Career Advice

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Career Advice Career Advice 7.26, 2014 Schubert Zhang Don’t be a short-order cook  Simply being an implementer isn’t good enough – you need to be involved in the process that leads up to implementation. Good engineers don’t just follow orders, they give feedback to and work with product owners to make the product better. Self-promote In order for you to get credit for the work you’re doing, you have to let people know. You need to do a bit of self-promotion to get noticed. If you do good work, but no one knows that you did good work, then it doesn’t really help you. Self-promoting doesn’t mean, “look at me, I’m awesome.” It means letting people know when you’ve hit major milestones, or when you’ve learned something new.  It means … when you’ve got things done! It’s about people At a certain point, you stop being judged on your technical knowledge and start being judged on the way you interact with people. I’ve seen countless engineers get stuck at one level in their career. Smart people, good code, but the inability to work effectively with others keeps them where they are. Anytime someone feels stuck in their software engineering career, I recount this advice and it has always been right None of this matters Things are going wrong and you don’t like that. You are frustrated and angry . It’s easy. You see, none of this matters. So some crappy code got checked in, so the site went down. So what? Work can’t be your whole life. These aren’t real problems, they’re work problems. What really matters is what happens outside of work. I go home and my wife is waiting for me. That’s pretty nice. Once you shift your mindset and recategorized the annoying things at work as “work things,” You are able to think more clearly. You are able to calm down at work and have much more pleasant interactions with people. Authority, your way You know you had to be more of a leader, but you are having trouble being authoritative. I can’t tell you how to be authoritative, that’s something you need to figure out on your own. Different people have different styles. What you need to do is find a style that you can live with, that makes you comfortable. I can’t tell you what that is, but you do need to find it for this position. Understanding how you provide value Be yourself, the way I provide value in a relationship is by using what I’m good at. My value in relationships is that I am trustworthy, I’m stable, I’m safe. I call when I say I will and show up when you need me. I remember birthdays and anniversaries, and I’ll take care of you when you’re sick. I listen, I understand, I help. I don’t run and hide when things go sideways. All of these things that I perceived as weaknesses when I was young turned out to be invaluable assets. This is how I provide value in relationships. It’s not the value everyone seeks, but it’s the value I’m best equipped to provide. And that’s what matters. To be the multiplier in a team There was so much work to do and I felt like I had to do it all. I was coding so much, and people were coming to me so frequently, that I was severely stressed. There was just too much going on, too much code to write, too many people’s questions to answer, just too much. I could no longer be the go-to guy for any important piece of code to be written, I had to learn to trust others to do that work. My role, he went on, was to be a “multiplier”, acting as a multiplier that enabled everyone else to be more effectively at their job.  Moving from “how?” to “what?” To this point in your career, you’ve answered the question, “how?” As in, we tell you what needs to be done and you figure out how to do it. At this point, though, you need to answer the question, “what?”  Switching from “how?” to “what?” is very hard and takes time to develop. This is the part where I see a lot of engineers get tripped up. We call this “running open loop,” meaning that you do your job with minimal oversight and yet still are making a significant positive impact on the engineering organization and the company as a whole. This is the step where many engineers fail to make the leap. Act like you’re in charge If you’re in a meeting, it’s because you are there to participate. If you’re not sure why you’re there, stop and ask. If you’re not needed, leave. Don’t go quietly into a room. Just act like you’re in charge and people will believe it. No one knows when you’re acting. If you’re nervous but act like you’re not, then people won’t know that you’re nervous.  Let them win There are a lot of arguing going on, and you pushing through to win a lot. I know that most of the time you are right, but every once in a while let them win. Pick the things that really matter to you and push for those but let the other things go. There’s no need to win every argument. The result: there were less arguments. People didn’t feel like they had to get one over on me, and in turn, I became better at identifying things I really didn’t care that much about. I stuck to my guns on important issues and let the others ones get resolved by the other party. The intensity of all conversations dropped considerably. Learn from smarter  Identify someone at your work that is smarter than you in some way (technically, organizationally, etc.) and attach yourself to them. See if you can regularly have lunch or coffee and pick their brain for the vast amount of knowledge it has. Your career, and maybe even your life, could end up drastically better by doing so.
