When I started one of my jobs, I had to attend an orientation that featured a panel of rising stars at the company who were there to give advice on how to succeed at the company. Every panelist offered “work hard” as their advice to success. If they needed to tell me to work hard to succeed at my new job, they had already failed at their hiring choice. “Work hard” is the upfront advice equivalent to “try harder” after somebody makes an honest mistake.
My first job out of college started a little different. I was given a piece of advice day one and I still remember it to this day. One of the directors called me into their office. Now, keep in mind that two months before this day, I was living in a fraternity house with 12 other guys. Now I was working in an office not much larger, but with almost all women, many of whom were old enough to be my mom. I was raised to respect your elders and say yes. My new colleague, was quick to point out “listen, I and many of the other people here are old enough to be your parents and it’s good to have respect, but don’t ever feel like you can’t say no. You have a job to do and you need to be fair and responsible to that role.” It was hard to do, but there’s no question that it made me a better employee. “Work hard,” “be nice,” and “show up early” are all great pieces of advice, but I’m a fan of more off-beat advice. It has helped me in my career, so here’s my advice to people starting out in web development; which can really be used in any field.
Somebody brought donuts, grab one. Then bring them in next time
Seriously, go for it. But don’t take 2 until later in the day when everyone has had a chance to get some. You might be a starving, not so far removed from being a college student employee or intern, and your colleagues probably know that, but show them that first and foremost you’re a professional. Next week, bring in donuts, make brownies, buy some bags of chips, do something to show you’re a part of the team. Especially if you’re an intern. Do you know how often interns bring things in? Not very often. Do you know how much they stand out when they do it? A lot. You’re likely auditioning for a job, why not do something small to stand out?
Volunteer to be challenged
On a scale of 1-10, you’re a 4 as a developer. Volunteer the next time a project is 5 in terms of difficulty. Don’t volunteer for the 9, that’s just stupid. Baby steps.
Also, freelance on the side or create a side project. You are hopefully learning a lot on the job, but learn something (a framework, tool, etc.) outside of your team’s stack and you just might be able to be the person who already has a head start if the team has an opportunity for it.
Pretend you care about the boring adults
You know how I know my tales of home improvement and 90’s era TV references are boring? Because not long ago, I listed to people a decade or two older than me talk about their life and thought some of it sounded boring. But you’ll make a connection with them and learn some life lessons outside of work. You might just wind up being friends!
You’re failing. Tell your boss
You know what sucks more than telling your boss you might have bit off more than you can chew before a deadline? Telling your boss after a deadline.
A good boss will challenge you; and a good employee will challenge themselves. But a good boss will never leave you out to fail. They might ask you if you can write a new project using a framework or concepts you’re not familiar. Don’t say no, accept the challenge and be honest up front. But if you’re not hitting the marks you both expected at a certain point into the project, ask for help. Maybe there’s a senior developer who can mentor you. A good boss will respect your hard work and honesty, because in the end, you’re going to become a better person to work with after learning those new concepts, rather than committing bad code or work-arounds.