Have you ever felt like you’re just faking your job? A year ago, that was me. I had a degree in Computer Science and was pursuing a graduate degree in Information Systems. Yet, I was still not getting the hang of my software development job. Then I learned about the importance of mindsets and managed to reframe my struggles into a learning opportunity. Let me tell you how.
Before I start sharing my experience, let’s discuss the two kinds of mindsets first. There are Growth mindset and Fixed mindset. With a growth mindset, you feel like nothing is out of your reach, you can acquire any skill as long as you put in the effort. With a fixed mindset, if you are having trouble acquiring a skill, you may feel that this is due to x, y, and z problem. You are prone to feel that whatever you do, you just cannot obtain the necessary skills you desire. Have you ever heard of the phrase, “I am not a math person”? That is what a fixed mindset sounds like. A key thing to notice is no one has only one mindset or the other — we all can have both. The person who says, “I am not a math person” probably feels that they are incredible in some other field. The truth is anyone can get better at any skill; the more areas one tries to exercise their growth mindset, the better he or she will be.
Ever wondered why a person says something like “I am not a math person” about themselves? No one shows up to their first-ever math class and decides I will be bad at math. The repeated evidence of struggles and failures with math leads this person to develop a fixed mindset. Maybe the person received constantly low scores on their math tests or maybe they feel the most sluggish during their math class. Whatever the reasons may be, each one of them is a vote towards sculpting the mindset. Without changing these beliefs, it would be hard to shift a person’s mindset.
As James Clear says in my favorite book, Atomic Habits
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”
Pretty straight forward, right? Growth is good, fixed is bad, and now that we know the definitions, let’s try to approach everything with a growth mindset and voila! You will be surprised to see how fixed mindsets have a very sneaky way of attaching to one’s life. Even knowing about these concepts and trying to be someone who constantly tries to cultivate growth, you will fight a darn fight against a fixed mindset. This is the story of my fight.
At the beginning of 2019, I interviewed with Yahoo (Verizon media) for an iOS developer intern role and, by the end of February, I’d accepted the offer. I had little experience in iOS development and I was preparing myself for the internship through online courses. At the end of May of that year, my manager reached out to ask how I would feel about switching to the Android Team since I have a Java background. I was having a lot of trouble making up my mind, so I reached out to all of my close friends and colleagues for input. Something that a friend of mine said to me at that time helped me come to a clearer decision. She said, “the whole essence of an internship is to challenge yourself.” I took her advice and did just that; I switched to the Android team because I was ready to challenge myself. I started the whole learning process by compiling a list of online courses and resources. I thought to myself, ‘I have learned new languages and technologies before, this won’t be much trouble.’ Wow, was I wrong.
Android development is done using Java or Kotlin. With a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and while working on a Master’s in Information Systems, Java is the language I have coded in for the majority of my CS career. Despite my experience, in the beginning, I was having a lot of trouble getting the hang of work. I was getting the tasks done that were assigned to me, but I was overwhelmed by the number of devices that run on Android; I had trouble doing simple things like deleting apps or taking screenshots, and overall the UI felt very foreign. It felt like I was an imposter, faking my job. I was creating services for a product I did not have much knowledge of. No part of my identity intersected with the product I was creating services for. After acknowledging this fact, I realized that this was the knowledge and understanding I most urgently needed to grow. I needed to change my mindset of ‘I am not an Android person’ and make the product a part of my identity. I borrowed a phone from our Tech Services office and started spending all my free time with it. I “literally” glued the phone to my hands 😜. The more time I spent, the more Android was becoming a part of my identity. Only then I was able to see the greatest growth in this skillset.
With the little bit of exposure I have in the tech industry, I can say from my experience it is not how much knowledge you have that makes you a valuable team member, it is how fast you can acquire knowledge. In the tech industry, you will constantly be asked to learn a new language or technology that you have little to no experience with. The faster you can learn and create a product using that technology, the stronger you can stand your ground. If you are in this field, I am pretty sure that you are aware of this fact already and you already know how to learn something new. If, for some reason, you are having trouble and getting frustrated with a certain technology, ask yourself: What is hindering your progress? Is it the limiting pieces of your identity that are taking precedence and determining your mindset? If yes, try to address this first, and then you will see how smooth the process becomes.
In conclusion, looking back, the best decisions I made were: challenging myself and adopting a growth mindset. I hope this lesson of my mindset switch helps you with your learning endeavors. Happy learning!