if what they want isn't me, then I don't want that job anyway. So that's fine. So anyway, yeah, I found another job. And that one didn't work out very well, that only lasted about eight months, I think. And then I got another job. And that one lasted seven years. But during that time, I wrote and published my first novel, I had a baby. And that was problematic, because it turns out that my body does not like pregnancy. I was very, very, very ill throughout the whole pregnancy, I nearly died, technically. So was basically off sick for the whole pregnancy. So there was the big chunk attack, and then obviously, maternity leave. So there was a whole year when I wasn't in work because of illness during pregnancy, and then maternity leave during that seven years. And I was working a full day week, and writing novels. And I had my first novel published. At the end of that period, I had another pregnancy, which sadly ended in a miscarriage, and I had some time off sick. And when I returned to work, I was just offered redundancy almost instantly, within a couple of days of returning to work. And the circumstances really weren't great. It wasn't handled well. They actually said they couldn't afford another one of my pregnancies, which is not good. Yes, yes. So because they did, they'd been unhappy about the amount of sick leave, I'd had to take during the first well, it had cost them in terms of their insurance policy. And then the second one obviously ended in a miscarriage, and I had to take a lot of sick leaves. So and they also said, Well, it'd be fine, you can take this redundancy, money and use it to have another baby. Which is wrong on so many levels. But But But anyway, I at that point, what was interesting was this, this thing that I talked about before, of not being confident in my skills, not feeling like I fitted in not feeling like I could be honest, when I was struggling and not feeling like I could ask questions, though. And so you know, I would pretend I was doing fine. And the way that work was structured back then, because this wasn't Agile methodology is very much waterfall. And typically the way things would work and been the same in all the companies I've worked for up to then. So all three companies was that you'd be given something to do, we'd be given a piece of software to write a chunk of software, and then just sent off. And then there would be meetings at regular intervals. But really, you're kind of left to your own devices. So none of this daily stand up nonsense. And you know, not not really checking in. And so if you're stuck in that situation, and you you aren't confident to ask for help you get in this horrible cycle of you leave it a bit longer, and you still don't get unstuck. And now it's harder to ask for help, because you're gonna have to admit that you've really not been doing anything for the last few days because you didn't know what and then and then you leave it for a week and now it's even harder and then it's two weeks and now it's even harder to admit that you haven't really made any progress at all. And horribly easy. And this is still the case I'm sure as we all know, horribly easy to just spend your whole day surfing the internet and chatting on forums and checking to see whether anybody's bought your novel that you just published. Or whether anybody's talking about it and, and feeling terrible about it. It's not even fun. It's not even like, I get to surf the internet all day, and I don't have to do any work. It's like, oh, shit, I still haven't done any work. And I've just spent another day surfing the internet, and I feel terrible about it. But I don't know what to do. I can't escape from this horrible thing. So, so when they offered me redundancy, also, you know, I had just lost a baby, I don't know, just come back to work after sick leave. I was just like, I don't I just I don't want to be here anymore. So I, you know, I said, Yes, I knew that the money I was being offered wasn't really enough to fund another pregnancy that I was in a bit of a bind. Because I did want to have a child, I did still want to have another child. But I just thought I'm done. And I also thought at that point, I'm done with software. I don't doesn't really suit me, I know that I have the intellectual capacity for it. And in some ways, it suits my brain but don't really feel like I know what I'm doing. not enjoying it would rather be a writer. I didn't feel ready at that point to have a career as a writer because i Yes, I've had a novel published but the amount of money I got for it was nothing like an income and and for most authors isn't in fact, it's very, very difficult to make a living from writing novels. So it wasn't really I could see that it wasn't a very viable business proposition to become a full time writer, but I didn't want to work in it anymore. So I took the redundancy, tried to make it as a writer got pregnant again. Luckily, that all worked out well. And I had another child. So I was sort of a freelance writer, but I wasn't making a living from it. And I was a bit distracted by other things. And when my second child was old enough to go to nursery, I was like, Okay, well, I need an actual income, a proper job now. And in my wisdom, I thought the right thing to do would be to retrain as a high school math teacher, which was the thing that I'd always thought I was going to do. And I knew that it wouldn't be easy. I mean, I did the research. In fact, you know, if you decide you want to become a high school maths teacher in Britain, you'll