What does it take to be (un)successful?

Submitted by admin.greatens.com on Fri, 05/04/2018 - 01:18

Recently, I met a friend out for lunch after he had accepted a job and was preparing to get started at his new company. It had been a while since he had started a new job, so over burritos we discussed a variety of topics. During the conversation he asked a great question, "What does it take to be successful at HS2?" Of course, I started the answer by changing the question to, "What does it take to be unsuccessful at HS2?" Of course, there are always peculiarities at any company, HS2 Solutions is no different, so I left out the advice that pertained to that with my friend and this post as well. Below you will find a cleaned up version of my answer that day.

Be overly reliant on other people
Nothing will endear you to people at your new employer more than if you are like a lost puppy that is in constant need of attention. Now, when I say that, I am not referring to when you immediately start work. There are always numerous questions for someone just getting started. And, to get off on the right foot, you need answers to those questions. But once you have found a rhythm, if you still find that you are constantly badgering your colleagues with questions, you will transition from new guy to annoying guy.
If you want to avoid being unsuccessful, once you have your sea legs, make sure you find out if and where the systems you are working on are documented. Often, companies will have a Wiki site setup so that common questions or background information are documented allowing you to help yourself. If the questions are related to the technologies or computer languages you are using, make sure to seek out those answers on the Internet first. When you reach your colleague with a question, you should be able to demonstrate what you have already tried or searched before seeking his advice.

Bonus points: If you find that something is not well documented, feel free to document it. Are the steps to setting up a development environment cryptic and stored in someone's head? Get it documented. Make it easier for the next person that gets started.

Do not seek out work
Your project manager is a very busy person. She spends much of her time in meetings trying keep the project on the tracks. Many of these conversations are with the product manager and others to define the sprint road map and determine what needs to be done. To stay on her naughty list, make sure to keep quiet when you run out of things to do. Why not spend the afternoon surfing the internet for a deal on those new shoes you have wanted forever?
When you get hired, especially in an engineering position, people expect that you are a doer. Part of being a doer is knowing how to keep the flow of work steady. The person most able to help you get and keep a steady flow of work is your project manager. If you do not tell her (with plenty of notice) that you are running out of work, she will be unprepared to help you. Your daily stand-up is the perfect place to let the project manager know.

Bonus points: Make sure that you give your project manager plenty of warning that you are running out of work. To do this in an agile environment, it means you need to be knowledgeable on your project's current sprint and backlog. If you are running out of work to do in your current sprint, don't just tell your project manager about it, but bring her suggestions for what work you could do in the current sprint if you had additional help or which cards from the backlog are best suited for your skill set.

Do not seek out knowledge
You have made it! All of that education and/or experience has paid off with a job (hopefully your dream job). Now is the time to bask in the glory. So, kick back and relax. After all, now that you are drawing a steady paycheck writing COBOL programs on an AS/400 system, what more could you possibly need to learn? Besides, if some new, fancy technology comes along that your new company wants to start using, it should and will train you.
When starting a new job, there will be plenty to learn just to get started. Sometimes this will include learning a new language or technology. Presumably, your new employer will understand where your current skill set does not align with your new position and help you fill that gap. That said, it is not your company's job to keep your skill set current. When I got started at HS2, my position was based in the LAMP stack, the only part of which that I had any experience was Linux. Since I started, I have accumulate knowledge in a number of areas: Drupal, Wordpress, Javascript, HTML5, CSS3, Sass, node.js, Vagrant, and Varnish (well, those are the ones that come to mind). Much of that learning has come on my own time, but all of it has been useful for HS2. Learning is a lifelong commitment. If you stop learning, you will stagnate.

Bonus points: Keep your eyes out on emerging technologies. Try to keep your pulse on the new technologies, especially technologies that can benefit your company. A few years ago, I attended DrupalCon and spent a great deal of time learning about Responsive Web Design (before it was a wide-spread term) and read books on that and Mobile First development and helped change the direction or our web development. The next year at DrupalCon, I learned about Vagrant and how it could solve various environment issues that we ran into and spent my own time proving how it would help. If you continue to bring up new and useful technologies to your management and colleagues, you will be seen as a go-to guy. There are not enough hours in the work day to do this, so you need to spend some of your nights and weekends accumulating this knowledge. It does not have to be more than a few hours a week of reading Tweets or blog posts or books.

There are many other habits that will make you unsuccessful wherever you work. Understand and avoid these habits. Your colleagues will thank you for it.