Do you ever look back back and think, "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger?" I often do this as I discover something that was right there in my face my whole life. Usually, it would be a case where someone older or with more experience would be giving advice and I would listen, but not take the right action on it. Years later I would then come to a place and think "if I had just done X like so and so said..."
If you've ever felt like that, this post is for you. You'll be able to see what you should do along with why you should be doing it.
- You don't need to know everything about everything
- Focus on the basics, learn the advanced things as you need them
- Be vocal about what you are learning
- Be as helpful as possible while maintaining your priorities
- Teach / share the knowledge you have with others
- Know what you bring to the table
- Small consistent improvements = big returns later
- Learn how to disagree in a good way
- Don't be shy to ask for help
Honestly, you don't. Working in tech there is always something new to use/learn - a new programming language, a new framework, a new monitoring tool... While it is always beneficial to know a wide scope of what is available to fit your use case, you can't possibly know it all and you don't even need to in order to be effective at what you do. You can learn what you need to know when you need to know it.
Following on from the previous point, what you do end up getting to know, focus on the basics instead of everything about said tech/subject. You'll go on a course/study for an exam or go through tutorials and they will often cover beginner to advanced material. A lot of the intermediate/advanced parts are for specific use cases which you may never encounter. Not to mention the more advanced topics are often just layers and layers of the basics.
This is why focusing on the basics is important - it will allow you to understand more complex matters as well as filter out what you might not need to solve a problem.
This lets others know that you are learning a particular skill, especially people with influence. You don't need to mention it 600 times a day but in the odd conversation find a way to bring it up.
"How was your weekend?"
"My weekend was good, I spent a little time reading up/practicing on X. I think it is something that can be useful for us so I'll be making my suggestions soon!"
This is important because it gets people used to you being associated with what you are learning. Moreover, it holds you accountable to yourself to see it through. In the work place when there is a problem or a new project on the horizon, people will seek you out/give you a chance once they are used to you becoming confident on the subject. This will help you stand out from the crowd and get an early advantage.
People tend to remember those that have helped/tried to help them, especially if the help came with a positive attitude. We have all met that person at work that you you only ask for help when there is nobody else to help...
"This isn't my job, why are you asking me?"
"If they listened to me you wouldn't be having this problem"
"I'm only doing this because I don't want your boss to moan at my boss about me"
Don't be that person. Be more like:
"This isn't my area of expertise, but have you tried X? If that doesn't work, I know that David knows more about this. Let's see what he thinks"
"Sure, I can do this for you in about 30 mins as I'm just finishing X. Send me the details and message me again in an hour if I haven't done it by then."
"Normally the Tech Support team will be this but it won't take long to do this quickly, as I know about it also"
The reason why you should be doing this when it doesn't get in the way of your main priorities, is you build social capital and reputation. People are more likely to return the favour and help those they like. They trust you more. It increases the value of your work network. When it is time for pay reviews, promotions or new projects, management will ask others how they feel about you and positive feedback will only improve the rewards you get.
Giving others some insight into the things you have learned improves your work life for a number of reasons:
- There will be less demands on your time to do things they could do themselves without much effort.
- You build a good reputation for giving guidance.
- In the event you're on holiday and there is a problem which is relatively easy to fix, but the knowledge hasn't been shared - this can turn into a much bigger problem where they will call you to fix.
- You can evaluate where you are, and where you need to improve.
This is especially important if you want to advance into management/senior positions. People tend to look up the management chain for direction when a decision needs to be made.
This leads me on to the next point:
Be brutally honest with yourself about what you bring to the table - what you can/can't do, what you are willing to do, etc. You have to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to show a company why you should be employed/paid more. You can work this out in a number of ways:
- What skills do I have & how competent am I?
- Do I need help when using these skills or am I pretty much self sufficient?
- What seems to be the salary range for jobs asking for these skills?
- What is my reputation/social capital like?
- What are my weaknesses?
Having an idea of where you currently are will help you evaluate what/where you can improve, if you are on track for your own career goals and if you should be paid more. If you decide you should be paid more, you'll need to have a good idea in order to give your salary negotiation the best chance (more on this in another post).
Spending a little time inside or outside of work learning things to help you during work is very beneficial. Just 15 mins a day watching a YouTube tutorial/playing around with what you've learned at a basic level, listening to a podcast about something useful, will help more than you realise.
Small gains add up to big returns. If someone said they would give you £1 today if you took 5 mins to take some shopping up some stairs for someone, you might think,
"it's just £1, I won't do it".
If they came back and said they would give you £1 for every day you spend 5 mins taking shopping upstairs to that same person, you might think,
"5 mins every day for £1 would be £365 by the end of the year!" and say yes.
Think about investing in yourself in this way.
1% better every day for a year = 37% improvement overall
That's just with a small time investment. You can do this on your lunch break, or travelling to and from work if you really can't afford to give up any time in the evenings. You can also do it while cooking, tidying up or even at the gym walking on a treadmill!
This type of improvement is also a lot easier to manage day to day vs trying to learn a lot in a short space of time. Think about it, it took us a long time of learning every day to be able to do maths or write sentences. So, why do you think you'll be able to learn and be competent in complex, modern day systems in a 2-3 day course? Our brains need time to process the information we receive - make it easier on yourself.
Luckily for me, I learned this very early on! We've all been in a situation where our manager tells us "We're going to do this because X, Y, Z". The team who does the work knows it is a terrible idea, and is obligated to being the bearer of bad news.
How do you respond?
- "That isn't a good idea. It won't work. I'm not doing that as it will make things worse, and then I'll get shouted at when it breaks. If we have to do it then don't blame me when things go wrong."
- "I don't think that will work as planned because of X, Y and Z. A better solution might be something like this as you gain this and limit the negative effects of that. I think this is a much better solution, but if we stick with the original plan I'll do the best I can with it"
In both you are disagreeing with the plan. The first response will leave people with the view that you're being unhelpful and don't really care (remember social capital?). In the second response, you're giving a reason why it won't work, offering an alternative solution, in addition to remaining positive in the disagreement.
It is important to master this as there will always be a time when you have to disagree in the workplace - better that you can do this without leaving a bad feeling in the air.
It's a great feeling when you get around a hard problem all by yourself. But sometimes, you have to ask yourself, "Is the time spent getting there worth it?". I could spend a day researching error codes, looking on StackOverFlow etc trying to fix a bug custom Python Script... or, I could ask someone if they have encountered this before on this specific script.
You have to know when it is a good time to ask for help AND how to ask for help. These are some rules I try to follow:
- If you encounter something you might need some help on, set a time limit to try to resolve it on your own. You could do 30 mins of research and if you haven't found a solution, then move on to the next stage and ask for help.
- When you need to ask for help, give detail of the problem and what you've tried. "Can you help with this Kubernetes problem? The pod isn't starting and the error says X. I've had a google and it says the fix is Y which hasn't worked. Have you come across this before?"
This shows that you've put the effort in yourself to solve the problem, but are coming to someone for their expertise.
When I reflect back on my life and career, these are just some areas that I think about. In closing, I ask you this question:
What advice would you give your younger self?