find plenty people say no, don't do it. It's terrible. There's a really high dropout rate. There's really high levels of physical and mental ill health and teaching. It's clearly a difficult job. But I thought I was walking into it with my eyes open. I thought that I knew it was going to be difficult. I didn't know just how difficult I could we could do a whole podcast on that. But I'll skate over that. But yeah, hard. And not only it's not just it's hard teaching children, I was working in an inner city challenging school children with lots of problems, lots of challenges, you know, maths was the least of their worries. And also I underestimate how much teenagers hate maths. Most teenagers hate maths. I thought, my passion because I love maths, I thought my passion for maths would carry me through but no. So I couldn't persuade them to love maths, I couldn't control their behavior. And I also couldn't fight back against just the sheer level of bullying that happens in some schools, from senior management to teachers. It was it was pretty bad. And so I was encouraged to resign, which I did. Now, I didn't have a job again. And the only thing I was really qualified to do was be a software engineer, because I did actually have 12 years of experience as a software engineer behind me, it was four years old. And even when I'd been doing it, my skills had been stagnating because of the way that the company was going. But I technically that was something I knew how to do. So I didn't really feel like I did. So. And this is this was the turning point. This is the amazing thing that I did, I was privileged that I was able to do it. I basically went applied to a company that specialized in taking on graduates and training them, so they didn't pay good salaries. But what they did do was offer a lot of training. And they had a very strong emphasis on learning. It was almost like a school. I mean, like the CEO of the company was more like a headmaster, there was even a uniform, it was quite a strange place to be honest. But it was perfect for what I wanted at that point. Because I was just like, pretend I'm brand new, pretend I've never done this before. I'm an empty vessel just teach me stuff. It was web development, which I'd never done before. I'd always written desktop apps before. So I'd been working in C plus, plus, in Windows writing desktop software. I'd never written web software. async no idea like and that blew my mind because it was really quite annoying. Because when you're writing desktop synchronous software, a follows B follows say you make a request, you get a response. You don't have to wait, you know, blew my mind how to read JavaScript. And also, you know, I would look at a file and it would have JavaScript Didn't it but it would also have razor and a bunch of languages, HTML and CSS and JavaScript all in one file. And it was really difficult confusing at first, but but the thing is that I had, I was seeing myself as a beginner. So it was all right that I didn't know stuff. And I deliberate because I didn't want to have to pretend that I knew stuff. So I was like, I don't know, anything I'm learning like, this is all brand new to me. So I could be completely honest about the fact that I was learning. And what was amazing about this company was because they had this really strong emphasis on learning. I remember in the job interview, the guy who interviewed me was the CEO. So he was like the headmaster type. And he was very clear to me that he had sacked people in the past for not asking enough questions, that it was absolutely mandatory, that you ask lots and lots of questions, and that you will answer them. And so I was walking into a culture where everybody was asking and answering questions, and no question was too big, nothing was too much trouble. Everybody would always want to help you. And having come from a place where I never dared ask questions. And it wasn't that people were mean or unhelpful. It's just everybody was always so busy. And they've managed to get into that culture of having the kind of the Rockstar devs at the last place, who were the bottlenecks, and you didn't have time to help anybody because they were busy saving the world. Whereas this new place, I could ask questions, those questions would be answered. I was asked every morning at a daily standup, how are things going, what's going on, there was no place to hide, I couldn't pretend everything was okay for a week. And then finally admit that I was stuck. I was encouraged to admit when I was stuck. And this was just amazing. This was this was exciting and new. And, and I had something to prove. So it did feel as though I had a series of failures behind me because at this point, another story which I don't have time for. But my first novel had been published in my previous IT job. My second novel had been published during the brief time when I was officially a full time writer, but only in Germany, and only in German. And I don't speak German. And neither do most of the people that I know, it never got published. It never got an official publishing deal in the UK in English. And so and there was a whole load of strife to do with my agent. And I basically had had to drop the whole thing and abandon it. So it felt as though I had a failed writing career behind me. It's a whole other episode. I don't have time to go into the details, feel free to ask me another time. But I felt like what I had behind me was a failed writing career, a failed teaching career, I'd been made redundant, I'd had a