Episode 44: Imposter Syndrome with Amy Oplinger-Singh

Amy Oplinger-Singh is a senior Salesforce consultant with The Crevalle Group and the leader of the Akron WIT group. She is also a speaker who talks to her audiences about imposter syndrome. When she first brought her knowledge to the stage, she realized she was experiencing imposter syndrome about imposter syndrome. Since then, she has received support and community that has helped her overcome her fears.

 

Today, we talk all about this topic. Imposter syndrome is widespread within the technical community. It’s a common denominator for many within this ecosystem. Amy and I discuss what it is, how to identify it, and what to do about it.

 

Show Highlights:

  • The indicators that show we have fallen prey to imposter syndrome.
  • Coping mechanisms that can help us overcome imposter syndrome.
  • The hesitancy of many to call themselves technical people.
  • How the fear of failure plays into this.
  • Amy’s definition of the fear of success.
  • How imposter syndrome affects the people around us.

 

Links

 

 

Episode Transcript

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

There was a call, a WIT call from the success community. And someone had brought up this thing called imposter syndrome. I thought, Oh, that’s interesting. Let me look that up. And as soon as I read the definition, I was like, yeah, that’s me. This is it.

Josh Birk:

That is Amy Oplinger-Singh, a Senior Salesforce Consultant with The Crevalle Group. I’m Josh Birk, Developer Evangelist with Salesforce and here on the Salesforce Developer Podcast, you’ll hear stories and insights from developers for developers. Today, we sit down with Amy and talk about a topic that is widespread within the technical community, imposter syndrome. We’ll talk about what it is, how you can identify it, what you can do about it. And to start, we’ll talk about Amy bringing that knowledge to the stage.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

But I don’t think that it was until I actually delivered this presentation for the first time that it kind of set into me that I wasn’t alone. I still felt like even when I thought of giving this as a session, I thought nobody’s going to come to this. Nobody wants to hear this. It’s only me. I mean, I was literally the poster child for what I was talking about. So it was, I’m getting goosebumps now, just thinking back to that first time I presented it at Midwest Dreamin and that session was still like the most magical to me, the things that happened there and the conversations that have happened because of that. But yeah, knowing that the room was packed and everybody in the room felt exactly the same way. And it’s been now three, four years that I’ve been giving this and it’s still very impactful, so.

Josh Birk:

It is interesting that before you got to that point, you’re almost having imposter syndrome about imposter syndrome.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Exactly. Well, I’m in Ohio and you came and talked to in our group. And that was at the beginning of my career. And Ohio is not real, it wasn’t a big thing here in this area. So now that I’ve broadened my horizons and gotten out there and gotten in the ecosystem, it’s nice to have that support and then connecting with everyone over this has been very fulfilling.

Josh Birk:

Okay. So let’s take a step back and precisely define what is imposter syndrome.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

So imposter syndrome is that feeling of inadequacy that you have, even when you have evidence of your success. You have the chronic self-doubt and the feelings like you’re a fraud and that you shouldn’t be there. To a certain extent at this point, I still feel like I am successful because I got lucky. I sort of struggle with my accomplishments. And I think that’s a common denominator for a lot of people in the ecosystem. But with imposter syndrome is especially, you just have the job you have because you got lucky or you’re in the right place at the right time, anybody can do what I do, that sort of thing. And at any moment you’re going to be, someone’s going to barge into your office and say, get out, you’re a fraud. And that’s going to be the end of your ride. This is like the underlying feeling with imposter syndrome.

Josh Birk:

Are there things that people might be doing in their day-to-day that might be an indication that they’re kind of thinking this way?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

I think that with the fact that 70% of people, especially in tech feel this way, it’s pretty more common than what you think. And I feel like the conversations I’ve had have led me to the conclusion that it’s because of the varied backgrounds that we all have. Salesforce has a very easy entry really for if you’re motivated to learn it, you can, and I think tech moves so fast. You think, especially for me and conversations I’ve had with others, they feel the same way. If I’m in a room with somebody that has computer science degree or technical architect, I feel like I’m not good enough to be here. Nevermind the fact that maybe because of my admin skills, I know something that they don’t know, but that’s the still the underlying feelings. So I think that it’s just the fast nature of tech. We all get overwhelmed.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

