My Advice to Those Entering the Workforce
My Advice to Those Entering the Workforce
With a new wave of graduates ready to enter the technology workforce, a Zone Leader provides his advice from being in our space for the last 26 years.
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That time of year has arrived again, where students who have completed their required courses are now ready to enter the workforce and begin their careers.
It's hard to believe it has now been 26 years since I was in the very same position. For the most part, the years have raced by — with each stop on my career path providing some insight and learning opportunities. While I have always taken the not-so-great experiences with the awesome opportunities, I thought I would take some time to offer key advice for those entering the workforce.
Never Say "Never"
Within our industry, never is a word that has a way to come back to haunt you. In addition to often proving the alternative as true, this little word can wreck damage on your reputation. Just recently, I heard an experienced developer use the word "never" in front of a C-level executive over a lunch meeting. I cringed when I heard him speak in such definites, since his words immediately painted our team into a corner that was easily invalidated. In fact, as he continued to speak, I was able to conclude three such scenarios and I hoped the decision-makers sitting at the table were not doing the same thing as they listened.
There is Always More Than One Correct Answer
Something else important that I've realized is that there is more than one correct answer to a question, situation or challenge.
As a new technologist working on a problem, you will likely become excited when you figure out how to handle a task assigned to you. The solution is coded to match your thoughts, unit tested and then sent off to code review. During the review, your excitement is dashed when the development lead provides advice to use a different approach to solve the problem.
Chances are, if the suggestion is made, it likely means there was another, even better, way to solve the task assigned to you.
Respect Experience, Listen More
Building upon the last item, it is very important to respect the experience of others working with you. You might have architected a solution that looks and sounds bulletproof in your mind, but often times you might not see the forest for the trees. Your approach may solve the problem, but lead to bigger issues along the way.
One example that comes to mind is when a developer decided to implement a new attribute to the data model to meet the needs of bug within the system. The developer was new to the project and the approach seemed logical. However, when considering the impact the new attribute would have on not only legacy data, but other features and functionality related to the business logic — the impact the attribute was going to have across the corporation was not ideal.
The experienced team member offered an alternative approach, impacting only the local team's testing and validation and protecting the time and effort across the other teams.
Change is the Only Constant
This might sound trite, but change is the only constant that I have seen over the past twenty-six years. When I started my career, things were changing in a big way within Information Technology. The focus on green-screen based COBOL applications on the mainframe were starting to diminish in favor of applications written to leverage networked-based personal computers. A few years later, the explosion of the Internet changed things even more.
Soon after, the dot-com era began to further establish the value of technology in the business world. The popularity of browser-based applications and then mobile applications changed the way applications were created and delivered. Then, social media began to emerge and take technology into new directions as API-based applications paved the way for mashups and laser-focused applications.
My point here, is that change will always be a part of our world — and the only item that is a constant year after year.
The last piece of advice I can offer is this: work hard.
I know it sounds just as obvious as my last point. Let me clarify what "work hard" means to me.
In addition to being a hard and focused worker with the tasks assigned to you, it also means going the extra mile during your workday. This means volunteering for tasks and events that fall outside your typical work expectations. Establish yourself as the person people can always depend upon as delivering strong results. As an example, if there is an opportunity to be part of a special interest (i.e. Community of Practice) team in your corporation, cease that opportunity and do your part in making things better.
At the same time, look for hackathons and even open-source project opportunities to make things better for the benefit of others. I am certain in taking this approach you will only learn and become a better person along the way. This would also include maintaining your own accounts on GitLab or GitHub for elements you want to learn or build upon outside your current experience.
I wrote about the importance of establishing your brand earlier this year and cannot express how important this is — for you more than anyone else.
As one who continually interviews candidates, I always look for differentiators between those who are competing for the open position. I always look for ways to find that hard-working and dedicated technologist. The more ways you can show potential employers, the better.
My father started working right after school at a local manufacturing factory. He started on the assembly lines and moved his way up to becoming a foreman by the time I became a teenager. What I realized when I started working after college, is that my job in Information Technology was my generation's version of my father's generation. At that point in time, I truly believed I would finish my career at the insurance company that maintained one of the biggest skyscrapers in the Midwest.
Like my father, I felt like I would prosper in my career at that insurance company, gaining expertise as a technical employee and being rewarded we each step along the way. Back in those days, the idea of leaving one company for another was somewhat frowned upon. It actually took quite a bit of thought and analysis before I made that first leap to another job — but I was so glad that I did. What I learned is that my generation's career path was different than my father's. I am certain that those starting their careers now will experience the same reality.
I truly hope you see value in the advice I have offered above. The last, and equally as important, advice I can offer is to always have fun with your current opportunity. Each day, week and year will continue to cycle by faster and faster. Before you know it, you will find yourself at the 25+ year mark in your career — so why not make sure to have fun along the way?
Have a really great day!
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