miscarriage, it felt like my life would have just been a series of failures and disappointments. And at this point, I was I was at quite a low error. But I was determined to make something succeed, I had to prove that there was something that I could do, that I could succeed at. And also, because teaching had been so hard, I mean, the the workload, it wasn't unusual. When I was teaching that two or three nights a week, I would only get four hours sleep, that had become a normal thing that happened every week. And so coming back into an ordinary desk job where you just went to work, and then you went home and then you weren't at work anymore. Felt like getting into a lovely warm bath. It was like anything I'd previously complained about was nothing is this was like this was just easy compared to being a teacher. So I didn't mind putting a few extra hours in. And previously, I have to confess, I'd been quite sniffy and dismissive of people who did computing in their spare time. So in my first job, I had a colleague used to buy all the magazines because in those days, the Internet was only just becoming a thing. If you want to know about stuff, you bought a physical magazine and read it. And he would always have computing magazines on his desk, and I was like, Oh my God, you're such a geek, like you're such a nerd. That's like I've never gotten that's like, I'm not paid to do computing in my spare time. So I'm not going to You're a fool. But now I was, I was like, Okay, I get it. Now. If it is something that excites you so much that you want to do it in your spare time, then that means when you come to work during the day and get to do it, that's a treat. That's a good thing, because you're now doing, you're being paid to do your hobby. So that like turning it on its head instead of saying, I'm doing work for free that nobody's paying for in my spare time thinking about the other way up. I'm getting to go to work and be paid to do the thing that I like to do anyway. And I you know, I taught myself TDD, I started going to meetups. I learned pairing and we weren't doing TDD or pairing at this company that I was working for. So I learned those. We weren't actually doing Agile either, even though we did have daily stand ups. But I was teaching myself all that stuff at these events. I'm getting really into it. And, and I enjoying it, I was excited about it. And also I did actually have 12 years of experience behind me even though it didn't feel useful. Obviously, it was with lots of transferable skills in there. Lots of useful knowledge. So I progressed very quickly, it was kind of strange, because they had this thing of they deliberately recruited graduates, they deliberately recruited people who are inexperienced, paid them low salaries, but gave them lots of training, it meant that most of my colleagues were half my age. So at this point, I was in my early 40s, and I had two children. And most of my colleagues were in their early 20s, had no children were brand new. And that was really weird. I couldn't, and I was still there's a strange thing that I think a lot of mothers will relate to, that happens to you, when you have children that your personality becomes sort of split. Like the personality of Mother becomes this thing, it becomes part of your identity, but it sort of can feel very independent from all of the other things that used to define you before you became a mother. It's like, who am I? And you kind of think, well, now that I'm a mother, there are loads of things that I used to be able to do that I feel like I can't do anymore. Like I can't wear brightly colored clothes. For some reason I got into my head, and I certainly can't flirt. And I can't be wacky or daft. Or, because I've got this idea of this, I've got this stereotype in my head of what her mother looks like. And then combined with everybody being half my age, and most of them being young enough to be my children. I feel like I'm supposed to be this sort of mumsy sort of person. I don't really know who that is. But I feel like that's what I'm supposed to do. So I was kind of going through a strange kind of identity crisis anyway, and I'd had, you know, years of difficulties behind me. And so it was, it was an odd time. And very quickly, after about a year, they wanted to promote me to a manager position. And it was a crazy, crazy idea, they'd come up with this idea of testing manager. Now what do they call it, quality manager, I don't know. But, but the My job was to make all of the software developers spend two days out of every 10. So two days a fortnight doing nothing but testing, writing, but writing and running unit tests on other people's code. So you didn't write your own tests, or the people wrote them for you. And for two days, at River fortnight, you would write tests on the whole company's code, not just the team, you worked with the rest of the fortnight. And the idea was, it would mean that there was a sort of a certain amount of objectivity, and people would get to see other bits of code, but it actually just meant people were forced to do this thing two days, a fortnight that they didn't really want to do. And they never did it long enough to really get their heads into it. So there was these really awkward handover periods every two days. And it was my job to oversee this. And I thought it was a crazy idea. I was like, what? And I said, I didn't want to do it. I said, No, I'm apart from anything else. I've only been computer programming again for a year. And I'm really enjoying it. And I want