As an adult ADHD Coach, there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a client claim their diagnosis, becoming more comfortable in their skin while navigating daily obstacles and communicating their needs. I had the absolute privilege of watching my client Ashley Chand share her story, and her path to becoming an engineer with ADHD, with a community of fellow engineers on the platform Taro. She is so inspiring, and so many people wanted to engage with her story - so it’s time to share it with the world!
Ashley is a software engineering student. She also has ADHD. ”I was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD in 2022, so quite recently within my life,” she shared. While her journey with ADHD is still new, she’s no stranger to the tech space. “I’ve been working in the tech space for about a decade now, where I developed an interest in engineering, and I decided to pursue that as a next step in my career in 2021.”
Given a decade of experience in the field, she was acutely aware of potential challenges. Social media, and technology in general, is an easy distraction for anyone - even more so for someone with adult ADHD.
“With how addictive technology can be,” she says, “you might be wondering why the hell I made the decision to go into engineering. We have to sit in front of a laptop all day, and have extended periods of deep focus, which can be difficult for us to work through.”
Staring at a computer all day may not be very focus-friendly. Yet, Ashley found that engineering was a natural match for her brain. In particular, a knack for problem-solving provided the perfect opportunity to shine.
“At the beginning of my career, I developed a deep interest in building applications and products for users. The first thing that drew me in was the aspect of problem-solving. I think a lot of us have come across situations where you’ve been debugging something for an extended period of time, or working on something particularly challenging,” she said. “But to solve it feels very rewarding. When I was getting immersed in the engineering space, it felt like I was solving puzzles throughout the day, which felt really gratifying for me.”
People with ADHD do tend to excel at puzzles and problem-solving more so than neurotypical counterparts. But for Ashley, there was more to it than that.
“The second piece was consistency,” she revealed. “Coming from a background in operations, it can be very meeting intensive. You spend the bulk of your time in meetings, which requires a lot of context switching. Having inattentive ADHD, I found it to be really impactful on my mental battery. I was just burning myself out with how tired I was.”
So for Ashley, the shift from operations to engineering was invigorating. “What I really loved with engineering was that I was still able to make the impact that I wanted, but was able to get that more focused, heads down time to be able to think through things and build as I wanted to… albeit, once I was able to get my focus going. That’s a different issue.”
She didn’t make the leap without looking, however. (Impulsivity in decision-making is another common pitfall for adults with ADHD.) Instead, Ashley took the time to prepare.
“I made sure to seek mentorship opportunities from engineering colleagues to see what that day to day would look like for me and how I could envision myself potentially moving into a similar role. Once I found out that I liked it, I transitioned and made the pivot into studying while navigating my full-time job in 2021.”
That wasn’t the only change for Ashley. “In terms of my career,” she added, “I also shifted my career ladder to take on jobs such as product operations. I wanted to start applying the things I was learning outside of work while I was studying and to be more closely immersed with data and engineering.”
Emotional regulation is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions in a balanced and adaptive way. While not listed in the DSM, emotional dysregulation is one of the most pervasive and disruptive symptoms of ADHD.
For Ashley, that looked like:
Emotional regulation is already tough for adults with ADHD. So adding long work days, and the mental drain that comes with school, made ADHD management even more challenging. “I found that when I was trying to navigate both working full time and studying after hours, I was really struggling with impulsive behavior.”
While impulsivity is one of the more well-known symptoms of ADHD, many people miss the connection between impulsivity and emotional regulation.
“I was looking for that rush of dopamine to get me started or to keep me on track when I was working through a particular challenge,” she said.
One of those challenges was imposter syndrome - the internal experience of feeling like a “fake,” or a general feeling of self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments, despite prior success or accomplishments.
“I think a lot of us are familiar with this rhetoric, that if you have ADHD, software engineering is out of the book. Its not for you,” Ashley said. “I regularly saw that and heard that online. It was definitely something in the back of my head.”
“Keep in my mind,” she explained, “when you’re an engineer, you’re doing hard things. You have that deep focus for a reason - to work through really challenging problems. So when I hit that roadblock I thought, damn, I’m a failure, I’m never going to be able to get this. This will never work out for me.”
While imposter syndrome isn’t inherently linked to ADHD or to emotional regulation, for Ashley, it was.
