I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses. – Bill Bryson
In November 2016, I made a trip from Australia to Sweden in order to find life, love and a hope to further my career in Tech. After a series of unfortunate events and achieving a few of the goals I had set out to do I ended up feeling broken, alone and an imposter in my own supposed field of knowledge.
This was the first time I felt I had reached the Imposter Syndrome mountain peak. I was and still am in a country where I am essentially 5 years old again. I find it difficult to communicate to people, I find it difficult for people to understand me and the ultimate problem that kept me up at night during the summertime was the inability to have and keep a job in a country I thought would be my new home.
Whilst I tried to keep a positive attitude to my then current situation, the reality was I had no idea what the hell I was even doing anymore.
In Australia, I thought I had made a good role model for Women in Tech within the Ruby community. I was known for doing my work well, I was known for taking on new challenges easily, I was known for talking about things that I thought I knew about and I was seen as a good mentor and role model for Women in Tech.
Fast forward and there I was sitting on a couch somewhere in Sweden waiting for my partner to come home in order to save me from myself. I found I had become reliant on him to help me. I needed him to pay for food. I needed him to keep a roof over our heads. I needed him to be happy so that I could have the most basic things in my life right then. He was the one who paid the bills and I was the one who sat at home all day trying to solve the problem of what I thought was my own doing.
I was and still am passionate, I was and still am practicing and I was and still am trying to be part of a community. I was doing all this whilst dealing with mental health issues that were doing my head in.
To be honest, I was depressed and anxious most of the time during the summer of 2017. I was desperately trying to organise job interviews everyday in order to prove that I could actually do what I did in Australia, here in Sweden.
As I complained to my partner that I couldn't keep doing this he would respond "You aren't sick. You just need a job and then everything will be better."
So I kept myself busy, ignoring the fact that there were tears constantly streaming down my face, in order to prove to myself that eventually after the long and tiresome journey of job searching I will have made it to where I want to be in my life.
This is what I wrote last year and said naively to students at a University in Melbourne.
'Are you working on something now?'
Yesssssss! Yes, I was and still am. I was working on myself. I was working on being part of an open source community if-me.org
'Are you keeping yourself busy with what you love?'
Yesssssss! Yes, I was and still am. I was doing coding everyday. Of course I love it. I want to continue doing this, Alexia of the Past.
'Seriously, people who are passionate about what they love are the ones that get jobs. They get emails all the time from people asking to hire them. If you aren’t getting emails from people asking you to work for them then something is wrong.'
Yessss! Yes, I do and still do (maybe more so now that I have a job). I would get emails but not the emails I wanted. I received emails from recruiters who didn't know what I was capable of or what I was after.
I needed to break out of the mould of a Ruby on Rails developer. I had to convince myself to come to the realisation that I needed to expand my skills more or that I was capable of doing those other languages like Python but I needed to be confident and that was something I felt could not do at that moment in time. So I needed to fake it, fake confidence!
I needed to say 'yes' more.
I also received emails from people who said "I was not senior enough" and emails from people who said I needed to "learn more Swedish" and emails from people who thanked me for running Rails Girls in Stockholm.
The passion was clearly there. And it still is.
I still believe I don't know anything. I know this. No one is capable of knowing everything. I've come to another country and essentially put myself in a situation where I've pretty much demoted myself and I'm back to being a child reliant on someone else to help me.
Which reminds me, that I read an article by Felix Feng about how he managed to get a job in tech and my overall view after reading that article with salary was that it was certainly not tied to experience at all but rather how confident you can be. So whilst I say "I've demoted myself" I had clearly demoted myself in terms of confidence rather than anything else.
Code tests, whilst I've had to do many of them, I had taken to task that I had to fix code tests I had supposedly failed at rather than do new ones.
My reason being was that it saved me time, energy and confidence which could be spent on certain companies, which may or may not have given me the job regardless of if I completed a code test or not.
My method helped me become a better programmer in that I could go over code I had clearly done in a stressed environment, look at it and figure out where I had gone wrong. I could do this in a way that helped me but also it gave me the opportunity to ask others to review and help me find the errors of my ways so I could learn from that.
It was interesting for me in that some people thought my code was perfect whilst others found parts of it that were completely wrong according to them. And this makes me wonder if code tests are essentially a waste of time for everyone involved because it justifies people's bias when they know who has done the code.
The easiest and best way to get a job is through someone you know already.
Stockholm shuts down in the Summertime. And this means, so do opportunities to network. People go on holidays and a lot of tasks that are normally easy to do become extremely difficult. It's a cultural thing, for sure! And another story for another time.
If you don't speak Swedish, it can be difficult to bond with people. I'm part of many Swedish code communities and most of the time I am unable to contribute or even understand what is going on due to my inability to understand or speak Swedish. It's thing I don't experience in the Berlin slack group that I'm part of. But it could be I'm more ingrained into Swedish culture than German.
The only way to fix that particular issue is to magically become fluent in a language I don't know very well. I know I'm better than most people (most being the rest of the world) but it's not enough and it's a problem.
I've been learning Swedish very slowly and maybe I should motivate myself to learn it faster but it's difficult when people hear my Australian accent through my Swedish and automatically talk to me in English.
Sweden isn't exactly known for being the best place for ease of settling in. This might shock some people who believe the hype of Sweden being the best country in the world.
But all these problems, I've had with the community in Stockholm/Sweden hasn't stopped me from trying to participate and meet people. I organised Rails Girls in March 2017 for the first time in 2 years and I met a lot of lovely people willing to help make this happen.
This is a similar experience I had the last time I was in Stockholm, in 2013 when my friend Isak helped me out by letting me stay at his home for a while. I was in a similar job searching situation.
Although, I would say that job searching now it's a lot more difficult due to the the political climate change around foreigners that's been brewing for a while now.
I'd say keep going!
Take my advice from the first article I wrote about How to Get a Job in Tech but also take it with a massive pinch of salt.
Finding a job is hard. You need to look after your mental health as that's a major priority. Check out my thoughts on Mental Health in Sweden.
But most importantly be kind to yourself and if it gets tough ask for help.
P.S. I eventually got a job at Star Stable Entertainment ❤️🦄