I’m the New Kid on the Cube Farm

Tech is a special industry among industries. The workers are highly educated, wealthy, and in good health. Compare this to other times of high industry growth in the industrial revolution: workers there were low education, poor, and often paid the price of health to work long hours in harsh conditions. Finally, the most mind boggling difference: tech workers have incentive to change jobs. Thus leading into this topic: starting at new companies and on new teams.

I recently changed companies (company number 3) moving from one tech giant to a smaller but still fairly large tech company. With this comes the challenges of learning the lay of the land, the typical feats of bravery to prove yourself, and the immeasurable stress of your brain on overdrive taking in all the new names and acronyms.

For those thinking of changing teams or companies, this can be daunting or even a deal breaker if building new relationships is hard for you. Maybe you can’t bear the thought of slogging through months of not knowing exactly what you are doing or being unable to answer your boss’s questions. For those of you in the middle of this, you know how this feels and unless you’re extremely lucky, you probably have some friction with your new teammates thrown in there too. Here is my advice on getting through this more smoothly:

  • Play to your strengths: If you’re like me, you’re sick of hearing this because whenever someone says it they never tell you what your strengths are. Just play to them. As if we’re born knowing what we’re good at. Seriously though, figure out what you’re good at or at least what you’re more comfortable with. Example: I’m good at writing and make really bad first impressions. This means I should focus on making a written introduction to people to soften the blow of the inevitable slap in the face my first verbal interaction with them is going to be.
  • Seek to understand before being understood: I would say this goes without saying but it really needs saying. If people feel like you’re interested in the history of what they’ve worked on then they are more willing to hear your opinions on it. Don’t: We should use Slack because Microsoft Lync is crappy. Do: What are your favorite collaboration tools? I personally like Slack because of the wide variety of emoji. Maybe we could try it out sometimes on the team if there’s interest.
  • Get social: But don’t because being introverted is way better. Find out how your team communicates: email, chat, IRC, in person, forums, meetings. Understand when you’re supposed to use each medium and which one each team member prefers. If your team is full of heads down coders that hate to be interrupted, respect that and set up 1:1s if you need in person time.
  • Learn to fish: Asking people how to do things is sometimes the only way to learn a team’s tech stack. Documentation isn’t known to be a glamorous part of being a developer so it’s often sparse. However, try to figure out where the documentation is on your team. Do they use README files, confluence, Wikipedia, SharePoint? If you can become good at mining this information it will help you build trust through your knowledge.
  • Make yourself at home: Being comfortable in your environment can reduce your stress and help you learn more effectively. Not only that, lower stress means fewer mistakes and you’ll probably be more interested in going to work day to day. What does this look like? Personally, I wear slippers at work and have a blanket at my desk in case I get cold. Making your space your own can also mentally set you up to be in work mode. I won’t go so far as a framed photo of my cats on my desk but whatever you need to make you feel like you belong there.

As always, there’s more to say on all of these topics and these are only a few things you can do to help with team integration and “ramp-up”. The thing to remember is that you can change your environment and have the power to adapt as well. Take some time to think of which you need to do for each instance of discomfort you encounter.

Have fun being the newbie.

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