The Salesforce platform is humongous and please steer away from anybody that tells you that they’re an expert because none of us are. And if someone tells you that they’re an expert, I mean, call them out. There’s so many nuances and so many different ways to do things. None of us are experts. And I think that kind of contributes to this feeling like, well, I knew it last month, but they had a release and now everything’s different. So now here I am back on the bottom. So it’s like a constant keeping your head above water, I think.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. So, I can relate to that in a couple of ways. One is that, well, one of the kinds of themes on the podcast has been, how did you get into technology? And there’s two, generally two buckets. And one is, are the people who had liberal arts degrees, but they grew up around the dot com days and so they just kind of got into web development. And then you’ve got like your hardcore computer science people. And it’s like, I come from that first shop, I have an English psychology degree. I was going to go writing the great American novel and I ended up doing this stuff basically because I was having late night arguments with one of my English professors about HTML versus HyperCard. And if that’s not dating, we were actually talking about HyperCard at the time, I don’t know it was.

Josh Birk:

And so, getting into more and more technical arenas, it was very weird for me to actually because a lot of my work was as a consultant. And so I was like, Oh right. I am the expert. Like really? There was this kind of constant disconnect with me almost like, why are these people asking me these questions and expecting these kinds of answers? And then it’s also kind of interesting to me because of that diversity of the ecosystem. And so you feel like there’s a lot of people out there who kind of feel like, well, I must not be doing this right because I’m not a technical person. And I have to say, this is a podcast so I am putting technical in air quotes there.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Yeah. So it’s interesting that you bring that up because we had this conversation when I first delivered this session at Midwest Dreamin. And my friend, Stuart Edeal, he brought up that a manager told him he wasn’t technical enough for the job. And that stuck with him. This is something that a lot of us face, especially if we don’t have that developer background, Oh, you’re not technical enough. You don’t know this. You don’t have any input in this. And I’m thinking, okay, well you have a work full of code that doesn’t need to be code, but okay then. You go with your technical solution. And I’m just an idiot. But that reinforces your feeling. Someone’s telling you, you’re not technical enough. And you think you’re right. I’m not, I’m not. So this surfaces this imposter syndrome all over again.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

And, I think it was Zayne Turner that posted on Twitter a few months ago. I saw her, she was at a conference and they were having a conversation and they asked for somebody technical and she was literally standing there, conversing with them and she thought, yeah, women can also be technical. So it’s just like these little perceptions, these little things that the kind of, when you’re already feeling like a fraud can just kind of knock you back down if you’re not careful.

Josh Birk:

It is that’s kind of chilling on those that that one point of feedback clearly stuck with him. Right. It kind of haunted him moving forward. And yeah, it chills me a little bit that anybody would be brave enough to stand in front of Zayne Turner and ask if there’s anybody technical that they could talk to.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Right. Yeah.

Josh Birk:

And I’m now recalling during the dotcom bust, I was doing a bunch of interviews and I went to one and it’s like, I know I nailed the interview. They asked me all these super technical questions and I answered every single one. And then their response to me was, “Well, you’re not enterprise enough.” It’s I feel like there’s also-

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

What does that even mean?

Josh Birk:

… What does that even mean? Right. And so I feel like there’s maybe this constant shorthand from the other side of the room, which is like, it’s not that you’re not technical enough. It’s just that they don’t actually have any proper feedback to give you. So this is just an easy way to be dismissive effectively.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Right. You make decisions too quickly, Josh. That’s why you’re not enterprise too much.

Josh Birk:

