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(OT) On starting a new job

by jacques (Priest)
on Dec 01, 2004 at 18:36 UTC ( [id://411526] : perlmeditation . print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

I have put together some helpful advice on starting a new job, and thought I would share them with the community. This advice stems from my own personal experience over the years. Any comments/additions are appreciated. Thanks to everyone in the CB for their suggestions.

Exude self-confidence and intelligence.
Don't be afraid to ask questions. But don't bog down your trainer with dozens of questions. No one will enjoy holding your hand, especially if they are busy with more than just "showing the new guy around". Some companies excel at training new hires, but it has been my experience that few places give training much thought. Live with it.

Also everyone will be watching you closely in the beginning, so it's best not to make too many mistakes or look like an airhead. Try to be sharp and don't show fear. Be confident in your ability to perform your job tasks, even if they haven't come into focus yet. Let your behavior reflect that the company's decision to hire you was the right decision.

Try to fit in
Be yourself, but try to belong. For example, if you notice everyone wearing nice clothes, consider wearing similar attire. For some companies, image is important, and if you do not fit into the company's "image", then you might find that you stick out like a sore thumb. I knew one recent college graduate who consistently dressed below the standards of her coworkers. By the time she realized her mistake, she already had been transfered to the worst office in the company.

Don't be late to work
This one is a no brainer. I always make it a habit to arrive early for the first few weeks. No doubt, someone will be watching you when you first start. So don't be late, as tardiness always leaves a bad impression.

Don't step on any toes
Be respectful and watch out for those toes! Be careful about your comments concerning other coworkers, as comments can often be misconstrued, especially when others are just getting to know you. What you say in jest, may be seen as an insult to someone unfamiliar with your sense of humor. Be careful with any changes you make. For example, changing the .login file which will affect anyone else who uses your account.

Be paranoid
Many employers spy on their employees at work. When you have dead time, try spending it on something work related, like how something works, instead of building your fantasy team or composing long personal emails. Don't hunt for other jobs. Don't instant message! When you are on the clock, you are there to do work. Sportscenter will be there when you get home. Just do your job and let them watch.

Cast a critical eye on your new job
While you know others will be judging you, so should you be judging your new job. Did you make the right decision to work here? It is better to leave early, then to prolong your stay in hell. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Do you find your co-workers and the management likable?
  • Do you foresee yourself working here for a significant amount of time?
  • Are you happy?
Your answers to these questions will change over time, but if you already can answer 'no' to any of them, then you should consider bailing out. The sooner you leave, the better. Be careful about advice from family and other concerned voices. Only you really know if this new job is the right choice for you. Listen to yourself.

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Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by dimar (Curate) on Dec 01, 2004 at 20:16 UTC

    Considering the dilligence with which you preceeded putting this meditation online, I'd bet that *you* personally would be a good employee to have. That's my first impression. Kudos to you on that account.

    My second impression: although these may be good pointers for starters ... there's also a flip side to nearly every one of the points you raised, and the 'naysayers' of the world will do their part to reveal the antithesis.

    There is no substitute for experience, understanding, and wisdom.

    Grist for the mill, here are just some bits to chew on ... (assuming we're talking about programming jobs)

    Exude self-confidence and intelligence Change this to "Be true to yourself"

    Certain positions and professions place a premium on maintaining the appearance of 'knowitall-super-genius' ... but this also tends to (justifiably and unjustifiably) alienate people. Of course, if you are exceptionally bright and naturally confident, there's no reason why you should not let it show ... but be ready to keep a lot of really good and revolutionary ideas to yourself. If your ideas are really good, and really revolutionary, people will resist them tooth and nail, and either you, or they will be dragged out kicking and screaming.

    Try to fit in Change this to "bathe regularly and wear nice clothes"
    As far as personal grooming and work attire, no brainer. As far as behavioral traits, who is to say what constitutes "fitting in"? What if there is no obvious operational or institutional momentum for you to follow? What if it is dysfunctional? What if you are at a startup where it is important to "stand out" and improvise? What if you were hired *specifically* because you exhibit a dominant trait that no one else has? (race, gender, languages spoken, disability, family background, et al. {note: in many cases this is illegal, but it still happens}).

    "Be yourself, but try to belong" sounds like touchy-feely-greeting-card-speak, and lacks falsifiability, therefore toss this one into Marketing and let them play with it.

    Don't be late to work No change

    No brainer, but good to keep on the checklist, very few people are 100% punctual.

