Overcoming imposter syndrome as a software engineer: Mary Gouseti’s story


When Mary Gouseti first studied programming at a university in Greece, a lot of things came naturally to her. Then the time came when she felt she failed miserably. 

“I wasn’t familiar with failing,” Mary says. “I was devastated, I took a year off and helped others pass the courses I had already passed.”

Helping others allowed Mary to enjoy the process of programming — without the pressure. After a year off, she picked up her studies again with more motivation and determination than before. She knew that this was what she loves doing, and failing doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s degree, she moved to the Netherlands to complete a one year master’s degree. Her first job was at a Dutch e-commerce company. 

“I landed on an amazing team that embraced me and was invested in helping me succeed,” Mary says. “They helped me get to where I am today. In the beginning, I thought this was a one time thing, it took me a few years to realize that it doesn’t have to be like that. Nowadays, I consciously choose to work with people that are invested in each other's success, it’s the easiest way for all of us to grow. ” 

Slowly Mary built up her confidence — she wanted to help others like her team helped her. Mary campaigned for the company to go bilingual in its internal communications so the company was more inclusive, and started an internal conference for knowledge sharing.

“I like working at organizations that strive for something and have principles that are important to me. ” Mary says. 

After seven years at her previous job working with Elasticsearch, she saw an opening for a role at Elastic, and she had to apply.

“I liked that it was open code software, I like the complexity, but I really didn’t know if I was good enough,” she says. “I felt like I didn’t deserve it, but I knew that if I didn’t try, I’d regret it.”

She was hired as a Senior Software Engineer working with Java on Elasticsearch. Her team, Data Management, works on a variety of features of Elasticsearch, Mary says. They work on automating the lifecycle of data, meaning the actions to take when the data gets older such as moving them to cheaper machines or deleting them, plus working with statistics, diagnostics, and troubleshooting. But just because she’s in the job, doesn’t mean she doesn’t second guess herself. 

“The concept of failure is seen as something bad in my head, even if I know it’s not,” she says. 

She tries to identify the feeling and fight it by considering her mindset and consciously choosing a  growth mindset over a fixed mindset.

“It works for new things, but it’s harder for other things,” Mary says. “When I have no expectations it’s OK. Every day I get better at it. I try not to compare myself to others and be OK with who I am and where I am, the rest will follow”

And while she still can struggle with things that are in her head, she says, she’s trying to reframe it.

“Being a woman, I was trying to fit in more than I was trying to be me,” she says. “It kind of happens without you realizing, but slowly I’m trying to change that.”

Becoming a parent put things in perspective for her and taught her a lot, Mary says. She considers it a strength. 

“I understand the pressure to fit in but being a parent forces you to not push yourself too hard. I cannot come home and decompress, I need to be at my best at home. I feel it’s much less likely to have a burn out now than before. The traditional image of a mother was not a good fit for me, so I had to find a way to be a parent and be happy. Expectations and labels have been the biggest impediment in her development, Mary says. But she’s a big believer that people can change and learn at all ages. 

“We have experiences to build upon, so as long as we are open and the motivation comes from within, we can change,” she says. 

Mary’s message to others that struggle with comparison or imposter syndrome: progress over perfection.

“If you want to accomplish something, make it realistic,” she says. “You’re not perfect, and you don’t have to be.” 

Instead, consider the parts you like to do and what you need to do to get where you want to go. Managers can help you with this, or a mentor. Everyone is a potential impact or influence on you. 

“Many people in my life have shared their strengths and learnings and have influenced who I am today,” she says. “I see everyone as a potential teacher and managers can be very helpful, but it’s not only on them.”

But, most importantly, “With perfectionism, remember: It’s a marathon not a sprint. I want to keep improving — I do not want to reach a peak in my life, I want a lifelong journey.”

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