"I’ve been working in technology for over 20 years, firstly as a Developer, then Team Lead and now Engineering Manager. I’ve worked in the finance, gaming and media industries.
I am an empathetic person, with a passion for maths and logic alongside a love of art. On the one hand I find comfort in the boolean logic of mathematics, and on the other I find subjective perceptions of art fascinating; there are so many nuances between how different people view the same thing.
Throughout my journey in tech there have been tough situations on the people side and challenges on the technical side with creating effective, performant solutions. Lots of valuable lessons have been learnt (sometimes more than once!). I hope the following advice, based on my perspective and experiences, will help you on your journey.
Invest time in knowing yourself and how others perceive you
You might feel very confident that you know yourself well, but taking the time to understand how others perceive you is invaluable. I had the privilege of a company investing in analysis through a series of multiple choice questions on how I saw myself and how my line manager, peers and direct reports saw me, which made for some fascinating reading! If you ever have the chance to take advantage of analysis like this, seize it! It helps to bring peoples' perception of you closer to how you perceive yourself. This will increase your chances of more meaningful interactions with others, which will bring with it further success. You can also take the opportunity to do this for yourself - in teams I’ve been in, we’ve all done a Belbin test which helped us understand each other better, for example. If there’s no feedback culture at your place of work, create one for yourself and those around you. Ask people directly for feedback on what they think you do well, and what they think you should work on. I’d advise picking the right moment with people, especially if they’re not used to being asked directly, in a private space where people can think and are more likely to be honest. You might be pleasantly surprised at what a positive effect asking directly for feedback can have on the working relationship between you and your colleagues.
Do your research!
If at times you feel like you’re not doing enough, that you’re not good enough, I hear you. With the relentless pace of technological innovation, it’s tough to feel like you’re keeping up. Surround yourself with positive people who support you; it’s very important to get positive feedback. If you're invested in doing what you do well and are making effort to be the best you can be, share it. Infect people around you with the same enthusiasm. Create a learning culture at your company. Take the time to get out of your usual routine and get inspired - it will help you to think about challenges in a different way, and you’ll learn different approaches to solutions.
Network, find a mentor... then use them!
I used to think networking was somehow cheating - a shortcut to success. Never one to make life easy for myself, I thought this could be no match for hard earned experience and learning by doing. If you look at it another way however, networking presents a great chance to compliment the hard work you are putting in - you can learn from a more experienced person, and add more value in your current role. Seek out people who are different to you!
Surround yourself with the best people
When I was a kid learning to play the drums. My teacher said “join a band with better musicians than yourself and you’ll progress much faster." I followed his advice and it worked; I learnt more in a shorter period of time and started playing gigs with my new band, and I had alot more fun along the way! You’ll learn more from working with and observing people who are very skilled at their jobs. It’s a privilege to see a fantastic people manager in action, or an experienced Software Crafter approach software engineering challenges, or someone performing the Scrum Master role effectively and with (hard earned!!) ease. Join meetups and get to know leaders in their field and align yourself with them. Re-invest what you’ve learned with others, and help contribute to progressing our industry in the right direction.
It’s ok to step away to take a career break to follow another dream - it will all work out in the end
In the past I’ve worried that my life would fall apart if I were to step away to look after myself or to follow a different dream. Two years ago I took a career break to follow my dream of spending a season snowboarding and I’m pleased to report, that my life didn’t fall apart. Quite the opposite in fact!! The chance to get a different perspective on life, spending my days in the beautiful mountains and fresh air, getting through my reading list, playing with tech and cultivating a daily yoga and mindfulness practise was absolutely invaluable. I returned to work refreshed, full of zest for life and the job I really enjoy. If you work hard to add value at your current role and have been professional in it, should you want to take a career break, there’s no reason that you wouldn’t be able to get another job on your return."
Sam Jones - Engineering Manager - Monzo
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