“The emotional aspect of that was definitely was a big roadblock for me. I didn’t know anyone with inattentive ADHD; I didn’t know what the hell it was until I was diagnosed. So finding folks who had similar experiences was really challenging. I had no idea how to get support or what that looked like. It is a very isolating feeling.”
Procrastination is a very common symptom of ADHD. While many people view it as a lack of willpower, discipline, or simple laziness, experts explain that procrastination is actually a symptom of emotional dysregulation.
What that looked like for Ashley:
“I really wanted to complete my work and my studies,” Ashley shared. “It’s not that I didn’t want to, or that I felt lazy, but I was definitely experiencing paralysis. I would sit down to study or do a project, and would feel frozen or get stuck going through my phone because I felt so overwhelmed, so anxious, so depressed that I didn’t know where to start.”
Difficulty estimating time is also common for people with ADHD, and for Ashley, it only compounded her struggles with procrastination.
“I had a rough time managing my work load, estimating how much time I needed to complete my job, and being able to transition that to outside work when I was studying and building my portfolio.”
Yet another well-known and oft-underestimated ADHD challenge is the struggle to establish and maintain routines.
What that meant for Ashley:
“I know that sounds simple and straightforward,” Ashley shared, “but it felt like I was throwing the whole medicine cabinet at my ADHD. What routine do I need to implement? Which social media influencers’ recommendations should I cycle through for this week? I felt like nothing was really able to stick.”
Routines are very easy to take for granted; they’re essentially patterns of behavior that become like “muscle memory,” things we do without really needing to think about it. Well-established routines are like anchors in the chaos of everyday life. Without them, it’s easy to drown in an ever-changing sea of responsibilities.
“Because of that, my schedule really ebbed and flowed,” Ashley said. “I was inconsistent with my studying, and for folks familiar with engineering, you know you have regularly practice to stay on top of your skills. So when I was inconsistent with studying or my portfolio, I would often forget what I learned a couple weeks before. I had to go back to the drawing board. I wasn’t able to make the progress I wanted to. That impacted my work life balance — I was deprioritizing my studying, or studying very late at night, which impacted my ability to wake up for work. So definitely a vicious cycle.”
Identifying Personal Strengths
“I think learning about my strengths was one of the most integral parts. It helped me to have a clear vision of what I really wanted and to lay the foundation of how to get there. I know it sounds like it might be a little silly or very simplistic,” she adds, “but I encourage folks to really think through this. I think you’ll surprise yourself with what you’re able to find after digging deeper. It brought a lot of clarity.”
Laying a Foundation for Success
“For me in particular, having inattentive ADHD, energy was a huge challenge. I didn’t really understand how to manage,” Ashley shared.
She’s not alone. Fatigue is a familiar, if unwelcome companion for many folks with ADHD.
“For me, time blocking my calendar was really effective,” Ashley Shared. “I deal with a lot of brain fog in the morning, so I try to schedule my easier tasks - tasks that don’t require me to get into a high level of deep focus - in the morning. The tasks that do require focus, I find are best for late afternoon or evening.”
For Ashley, discovering a way to more effectively schedule her tasks had a huge trickle-down effect. It was the foundation she needed to lay the groundwork for success.
“I really think this is important,” she said. “If I don’t set myself up for success at work, it funnels into my time to study later on in the day. Having the time block is very effective, and I carry that forward into the evening so I know when to wind down from work and when to pick it back up to study again.”
Ashley shared some of the apps, strategies, and other coping skills she uses for ADHD management.
“What’s been great about learning tools is that I created a pathway that’s unique to me that can change over time,” she says.
“The first thing I recommend is an app blocker of some sort. I use Freedom, but you can use whatever you like. When I chatted through how I was working through that feeling of paralysis, that ultimately manifested as me scrolling through social media and impulsive shopping. Being able to set an app blocker - Freedom in particular, because it’s automated - was really integral to be able to start and stay on task when I was studying or working on a project.”
“I had a lot of difficulty with the aspect of, if I didn’t see it, I forgot it was there,” Ashley said. “If I created a routine, and just put my faith in remembering it off hand, it was never going to happen for me.”
Routines were a struggle for Ashley, but adult ADHD coaching helped her pinpoint the exact roadblocks, and how to overcome them.
