The first three months, or junior survival guide2019 10 04
Author: Giedrius Saulėnas
OK, comparing your career to a marathon (rather than a sprint) is probably banal, but it’s also super-accurate. Even if you can call the start of your career a sprint (which is exactly what it’s called at BA), constant professional development is a true marathon.
Although I’m no runner myself, I’m sure that both a sprint and a marathon require a great deal of effort to get into and stay in the lead. The same goes for a career, in which success is gained by stable and confident growth that requires hard work. But this post is not about running.
The start of your career, or the first careful step
You have finally started your career – great! Whether you’ve graduated, are still in the middle of your studies, or have just finished high school (we have one such colleague), you have your chance. From now on, everything depends on you: on your effort, attitude, determination, proactivity and, of course, your hunger for success.
If you’ve passed your interview and landed your first job, you’ve already done a lot. It’s not that easy to get started in the IT world, where competition for entry-level positions is fairly substantial.
You might have passed a several-stage selection, written a code on a board, solved various logical and coding tasks, demonstrated your knowledge of algorithms and coding languages, were stood on your head and whatnot (I can only guess because I didn’t have to go through the “standard recruitment” process, but more about that later).
Think you can relax now? Unfortunately, it’s only the start and a lot more awaits you.
So you’re waiting for your first day at work, and you’re a little worried. The unknown is somewhat scary, but you’re also curious.
A new role always causes anxiety: what will it be like? Will I fit into the company culture? Are my skills truly suited to this role? Will I meet my employer’s expectations? Often, preconceptions are exactly what make us stumble.
I had to live with all these questions and doubts as well, but let’s start at the beginning.
How did I end up at BA and start my own marathon?
My start was rather spontaneous.
I stumbled across a post on Facebook inviting people to join a student internship programme – or, in other words, accept the type of challenge I like.
As the programme was aimed at future testers and I knew a thing or two about the basics of testing, as well as having talked about this type of work with people who had been doing it for years, I decided to take up the challenge. After all, I already had some experience and programming was not my only option for a career start.
My challenge was to get through an eight-week QA training course with like-minded colleagues, where we would be trained by professionals boasting many years of experience. Sounds interesting? We would also have a guaranteed job if we completed the training.
Although I had plenty to do at university at the time (throughout the semester, we had been working on a team project, involving a lot of coding, planning, searching for different solutions, presenting the work to lecturers, and defending it), I still decided to go for it. I still think, as I did then, that it’s important to get as much experience and try as many different things as possible. There will be plenty of time for specialising anyway.
It turned out that I had less than a week to overcome the first challenge – and almost missed it. Without wasting any more time, I filled in the application form and solved the accompanying tasks, which were both logical and directly related to testing. As I said, I weren’t completely new to testing, so completing the tasks was not too difficult.
The following week, I received a call and was invited for an interview the next day.
After walking 1.5 kilometres in the cold (which, for some reason, seemed like a good idea), I made my first careful but confident steps into the office. The interview then went smoothly and I just had to wait for their response.
On my way out at the end of the interview, I was asked whether I had found any errors on the QA challenge page. Without thinking about it too much, I said no because I really hadn’t noticed anything wrong.
But the more I thought about the web page, the more errors started coming to mind (the power of overthinking). However, this “critical error” did not undermine me and I soon heard the good news – I was invited to join the training programme.
The training itself went by fairly quickly. We spent a lot of time on object-oriented programming and automation tasks, learning about both Agile methodology and the basics of testing, as well as carrying out real-life practical tasks. While doing these, we recorded our first bugs and wrote our first test cases.
We were instructed by people with a large amount of experience, so we felt comfortable and ready for “real” life. But it was not exactly how things continued.
What was it like at the start?
Since I’ve been working here for more than three months, I can share my feelings and lessons learned as a junior at the very beginning of their career.
The start is not easy – something I can say both from my own experience and from the stories of my friends and colleagues. Work and study could not be more different: you can learn many useful things at college, but it’s not enough for such a job. And you will not, for instance, need knowledge of algorithms and discrete mathematics in your first few days at work.
No matter what your role – programmer, tester or analyst – it’s going to be difficult at the start.
So, my first days… during these, I met my colleagues, and learned about the company’s structure and various processes. I was helped by my mentor and a beginner’s guide in which everything was described in great detail, as well as a meeting with my line manager. Although it doesn’t seem like it at first, the getting-to-know-everything part takes some time. I should also mention the need for installation of the required software and time to learn the company’s internal systems.
After all this came an introduction to a project that I was to start working on, which is where it got interesting. It took several weeks to learn just the core functionality of the project.
During this “adaptation” period, my mood shifted a lot. For learning, you receive a task to find out how a certain function works and when you start analysing the documentation, everything seems to make sense. Then you try the same thing in a testing environment and it doesn’t work. You try to understand what you did wrong, ask a more experienced colleague and successfully solve the problem with his or her help… then you move on to the next obstacle… As you have already recently bothered your colleague, you don’t want to waste any more of their time when the solution might be simple. After deciding to work it out yourself, you spend four hours on the problem and still don’t solve it. Now you’re banging your head against the wall and need to ask for help.