to develop those skills. But I do think there is this kind of idea that women in particular, have good people skills, and also that they're not necessarily going to be so great, technically, so does happen that women get promoted to middle management. And then there's a glass ceiling, but women will get promoted out of technical roles and into people management roles. Because there's this idea that you're going to be strong on the people side and not so strong on the technical side. And I really didn't want to do that. But they said that, basically, that I had more or less than I had no choice. So I ended up but there were two of us. And this is a weird thing. There were two women who were similar age both had children. And both in our 40s Both had children. We were the only women in their 40s with children and the whole company out of about 50 developers. And and the idea was that only we could possibly do this job. And when I said no, he asked the other woman and she said no two and he said to both of us, nobody else could possibly do this job. So how about you do it as a job? I think it was two weeks out of every month I was a quality manager. And then the other two weeks I was a software engineer. And then we had these handovers every two weeks. And all it told me was that I was absolutely bloody right. I didn't want to do it. When I got to compare the two roles. I want to be a software engineer and I want to be a manager. And so I ended up leaving and going to another company. And that was one of the examples. I said before I don't like it, I'll just leave. You know, I was like Nah, I'm not having this. This is this is not what I want to do. So I went to another company as a software engineer as a senior I think I went directly in as a senior software engineer. I do have a tendency to get bored and fidgety, I have to confess and after a year there So what I was thinking was, yeah, but I still want to write novels, because at this time, I was back to a five day week, mainly for financial reasons. Because another another yet another challenge that we'd been through that through that period of difficulties. Also my husband had lost his job. So I was, at that point, the main wage earner. So I couldn't afford to be on a four day week anymore. So I'd gone back to a five day week. And also when I was a teacher, you know that the whole novel thing had kind of ended when I became a teacher. But now I was thinking, Yeah, but I do still want to write novels. And I thought, if I pick and also I was working in a company that took on a lot of contractors, so I surrounded by contractors, one of them literally sitting next to me doing the same job as me, but earning twice as much. I thought, Okay, how's that work, then I kind of picked his brains and found out all about how contracting works. And it seemed like, like a very sweet deal, that you get paid an awful lot of money, you have to sort out your attacks and stuff. But that's fine. I'm not scared of admin. And so I did, I became a director of my own company, and I set myself up as a contractor. And the idea was that I would work short contracts take time off between contracts to write novels again. And I did, I did about three short contracts, I think. And then I hired a cottage in a remote cottage in Scotland. Oh, it's lovely. It was in a tiny, tiny fishing village, where you couldn't even drive cars at the streets. So the streets were so narrow between the houses because it was built in a time when cars didn't exist, you couldn't drive cars to a lot of the houses because there wasn't room there were just paths between the houses instead of streets. And there were steps everywhere. And you could go up and down these steps. And you could walk down from the house down a flight of steps straight onto the beach. Oh, it's beautiful. And I hired an artist studio. And the plan was, I was going to start writing novel number three. And I did all right, the first couple of days. And then I sort of dried up. And then I planned a day where I was just going to chill all day. But the idea was that the chilling would spur my imagination. So it's going to be this explosion of creativity. And it didn't happen. It didn't happen. It didn't happen. And it was like got to the evening, and I still hadn't written a single world word. And at one point I did, I sat myself down in front of the computers, I can't write, write, write, and then nothing that 10 words came out. And I just, I just, and I started thinking, why? I mean, do I even want to why? Why am I stuck trying to write another novel what it was, it was just because I had this again, back to identity, I had this idea that was that novelist was part of who I was. And if I wasn't writing a novel, then I no longer deserve to call myself a novelist. But when I thought I didn't actually want to, I didn't get both. What I didn't mention was that both of the novels that I'd had published, it taken me four years each to write, and I thought do I want to spend another four years of my life writing a novel, I don't think I do. I just feels like a millstone around my neck. And then what happened was, I got an email from a recruitment agent, who I dealt with on the contracting side. And they said, we've got these people who might want to take you on as a contractor, and they want you to do an online test. And it was one of those, I think it was a cutter, I had to write a piece of software and make some test pass. And they would use that to decide whether they were going to give me a job or not. And I'll