Exactly. Exactly. Okay. Yeah. That’s really fascinating. So if people start feeling these things on the day-to-day, are there some specific coping mechanisms that they can use to kind of overcome them?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Yes. 100%. So first and foremost, I think putting a name on it. That’s what helped me the most. And this is the aha moment that I see in a lot of conversations that I have around this. It’s like, that’s exactly how I’m feeling. I didn’t know it was a thing. That is just very validating in itself. Like, okay, I’m not alone. And then that fact about the 70%, I’m like, look to your left, look to your right. These people feel the same way you do, and you have a group of people to talk to. So the next piece of advice I’d give is to share your feelings with these people. I’ve never had a conversation with anybody where I expressed what I was thinking or where I was feeling. And they said, Oh, you’re absolutely writing me. You’re being ridiculous. You shouldn’t be here. And they stormed off.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Think about your worst scenario. That’s never going to happen. This ecosystem is very welcoming, very supportive. So share those feelings with other people and then focus on the facts. I often mentioned, I keep a notebook when somebody tweets me nice things or sends me a card. I have a big binder of this stuff. When I do something awesome on a project, I write it down because six months from now, when it comes up again, or I’m getting stuck and frustrated with some feature, I can look back on that and say, well, I didn’t know it, didn’t know that then, but I figured it out and I did it. So this is not going to be any different. So that’s very helpful for me. And then anytime you’re, especially like some sort of comment from someone else, challenge that.

Josh Birk:

Got you.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

No one knows your technicality and no one knows your skillset. Just because you’re not “whatever they define as technical” doesn’t mean you are an idiot and don’t have anything to contribute. So you have a seat at the table for a reason, use it.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. And I just, I feel like, especially in with our platform in our system, it’s kind of like what you were saying before. Okay. You don’t think I’m technical, but you also have a bunch of useless code. So where’s your definition of technical actually gotten?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Right. Right. And I’ve met, it goes both ways. I’ve met a lot of developers that can’t find anything in the setup menu to save their life. Do you know what I mean? So it’s a different lens. Developers develop and admins admin, but we all work together and no one is more important than the other. No one is different from the other. We all have different skillsets and we all have something to contribute. And I think that you can’t let someone’s limited lens define your feelings about yourself.

Josh Birk:

Right. Absolutely. Or define what’s “right” or “wrong.” I still remember my early days at Model, I went into a business meeting with a business analyst and we were going down all of the things that the customer is going to need. And we got out of the meeting and I’m in the hallway and I’m like, “Well, this feature X, it’s a little complicated, but I can get it into a trigger. It’s actually going to take me longer to write the unit task and the actual trigger. But I just want to point it out that this is not trivial work.” And he just sort of blinked to me. He’s like, “Or I could put it into a workflow for you and you don’t have to worry about it.” It’s like, I feel like the day-to-day aspect is kind of interesting too though, because it’s like define for me a little bit, the feeling of a fear of failure when it comes to this.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

So I guess all of this, the story that I share the most is like my very first project, because I really felt like, Oh my God, how did I land this project? And so I took the very brave approach of hiding from anybody and not interacting with anybody for about the first, I don’t know, it was a couple of weeks. I didn’t want them to have a conversation with me and say, Oh my God, she’s an idiot. Why is she here? So I think that that kind of fear of failure lends itself to another kind of problem with imposter syndrome and people that feel this way, even though they’re successful, they’re perfectionist and that’s why we have this imposter syndrome to begin with really is because we want everything to be just right when we put it out there. We don’t want to be questioned and these sorts of things.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

So you have this perfectionism and this fear of success, lack of confidence, this fear of failure, all in one kind of mix. And it’s just a perfect storm of crazy. It is just really drives yourself crazy for lack of a better term. It’s all these feelings at the same time and you can very easily, if you let it go, you can start spinning. And it happens to all of us. I’m not saying that I don’t feel this. Every time I start a new project, I feel like this. I don’t know anything. Why am I on this project? And then a month in I’m like, Oh, no one else I’m working with knows anything. I’m the woman that was [inaudible 00:14:50] so it turns around very quickly for me, but it’s always the same.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

And it’s been five years now and it’s still like, I have all these tools to deal with it. So it’s a much shorter cycle now for me than it used to be, but it’s still rears its ugly head. And I’m just attributing that solely to the nature of tech, the quickness with it, the way it moves. It’s just so fast.

Josh Birk:

Got it. Yeah. And first of all, I think when I’ve talked a lot of people in the community, it feels like as a community, we have this really interesting perspective on failure where there’s a lot of people who are able to really kind of embrace it. And it’s like failure as a learning mechanism, failure as a means of learning and moving forward. But on the flip side, I think that really, a lot of people usually are talking about that when it comes to approaching like a Salesforce Saturday event or going and getting your certification. And this is like a different level of detail, right? Because you’re talking about your day-to-day, you’re talking about the project that your manager’s going to do a review of kind of thing. And so there’s a distinction of what’s on the line there, I feel like.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Oh, 100%. I mean the certification, my personal certification philosophy is I’m going to fail it the first time. So I’ve gotten over that. The first time I failed the cert, my admin cert, I was so devastated and I froze. And again, it underlined all these reasons why I was in the wrong profession. And I didn’t take it again for six months, which is exactly wrong. Exactly opposite of the advice that I give people now. I’m like, as soon as you fail, go schedule two weeks from now, do it again.