    Don't step on any toes Change this to "choose your battles sparingly, but wisely"

    This one is a doozy, because, by definition, you are stepping on *someone's* toes by the mere fact that you are accepting money in exchange for your time. You aren't the only person who interviewed for that job, and your paths may soon cross with someone that you beat out for the position (you are in the same industry, after all). Moreover, the job would not have been available unless someone thought the existing personnel and resources were inadequate (for whatever reason).

    That's just the very tip of the iceburg. What happens when you are caught in the middle of an internal religious war, turf battles, or divisions that do not talk to one another? What if you are pressured to join in on shunning the 'village idiot/outcast' or opposing a pervasive policy that is manifestly unfair and possibly even unethical/illegal?

    Be paranoid Change this to "there is no such thing as privacy"

    All employers spy on their employees at work (and off work). Even if you work at a help desk in a remote office by yourself and you never get calls, you signed away a whole chunk of your life just to get the job. The realities of Federal workplace regulations and taxes mean that you can assume there is no element of your life that is outside of scrutiny. Keystroke loggers and email monitoring are just the trivial annoying flies buzzing around that huge steaming pile of legalese and tax minutia that you signed when you applied and when you accepted the job. That's where the real stink is. That's the most likely attack vector for snoops into your "privacy".

    Cast a critical eye on your new job Change this to "A bird in the hand is worth ..."
    Unless you are working someplace where you would willingly work for free, you are making a compromise. The pain and gravity of that compromise is, of course, contingent upon your own personal ultimate values. Values transcend your job title, your salary, and what other people may (or may not) think about you. Bailing out may seem like an attractive option, but if it were all roses and spice, we wouldn't call it "work."

    Perhaps these may come off as the words of a 'naysayer' ... but like I said, just grist for the mill.

      My grandfather worked his way up from being an oil field worker to being a vice president of Exxon over the course of many long years. During his tenure as a manager, one of his new hires asked "How can I succeed here at Exxon?"

      He thought about the question, and told the employee three things:

      • Show up on time
      • Don't get sick
      • Do "good" things
      I currently have this posted above my computer monitor as a form of encouragement, and it has served me well. The moral of my little anecdote: post slightly cheesy sayings that resonate well with management in your workspace, and they'll perceive you as a real go-getter.

      (For those who are interested, the anecdote is real, the moral is not. :)

      As far as behavioral traits, who is to say what constitutes "fitting in"?

      Something that greatly interests me are expat programmers, specifically Americans working in Asia.

      I know of one American programmer who is working in Beijing, China. He has done some Perl, including a Mason project called "Brick Builder," I believe. He keeps an online journal, but sadly his site was down the last time I checked.

      What interests me about his situation are the cultural differences he encounters at his work place. What are Chinese programmers like in China? What are the work habits? How does he fit in?

      Teaching English is a very popular way for westerners to work and live overseas. But I would like to see how far my programming skills will take me. Can Perl take me to the other side of the world? Why not.

        Something that greatly interests me are expat programmers

        Me too. I have this recurring fantasy where I get a short-term contract job in Japan which pays enough to justify the travel. Not that I speak Japanese or anything, but hey...

        Simon Cozen's blog sometimes has interesting stuff along these lines, but less so since he caught the God bug. Elaine Ashton's blog is also a good spot to fantasize about leaving the country.


Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by dragonchild (Archbishop) on Dec 01, 2004 at 18:46 UTC
    For all those younger programmers - all you have to do is remember one thing:

    No-one cares how good at programming you are.

    Once you learn that, then you can start to realize how to excel in the corporate world.

    Being right, does not endow the right to be rude; politeness costs nothing.
    Being unknowing, is not the same as being stupid.
    Expressing a contrary opinion, whether to the individual or the group, is more often a sign of deeper thought than of cantankerous belligerence.
    Do not mistake your goals as the only goals; your opinion as the only opinion; your confidence as correctness. Saying you know better is not the same as explaining you know better.

      In many places I have worked, one's programming skill was measured (by non-programmers) simply by how quickly and how often you say "no". Their thought process went something like this:

      You clearly are not a good programmer because if you were, you could do what I am asking you to do.

      And no, it did not matter if what they were asking you to defy the Laws of Math/Nature/Physics/etc.

      Over time though I found the antidote to stupidity such as this is to say "yes", then explain to them (in great depth) the many ridiculous steps you would have to take to accomplish it. And then if they are a paying client, tell them how much it will cost them. If delivered calmly and clearly without sarcasm or bitterness (always best to keep those things to yourself) this would usually result in you looking good, and not having to accomplish said ridiculous request.

