About two months ago, my manager reached out to me to see if I would be interested in serving as my team's representative on a project that included some updates to our design system and the design of the app. I'm very interested in CSS, executing designs, and the visual aspects of my job, so I immediately agreed. I hadn't worked very closely with our design system (or any design system) before, which made me a little nervous, but the designer on the team is very experienced with our company and our brand and one of the other engineers on the team was involved in the last major set of updates to our design system, so I knew there was help available if I needed it.
Working on the project was not always smooth sailing. There were parts of the work that were harder than I expected. There were times when I saw the other people on the team getting through their work much more quickly than I was, which made me feel like I wasn't carrying my weight and wasn't contributing enough. There were times when people asked me questions that I didn't know the answer to, which made me feel like maybe I wasn't competent enough to be working on this project. But despite the moments of fear and doubt, I enjoyed working on this project, and through this process I realized that working on a design system is something I'd like to do more of in the future.
As I was working on the project, I found a number of areas where things seemed messier than they needed to be or code could have been refactored to be more readable or more performant. I saw areas where I wanted to add new functionality to the design system or new options for the existing functionality. One thing I saw a lot of was areas where we should have been using components of the design system and we were not. I mentioned this to my manager during one of our regular 1:1s, and she was receptive to my ideas and encouraged me to write down all of the thoughts I had and share them with the team. My manager also discussed my idea with her manager, who agreed that optimizing our design system and how we use was a good idea and something we should put on our roadmap for next year. Hearing this reinforced the fact that my opinions are valid and I do have enough subject matter expertise to identify areas for improvement, but more than that, it gave me a sense of excitement about the work I will be doing in the new year.
A few weeks after the initial conversation with my manager (and after some further conversations with teammates), I presented my thoughts at our biweekly department meeting. Most of the reception was positive, and people were definitely on board with making improvements, but there also some considerations raised that I hadn't thought of. One major consideration that hadn't even registered in my thought process was the culture shift involved in the changes I was suggesting - if I wanted to optimize the way we use our design system, I needed to convince my teammates that this was worth changing how they're used to working with the design system and executing designs. I hadn't considered that (the reaction to my suggestions was so positive that I forgot that there's a difference between liking an idea and changing your behavior to execute it), and I'm still trying to figure out how to make this the easy choice for my teammates.
The good news is ... I have time to figure it out. Thanks to my ability to identify work that I enjoyed, find areas where I could continue to work on this, and (most importantly) my willingness to advocate for myself and get my manager to buy in to this work, I know I'll be working on this in the future. One of the things I've struggled with in my career is knowing how to push to work on the things I want to work on, and I'm glad that I was able to do that in this case and to add a focus on this work to my team's plans for the future. I know that I can't work only on my favorite projects (sometimes things just need to get done and you have to work on them even if it's not your favorite),but I'm thankful that I do have the opportunity to identify work that I would like to do and commit to doing some of that work (and that I have a manager and a company that are happy to support that).