I've been at my current job for a little over a year, and I feel like I should be confident in my place on the team - but most days I'm not. While I know there are some factors outside my control that play into this feeling, I also know that one of the reasons I feel very out of place is because I'm trying too hard to fit into what others expect of me, rather than bringing my authentic self (or a version of it) to work. Part of bringing my authentic self to work is understanding the best Sarah that I can be at work and what I need to do to execute that vision. Over the last few months, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I truly am in a work setting. I know that as I continue to evolve as a person and as a developer, my authentic work self will change, but for now, here are some things I want to do to be my best self at work:
Enforce Positive Company Culture
Company culture doesn't just happen - it's created through the actions of employees. While no culture is perfect, my company culture does have some aspects that I think are positive and productive, and it's important to me that I reinforce those cultural norms through my actions.
Improve Work Culture When Appropriate
Often building the culture you want means enforcing new norms. One area where I've encountered this is in how my teammates and I style new components in our apps. I recently worked on a project involving some changes to my company's design system, and one of the things I noticed while working on that project is that we're not making the best possible use of our design system. I'm currently trying to figure out how to improve our design system and make it easier to use properly, but as I do that, I'm also trying to "enforce" better use of the design system through PR comments. For example, I recently left a review on a teammate's PR with some suggestions for how to incorporate some new and lesser-known functionality of some design system components into the work that had been done. When building out new features, many people (myself included) focus on making sure the new functionality works and matches designs, and don't always focus on the best use of existing components. If I want my teammates to focus on using our design system in the most effective way, then I need to be an example of best use - including both using design system components properly in my work and encouraging my teammates to do the same through my PR comments.
Learn How Others Want to Be Treated
One thing I'm working on is understanding how others want to be treated and treating them that way. The common wisdom is to treat others how you want to be treated. And while that's a nice sentiment, and it's certainly a good place to start, the truth is that everyone is different, and how I want to be treated may not be how other people want to be treated. One example where this came up recently is with "working Thursdays", a new policy instituted by my company that restricts meetings and internal communication every other Thursday. In a team discussion, I discovered that some of my teammates enjoy having a day with few meetings so that they can focus on work. I like having meetings and Slack messages coming in to keep me from getting too deep into the woods on my work. Knowing that some of my teammates do prefer to have that uninterrupted time to immerse themselves in their work changes my behavior on that day - I know not to reach out to those teammates for anything that I need an answer immediately and I do my best to respect their time even on other days because I know they want that heads-down time.
Specify Best Intentions
One of my team's principles is "assume best intentions," but that's an idea that really doesn't sit well with me. "Assume best intentions" puts the onus on the person receiving the feedback or comments and exempts people from having to be considerate in delivering feedback. I prefer to specify intentions rather than forcing others to interpret my words. When delivering feedback to a teammate, my goal is to make the intentions behind my comments as explicit as possible. There will still be some confusion and misunderstanding (English is a tricky language), and that's when "assume best intentions" will be important, but I believe that the more we normalize stating your intentions, the fewer ambiguous situations there will be, and the less people will have to assume best intentions.
Go Above and Beyond When You Can
An area where I'm trying to improve is taking on work that might not be strictly necessary for the ticket I'm currently working on, but is related and should be done soon. I have a tendency to label anything that isn't the bare minimum of what needs to be done as outside the scope of my work. Part of this is a consciousness that I don't always have time to do extra work, but sometimes its a matter of not wanting to do the work or not being confident in my ability to do the work. I'm trying to be better about this (particularly if it's the not quite the end of the sprint and I have nothing else on my plate), but it's a process. One example of a recent ticket where I went above the bare minimum requirements was a ticket I completed last sprint that involved removing a deprecated design system component from our codebase. Many of our older tests test implementation details, and replacing this deprecated component with the updated component broke those tests. While fixing the broken tests would have met the minimum requirement of the ticket, instead I decided to update the tests to test functionality (which is the new way we write tests), making them more resilient for the future. That said, I know I was only able to do this because I had a light sprint. Some sprints there isn't time to do that extra work - and in that case, my goal is to acknowledge what needs to be done and create a ticket for the future.
Meet Others Where They Are
We all have different backgrounds and different experiences, and I know that I can't expect anyone else to be like me. Everyone sees work a little differently. Everyone has different needs outside of work and has those needs impact work different. Rather than expect anyone to fit into a box or be more like me, I need to meet my teammates where they are and work with their needs and their experiences.
Being a good teammate and a good worker requires a lot more than just showing up. It requires being your best self at work (whenever you can) and constantly working on yourself and your interactions with others. The qualities listed in this article are just the tip of the iceberg for me. I know I have a lot to work on in order to be the best "Sarah at work" that I can be, and I hope that I always have the opportunity to learn and grow into the best me.