"He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to."
Harry Emerson Fosdick
As I was having a chat with a new teammate, who had just hit the three-week mark with us, we got to speak about what advices I'd have for him going forward. In reality, the advices I've shared were things I have hold dear to while I was being onboarded less than a year ago. And since that went well for me, or so I believe, I have relayed what I thought to be a good foundation – by telling my own experience.
So, the biggest predicament I found myself when I changed jobs roughly one year ago, was that all that baggage I've been accumulating in my previous company had just vanished. The consequence being I had to wait until I was able to appropriately challenge myself again, which was crucial for not only my growth but also key to experience rewarding work. In terms of programming languages and frameworks, they were mostly similar to previous gigs, so only a minor ramp up was required. Moreover, I no longer knew whom to best contact in each situation and lacked the familiarity with internal systems. To tackle those deficiencies, I've mostly employed one attitude: to stay curious.
That meant not just assuming the nature of why and how things work. That meant asking and then asking again if necessary. To often raise my virtual hand in virtual calls and pose a question, even when it looked like most in the call already knew what was being talked about. Every time would be an opportunity: standups, retrospectives, 1on1s, you name it. Besides, I tried to secure some time every day to go through the wiki, watch an interesting recording on technical aspects, and read design documents that caught my attention. To absorb the lingo and good patterns I was slowly noticing around myself. Alone, those put me into a position of reaching reasonable productivity levels around five months. Of finally feeling on par with my most experienced peers in the team – people for which I've developed some level of admiration. By that, I mean being capable to deal with any sort of problem that was thrown at my direction with little to no guidance – at last some independence.
So being curious made me good at my new role in the shortest amount of time possible. Therefore, I'd go as far to argue that should be your main goal in those early days. The timespan can vary by individual and seniority level someone is expected to operate, but for most entry-level developers this would be roughly six to eight months. By then, I was able to yet again challenge myself as I got to work on projects that were really on par with my expertise. Projects that required me to build some trust first. To cement a strong relationship with my manager.
Trust earned and projects on the way, that's when I started the most important part, which was to find my path within my organization. To reach peak productivity in both my current role and towards my goals. In my case, that entailed to further advance my career as an individual contributor (IC). Not because that is the way to go, or I didn't know better, but rather because it leads to more ambitious and abstract projects. To ensure getting out of my comfort zone. The rationale being that such projects offer a higher learning potential and impact, which in comparison to implementing another undistinguished A/B test is an improvement. Note that the process of pinpointing what you want from work, besides your wage, isn't something that happens all of a sudden. As I'm approaching thirty-three years old and after some effort in the past years to understand what matters to me, those things are currently somewhat clearer.
Now, not every organization has the same opportunities all the time, so I won't claim this is a matter of sheer will. That said, I do believe it is important to have some agency – that's my life after all. To not just let things happen, since to give up on my agency means to let someone else decide for me. And as well-intentioned my manager or another higher up might be, what they end up planning is unlikely to be my ideal choice. So, that's my focus nowadays. To make "work" work for me.