      Of course it does backfire sometimes, but then you just look at it as a challange ;-)

      Are you sure you shouldn't be looking for another job, dragonchild? Taking on board your comment and Anonymonks corollary...

      Maybe I was lucky - my current employer was my first US one, and first "real" one ever (before that I set up a web design business and then wrote some e-commerce software). Consequently, I came to my current job with no ideas on the etiquette of US companies. It had both good and bad consequences. To some, I was an irritation, to others, I was an honest opinion. Fortunately, my opinions mattered. And my approach seems to have paid off. Whenever I see a problem that I think needs fixing, I start planning a solution, and I am encouraged to do so!. A year ago, I decided our CRM solution was utter crap. And Windows only - not much good for escalating issues to sysadmins or development :) I'm currently writing our own from scratch and having great fun. I also had some good ideas about helping some people survive a slashdotting (well, I half saved the last one, but when his book comes out we can (hopefully) test my theory :), and will ask someone else to code it up when I've finalized the specs.

      Wow. Maybe we just have a good culture that encourages this? I don't know - not having worked for any other US employers.

      Admittedly, we're not a huge corporate, but we all work to keep the culture healthy. Politics is discouraged, and often people do work outside of their job description because they see it needs doing.

      Basically, I would disagree with your statement, unless it's amended to, "No-one wants you to tell them how good at programming you are."

      I'm excited about the work we're going to be doing this year, and am encouraging other team members to take over responsibility for existing projects and create new ones themselves. I honestly believe that the whole dev team have fun and feel that their opinions and skills count.

      Just my little rant - no conclusions really :)

      Am I just lucky. Is a healthy work environment really that rare?

      cLive ;-)

      Corollary to "No-one cares how good at programming you are." is "no one cares if you have good ideas".

      Dilbert said recently that stress is caused by thinking people care about you. Very true. No one does unless you've made actual friends. It's all about advancement and your ideas are usually a threat or make someone else have to fix their stuff. Ugh, I hate it.

        "no one cares if you have good ideas"

        It's not that I don't care if you have good ideas. No! Really! I do want to hear them. ... Just not right now. Not when you are supposed to be fixing a defect. No, really! Fix the defects you have assigned, then we can discuss your ideas to make the applications more "efficient".

        Make the application work before you try to optimize it!

Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by samtregar (Abbot) on Dec 01, 2004 at 18:44 UTC
    And as a corollary, advice for those dealing with new co-workers: don't expect to figure out what they're really worth for at least three months. It usually takes that long for the shine to wear off and their real personality to emerge!


Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by Anonymous Monk on Dec 01, 2004 at 19:00 UTC
    Sadly what I really want to see is "finding a new job", as non-contract (aka non-temp) work is pretty hard to find right now.

    I have learned from this one: always allow people to save face. People can be wrong, and your suggestions however wrong, they will take personally if they are shallow enough. This comes in under the C.Y.A. line, but I prefer working with egoless programmers who don't make excuses and accept fault. So far (I'm in the US), I seem to be getting the impression Japan & Germany don't like excuses and actually believe in straight talk -- and as a result I tend to respect our overseas employees/partners a bit more. I wish we could be more like them.

      I've encountered that kind of resistance before as well. My normal technique for handling it is to have ruled it down to an issue with their component, but instead of hitting them directly with a "the problem is in your component" (preceived) frontal assault, I instead as them to verify the behavior of their component on the grounds of ruling it out as a part of the issue, while making it clear I am still examining other potential issues. This allows them to discover the issue, rather than having it be pointed out to them, and gives them the opportunity to save face. (It also allows for the removal of my foot from my mouth if instead I find there was something else I missed.)


      (And I do agree with the appreciation of straight talk and lack of excuses. Your fault, my fault, nobody's fault-let's get the problem solved, and if anyone wants to talk about the dust motes in the eyes of others after having de-planked their own eyes when the current fire is over, they're welcome to.)

Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by sfink (Deacon) on Dec 02, 2004 at 07:20 UTC
    No offense, but something about the tenor of your post rubs me the wrong way. Maybe that's what it's like in big companies, but I think I would have very different advice for someone beginning work at a startup.

