Liza Shulyayeva

Staff? Who, me?

As I reflect on the last year, I think a lot about work. Heck, I always think a lot about work. Not just my actual job, but work in general.

I’ve been very fortunate to have always just assumed that I’d end up doing something I love for work. It wasn’t until years into my career that it really hit me that that’s not how the world works for most people. I wasn’t totally clueless: I know people have to work jobs they hate to make a living. I worked jobs I didn’t like either when I was in high school. But somehow I always had the privilege of just assuming it’s a temporary phase. I was always going to do something I liked, or so I thought.

My naive assumption turned out to be correct. I entered the games industry pretty much right after high school. When that company went down I ran my own freelance business doing web development and software QA. Later I moved to the other side of the world to work in games again. When I wanted to get more into tools programming, I got to do that. When the studio encouraged me to try a team lead role and I decided I didn’t (after giving it a fair shake!), they put me back on the IC track and gave me a promotion. When I decided I wanted to move to the engine team, my managers and TDs supported that. When I was approached by another studio and decided backend development with Go sounded like an interesting thing to try, they gave me an offer on the backend team. And when I had a pandemic-life-crisis and decided I wanted to do more writing, start my own company, and go to an all-remote company where I’d get to both code and write, things went way faster and smoother than I’d expected.

I’ve gotten to work with so many interesting tech stacks and languages (C#, Python, Go, Rust, C++, JS) and enjoyed all of them (Go remains my favorite). I worked across giant proprietary code bases as well as open-source web stacks. They’ve all been so interesting to learn and dig around in.

Somewhere in those years (maybe ten years in?) the impostor syndrome went away. I didn’t think it ever would, but it did. But I never thought of myself as a senior anything, even though I was increasingly the person whom others went to for help and advice. So when I started a position with the title of “senior staff engineer”, it felt a little funny: “Who, me? The girl who didn’t go to college who still gets performance anxiety on the regular?”

The impostor syndrome did go away, but I guess my inferiority complex had decided to stick around for a while.

Anyway, that’s slowly going away, too. I think what’s helped is taking a step back and reflecting how long I’ve been at this, the interesting problems I’ve solved, the things I’ve helped build, and the awe-inspiring people I’ve gotten to work with. But another thing that’s helped is starting to do something other than programming and realizing that I can be really good at that, too. My fiction writing is getting better. It’s still bad, but I know I can be really good as I put more time in. I’m finally seeing that my work in programming hasn’t been a fluke. That I can be good at other things, too. Heck, maybe I can even be good at anything.

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