I was recently asked to give some advice to engineers new to the industry. Here is a short list of habits that will help you grow your career.
Habits Compound Over Time
Habits, even tiny ones, will have a larger impact the more time passes. Especially as you start to settle into routines, months and years will simply go by. The little habits, the little decisions you make each day will add up.
When it comes to your career this could be the difference of 10 years experience or 1 year experience repeated 10 times. Are your habits helping you grow and move your career forward? Or are they causing you to seek comfort and just get things done?
Take a moment to examine your working day. What are you current habits? What does your routine look like? How do you start solving a new problem at work? What is the quality of work you are delivering?
Become aware of what your current work habits are and determine if they are helping you reach your goals. Consider adding in some of these new habits below.
Habit 1 - Slow Down & Learn
When working on a task, make it a habit to go a little slower so you can take time to learn. Don’t just seek to get it done as fast as possible all the time. Don’t always take the familiar path to the solution. Especially early on in your career, take extra time to go look up a concept that doesn’t quite make sense. Go read the documentation a bit further before coding up a solution. Briefly explore that new framework before using your tried-and-true approach.
This small but consistent act of seeking more information will result in a bit of growth on each task you do. Over time, this will greatly add up. It will help you learn new skills on the job and go faster on the bigger projects that eventually will come your way.
Related, ask your manager for projects or tickets that are in completely new domains. Take the tasks that are outside your comfort zone to keep learning. That uncomfortable feeling of not being sure what to do next, that’s what learning feels like.
Habit 2 - Be OK with Not Knowing
A career in tech or perhaps a successful career in any industry, is one of constantly learning. This means there will continually be times where you do not know something you need to. Get used to it. It’s OK and it’s part of the job.
There is so much to know and so many new developments happening, no one really expects you to know everything. But do give yourself credit, because you do know things. You may be the expert on your team or at your company in certain domains. Or at least you may know more than other folks do about a topic.
Be OK with the discomfort that comes with not knowing. Embrace it. That’s where you will grow. Have the attitude of “I don’t know but I can figure it out.” When someone asks you about a topic you aren’t certain of, say you don’t know but will get back to them. It’s OK to admit you need more time or more information before being certain.
Habit 3 - Build Relationships
Throughout your career, you’ll likely work for multiple companies. While companies change, people can stick around. The relationships you build today at work can carry over from job to job. You can even make life-long friends. Positive relationships at work make it more enjoyable as well. Be supportive, be empathetic. Spend the time investing in the relationships you have at work.
As you progress further in your career, you will be come more dependent on other people. You will need to get buy-in from stakeholders on other teams. You will need colleagues to help work on a project you a driving. You will need mentors or folks to point you in the right direction when you are stuck.
One of the most important relationships you’ll have at work is with your manager. They are there to help you grow. A good manager should be supporting your development and push you to get better. Ask for what you want in this relationship. Take on the projects you are interested, be clear about your aspirations, and ask them to help you find those bigger, cross-team projects.
Habit 4 - Take Care of Yourself
Life is more than just work. If you have important things in your life that need attention, like your health or family, prioritize those things as you need to. There will always be more work to do.
Find and set your boundaries. Especially now with Slack and email on your phone, it’s easy to never really be “off”. Don’t do that. Set a time that snoozes notifications and shows you’re offline. Put blocks on your calendar. You NEED to set your boundaries at work. Companies with a great culture might help you to do this but often it’s going to be on you to set your own limits.
The work will be there when you get back. It’s very important to take the time off and recharge fully. Having a rested and healthy mind enables you to come back with the focus and energy needed to have an impact. Burnout is something no one is immune to.
Find the work-life balance that’s sustainable for you. There may be different periods where you lean on one more than the other. But keep thinking of this balance and ensure you are taking care of your health and happiness while still managing to do great work.
As with all advice, take what is useful to you and ignore the rest. Pick one or two ideas here that you like and focus on turning those into habits over the next month.