Career Nav #52: Thriving in Your Tech Career: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Career Nav #52: Thriving in Your Tech Career: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Written by Khaulat Abdulhakeem



Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager at Women Who Code, interviews Khaulat Abdulhakeem, Tech Career Coach. They talk about impostor syndrome and how to overcome it while working in tech, and the career moves that led Khaulat into coaching.

Can you tell us a little bit about your career in tech and how you got started? 

I got started in tech in my university days. I studied mechatronics engineering. The fact that I was surrounded by tech energy, even though we were studying engineering, it just really intrigued me. I started to learn how to code. Shortly after I founded the AI Abeokuta community, it sort of bloomed into this AI hub in the city of Abeokuta.

What caught your interest specifically about AI? 

In Nigeria, it wasn’t really that popular. Major cities like Lagos were getting to do more AI, and I just wanted to do something in that city. I was one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence in Abeokuta. It was really exciting because there were a lot of passionate young people that I got to help at that time. I would learn things online and self-study overnight, and then every Saturday. I would bring people together and teach them what I learned. I decided to research conferences or groups of people who are doing AI on a global scale. I found the community, Deep Learning Indaba, and they were having a conference at that time in 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. I found a way to attend, where I got the opportunity to collaborate with the Computer Science Department at the University of Oxford. I began my research into machine learning.

As you began to learn more and grow in your career, what are some of the challenges that you had to overcome? 

A major one was lack of clarity, which I believe is an okay one to have when you’re just starting out in your career. You want to try out a couple of things and figure out what exactly you like, where exactly your strengths are, all of these things. I had to do a lot of things to be able to explore what I wanted, where my strengths are, and what I was the best at. Another one I would say is impostor syndrome. It was mostly because of my age. If the work goes smoothly, if they don’t know my age, they respect me for my work. When they know my age, either halfway through or at the beginning, it’s almost like they don’t really see the value of my work. It’s almost like they always want to correct me at all times. I’m not saying a correction is bad, but there’s a thin line between somebody giving you constructive feedback and somebody feeling like they are in that position to correct because they’re older than you. I was very insecure about my age. I have to know my worth and be very good at what I do.

What are some methods that you use to overcome, dealing with impostor syndrome and how can others also use your tips for themselves? 

Know your worth and be good at what you do. When these two things are in place it just comes easy. Speak confidently. If you don’t know it, be open to learning; that is where the real confidence comes from. That is how you overcome impostor syndrome. Just be true to yourself all the time and don’t try to fake it.

What is the heart of the reason why most women encounter impostor syndrome? Why is it so common among women? 

It’s mostly our society. We are naturally conditioned to do the less serious things or the less glaring things. Taking the top position or taking the lead is always harder for us because we have been conditioned. It takes you to realize that you are worth this thing. You’re able to do this thing. You have to know yourself, despite all that society says. We don’t feel like we can take up tasks that men would normally take because that is how we are conditioned. If we start thinking that, okay, yeah, I have the skills, why can’t I do this? Or if I’m really passionate about this, then I can learn it and I can actually take up this position. If we start thinking like that, then I think the impostor would lessen and we’ll see ourselves doing more interesting things.

How big of a part does community play in impostor syndrome and overcoming it?

Community is important for anyone if you’re trying to build your career in tech because you don’t want to do it alone. Sometimes the journey can be hard and you will just be stuck comparing yourself to a lot of people online. You won’t realize that it’s actually hard for all these people too. If you have a community around you, you understand the challenges you’re facing, other people are facing. You can get support. There are a lot of communities. A community can be helpful to you in your career.

How can managers support employees with impostor syndrome? I know it’s like a personal thing that we have to work on internally, but are there ways that a manager can also help support that? 

A very simple and easy way managers can support this is to create an environment where employees feel they can give their feedback easily. Most managers don’t make it easy for you to really speak your mind. Sometimes even when you have ideas, your ideas don’t hold much weight because your managers don’t take you seriously. They should find a way to make sure that they respect your idea. Knowing that they respect your idea makes you feel good. Employees need more voice. They need to be heard.

Can you tell us a little bit more about DiverseK and how you transitioned from working in tech to career coaching? 

First just to clarify, I didn’t work in corporate America, it was in Nigeria. My career has been taking bold, unrealistic moves. It comes from excessive confidence in myself. When I wanted to transition from research, it was during the pandemic. I was researching with the University of Oxford. Everyone was stuck at home. We had no idea when school was going to start again. There was an ASUU strike. I started one-on-one coaching. I would talk to people individually for an hour or so, and chat with them about their interests, tech careers, resources, how they can get started and things like that. The more I did it, the more I realized it was exciting. I loved it. I decided to transition completely and just make coaching my main thing. Around the same time I founded DiverseK. DiverseK initially started with tech career coaching. Over time I realized that people need to hear other professional voices, not just my voice. I decided to start the podcast. I realized that we need a community. That was how DiverseK became what it is today. The transition was taking that bold step, I haven’t lost my interest in AI, and now I’m trying to combine my background in machine learning with this newly sought love for education. I see how I can contribute positively to the field.

Tell us more about just being able to combine the two or three together, your coaching, your ability to teach, and your love for AI and research.

The specific way of trying to combine this is from a challenge that I faced at DiverseK. I realized that most job seekers find it hard to recognize their skill gaps or know the right resources to study in order to fill those skill gaps. The first problem is knowing what skills you’re missing. Secondly, what are the resources you want to learn? I’m trying to figure out how we can automatically identify candidate-skill gaps. The only way to do this right now is through one-on-one coaching. Talking to each individual one by one, knowing what they are lacking, and recommending resources to them. That is not scalable. That’s specifically what I’m interested in right now. It’s all trying to grow DiverseK and make it a better solution for people in tech. Broadly I’m interested in adult education and how we can use technology to make it easy for people to learn continuously. Learning is something that you do forever.

Based on your background and love for AI, what would you like people to know? 

Educate yourself. No matter the career that you’re currently in, there’s a way that AI can be integrated into it. Be open to learning. I have a course titled Inside The Mind Of An Aspiring Data Scientist. That’s the one where you can get started with data science if it interests you. There’s another course titled Transitioning into Machine Learning Engineering. If you’re even looking to transition careers into machine learning engineering, you can use this.

What do you do outside of work? What do you do for fun? 

One interesting journey that I’m currently on, is trying to develop myself and better myself because we are always evolving and trying to get better. I have a Vlog channel. It’s called Khaulat’s Abode. I basically just talk about what I’m learning and how I’m trying to become better. I’m also building this community around it. It’s called Evolve, for people who are interested in their journey to becoming their better selves.

Do you have any advice to give women in tech who may be struggling or considering leaving their careers? 

If you’re struggling or considering leaving because you feel like you’re not good enough or you think it’s too hard, and you can’t learn what you’re trying to learn, I think first you should consider finding a community. Find a community of other women who are trying to do what you’re doing. Reach out to people who are already in the position that you’re trying to get to. Be true to yourself. It might be because you’re interested in other things. Maybe you want to work on your art. Learn more about digital arts. Find a way to use technology to leverage that interest. If your reason is that you feel like, “Oh, this thing is hard to learn,” but you really want to do this, then, then reach out to people who are currently doing it. Find a community. If it’s for some other reason because you’re interested in some other thing, then I would say pursue it. You have the time to really pursue it. Don’t always feel like you cannot just jump ship or do the thing you want to do. You are in charge.


Guest: Khaulat Abdulhakeem, Founder & CEO, DiverseK

Host: Kimberly Jacobs, Senior Communications Manager, WWCode
Producer: JL Lewitin, Senior Producer, WWCode