Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

Finding Confidence through Girls Teaching Girls To Code

Imposter Syndrome Part 2

Girls Teaching Girls To Code’s founding team: Caroline Suen, me, Heidi Wang, Bonnie McLindon

Check out Imposter Syndrome Part 1 here.

Imposter syndrome has always had a presence in my mind — telling me I can’t do it, asking if I’m really qualified, wondering why others place their trust in me. In my freshman year at Stanford, imposter syndrome loomed large. It was especially true in computer science — where it felt like everyone was so much better than I was — and it sneaked its way into the rest of my classes too.

In December 2012, a friend approached me with an idea — a 1-day event where college Computer Science majors would teach high school girls computer science. The college students would connect with the high schoolers, share their excitement about computer science, and provide an environment for the high schoolers to explore the subject.

Soon, we became a group of 4 women, calling ourselves Girls Teaching Girls To Code (GTGTC). I had a lot of confidence in our team to pull it off, but I was also sure that everyone would soon realize that I wasn’t actually that useful. The imposter syndrome was heavy in my mind.

Girls Teaching Girls to Code

And… then we did it. We didn’t have enough money, so we convinced 12 wonderful tech companies to sponsor this fledgling event. We needed students, so we manually found math and science teachers’ emails from all over the Bay Area. We clashed with the Stanford bureaucracy, so we leaned on our advisor to navigate it.

And… I did it too. I was organizing mentors and students. I emailed dozens of Stanford mailing lists to recruit mentors, so many times that new people I met would recognize my name:

“Jessie… Duan? The one who sends all those emails?”

I hustled my roommates and friends for laptops that the students could borrow day-of. I handled curriculum development, the harried parents, the repeated roadblocks.

Four months later, in April 2013, GTGTC held our first ever Code Camp, a 1-day event where 40 college mentors introduced 120 high school girls to computer science.

Professional women in tech fielding student questions at GTGTC’s 2014 Code Camp

I was astonished to find that — all of a sudden, I believed in myself. I had confidence that I was a critical member of this founding team, I had confidence that I could organize the mentors and students for this event, and I had confidence that I could handle whatever issues came my way. After all, I had done it once. Somehow that imposter syndrome around this event had melted away.

After Code Camp, we held a company tour. Then a puzzle day. A workshop. A Google I/O trip. Our second Code Camp. And much, much more. To date, Girls Teaching Girls To Code has reached over 1,000 high school girls, and is currently starting a second chapter at Berkeley.

Students building models at a 3D Printing Workshop

I became GTGTC’s Exec Lead and when I stepped down in 2015, I brought with me a learning about myself: I’m always going to doubt myself before I do anything new. But all I need to do is just try it, and somehow it all works out. And afterwards, I won’t doubt myself again.

I now know and expect this process to happen. This brings me the strength to take the initial leap, despite my ever-present self-doubts.

I’ve taken this knowledge with me through internships at Microsoft and Khan Academy, into being a Product Engineer and now Tech Lead Manager at Quora.

Recently, after teaching in a high school classroom, helping run Code for Palestine, and volunteering with Defy Ventures, I’ve discovered that I’m deeply passionate about enabling and growing change makers. This is a new area for me, and I have a lot to learn. But I know I just need to try, and eventually I’ll figure it out.

2018 Code Camp at Stanford

It’s ironic that GTGTC has helped me deal with my imposter syndrome, because so many students’ questions are about imposter syndrome. It comes up in conversations with Stanford mentors, in panels with working professionals, and just among each other.

As a result, I’m often asked for advice on overcoming imposter syndrome. I don’t have an answer, because I haven’t completely overcome it myself. But what I do know is how I push past the creeping feeling of self-doubt.

What’s the last time you thought you couldn’t do something, but then you did it?

Write it down (and maybe a couple more instances!).

Store it in a note on your phone, write it on your mirror, post it on your fridge, or plop it anywhere you can easily find.

The next time you’re facing a challenge and you aren’t sure if you can do it — come back to this, and remember that you just need to try.

Girls Teaching Girls to Code is a program where college women teach and inspire Bay Area high school girls to explore Computer Science and Engineering. To learn more, visit