say I love this. I love online tests. I love cartoons fantastic. And abandoned. The novel spent the next seven hours until midnight writing this code and loving it and like you know, tweaking it and perfecting it and having a marvelous phone. And I thought, okay, that's where my creativity lies. Now, that is a creative pastime for me. It's not that I'm not creative. It's just that I no longer want to direct or channel my creativity into writing novels. I want to channel it into writing software. I mean, I've done a tiny bit of fiction writing since then. And I still think one day I kind of feel like in 20 years time when I'm in my 70s I'm finally going to retire. And then I'm going to write an amazing, best selling novel, and then I'll die. So that's, that's that's when the novel writing will gone. It's on hold, but it's on a very long hold.

Tim Bourguignon 39:28
It's maturing. It's yeah, it's becoming something

Clare Sudbery 39:33
callate Exactly. So yeah, I did another contract. But what I realized what was really interesting, what I didn't mention was in the previous full time job that I'd had one of the reasons I thought I wanted to be a contractor was because I was highly cynical about corporate politics. And you know, I was in I was working for an insurance company, and it was the kind of thing where they would regularly have these events that they call town hall events where they'd get the whole company into a big room and some big we could come and speak to us. And we were supposed to know who they are and didn't even know who they were. And I didn't really see why I should nobody ever introduced me to them. But they'd be like, you know, so I'm a high up corporate person. And it would be terribly tedious. And you had to pretend that you cared that you were interested in all of this corporate speak, and there would be the monthly reviews and that you know, the one to ones where you had to tick a lot of boxes and the performance reviews where you had to fill in horrible forms. And you had to play the game, and pretend to care about things like really, I just cared about writing code, I didn't care about insurance, why should I what I thought was as a contractor, you'd get to sidestep all of that company politics, nonsense, you wouldn't have to do performance reviews, you wouldn't have to pretend to care about things that you don't care about. You could just write code, do the job, and then go off and write novels or whatever. But what I had misunderstood about myself, I suppose or underestimated was that, yes, I might find company politics, frustrating. But what I enjoy is being a member of a team, what I enjoy is building relationships with my co workers. And that piece is missing. Often, when you're contracting, you're very much a lone wolf, you don't really you don't get you don't get to you're not allowed to eat cake. You know, there's various silly things to do with tax laws that you're not allowed to be brought into various kinds of team building type stuff, which I thought I wouldn't miss. But actually I did. So then I went back into another full time role with a really good company really enjoyed it. And that there, there was the issue that I now felt like I was ready to kind of really kind of go up to the next step to kind of principal engineer, I was now a senior engineer at this company. They didn't, there was what there was senior engineers that were team leads, and there were principal engineers, and the team lead role was was more management tea. And I already knew that I didn't really want to be involved in management. But the principal engineer was more of a technical role. So that was where I wanted to be. And I was quite impatient. And I felt like I wasn't really being given any good reasons for why I shouldn't be considered quite quickly for promotion, and I got frustrated. And then there were the, you know, the company actually started to experience problems in the marketplace. And it was there were redundancies, and I wasn't made redundant, but I just thought, Yeah, time for me to jump ship again. This time, I became a consultant. So this was a new one. I got a job with ThoughtWorks, which was amazing. And it's funny because I knew ThoughtWorks existed, they had a presence in Manchester, which is where I am in the north of the UK. So Manchester is a big city, but it's not the capital. So you know, a lot of people work in London, Manchester is sort of, you know, off to one side of things. But there is a really strong technical community and a lot of technology companies in Manchester. But thought works like a lot of consultancies is based in London, so it has a satellite office in Manchester. Again, like most consultancies, it's, there's a lot of travel. So you know, even if you're based in the Manchester office, though, it's likely that you may end up traveling the country to work with clients that are not based in Manchester. And I had thought that that was non negotiable. And so although I knew that ThoughtWorks existed, I'd never applied for a job with them, because it seemed as though you couldn't do it without traveling. And I had children and, you know, I didn't want to travel outside of Manchester. But then I got sort of vaguely headhunted. I never know when I always feel like headhunting. When you describe yourself as being headhunted. It's a bit of an extravagant claim. And I'm never quite sure whether I'm like, over egging the pudding. But I got approached on LinkedIn by somebody, they approached me I didn't approach them. So I chose.

