I recently celebrated my one-year anniversary at my current job. This year has been a lot. Between some struggles at work and the global situation, there were a lot of moments when I didn't think I'd make it to this point. But even during those moments, I tried to dedicate myself fully to my work. I wanted to get as much as I could out of this job during the time I have. I've learned a lot about myself and what I do, and I wanted to share some of those lessons, organized by the month in which I learned them.
November 2019 - I'm Wanted/I Belong
In my first two weeks at this company, I met people from all departments, went out for birthday drinks with a coworker, attended the company holiday party (yes, our holiday party was in November), and had the opportunity to learn about our codebase from one of my teammates. Between company-sponsored events/activities and the kindness and friendliness of my teammates, I started to feel welcome and saw myself fitting in with the team starting pretty early in my time at the company. This was an unusual feeling for me, and it helped a lot with my onboarding and acclimating to the company.
A year later, this feeling comes and goes - there are a lot of moments where I feel isolated at work and I don't feel like part of the team. But when I was first starting out, I was pleasantly surprised by how welcome I felt. I've always struggled to adjust to new settings, and I think my company and my teammates did a great job helping me with the transition. And when I do struggle to feel like part of the team, I know I can look back on these moments and remember how welcome my team made me feel from day one.
December 2019 - Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
I've always tried to be independent and do things by myself whenever possible (see: assembling my old boss's desk chair). But early in my time at this job, I had some opportunities to pair program and learn from my teammates, and I saw how that improved my work. Not only did I learn new concepts and technologies from my teammates, I also had the opportunity to see other problem solvers at work and learn new ways to solve new problems. I've learned a lot from the comments left on my PRs and the opportunities to troubleshoot edge cases and unexpected side effects with the teammates who caught them. While I still enjoy my solo coding time, I've learned that collaborating with others not only makes my code better, it makes me a better coder.
January 2020 - Be Proud of Trying New Things, Even If You Don't Come Away Loving Them
In my first two months at the company, I contributed exclusively to our front-end codebase (which also contains a backend, but that's not at all relevant here). In late January, I had my first opportunity to contribute to our backend/API codebase. It was a bit of an adventure. This codebase uses Java, a language I had never worked with before, a different IDE than we use for the frontend codebase (IntelliJ and I are still not entirely friends), and some concepts I wasn't super familiar with. It took a backend engineer and a lot of help from my team lead to get me set up and ready to do the work. I was able to complete the work (mostly by myself once I got started, but with a little help from teammates to get me over the finish line), and even though one of the lessons that I learned from this experience is that I prefer working in our frontend codebase, I'm still proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and getting it done.
February 2020 - My Coworkers Aren't Mind Readers, But They Will Help When I Ask
When I'm struggling at work, I have a hard time asking for help. I don't know if it's a fear of others looking down on me, my general stubbornness, or something else entirely, but I tend to struggle silently until I can't keep it inside anymore and I end up crying at a meeting (yes that has happened). This month I was reminded that my teammates are more than happy to help me, but in order to do that, they need to know that I need help. There were a few situations this month where I felt like I wasn't able to remain silent about my struggles anymore, and when I did speak up, the people I spoke to helped me find solutions and worked with me on ways to handle the situation. It can be hard for me to ask for help, but I know that I do need help sometimes, and while my teammates are always willing to help, they can't know that I need help without me asking - so I have to be willing to ask.
March 2020 - Change Is Inevitable (But Survivable)
I've never been great with change, and March was a month that really tested my ability to roll with the punches. It started early in the month when my manager, who had been part of my hiring process and was my manager from the day I joined the company, left the company (this was announced in February, so it wasn't news, just change). A few days later, my company announced a mandatory work from home policy (which is still in effect). I had worked from home a few times in the past, but I find that I'm more productive in the office, so I was concerned how well I would adjust to working remotely (the answer is that I can do it and get my work done, but I still miss going into the office). March also saw two engineers in my department promoted to management, which had a large effect on me as one of them had previously been on my team (which left us short a front-end engineer) and the other was my new manager. I was excited to be working with my new manager (and was very excited to see her promoted), but I really wasn't sure what our dynamic would be. All of these were difficult and required some adjustment, but the good news is, I made it through. There were ups and downs during this month (and in the months since), but despite the wave of change, I was able to not only survive but begin to thrive. This month taught me that change will always happen, but if I work hard and learn to adjust, I can continue to grow.
April 2020 - Learning Works Best When I Set My Own Course
One area where I started to focus in March and April was learning and professional development. I didn't see myself growing at the rate that I had expected to grow, and I realized that I needed to start learning things outside of my normal work tickets. At first I wasn't sure what I should be focusing on (and I discussed this with my manager, who had some ideas both of topics and how to discover new potential learning areas), but ultimately I realized that I needed to find topics that interested me, not just work on filling in all of my knowledge gaps. I learn best when I'm interested in what I'm learning, and I realized that I should be focusing on learning the things I want to learn, which are not necessarily the things I'm expected to learn. Unfortunately, I feel like I have moved away from this recently to focus on learning related to my company's career ladder, and I would like to find a way to balance learning the things my company expects me to learn with learning the things I want to learn.