    Exude self-confidence and intelligence

    If you're thinking about the image you're trying to convey, you have the wrong idea. I would recommend finding a way to make a positive impact as quickly as possible, preferably within the first two weeks. Quickly get a rough overall feel for the whole situation (mostly meaning the architecture of the system you'll be dealing with, and that means more than just the code), then pick something small to start working on and make sure you understand it well enough to make a valid contribution (i.e., don't avoid asking questions and then charge ahead to implement something that doesn't fit with everything else, or that will need to be ripped out in the nearish future). Ask as many questions as you need to in order to get the minimum level of understanding you need. It's far better to look stupid than to do something stupid. You'll be working with these people for a while -- any poor initial impressions will eventually be either confirmed (if you really are a loser) or disproven by your actions, and diving into something quickly is the best way to gain the expertise you'll need to succeed in the future. Even better, it'll get you the notice of people whose notice is worthwhile (and you can't identify who they are by the org chart.)

    Try to fit in

    Anyone at a startup who judges other people by their clothing had better be in the marketing or sales departments. Body odor maybe (hopefully!), but not clothing. For a technical position, it just means that people have too much time on their hands.

    Fitting in, though, is still valuable. You need to try to become enough of an expert on some area of the system that your opinion will be sought, heard, and respected -- and not too much, or you'll end up doing all the work yourself. Or floating away, the proud ruler of your own little island that will become less and less relevant over time... Similarly, you need to be aggressive enough to get your concerns dealt with, but not so aggressive that you suppress others' voices. These are mostly longer-term goals, though. When first starting, just try to exercise one of your strong suits, so that people start to "discover" you as a valuable resource in some area, no matter how narrow.

    Don't be late to work

    True. But don't be early either. And early might be most people's notion of "on time". You want to have a good intersection with the people who actually matter and get stuff done, and unfortunately their hours are likely to be scattered around the clock. (And be aware that many people will shift their hours later to have some uninterrupted work time in the evening, so in the early days you probably want to err on the earlier side to avoid pestering them when they're least receptive.)

    Don't step on any toes

    Step on toes. Avoiding them is a sure way of becoming an irrelevant, expendable drone. But do it only when you need to in order to get stuff done, and be very aware of whose they are and why your actions are considered to be toe-stepping. Even (especially?) in a startup, people will be wed to their current ways of doing things, and frequently those ways will prevent you from getting stuff done (or require you to spend insane amounts of effort on working around something that lost touch with its evolving set of requirements.) You might be able to argue someone out of it, but there will be times when you just need to rip a hole in their stuff in order to make them see that it is no longer quite right for what you need. Just be careful to justify your need. And work more on demonstrating the problem than on redesigning their solution -- you'll be far more likely to turn their irritation into respect.

    Be paranoid

    Be paranoid -- but only of yourself. If you're getting your stuff done, then there's no reason not to spend some amount of time reading news, or IMing, or whatever. But beware the traps! It's easy to find yourself on a Friday, looking back and wondering where the time went. Work hard to raise your own expectation of how much work you accomplish in a day.

    As for employers spying on you -- huh? Sure, there's some amount of that, but I've never run into it where there wasn't a justification (bandwidth usage or whatever). If your employer really had the time and inclination in that direction -- well, what do you love so much about that job again? Oh, right, the steady paycheck. Still, if you stay there for very long, you're going to end up with that same sort of mindset, so you'd better be looking for something else NOW!

    Cast a critical eye on your new job

    This one is dead on. Be careful -- it's really easy to get too busy and caught up in your day-to-day work, and completely forget about this. You'll wake up one day and realize you're miserable, underpaid, and mind-deadened so much that you're stuck.

    I don't think I'm really disagreeing with the OP, so much as giving a different point of view, one based on the startups I have been involved with so far.

      Step on toes.

      Never a good choice when starting a job anywhere.

      Unless, of course, you're wildly popular and in a postion of authority like the Governator. Then you can crush those little girlie toes.

      It's easy to find yourself on a Friday, looking back and wondering where the time went. Work hard to raise your own expectation of how much work you accomplish in a day.
      Amen, sibling. Perhaps this is something so trivial/obvious that the OP decided it wasn't worth mentioning, but a good personal time tracking system is essential; it gives you feedback (why can I only account for 4 hours of my workday? Time to cut down on /.!) and data for your employer (I spent 15 hours last month maintaining product X; perhaps we should fix those bugs?).
Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by BrowserUk (Patriarch) on Dec 01, 2004 at 20:51 UTC

    Ask yourself this question of every law, rule, guideline, meme, mantra, and dogma to which you are subjected or expected to observe;

    Does this rule(etc.) exist to serve the happiness of the individuals; or the well-being, profitability or productivity of the group; or simply to establish and reenforce the exclusivity of the rulemakers?