Tim Bourguignon 43:59
That's the way it is. And I

Clare Sudbery 44:01
said, well, and they said, thought works. And I said, yeah, they sound great. I'm aware of them really good company, like, you know, really aligned to my values, because they've got really strong values. They really care about people. They're politically quite astute. But I'd have to travel with an eye and she said, Wow, they're trying to accommodate more working women. So we might be able to sort something out on that level. And I guess this is really worth talking about, actually, because it's a very good example of something that people don't realize they can do it with the help of this recruitment agent who was amazing, by the way, probably my favorite recruitment agent I've ever worked with. And I think she's called Tanvi Sethi. Anyway, she, she basically, you know, kind of acted as go between they were already keen to prove that they could offer more flexible working and basically they said to me, you we think that we can offer you a job where you won't have to travel. We think we have enough clients in Manchester that you'd be we could guarantee to you that you would stay in Manchester. It's like well, if you can guarantee that then yeah, okay, I'll give being a consultant ago. And then they sent me the contract. It's funny, I feel like it's so weird. I feel like well, maybe I shouldn't talk about this. I don't even work with them anymore. And it's not a secret. So they sent me the contract. And I looked at it says very clearly in the contract, you will work wherever we tell you to work. And I said, Well, that's not what we agreed. And they said, well, that's just a standard contract. And I said, Yes, but that's not what we agreed, I'm not going to sign that. And that thing, it takes a certain level of confidence to say, this is not what I want. Let's renegotiate. And apparently, I've been told, and I don't know how to this is, but this was the first time they ever did it, they rewrote the contract for me. So they put an extra clause in it saying you don't have to travel, it was only a 12 months clause. So we had to review it in 12 months. So it kept being reviewed all the time that I was at ThoughtWorks. But basically, I joined on my own terms. And it's really funny. I think part of the reason I'm reluctant to talk about it is because there's also this feeling of entitlement as though I'm being a bit a bit fussy, and a bit spoiled, and a bit demanding by insisting a contract, especially for me. But you know, that was those were my that's what I needed to have a happy work life balance. And to be a happy, productive worker, I needed to know that I wasn't gonna have to travel because travel does bother me. So So yeah, so then I became a consultant and my very first project that I worked on, and this is something again, that happens a lot in consultancies, I was actually officially taken on as a senior engineer. But the way that I always think about it in consultancy actually is that when you are a senior engineer for a product company, that is equivalent to just being an engineer at consultancy. And when you're a lead engineer at a product company, that's equivalent to being a senior engineer for a consultancy, because consultancy, you're not just working in one domain. And one team you're having to be it'd be able to land in any company at any domain, and be proficient and confident and effective. So I wasn't taken on as a lead engineer, I was taken on as a senior engineer, but something that's very common is that consultancies will sell their people at a level higher than their than their internal role. So I was staffed on a role where I was billed to the client as a lead engineer, even though internally I was a senior engineer. And, and that was terrifying because Because the thing about consultancy is you generally have some idea of what what how much the client is being charged for the privilege of having you. And it's a lot. And also, you know that particularly if you're working for an organization like ThoughtWorks, it has a very high prestige, it has a good reputation. So basically, you know, that the client is paying a lot of money, to have what it believes is a lead engineer, be really clever, and solve all its problems. And from your point of view, I think this is really common, you're just you, you don't feel like a highly proficient expert who's worth a lot of money per day. And you worry, you think, Well, you know, I'm gonna get found out. And