May 2020 - I Know What I'm Talking (And Writing) About
Throughout my journey in tech, I've doubted my own knowledge. I have had many instances where I attributed my good work to the help of others or dumb luck. One thing I discovered this month is that I do understand what I do and the technologies I work with. I may not always be able to explain the inner workings of everything, but I know enough to get my work done and to understand the context in which my work is being done. I also discovered that I can learn something new and share that knowledge with others, which led me to write a blog post about a new feature included in the latest release of a library we use in our codebase. While I enjoy writing about my experiences, I've never felt overly confident in my ability to write about technical topics, and this month was the first time I felt confident writing a technical article about something new to me.
June 2020 - It's Okay To Walk Away
This month I had to make the difficult decision of whether I wanted to stay with my current team or move to a new team (but doing the same job, just on a different part of the product). My current team was small, which gave me the opportunity to work on complex projects that might not have been assigned to a junior engineer on a different team, but we also didn't have a very well-defined purpose, which often meant unknown priorities and questions about our work. The new team I was considering moving to had a much better defined purpose and roadmap, but was also a larger team, which meant I was less likely to be assigned complex tickets to work on independently. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately I decided that what was best for me was to switch teams. I felt a little uncomfortable leaving an already small team (and making it an even smaller team), and I did stay with the team for an extra sprint to help finish up projects I was already working on, but ultimately I know I made the right decision (even if it doesn't feel that way some days). It was hard to walk away from my team, but I know it was the right thing to do.
July 2020 - Being First Is A Big Deal
In June (I think, it might have been May) I somehow found myself learning to use a new tool that had been developed by one of my co-workers. This tool was relevant to work I was doing, and even though it wasn't fully ready to launch, I decided to dig into it and learn how to use it. Not only did I learn how to use this tool, I ended up sharing that knowledge in presentations first to my immediate team and then to the entire front-end engineering team. I didn't feel like I was doing something special (I wasn't doing something that nobody else could do), but I was doing something that nobody else had done yet, and that was noteworthy. Being the first person (or in this case second because the person who set it up was first) to try something new is difficult. There aren't really many people to rely on for help. Solving problems requires a lot less asking my teammates for help and a lot more googling. At first it was difficult for me to see my work here as much of an accomplishment - I wasn't the one to create the new tool, I was just the first one to use it. But after a discussion with my manager and some reflection, I realized that going into uncharted territory and being the first to use a new tool is a big accomplishment. And by being the first, I have made working with this tool easier for my teammates, because now they have an additional resource to consult (me!) when they run into difficulties.
August 2020 - People Skills Matter
In early August, I had my performance review with my manager. One of my goals for my first year was to get promoted, and as part of our discussion, my manager mentioned that one area where she wanted to see significant growth in order for that to happen is in my interpersonal interactions. I'm still not sure how I feel about this as an area of growth for me. I've never been a people person, but other than one or two isolated incidents, I haven't found that it interferes with my ability to do my job. I understand that interpersonal communication is important for collaboration, and I have been working on my communication and collaboration just because collaborating well makes it easier for me to be an effective contributor to the team, but this idea that my interpersonal skills could hold me back despite my technical skills is something I'm still struggling with.
September 2020 - You Can Experience Burnout Doing Something You Love
"Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life." We've all heard this sentiment, but one thing I learned this month is that it's completely untrue. In August, September, and October, I had the opportunity to work on a project that I loved. In fact, I loved it so much that I'd eventually like to move to a job where this kind of work is my primary responsibility. I loved it so much that I worked longer hours, worked after dinner, didn't set boundaries ... and by the middle of September, I was starting to feel burned out. I was exhausted all the time. I enjoyed the work I was doing, but at the end of my workday (which was often longer than it should have been) I felt completely drained. I was trying to balance work and family responsibilities, and most of the time I felt like I was completely underwater. I had never experienced burnout like this before, and I was surprised that it could happen while working on a project that I really enjoyed. But one thing I learned this month is that burnout can happen at any time, no matter how much you love what you do. It's important to be aware of that and to recognize signs of burnout even when you're enjoying the work.
October 2020 - There Is Room To Grow
As I approached my one-year anniversary with the company, I was presented with several opportunities to fuel my growth. The earliest was my first opportunity to work on our mobile app, something I had wanted to do since my early days at the company. I also participated in our hackathon, which gave me an opportunity to try some new things and work with a different group of people (although I did end up working with a few people that I work with regularly). It was nice to see that despite having been here for almost a year there were still new areas to grow and new things to learn. Towards the end of the month, my manager mentioned another growth opportunity to me - developing a plan to ensure that I am ready for promotion to Engineer 2 at my next performance review. This promotion is something I had wanted to achieve in my first year at the company, and while I'm extremely disappointed that it didn't happen, I still appreciate knowing that the path is out there and may be within reach.
This list is just a small portion of the things I've learned over the past year. I've learned new technical skills, new collaboration skills, and learned a lot about myself along the way. But the biggest lesson I've learned is that I am most successful when I trust myself to know what I'm doing and make the right decisions. I look forward to putting that lesson (and all of the lessons listed here) into action in the next 12 months, and I'm excited to see what new lessons I can learn in my second year at the company.