The following are some small practices that I have learned so far in my career. They have worked well for me and I’d like to share them openly.
Take initiatives and put in the work early on
When you are new and especially when you are just fresh from school, it’s important to put in the work early on and take as many initiatives as you can shoulder. In my current job and with my severely limited banking experience prior to this role, I took as many JIRA tickets (a system used to manage projects) as I could. I put in hours of going through others’ code, through as all the fields in many tables in the data warehouse. The effort seemed to pay off. I am more comfortable now with the data and how it all works than I was a year ago. Plus, I built myself through the projects a library of code that can be re-used. It helps me get projects done more quickly. It’s more difficult than I thought, but at the same time, that’s why it is satisfying when you can see your personal progress.
Don’t show off or bury others in public
If you can point out a coworker’s mistake privately, do it, instead of hitting “reply all” to a group email. There is no gain in embarrassing others publicly even though that’s not your primary motive. If the point is to ensure all information and output is correct, talk to the person privately.
I have seen people humble-brag in emails about how they put in extra hours or did something great or found something new. I did that myself early in my career. However, I learned that nobody likes humble-brag. At least I don’t. I would tell my younger self the same thing. The reason why many people at work, especially those who came before, didn’t advertise as much is because they didn’t bother to. So why should you? Keep your head down and do the work. Recognition will follow. If you don’t humble yourself, life will do it for you instead.
Feel comfortable saying “I don’t know”
I also have seen folks blurt out answers to questions without thinking them through. Such answers likely have holes that invite further questions. In many cases, it may be the best way to build/keep credibility just to say: “I don’t have an answer right now. I’ll get back to you later”. Executives may have more information than you and can point out numbers or facts that don’t seem right, but I am pretty sure they don’t have all the answers on the cuff either. So why should you try to?
Do your own research first
I had recently somebody at work who is longer tenured than me ask me how to extract a month from a date field in SQL. I guarantee you that if you google it, the answer will be in the top 3-5 results. If you were asked that question, especially from somebody more tenured, how would you feel? My experience teaches me that people are willing to help, but they are happier to when they see that you already tried yourself. It’s very frustrating when somebody didn’t even try and kept bugging you with questions. Nobody is born with knowledge. All is gained and earned.
If it’s a piece of code, comment on what you wrote. If it’s a fairly complex process that needs screenshots and instructions, put it in a Word document. First of all, somebody else will benefit from the practice. Second of all, you yourself will appreciate that you documented it. As we age, our memory doesn’t get any better. Even if our neurons don’t deteriorate, we have to deal with an increasing amount of information every day.