I Am Still Learning

May 30, 2017 · 4 mins read
Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash

I’m afraid

I was afraid when I started college in Australia, 4,000 miles away from home. I spent 3 years in vocational design school, and the thought of going back into academia was daunting. My grades were always terrible. Compared to my peers, I didn’t think I was smart enough.

I was afraid when we started a startup. I didn’t know if I was making the right decision starting a business right out of college. Because neither of us could code, we spent our savings hiring a developer. They didn’t come through. Neither did our savings.

I was afraid when I started my first job after my startup failed. The only programming I had ever done was over-engineered Excel spreadsheets and some HTML and CSS. Going into my first job, I barely knew enough JavaScript to start work as a front-end developer.

I was afraid when I first started blogging about Ember. It was my first time learning how to use a framework (in any language). Who would bother reading?

I was afraid when Leah and Tom reached out to me to speak at EmberConf. I barely had any experience, and had never been to a conference, let alone speak at one.

I was afraid to choose React. It was a new job, and I really didn’t want to destroy their business if I messed up. Up till then, all I had done was Ember.

I was afraid when I started a new job in Boston. Here I was, moving my life again, this time 10,000 miles away. I had to start my adult life over once more.

I was afraid going into my interview with Netflix. I don’t have a CS background. I can’t balance a binary tree to save my life. I was going to fail this interview spectacularly.

I was afraid when I was asked to take on the engineering manager role in my team. I’ve never been great with people and I love programming too much.

I’m afraid about writing this. As a woman in tech, I have a higher bar to climb to prove my worth. I already have something to prove, I don’t need one more.

And I’m going to keep being afraid. Trying something that seems out of reach is always frightening.

I’m still learning

I studied the hardest I ever did in college, graduating in the dean’s list.

Starting a business is hard. We went through the startup roller-coaster with some of the best people we were fortunate enough to meet. We failed, but I learned enough programming to land a job.

My first mentor was Chris. He taught me a ton. I can still vividly remember working with him through a thorny problem with JavaScript Promises. The way I approach programming these days still has some of his influence.

Homely.com.au still uses some of my initial legwork to get them going with React.

My blog is the best thing I have ever done for my career. In 2015, I spoke at EmberConf. As well as 2016. And 2017. DockYard remains one of the best places I’ve worked at.

I got the job at Netflix. It’s awesome, and I’m always hiring. I won’t ask you CS trivia questions.

I’m now the engineering manager for the Talent Innovation Engineering team at Netflix. I hired and lead an 11 strong team to reinvent the way Netflix discovers and manages talent in the entertainment industry.

I’m no longer afraid about having to “prove my worth”. I’ve proven it many times over. I’ll never stop learning, and I want to help others do the same.

Learning from fear

I’ve come to learn that fear is something to be yearned for. If you’re not afraid, you’re too comfortable. Your best work happens when you’re in that sweet spot of being just uncomfortable enough.

Surround yourself with stunning people. That’s the only way you’ll learn anything.

We don’t learn alone.

Public speaking was my greatest fear. It might be yours too. Now, my greatest fear is that I will grow too comfortable.

Whatever it is you’re afraid of doing next, know that you’re not alone. To be afraid is to be human. When you’re afraid, it’s a great signal that you’re on to a learning opportunity.

Learn to welcome fear. Learn from fear. No one learns and develops skills in a bubble.

Now repeat after me:

“I am still learning”

Thanks to Sam French Stewart and Michael Soutar for reviewing.

Note: Ancora imparo, or “I am still learning”, is the motto of my alma mater.

Discuss on Twitter · Edit this post on GitHub

Written by Lauren Tan who lives and works in the Bay Area building useful things. You should follow her on Twitter