Josh Birk:

Just get back on the horse.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Yeah. And so now my philosophy has changed to, yes, I’m going to fail it the first time and ironically enough, that’s relieved some of the stress and I tend to pass more on the first time now. So I’m hoping that sticks on the next exam.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. When it comes to that day-to-day project thing, one of the things I used to always tell my teams, and I’m wondering if there’s others there’s a corollary on your side was like, think of this project as the time to get rid of your old toad, because I know we’re doing similar things, but that was three months ago. There’s been a release. Don’t assume that the Apex you wrote last year, six months ago, three months ago is the Apex you should be using on this project because for all we know, Salesforce just puts something out there and reduce your 10 lines down to one.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Right. And that I think is where a lot of the anxiety stems from. It’s like, just because I knew it, like you said, three months ago, doesn’t mean there’s not a better, quicker, faster way now, which probably there is. So you can’t get too attached to a solution. I don’t get attached to anything. If the requirement’s being met and it saves me time, let’s do it. I don’t care that my process builder was wrong. Tear it up, let’s rebuild it. So you can’t get too attached or dig your heels in too much and say, no. This solution or this code that I wrote three months ago, is it? I’m not even going to look at it. You just have to be more flexible than that.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. So flip that around a little bit. How would you define a fear of success?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

So for me, I can speak for myself. And that was, I guess, a fear of if the spotlight’s on you, there’s more people to tear you down or more people to point out your flaws, that sort of thing.

Josh Birk:

Oh, okay.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

So as my career trajectory increased, my visibility increased I started getting more and more panicked. Why are these people following me on Twitter? Why are you wanting me to speak at their group? I started getting a lot of anxiety around that. So again, it goes back to being seen as the expert or being somebody that has it all together. And I know in my mind, and I’m the first one to tell you, no, I definitely don’t. This was my whole kind of fear in initially even talking about this.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

I told no one that I submitted to speak at a Salesforce conference. I told no one because I thought for sure, I knew for sure I was going to get rejected and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. So I told no one and then strangely enough, it was, it happened. And it was well received. And it turns out to be the thing I’m still talking about four years later. I’m happy about that. This is like a huge accomplishment for me. The irony on that, it’s not lost to me. I’m talking about how I feel like such an imposter and then everyone’s like embracing it and saying, yes, me too, me too, me too. So that’s very satisfying to me.

Josh Birk:

That is an interesting feedback loop because it’s not just a fear of success, but a fear of visibility to a certain extent. But on the flip side, like I said, you kind of got on the radar for the podcast because multiple people have referred to your talk as this was the moment that they had to also that moment that, Oh gosh, 70% of the people around me are feeling exactly the same way.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

And it just gives me goosebumps to know that. And it’s still complete strangers, still email me. I just heard your Dreamforce thing and blah, blah, blah. I’m glad you’re asking me to be on this podcast because people can now understand that my voice on the Dreamforce recordings doesn’t sound like that, I had gloss. Every time we go to San Francisco, the weather does not agree with me and I end up sounding like this. And that’s not how I always sound, but yeah, I’m glad that it still happens. People still listen to it. Still want to know about it and still reach out to me. And it’s the strangest feeling for me. It’s just something very personal for me and that I was kind of embarrassed about, but it just underlies my personal feeling that, especially in this ecosystem, if you are who you are, people can see that and you’ll connect with them, which is good.

Josh Birk:

And how, like specifically in the workplace itself, how do you feel like this affects not just you, but the people around you?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Well, for me, if you’re, again, going back to being a perfectionist and things like that. So if you’re a lead on a project and you’re feeling like you have to work 10, 12 hours a day, your team is saying that. They’re thinking, okay, that’s what she expects. I need to also do that. This is how this your imposter syndrome, your need to be a perfectionist, your need to do these things or act in these behaviors affects your team. I’ve worked with some people that have expressed to me that they feel the same way about imposter syndrome, but they’re like more on the negative side where it kind of stops them from being able to make any decisions. So that also affects your team because we’re picking up the work that you just are frozen now. So there’s a lack of confidence in that team member and things like that. So all of these things really can affect your work in a negative way.