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Career Advice Career Advice 7.26, 2014 Schubert Zhang Don’t be a short-order cook  Simply being an implementer isn’t good enough – you need to be involved in the process that leads up to implementation. Good engineers don’t just follow orders, they give feedback to and work with product owners to make the product better. Self-promote In order for you to get credit for the work you’re doing, you have to let people know. You need to do a bit of self-promotion to get noticed. If you do good work, but no one knows that you did good work, then it doesn’t really help you. Self-promoting doesn’t mean, “look at me, I’m awesome.” It means letting people know when you’ve hit major milestones, or when you’ve learned something new.  It means … when you’ve got things done! It’s about people At a certain point, you stop being judged on your technical knowledge and start being judged on the way you interact with people. I’ve seen countless engineers get stuck at one level in their career. Smart people, good code, but the inability to work effectively with others keeps them where they are. Anytime someone feels stuck in their software engineering career, I recount this advice and it has always been right None of this matters Things are going wrong and you don’t like that. You are frustrated and angry . It’s easy. You see, none of this matters. So some crappy code got checked in, so the site went down. So what? Work can’t be your whole life. These aren’t real problems, they’re work problems. What really matters is what happens outside of work. I go home and my wife is waiting for me. That’s pretty nice. Once you shift your mindset and recategorized the annoying things at work as “work things,” You are able to think more clearly. You are able to calm down at work and have much more pleasant interactions with people. Authority, your way You know you had to be more of a leader, but you are having trouble being authoritative. I can’t tell you how to be authoritative, that’s something you need to figure out on your own. Different people have different styles. What you need to do is find a style that you can live with, that makes you comfortable. I can’t tell you what that is, but you do need to find it for this position. Understanding how you provide value Be yourself, the way I provide value in a relationship is by using what I’m good at. My value in relationships is that I am trustworthy, I’m stable, I’m safe. I call when I say I will and show up when you need me. I remember birthdays and anniversaries, and I’ll take care of you when you’re sick. I listen, I understand, I help. I don’t run and hide when things go sideways. All of these things that I perceived as weaknesses when I was young turned out to be invaluable assets. This is how I provide value in relationships. It’s not the value everyone seeks, but it’s the value I’m best equipped to provide. And that’s what matters. To be the multiplier in a team There was so much work to do and I felt like I had to do it all. I was coding so much, and people were coming to me so frequently, that I was severely stressed. There was just too much going on, too much code to write, too many people’s questions to answer, just too much. I could no longer be the go-to guy for any important piece of code to be written, I had to learn to trust others to do that work. My role, he went on, was to be a “multiplier”, acting as a multiplier that enabled everyone else to be more effectively at their job.  Moving from “how?” to “what?” To this point in your career, you’ve answered the question, “how?” As in, we tell you what needs to be done and you figure out how to do it. At this point, though, you need to answer the question, “what?”  Switching from “how?” to “what?” is very hard and takes time to develop. This is the part where I see a lot of engineers get tripped up. We call this “running open loop,” meaning that you do your job with minimal oversight and yet still are making a significant positive impact on the engineering organization and the company as a whole. This is the step where many engineers fail to make the leap. Act like you’re in charge If you’re in a meeting, it’s because you are there to participate. If you’re not sure why you’re there, stop and ask. If you’re not needed, leave. Don’t go quietly into a room. Just act like you’re in charge and people will believe it. No one knows when you’re acting. If you’re nervous but act like you’re not, then people won’t know that you’re nervous.  Let them win There are a lot of arguing going on, and you pushing through to win a lot. I know that most of the time you are right, but every once in a while let them win. Pick the things that really matter to you and push for those but let the other things go. There’s no need to win every argument. The result: there were less arguments. People didn’t feel like they had to get one over on me, and in turn, I became better at identifying things I really didn’t care that much about. I stuck to my guns on important issues and let the others ones get resolved by the other party. The intensity of all conversations dropped considerably. Learn from smarter  Identify someone at your work that is smarter than you in some way (technically, organizationally, etc.) and attach yourself to them. See if you can regularly have lunch or coffee and pick their brain for the vast amount of knowledge it has. Your career, and maybe even your life, could end up drastically better by doing so.
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