Although a colleague would be happy to help you, you’re afraid to ask because you see him or her working on a serious task while you’re playing in your sandbox. When you work on a real task that has an impact on a product, you look at it completely differently and the job has to be done as soon as possible – so you cannot waste time.
… three months later
I can confirm that everyone faces challenges. As time goes by, you learn to solve problems and understand that everything has a solution. It’s difficult at the start, but in the long run, you will understand the processes, practices and methods, and everything will start to seem much clearer.
Maybe it is naive and foolish to come to conclusions after such a short period, but I feel a huge difference between the way I did in the first weeks and now. Over time, my contribution to projects has increased and my work has become more and more interesting. Solved problems create positive emotions, especially when you manage to find solutions on your own. This feeling – this awareness that you have learned something new and overcome something that at first seemed so hard and beyond your capabilities – is worth all the effort.
How do I view my start now? When I look back, I probably could not have imagined it better. I have learned a lot in a short period of time, but that is only a tiny part of what I still have to learn. I’ve been lucky to join a wonderful team with the conditions I need to grow and experience everything for myself. My managers have also helped me a lot, and I know I can turn to them at any time to get professional advice.
Advice for juniors
In your first few months, you may often find yourself banging your head against the wall – which is normal (if you want to grow). If everything is easy and fun at the beginning, then you’re probably not on the right path (though, of course, everything depends on your ambitions). If you don’t have enough responsibilities, it means that your managers, mentors and other well-meaning colleagues have created conditions in which you will not grow to maximise your potential.
I’m not saying that the only thing you do at the start is put out fires, but after coming to a company, you need time to learn its processes and culture. In my view, further adaptation should not be easy and there needs to be some level of stress to promote growth.
Things may seem complex at first and you might feel you’re not a good fit for the job or that you’re incompetent – but don’t worry, as most people go through this. One big mistake is to compare yourself with experienced colleagues. Don’t forget that some of your colleagues have many years of experience and they, too, did not learn everything in a day. Everybody was a junior at some point (even if some of them forget it), and people who are top experts in their field today also had to start somewhere.
Below are my recommendations for young specialists. These are completely subjective and based on personal experience:
- Don’t feel bad if your productivity seems low at the start of your career, and don’t compare yourself with others. Some people’s strength is their experience, whereas yours are your bright eyes and willingness to learn. Remember that learning things takes time. When a company accepts you as a person without experience, it understands that you will need time to start creating value and learn everything (such as how meetings work, what different specialists do, how the organisational structure works, what you should be doing in your job, how to prioritise tasks and how Agile works in practice).
- Don’t overdo things by trying to prove your skills. Don’t take on more tasks than you can complete.
- If this happens anyway, don’t feel too bad: you might see every mistake as being the end of the world, but it’s probably not that big a deal.
- Accept responsibility and be proactive to help yourself grow. Don’t wait until someone gives you a task; instead, think of a way in which you can be useful. It’s always possible to choose a safe route without accepting new challenges and this is pretty easy to do when you’re a junior – no one will order you to exceed expectations or point fingers at you if you do too little.
- If you see that you can’t do a task, ask for help – otherwise you might spend four hours trying to work it out when your colleagues may be able to explain the essence of the task in 10 minutes.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your colleagues if you need to know something. Although there are no stupid questions, it’s sometimes enough to use Google to find an answer. But if you can’t find the answer online or think of a solution within a few hours , don’t bang your head against the wall. Disturbing your colleagues can sometimes be scary, especially when they are focused on their work. However, your colleagues will find a few minutes for you and be happy to help – and if you have more questions, it’s possible to set up a meeting to get them answered.
These recommendations do not comprise a formula for a successful career, but rather my own personal insights – and maybe my advice will seem naive to more experienced colleagues. I have merely tried to share my insights to the extent that my modest professional experience allows.
And just to finish off, here are some signs that you’re still a junior:
- Playing NBA 2K19 with colleagues (after working hours!) brings you more joy and happiness than a successful release.
- You need 5+ attempts to place your computer in a docking station.
- You feel uncomfortable during your first stand-ups because you don’t have anything to say or the tasks you have completed seem small or unimportant compared to those of your teammates.
- If you felt like you didn’t contribute enough to the project during the stand-ups, just wait for the project planning process.
- Some words, technical terms and technologies that your colleagues talk about sound mystical (at least in your first few weeks).
I believe that junior colleagues or those who are currently looking for their first job in IT will find something useful in this post. Nevertheless, I encourage you to think critically and not trust everything you hear.
Ice cream, fruit, coffee and muffins on Fridays are nice, but are not the most important thing. If you don’t want to work, don’t feel motivated and don’t see yourself as part of the team, all of that is just a meaningless diversion. Most importantly, enjoy your work. This is exactly what drives BA – enjoy IT!
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