Joining the tech community, battling anxiety and Imposter Syndrome
In the first of our personal stories blog posts, Toby Wilman, senior talent acquisition partner in our Manchester office talks about developing his career, joining the tech industry and battling anxiety and Imposter Syndrome. This is the first part of his story…
Moving into a new industry is always hard - there’s a lot to learn, new people to meet and a lot of information to process and understand. Now that I have spent some years in the tech industry, I feel it’s a good time to reflect on my journey and how I got here.
Let me start at the beginning…
When it came to starting my career in tech I think it’s safe to say I was a late bloomer. I left school at sixteen and went (was pushed) straight into the construction industry, fumbling through jobs on building/landscape gardening sites until I’d eventually had enough … it wasn’t for me.
Then from age nineteen through until I was twenty-four I worked abroad in many different roles, kitchen porter, pot washer, club PR and eventually PR manager. I was doing both winter and summer seasons until I’d saved enough money to go further afield and then I would go back to working seasons. I ended up repeating this cycle for five years. My last season working abroad was back in 2013 and that’s when reality hit me like a brick. I’d had enough and I wanted to get back home to Manchester and this time it was for good!
The first few weeks of my return were tough - I went from living a crazy life in the sun to doing the nightshift in Tesco over Christmas. As I stacked shelves (for all of three weeks) I had time to reflect. I decided the only thing I was really good at was speaking to people so I wanted to get into some sort of sales role, but no one would take me. My lifestyle put anyone off taking a shot on me because they thought I would just be hopping back on a plane and running off into the sun. Eventually I managed to land a job in a call centre doing B2B gas and electric sales, it wasn’t pretty and it certainly wasn’t where I thought I would end up but I did. I spent the next two years working my way from sales advisor to sales team manager and proving to the world I meant business, but eventually I hit a ceiling and it was time to mov
Welcome to the world of recruitment … and anxiety!
I started working in recruitment in the renewable energy sector, I was placing contractors on energy projects up and down the UK. The first company I joined were notorious for being a wild bunch. I found they were so focused on sales and transactional recruitment that the true satisfaction and fulfillment of finding the right role for someone or building a new partnership with a business was not a common thing. The team was great and the business was making a hell of a lot of money but I just didn’t get the feeling I belonged. There was so much pressure to make the most money, buy the flashiest clothes, eat at the nicest restaurants and it nearly always felt fake.
I was pretending to be someone I’m not and it eventually got to me. I was searching for real job satisfaction, making true connections and the chance to really get to know an industry.
It was at this stage in my life I started to suffer with anxiety, I’ve never been someone to have feelings like this but then again I’d never been in this super fast-paced business environment. I’d never had the stress or pressure of being one of the newest and what I’d labelled myself in my head ‘the worst’ in the room.
This coupled with long working days, late nights in the city and the need to keep up appearances sent me into a downward spiral. I was having full blown panic attacks and they were becoming more and more regular. I was running into office toilets, having sleepless panicked nights and constantly worrying about when the next one was coming. There was one incident that was one of the scariest moments in my life and I like to think of that as the tipping point. I made the decision I need to change my lifestyle - I needed to leave the business.
The big shake up
At this time in my life a few things happened, I met a girl and I got a new job.
In the world of multiple dating apps, singles nights, speed dating and much more I managed to navigate my way through the minefield and go down the more traditional route, I bumped into an old crush. One thing lead to another and we eventually fell in love. Fast forward to today, we now live together, she has a little boy called Luca and they are the best thing that ever happened to me. They came along at such a dark time in my life and pulled me into a brand new world.
I’d already been looking at the world of tech and knew it was THE industry to be in. I wanted to move into the technology sector, I didn’t have a clue about what it was going to be like, all I knew was that this is the future and I wanted to be part of it. It was going to be difficult and there was going to be a lot to learn but I was prepared to put in the time and effort.
I joined a new agency, with a smaller team. They were more professional, more caring and an all-round great business to be part of.
The grass isn’t always greener … until you plough the field and water the seed
With this new lease of life I’d had pumped into me it was time to show the world the brand new me! My relationship was going great and I couldn’t have asked for a better start.
However, my new job not so much - I was going home most nights with my head in my hands thinking what the hell have I done?
I don’t think I need to say but moving from renewable energy into the wonderful world of technology was a massive culture shock, process to find talent was different, the people I spoke to were worlds apart and the market was unbelievably competitive.
This left me feeling like what I’d learnt in the past twelve months was useless when it came to my new role. In fact, after my first three months as a tech recruiter I was ready to pack it in and quit, I’d even gone as far as calling my old manager and got my job back! I was constantly worrying about not passing my probation and even if I did would I ever “get tech”?
So after a couple of long, honest and difficult chats with my manager/colleagues and family/friends I decided to stick with it. I’m not a quitter and never have been. After three months, my probation meeting came around and I didn’t pass. My manager stood by me and the business gave me another three months to prove my worth.
There were two ways to tackle this situation: continue to worry about the challenge ahead or just crack on and get better. With this new-found energy and drive I started to grow as a recruiter. I was meeting everyone I could for coffee or lunch, asking lots of questions and spending time having meaningful conversations which didn’t involve me trying to blag that I was an expert but me being honest about how much I wanted to learn.
I read a few books/blogs/publications (although I didn’t understand a lot of it) including DevOps for Dummies, DevOps Handbook and following lots of people’s journeys through their blogs/vlogs on LinkedIn and other platforms so I could start to learn what I was talking about.
Things started to click, and I was building trusted relationships with clients and candidates which made me miles more confident. I was beginning to find my feet in the Manchester tech community.
Community, community, community
I was hungry to keep doing better and to do that I knew I needed to continue to get myself out there. It was around that time I was introduced to meetup.com. If you’ve never heard of it - meetup is a platform for people to start communities and grow them through the power of events (other platforms like Eventbrite are also great). There are tons of different events out there which cover everything from tech, game nights, ghost walks, supper clubs and more are starting all the time.
It wasn’t always as easy as meeting new people, learning new things and making great connections. The first few events I went too were actually quite nerve racking. Some of the topics were quite advanced and although I’d often find myself out of my depth, I was always able to learn something but the amount I was able to take away was varied.
I started to realise that the meetup community can be quite cliquey and being a recruiter in a room full of technologists meant it was sometimes hard to build trust, especially with some of the closer circles. At one point after one or two bad experiences, my enthusiasm started to dwindle and I went back into the Impostor Syndrome state of mind ‘do I belong here, will I ever fit into this community’. I kept on going, kept on stepping outside of my comfort zone and kept on having a mixture of positive and negative experiences.
I knew something needed to change so I got to work on thinking of an idea, what is the meetup scene missing, what will bring people closer together and if I ever did come up with this idea would I ever be able to build up the courage to take it to the community.
I spent the next few weeks thinking about ideas, and one idea stood out over the rest. Little did I know that idea would change my career forever … That’s a story for the next post.