Hip Hop, Code, and Mental Health

Navigating the tech industry is difficult whether you are brand new, have been around for a couple of years, or are a seasoned veteran. It gets even more difficult when your mental health isn't at its best. In this talk, Rahat talks about his struggles with depression, imposter syndrome, and burnout while searching for his first job as a developer. Rahat recounts different methods of coping with his mental illness and observations on how the tech industry as a whole can better support those who often suffer in silence.


Rahat Chowdhury: [0:00] Hey, everyone. My name is Rahat, and you're tuned in to my talk, "Hip Hop, Code, and Mental Health." What do these three things have to do with each other? On the surface, not too much or maybe a lot, depending on how you look at it.

[0:13] I think, probably, the real title of this talk should be "Blank, Code, and Mental Health." I'm hoping maybe by the end of this talk, you'll be able to fill in something here in the blank that's important to you the way hip hop is to me. We'll come back to that in just a little bit.

[0:32] First of all, who the heck am I? Like I said, my name is Rahat. I'm a software engineer, I am from New York City, and mainly do front-end. I'm also a podcast host, as well as a new founder of a mental health startup.

[0:47] If you ever want to talk about any of those things, I'm on Twitter @rahatcodes, also LinkedIn, rahatc. Those are places that I respond to people. Definitely hit me up there if you ever have any questions or want to talk about anything.

[1:02] Why this talk? You probably saw a bunch of words just materialize and slide into this slide. I'm...just want to say that's a cool effect. You might not think so, but I think it is. Anyway, these are all some of the reasons why I'm doing this talk. Some of them at least.

[1:25] If you're here on Egghead, then you might be here because you're starting your coding journey and you're wanting to learn more, maybe you're already in your coding journey, or you have a job and adding more knowledge onto your coding repertoire.

[1:45] A lot of the times, whether we're in school, whether we're doing some self-learning, whether we're in a boot camp or even at work, we forget or a lot of other people forget that the code is always written by a human. Humans are flawed. We experience emotions.

[2:08] One thing that we often forget is that our mental health directly affects our productivity. We're going to be touching on that a little bit throughout this talk.

[2:18] Before we move on to the rest of the talk, I do want to expand a little bit more on the why. Why are we having this talk? The easiest thing I can tell you is that we just don't talk about it enough.

[2:30] It's not brought up in school, in boot camps, other educational places, or even in work and just in general, in society, in different communities. We just don't talk about it a lot, and should because mental illnesses are illnesses. They need some type of treatment or we need some type of help in dealing with them.

[2:54] Think about it this way. I wear glasses, right, and maybe you might have glasses, too. I don't know. We need glasses to help us see. We can't see very well. If someone were to come up to you and say, "You wear glasses, you should just try to see harder." It's pretty messed up thing to say.

[3:17] That's how I'd like you think about it in terms of something like depression. If someone came up to you and maybe you're depressed and said, "You're sad, you should just try to be happy." Just forget about all the sad thoughts or whatever it is, and just dismissing that this isn't a real thing, even though it is.

[3:41] Because of that, a lot of people are not comfortable talking about their mental well-being or whatever they're going through in their head.

[3:49] I'll start. I suffer from major depressive disorder as well as anxiety, and I take medication to deal with it, as well as seeing a therapist twice a month for treatment overall.

[4:04] It's something I deal with in my everyday life. It has directly affected the way that I go about, I guess...I went about changing careers into coding in my boot camp experience, things like that. We'll be talking a bit more throughout the talk about that as well.

[4:26] There is one other big reason why this talk is important. Now if you've ever seen any of my other mental health talks, you might know that I like to throw around this number quite a lot. It's one of the biggest ways of illustrating the most important point of the stock.

[4:46] 200 million is the number of workdays that the CDC estimates we lose every year due to depression or some type of mental illness. There is no way that any one person is putting all of these missing days in a single year. There's just not enough days.

[5:07] The first time I saw this number and thought about it, I realized, "OK, I'm not alone. I'm not by myself." There's other people who are probably going through similar things that I am, having maybe some of the same thoughts that I am.

[5:24] It drove the point home that we don't suffer alone. We're usually just suffering in silence because again, we're not talking about it.

[5:34] Now, what I'm going to be talking about for the rest of this talk is my experience dealing with depression, switching careers into coding, and a lot of the things that affected my overall mental well-being and how I started dealing with it.

[5:53] We'll just start off with something super common that I think a lot of people have definitely gone through at some point in their career, which is imposter syndrome. I definitely still go through, sometimes.

[6:04] We sometimes say things to ourselves like, "I don't actually belong here. I'm not cut out for this. I tricked them into thinking I could actually do this."

[6:14] I've had this, the third thought like any time I'm starting a new job. It's one of the worst ones, I think. While I was learning to code throughout my boot camp and while applying for jobs, I felt a lot of imposter syndrome.

[6:33] It was around this time that I started seeking help that I decided I need someone to help me process some of these thoughts, and that's when I started going to therapy. That's when I started being able to get through a lot of these thoughts.

[6:51] The support of your family is great, the support of your friends are great, but they're not therapists unless that's what they do for a living.

[6:57] A lot of the times, you just need someone whose job it is to get you through some of these thoughts. Someone who is trained to help you understand how to deal with it, and how to not let it affect a lot of some of your negative thoughts.

[7:14] Imposture syndrome has had a huge impact on my depression. It has had me wanting to give up a lot of times because I thought I didn't belong, but there's ways to get through it. Maybe not get over it, but get through it.

