5 Lessons From A Decade of Work
Nuggets of wisdom, pieces of advice or lessons I’ve learned from colleagues and managers I’ve worked with. Here are my top 5.
I’m now over a decade into my career, a few grey hairs in and what seems like hundreds of projects and products that I’ve taken care of. There are some key moments of advice I’ve often recalled repeatedly, or valuable lessons I’ve learned.
Here are some of my most notable ones…
“It’s OK to keep an eye on the market and ensure you’re being compensated fairly”
I remember this conversation well, despite being early in my career. This particular day, I had my annual review scheduled. I diligently gathered my notes on what I feel I’d contributed over the last year and how I felt my salary ought to reflect that. I continued that I didn’t want to come across ungrateful or disloyal, and I really did enjoy my job very much. I might have apologised a few times too.
My manager at the time waited patiently until I’d finished my reasoning and explaining, and simply reassured me that I didn’t need to be so conservative. “Just shoot from the hip!”, he’d often add. Contrary to what I’d expected, there was no dramatic outburst or accusation of being ungrateful for the opportunity. Just an honest and fair conversation about my skills and market value. And it was refreshing. Yes, it does rather make you feel a bit like a commodity, listing out specific things you’ve done, but compensation should be based on things both tangible and intangible. Things that can and can’t be taught. It gave me a lot of confidence to pursue conversations like this when necessary, and equipped me with some good skills during contract negotiations.
“Don’t feel guilty about starting a family. Take as much time off as you feel you need, and upon returning to work, don’t feel guilty about that either. It’s an endless cycle of guilt, be kind to yourself.”
At the time of having this conversation, I wasn’t thinking about this phase of life at all. It came up during talks of how to improve the workplace for parents, and at the time, I was sympathetic, but I didn’t really know the struggles that new parents face. Perhaps within the last year, since we welcomed our little girl into the world, this has become more memorable. Tech doesn’t typically lend itself to a decent gender split, and so conversations around having a family and the needs of parents aren’t always openly discussed, at least in my experience.
I know that the topic of maternity leave and bringing up children presents with it a suite of opinions. What I learned from this conversation was that it is your journey, and you need to do what feels right for you. Easy to say, but difficult to execute. I know someone who took a full year of leave, and then fell pregnant again months upon returning. I also know someone who took no more than the statutory two weeks off, had no maternity leave and now works from home with her newborn. In both cases, I’ve heard many opinions on what is right or wrong about each approach. Block all of that out, is my advice. Nobody else is in your shoes.
“You should always be prepared! It’s your fault that the demo didn’t work on the day.”
Yes, I know. Asshole. Exactly what I thought at the time too.
But there was a takeaway from this, aside from me being slightly mortified that I was being called out for a mistake that I thought wasn’t really my fault. Perhaps there actually was more I could have done. Those in software know — quite famously — that if anything is ever to go wrong, it’ll always be during a demo. But on this occasion, I was running a workshop to gather requirements for a client. My colleague assisted me. As I brought the system up on the projector to talk through and demonstrate a process, a string of error messages ensued, which could have been avoided had I taken a moment to set up some data ahead of the session.
I tried to use whatever wit and charm I had at the time to distract the client, while I scrambled around trying to put together a quick example, but, understanding as they were, it was tough to reinstate the confidence in the room. Now, when planning any project or product demo, I will always ensure I have time to prepare thoroughly. It’s not always practical, but there is always a risk in not doing so. With new features, or new systems, comes a level of managing change. Some are comfortable with things going wrong, whereas some audiences may lose faith. Take no chances either way, and always prepare well.
“Developing an app on the side? Great! It’s OK, and encouraged, to have a side hustle outside of work.”
Astonishingly, this came up during an interview I had (to which I was later offered the role), and I’ve never forgotten the impact it had on me. I always imagined that certain managers might frown upon the idea of someone in their team pursuing a passion project outside of their day to day responsibilities, perhaps with the view that they’ll be distracted. But later, as I discovered, this makes for more interesting conversations at work, more ideas being shared, more passion, and generally an acknowledgement that people are more than their day jobs. This conversation was probably the first that gave me the proverbial ‘green light’ for having work / life balance.
“Before a meeting with the C suite, always get your facts and figures in order. Whatever you say is always more credible if you have specific data.”
I think this one speaks for itself. I remember many opportunities I had to present ideas to a board member, and there were strong differences in outcome based on how well I’d prepared my data beforehand. If I were able to effortlessly refer to the exact % of customers affected by problem A, the value this equated to, quantify the amount of lost revenue, to which the solution I’m presenting is the answer, it often went favorably.
Data is key in all aspects of work — whether that’s presenting ideas, or negotiating a salary. It stops any personal bias or interferences, and truly, keeps things fact-based. No matter how well experienced you are or how obvious the benefit, make the effort to back every suggestion you have with data that supports your argument.