Josh Birk:

Yeah. So obviously talking about it and acknowledging that there’s people out there that are suffering from this as well is important, but what are some other resources and places that people can go to, to learn more about it and learn more about coping with it?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Sure. So there are any number of online resources, books, things like that. There’s a success, a trailblazer community group, Imposters Only, that you can join. It’s a private group. So no one will, only the people that are in there are in there. And it’s just very open where you can share your feelings. And a lot of people aren’t maybe comfortable with that and more are comfortable with a one-on-one type relationship. You can reach out to me. Anybody can reach out to me at any time. I’m very accessible. I love talking to people. So I make friends all around the world because of that. So don’t feel like you have to suffer in silence or someone’s going to laugh at you or anything. This is not the case. This is you ask anybody in the ecosystem about imposter syndrome. I can guarantee you they’ve probably heard of it, they feel it, and they want to talk to you about it and help you on your journey through it.

Josh Birk:

It is kind of interesting how it’s sort of this invisible epidemic that everybody knows about.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Yeah. But then didn’t know about.

Josh Birk:

But they didn’t know. Exactly.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

I had no idea. It’s just like this unidentified feeling. And just when I think people, Oh my God, everybody already knows about this. They’ve heard me talk about it. But then in my mind, I have to think there’s a whole new crew of people coming through this ecosystem all the time.

Josh Birk:

Right. There’s always the next generation of Amy coming along.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Oh, God help you all.

Josh Birk:

Okay. So let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about Akron. How is the user group doing in this day and age?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

Well, it’s slow. I was the Cleveland Women In Tech. That was getting too much for me, too far of a drive for me. So I got a new leader for the Cleveland Women In Tech, they’re doing great. And came down here, the Akron admin group started. So I said, Oh, perfect. Let me start a WIT group here. We’ll have some, it’s small. It’s slow-going because in this area, it’s just kind of not crazy Ohana-ish, but it’s going okay. We’re doing some virtual events, due here for another virtual events probably within the next month, so.

Josh Birk:

Got it. How did you get involved in WITness Success in the first place?

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

My first Dreamforce that I ever went to 2015, I met two very special Ohana members, Kristi Campbell, Toya Tate. And I told them both in separate conversations, “Oh, it’s great. You have these WIT groups in your area. You know, where I live in Ohio, there’s nothing like that.” And both of them had the exact same answer for me and they said “Start one.” And I thought, Oh, well, I didn’t know I could do that so I did. I got home from Dreamforce, applied, and there was Cleveland Women In Tech.

Josh Birk:

That’s awesome. And I mean, my follow-up question was how can more people get involved, but I think you might’ve just answered that.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

There you go. Yes. Get involved in your local user group. If there’s not one, start one for sure. And if that’s too much for you, there are plenty of online resources and ways for you to get involved. There was a Quip document that I started a few months ago when the pandemic started, where people can go and it lists all of their virtual meetings. So you can attend a meeting anywhere around the world.

Josh Birk:

Oh, cool. And that’s our show. Now, before we go, I did ask Amy about her favorite non-technical hobby, which turned out to be Indian cooking, something that she got into from something that I can actually really relate to because thanks to chronic allergies, I can’t smell anything either.

Amy Oplinger-Singh:

I got into that by being involved in different Indian initiatives over the last few years, getting friends over there visiting, tasting the food. And I can’t, I don’t have a sense of smell. I lost my sense of smell many years ago. So food is very muted for me. And I first had Indian food in 2015, and I thought that the whole sky and heavens opened up. And the magical moment that was occurring on my taste buds was just a fluke, but it was not.

Josh Birk:

My thanks to Amy for the great conversation about imposter syndrome. And of course my thanks to you for listening. If you want to learn more about this podcast, head on over to developer.salesforce.com/podcast, where you can hear all that episode, see the show notes and have links to your favorite podcast service. I’ll talk to you next week.