I gave a talk in the internal un-conference in my organization. The original title is “What I want to tell my junior developers” since I aimed to talk mostly about technical things. It turned out that the top ranks of my topics were about non-technical stuff but I didn’t get a chance to change it when I gave the talk that day. The topics are about some of my observations and perspectives toward things that I want to share with my junior staff. Here is the content of topics I have presented in the session.
Good view at the bottom
Somewhere along the journey of your working life, you will make a big mistake or experience a great failure. Your credit and morale will be very low during this hard time. This situation is terrible but it is also a rare opportunity that would not come by very often. I urge you to stop thinking about how bad it is for a while and take a good look about things around you.
There is one thing that you can see very clear in this time of despair; your friend. Among all of your colleagues, there are a handful of people that care enough to offer a little helps if they could. The help may be just a short talk over a couple glass of beer to listen what is in your head or some direct and honest feedbacks to point out what you could improve yourself. You will surprise to see that sometimes, these people are not those who work closely with you every day or those who keep saying good things about you in team meeting. These people are, sometimes, your old friends that you haven’t been talking to that much or your old colleagues who have genuine well intention toward you.
You will also see yourself clearer when you are in a difficult time. You will start questioning many things you have never asked before. Are you as good as you think you are? Are your perceptions on things accurate? The reality will answer these questions in a cruel way. You may realize that you keep talking about code quality but you don’t unit test your work well enough. You are saying that your principal can’t be compromised but when you feel the strong heat, you finally give up and opt for short cut. It takes a disaster to reveal what you truly made of.
It’s not all about “the best”
Some may seek to be regarded as number one and there is nothing inherently wrong about that. I just want to say it is not always about being “the best”.
First of all, the word “best” is subjective. Who is the best developer in your team, the one who write the most effective and maintainable code or the one who quickly build an innovative feature which generate a big revenue. It takes the right compound skill set to achieve a task. And it needs another kind of skill set to achieve another kind of task. It’s extremely hard to possess every needed skill. Some people may achieve that, a lot may not. You don’t need to be worry too much if you feel like you are lacking behind your colleague in some areas. Everybody is better than you at something, so let them be. Find the area that you are good at and then contribute to the team.
You should motivate yourself to always practice your craft for improvement. You may need to occasionally compare yourself with others to measure the progress. But just don’t see everyone as your competitor in every area. Avoid being the smartest guy in the room that wants to be right at everything. When you have enough working years, you will realize that you can’t be good at everything. And you will feel graceful when you have your colleagues to help you out. You will learn that the collective strength of the team is far stronger than each individual.
No, I don’t mean that you should be so kind and make friends wherever you go (although it is nice if you could do that). The corporate world is competitive. Harsh but professionally justified things could happen to all of us. Friendship is certainly a great value but how far you should go to preserve it with each of your colleague is up to you. I just want you to think carefully when you are walking in the grey area of professional decision and selfishness. Some people are more than your colleague, they are your friends. And they are not just working with you. They share sadness and joy, they provide advices and feedbacks and they bring out the best of you. True friendship is hard to build but it last quite long. Sometimes it is longer than your job.
The quiet professionals
The term “The quiet professionals” refers to military special task force. They are highly skilled soldiers who operate their missions in secret. They finish their jobs in a quick and professional way but they don’t take any credit in the public. The more they keep quiet, the more it is easier for them to get things done.
I am one of those who are fascinated with this working model. May be it is about my childish obsession in the characteristic of hero in my culture. My perception of “the master” is someone who is so skillful but hides his excellent craft behind humble character. The master doesn’t like being in the spotlight, he doesn’t show off what he can do. He just quietly does it and let his reputation spread by those who have actually witnessed his incredible skill. After many years in my career, I am still like this way of working but I also become aware that there are benefits in exposing yourself more.
The humble master may find it hard to work in the competitive culture of cooperate world. If you are good at something then it is better for your benefit to make it known. You have to manage how others are having the perception of you. The intention is to communicate out what you are capable of. It will wider your opportunity in (or even outside) your organization.
This is definitely not the same thing as obsessing in reputation. If you are real good in what you are doing then your work will already speaks a lot about you. The analogy is that you are a great product. You could increase a chance to meet new potential buyers by paying some attention in marketing yourself. You may keep a blog to share your expertise, participate in public professional discussion or organize internal training session in your team. Keep practicing your skills, keep delivering great work and keep communicating out your true expertise.
Another brick on the wall
I read this article in 2007. The takeaway point in the story is still valid today. It keeps reminding me about an aspect of working in corporate culture; we are another brick in the wall. Job security is not always about working in big company or being important person in organization or even receiving hansom pay every month. If the company decides it is better to let you go then you will be let go. For whatever reason; politic driven, power game or reasonable strategy for company survival, this thing could happen to you.
I have actually seen this happen with my colleagues and witnessed its effect with my own eyes. The thing that will actually keep you from unemployment is the true skills in your professional. If you posses the excellent expertise then you will not find it too difficult to seek the new opportunity. You should keep practicing the skill necessary for your current position but don’t ignore other skill that relevant in the job market. Don’t be complacent when you are already a key person in your team. Keep updating your knowledge both in and beyond your responsibility. Have fun with your job and have good faith in life and be prepared.