[7:32] Over time, some of it goes away. Over time, some of it still stays. Something you live with, but it gets easier to deal with once you start seeing that even some of the more senior devs have no idea what they're doing sometimes.

[7:53] Another one specific to me, and probably a lot of people too, is also social anxiety. I am terrible at making small talk at just talking with people, with strangers. I'm very quiet when it comes to that, which is funny because I used to rap. I like doing talks and stuff, but I guess in these situations, I view it a little bit differently. I don't know why.

[8:18] We're often told, you have to network, or if you're at work, you got to participate in more team activities, be part of the family, whatever it is.

[8:28] These are, I guess, nice things, but it's hard for a lot of people to do it. Having to network, having to go out and talk to people when you don't know how to start a conversation beyond, "Hi, how are you doing?" is one of the toughest things ever.

[8:46] One of the ways that I've gone around and hacked networking is participating in talks like this because people just tend to talk to you, and it's easier to network with people when they're the ones initiating the conversation.

[9:05] Same thing, another way is I went to conferences to be a volunteer, and that way, I had direct access to a lot of the speakers. They were just talking to me because I was helping them out. This is a great way to get over some of it without having to directly deal with your social anxiety.

[9:27] Now, another thing is I've also worked through this with my therapist a little bit. There's a bunch of different ways you can tackle this, and what might work for me might not work for you. Just throwing a few things out there that may work.

[9:44] The other thing is this, you need to participate in more team activities. A lot of the startup world or just companies in general throw this on us a little bit because they want everyone to be a team, and that's cool.

[10:01] We spend eight hours a day together, I'm sure we'll get to know each other a little bit. Sometimes people just want to go home, spend time with their families, not see people that they work with eight hours a day. We need to respect that a little bit too, respect people's boundaries.

[10:19] I'll be sharing a few resources at the end, if you're someone in the workplace or an employer who wants to improve the culture of how you deal with this type of things as well.

[10:33] The last and the most important thing I'm going to mention in this talk is burnout. When I was first learning to code, I thought, "I need to learn a bunch of things." I need to learn JavaScript, I was trying to do some Python, some Java. I looked at C++ and cried and never looked at that ever again, and whatever.

[10:55] It's not...you don't need to know everything. You don't need to start four different side projects or four forgotten ones, because eventually, you're going to say, "I'm exhausted, I can't code anymore."

[11:09] This is something that happened to me post-boot camp when I was trying to go all in and finding a job. I was applying to jobs, I was also coding different side projects that never saw the light of day. I was doing too many things at the same time.

[11:26] I was just immersed in this hustle culture that's promoted on Twitter and LinkedIn, and different places of me just needing to keep hustling and put stuff out there. It's fine to hustle. That's great if you want to, but you also need to take a step back.

[11:48] When I was burnt out, I didn't want to code for a month or two. I've been burned down other times even after my job recently, just got over a two-month burnout just now, before doing this talk, and it sucks. It zaps all of your productivity away.

[12:12] It is definitely important to be consistent when you're trying to learn to code or trying to learn new things. It's better to do, let's say, 15 minutes one day, half an hour another day, an hour another day, instead of trying to put in three to five hours of solid coding every single day.

[12:32] It's also OK on some days to just step away from it. Spend time with the families, watch Netflix, whatever you want to do. We don't tell people enough of that, taking a break is OK and is probably super important.

[12:50] Now, aside from seeking professional help, there's different ways that I've tackled dealing with my depression, that's trying to do things I love doing. Hip hop has been a huge part of my life. I used to rap, I used to make beats, started picking that up again recently.

[13:09] It's just something that I do for myself. It's something that I love doing. I used to do it for other people, I guess. I used to try to put out new music all the time. When I stopped doing that, and I just said, no, I just want to do it for me. I don't care if I record this and put it out there or not.

[13:30] This just is something that makes me feel good. It makes me get away from everything that is going through my head for a little bit or just release some of that frustration, or whatever it is in the form of lyrics or a beat that I'm working on, whatever it might be.

[13:52] It's super important just to find something else that you love doing, aside from coding, aside from constantly learning because that's what we do in our careers, we're just always learning. We need to take care of ourselves as we're learning. If we're not taking care of our mental health, we're not going to be retaining anything.

[14:13] Now, earlier in the talk, I mentioned that I'd be providing some resources that can help you if you're a professional workplace trying to change a few things at work, or if you're, let's say, like an HR professional or an executive.

[14:29] A cool organization is called Open Source Mental Illness, or OSMI. You can check them out at osmihelp.org. They have a bunch of resources aimed at helping people in the workforce.

[14:42] Like I mentioned, HR professionals trying to help their employees with their overall mental well-being, as well as employees just trying to navigate their way in the workforce and telling you a lot about the rights that you have under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

[15:01] It just makes a lot of these things a little bit easier to understand. I definitely recommend checking them out.

[15:08] All these resources are available for free. Definitely throw them a few dollars, if you use any of those. They do awesome work. It's a bunch of devs who are there, who also do talk just like this, and try to raise more awareness about mental wellness in the workforce, especially in tech.

[15:29] I've been sharing my story throughout this talk with you. I hope maybe the biggest thing you get is that, if you're going through this, you're not alone. I'm here with you. There's a lot of other people here with you.

[15:46] Like I mentioned at the end, hip hop is something other than seeking professional help and the other things that helped me get through everything, either listening to hip hop, making it, or doing something with it.

[16:03] Maybe you can fill in this blank too, with something you love doing. Remember that coding is not the only thing you need to do. Learning is not the only thing you need to do. You need to take care of yourself, too.