you know, classic impostor syndrome tends to be much worse for consultants, particularly when you're new to it, they're gonna find out, I have no idea what I'm doing, I'm not worth the money. This is terrifying. And for the first three months, I got more and more scared. And more and more worried that I didn't know what I was doing. And that I was gonna get found out to the point where I realized that I was feeling sick in the mornings, and I was cycling to work every day worrying about what the day held in store and how I was going to fuck everything up. And what I was really lucky for at that point was that I had many, many, many years previously, actually, in my very first job, I'd suffered my first engineering job, I'd suffered really badly from anxiety, kind of, I didn't mention it, because it's kind of independent of the job. But I did, I suffered extremely badly from generalized anxiety disorder, and I was having debilitating anxiety attacks. And at that point, I'd learned how to deal with it. I'd learned lots of strategies, and I used CBT, and relaxation exercises, and I learned how to counter catastrophic thoughts. So I had a lot of tools in my belt. That meant that it didn't escalate as much as it might have done. So I was feeling anxious and feeling sick in the mornings. I wasn't having anxiety attacks, but I was getting close to it. So and what I remember thinking was one morning cycling to work and thinking, what is it? What is it that you're actually worried about? What is the thing that you're really bothered about? And I thought, they're gonna sack me, they're gonna find out that I don't know what I'm doing, and they're gonna sack me. And then I thought to myself, Okay, but do you have any evidence for that? And the answer was, absolutely, not only was the answer no. The answer was I'd had evidence to the contrary. So in fact, ThoughtWorks was doing a very good job of giving me quite close mentoring and support. And because they knew that I was new to the role, and I hadn't done consultancy, before, there was a really strong support network, there were lots of senior people who were checking in with me on a daily basis, who were taking me off for coffee. We're giving me pep talks, were listening to me when I was being quite honest, I'd feel like I don't know what I'm doing. And they were giving me feedback. So saltworks has a very strong feedback culture, they were saying, You're doing well this, you did this, well, you did this, well, you could work on this. But this is going really well. We have confidence in you. We believe that everything's going well. Nobody was saying to me, we think your shit we're about to sack you. The only person who was saying that to me, was me. And and and when I kind of laid it on the line in front of my kind of spread it out in front of myself, you have no evidence for this belief that you're about to be sacked and found out. All the evidence is to the contrary. So just stop it silly. And luckily, because I'm a very logical thinker, I was just able to say, Okay, I'll stop thinking that because it doesn't make sense. And it's not that easy for everyone I know. But I was just like, Okay, well, those sorts are irrational. So I'm going to stop thinking them. I'm actually doing well, everything's fine. People have confidence in me. So I need to have confidence in myself. And it was almost like I flicked the switch, it was like, and also the other thing I did was remind myself that when I got the job, I was excited. And even my husband and started moaning because I kept going on about how fantastic it was working at ThoughtWorks. What an amazing company ThoughtWorks was, it was like I joined a cult. So I reminded myself, this was something that three months ago, I was very excited about this is supposed to be the best thing that's ever happened in my career. Everybody's telling me it's going great. The only person who thinks there's a problem is me, there isn't a problem. They're like, look at the evidence and habit that I started then and I haven't stopped is at the end of every week, I wrote down write down every tiny thing that I've achieved that week, so that I can remind myself that I'm doing good things, and also that I can look back at it. And because you forget most of the things that you do and go oh, I forgot I did that. I did that. And that was good to help us to help counter the imposter syndrome and the low self esteem and all of the other problems that so many others suffer from.