“Really simplifying it, and putting transitionary routines on sticky notes in places I was going to be, was so helpful for me,” she shared. “It took off the mental load of having to remember everything on my own. It took the guess work out. What that looked for me was writing my transitions down on a sticky note, like:
My third recommendation is the Pomodoro technique,” Ashley said. Pomodoro is a simple, yet effective time-blocking technique that’s really taken off in the ADHD space, largely through social media.
“Time blocking was really effective for me. It helped me gauge time more realistically. Especially given the fact I’d have a stopwatch beside my laptop,” Ashley shared, “I am able to do a 30 min increment of working, and 5-10 minutes of rest and break.”
The Pomodoro technique helped Ashley stay on track for short, focused sprints. It also helped her avoid hyperfocus - which can be just as disruptive.
“I have a tendency, as I was getting into the weeds with building apps, that if I was really enjoying it and experiencing good energy and focus, I would hyperfocus for hours on end, not realizing that I had gone extremely late into the night, or completely off schedule on how I anticipated the plan for my day. It feels great to hyperfocus, but it wasn’t sustainable, and contributed to my burnout, even though I was having a great time and feeling successful. Time blocking helped me understand when to take breaks, reminds me to eat, move around, and to prevent that burnout from constantly reoccurring.”
Ashley’s final recommendation: find ways to add accountability.
“This won’t work for everyone,” she admits, “but it has been really helpful with my journey in particular. I had difficulty feeling a sense of urgency unless it was the day of, or an hour before, a deadline. I was good at working under pressure, but the sustainability of working under pressure isn’t good at all. I wouldn’t recommend it.”
For Ashley, accountability helped to increase motivation by adding the dopamine-boost that comes from urgency - without the last-minute stress. That’s where her online ADHD coaching came in.
“I wanted to create a better sense of urgency so I was able to make more consistent progress over time, as opposed to always doing all this work right before a deadline. For me, my relationship with my coach Alex has been really great. She’s been able to do body doubling for me virtually, which was effective.”
There are a lot of different ways to add accountability to tasks. For Ashley, here’s what it looked like.
“What I consistently did was, if I was heading into a period of studying, I would send her a picture of my progress on the app before I sat down to get started. Likewise, I’d send a picture of what it looked like afterwards, after I completed that session of studying.”
“It was really rewarding to see that progress with someone as I was moving along,” Ashley added. “I feel like it kept me on track to hit those deadlines without getting stressed. She’s seen a lot of my portfolio, good and bad, and has been really impactful to my progress thus far.”
“I did want to touch on how I plan to continue learning in the future and some of the aspects that have been helpful to me as I’m pursuing that,” Ashley said. “What’s been really awesome has been combining therapy and coaching to get to my long-term goals. I had a lot of trouble being able to feel like I had a connection to a long-term goal,” she shared. “It wasn’t rewarding in the moment; it was hard to associate motivation and excitement with it.”
Ashley explains, “Therapy, in particular, was important as I was someone who was diagnosed later on in life, in my late 20’s. A lot of my work in therapy has been recovering from the burnout and my long-term mental health goals associated with ADHD - working through anxiety, depression, and learning about my brain and how it operates, learning how to communicate my needs effectively.”
While therapy has been, and continues to be helpful, Ashley still felt there was something missing.
“Therapy was really awesome, but I felt I was having a lot of trouble post-diagnosis, that I didn’t know what to do on the day-to-day. This is where Shimmer came into play for me,” she says. “What do I do if I come up with this niche issue while I’m studying or working, and I’d need to wait a week or two to talk to my therapist? Having someone like Alex there for me was great way to troubleshoot together as issues arise, and was helpful to learn how to orient my work day or orient my study schedule to meet my needs.”
Even more than that, coaching was a great place to find the tools and resources she needed in order to put what she learned into practice. “What I really loved was that it was a space where I could learn about tools like the Pomodoro technique and App Blockers. It was very beneficial to me.”
What I want to drive home,” Ashley concluded, “is that it’s a unique process for everyone. What worked for me may not work for you. I would encourage you to lean into and listen to what you require and what you need at the end of the day.”
Even better - sign up today and give it a shot. We’re ready to help you Shimmer ✨