    Examine what is said, not who speaks.
    "But you should never overestimate the ingenuity of the sceptics to come up with a counter-argument." -Myles Allen
    "Think for yourself!" - Abigail        "Time is a poor substitute for thought"--theorbtwo         "Efficiency is intelligent laziness." -David Dunham
    "Memory, processor, disk in that order on the hardware side. Algorithm, algorithm, algorithm on the code side." - tachyon
Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by jcoxen (Deacon) on Dec 02, 2004 at 19:23 UTC
    I'd add one thing to this list.

    Be adaptable

    or if you prefer,

    Be ready to learn new skills.

    Whenever the boss has said, "I need someone who can do X", I've made it a point to raise my hand and reply, "I don't know how but I can learn." And then I go out and teach myself. Right now I'm learning how to program in Perl.

    That attitude has kept me gainfully employed for the past twenty-mumble years - without a college degree - when a lot of highly skilled and highly specialized people have gone by the wayside...all because I'm willing to learn new skills. Admittedly, I've usually...ok, always...had to teach myself and pay for my own books, etc but I've gotten it back in raises and continued employment.

    I'm not saying I've never been laid off because I have. What I'm saying is that, since I can more than one thing, I don't get laid off as quickly as a one-note wonder. And, because of my broad skill set, I can find work more quickly and in a broader market.


    Cogito cogito, ergo cogito sum
    (I think I think, therefore I think I am)
Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by talexb (Chancellor) on Dec 02, 2004 at 16:45 UTC
      Exude self-confidence and intelligence

    Nah. Just be yourself. The movie Dead Again has a terrific line (delivered by Robin Williams character) that goes something like "Just decide who you are, and be that person." Don't make apologies, or force yourself to be someone you aren't -- if you want to be a better .. programmer, then .. take on the characteristics of a better programmer.

    Here's my For Example: after a disappointing dental checkup, I decided I was going to be someone who flossed and brushed every day. Yeah, that's a small thing, but if it means I get to keep my own teeth rather than going to dentures (ugh), it's important. I haven't missed a night of flossing and brushing in six months -- and yes, the oral hygenist did notice.

      Try to fit in

    Nah. Be yourself, fitting in with local customs as necessary.

      Don't be late to work

    Nah. I have to make lunch for my step-sons and do various other duties around the house. I get in when I get in, sometimes closer to 9am, sometimes closer to 10am. And anyway, I have a VPN connection to work, so I can check and fix most things from home.

      Don't step on any toes

    Well, OK, but express your opinion too -- I'm in the software development business, and I'm expected to use my brain and make suggestions, where appropriate. When the matter starts to take on political overtones, certainly it's wise to defer to your seniors.

      Be paranoid

    I would say, to paraphrase Larry Wall, Have the appropriate amount of paranoia.

    I use company time to do personal stuff on occasion. But I also use personal time to do company stuff. I figure it balances out. Therefore I'm not paranoid.

      Cast a critical eye on your new job

    Sure. Then again, searching and finding a new job is not my favourite past-time. Getting the one I have now was actually fast and quite pleasant. I'm not really looking forward to the next time.

    Alex / talexb / Toronto

    "Groklaw is the open-source mentality applied to legal research" ~ Linus Torvalds

Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by zentara (Archbishop) on Dec 02, 2004 at 13:06 UTC
    Be paranoid Many employers spy on their employees at work. When you have dead time, try spending it on something work related, like how something works.....

    Like maybe.....locate all the hidden cameras and microphones :-)

    I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. flash japh
Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by mkirank (Chaplain) on Dec 02, 2004 at 09:05 UTC

    I've seen some ppl do this, When you do something good send a mail with cc to everyone :-)).
Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by Mr. Muskrat (Canon) on Dec 04, 2004 at 04:09 UTC

    Don't instant message!

    Where I work, it's often the fastest way to reach the IT guy you need to reach.

Re: (OT) On starting a new job
by saldoman (Initiate) on May 19, 2005 at 18:22 UTC
    In addition to these: # Do you find your co-workers and the management likable? # Do you foresee yourself working here for a significant amount of time? # Are you happy? I would add: Until you can answer yes or have already answered no to th eabove questions, keep in touch with the job market!! I started a job five weeks ago, I am starting a new one on Monday. It was the worst job I have ever had in my 23 years of working!