Tim Bourguignon 52:27
Oh, that's that's an awesome tip. It goes a little bit in the in the direction I wanted to go for the for the end of the show advice. But let's let's see, if you come up with something else. You mentioned, having bad feeling of not having a success yet. And you're desperately needed a success. What would be your advice for somebody feeling like this and wanting to get over that and really looking for successful themselves.

Clare Sudbery 52:52
So one, it's actually what I just said does help make a note of every tiny little thing. But also ask for feedback and write it down, make a note of it when it's positive feedback, and also be quite explicit to people. I mean, I tell people, I thrive on praise, I need it, I need positive feedback, I need positive reinforcement. So I will deliberately ask for it. But when I get it, I put it in a special place on its own for the bad days. So that I can just look at the positive feedback and remind myself of all the things I've done well make a note of the things that you're achieving. But also look for ways of creating success. So for instance, if you're learning a new technology or a new language, find a thing that you can build. And it can be something tiny but build something and then keep it available or make a note of it or take a screenshot of it or something say look at it was a thing that I made. And if I hadn't made it, it wouldn't have existed. Use your skills to build things and then make sure that you don't forget that you built it. So make a note of it, put it somewhere special. I have a folder called nice stuff, which is just things that I've achieved nice things that people have said about me positive feedback. It's entirely self indulgent, but that is allowed It's okay. Because if you can't be kind to yourself, how can you be kind to other people if other people deserve kindness and so do you because you are also a people. So, you know, be nice to yourself be kind look for look for success and make a note of it when it happens.

Tim Bourguignon 54:31
Two thumbs up from me. Thank you very much. Okay, uh, where would be the best place to continue this session with you or start a discussion with you?

Clare Sudbery 54:39
Probably the easiest way to find me is by Twitter, you need to know how to spell my name. It's not about how most people think it's going to be spelt doesn't have an eye in it it CL ar e and Sudbury ends the same way as surgery or carvery. It ends e o y so think of knives and you'll get Then everybody thinks it must be URL. Why are you why it's neither of those, it's just E R, Y. And that's just cholesterol. Because nobody else in the world spells their name like that. So I get to use my name as a username everywhere. So you'll find me on Twitter. And also, I need to put a plug in for the podcast, which I've recently started on behalf of med tech who I currently work for. It's called Making tech better I am the host. And if you just knew any podcast platform, if you look for making tech better by major tech, you should find it. We have episodes once a fortnight, we've interviewed a ton of really, really cool, exciting people. I'm enjoying it so much. It's great. I learned everything, something from every episode. So highly recommend it,

Tim Bourguignon 55:46
as I do. And I'll put links to to everything in the show notes. So just scroll down and it will be there anything else you want to plug in or have you on your plate,

Clare Sudbery 55:54
I'm always speaking at events. The next event that will be after this is published is in September, I'm speaking at agile on the beach in the UK. And I'm also speaking at Def break 21 In France, and I'm speaking at STD conf in London in November. But if you look at my Twitter feed that links to my medium blog, and on there, there's a page which has all of the events I'm speaking at all listed.

Tim Bourguignon 56:15
Awesome, Claire, thank you very much. It's been a blast. Fantastic. Thank you. And this has been another episode of developer's journey next week. How did you like clear story? When I recorded with her a couple weeks ago, I was at a very special place in my mind, questioning myself a lot facing major career decisions. Hearing for twists and turns doubts, questioning, and the way she pulled herself out of it was really inspiring. Thank you again, Claire for that. What did you take out of the story? Let me know. I'm always delighted for your comments and thoughts. You can reach me on Twitter at @timothep, or use the comments section on our website at devjourney.info. And I'm still stuck with her advices of "making notes of every tiny little successes" and "asking for feedback and writing it down to read on the bad days." Or again, "using my skills to build things and make a note that I did it." And finally, that "it is allowed to be self interested, and if other people deserve kindness, then so do I". Now it's your turn. Think about someone who is in this exact place in their journey, maybe questioning their skills and questioning where they should be going next, and send them a link to the show. Encourage them to listen to Clare's story and maybe subscribe to the show if they like it. Thank you!