Congratulations, you’ve just accepted an offer of employment. You nailed that interview (or interviews) and you’re just about to embark on the exciting journey from the world of study to the jungle of employment. This might be your first SERIOUS job, so what do you have to do to survive and become a professional? What survival skills will you need, see figure 11.1. Even better, how can you thrive in your new role and take on the challenges that are coming your way? How will you avoid diving, ensuring you survive and hopefully thrive in your new environment? 💪
At the end of this chapter you will be able to
- Manage your manager so that you can:
- Survive the workplace
- Thrive in the workplace
- Avoid diving in a workplace environment
- Collect evidence of new workplace skills and knowledge that you develop
- Reflect on new workplace skills and knowledge that have developed nowhere
- … and in the future
Starting a new job is a bit like starting a new relationship, except that it is professional rather than romantic. You’ve searched for and found a partner. You’ve been through the courtship of recruitment, this might have been quick or may have had many rounds of first and second “dates” (interviews). Once you start employment, you are both committed to each other in a serious relationship. Simply put, there are three scenarios for you as a new employee. You’ll survive, thrive or dive.
Your new job will go OK, you’ll meet the expectations of your employer and become and valued employee. If your employer has a probationary period, you’ll pass your probationary review without any problems. Most employees probably fit in to this category. 🆗
Your new job will go brilliantly, you’ll exceed the expectations of your employer. If you’re on a fixed term contract, such as a summer internship or year long placement, they’ll make you a job offer during or soon after your contract of employment expires. If you’re on a more permanent contract, such as a graduate job or graduate scheme you’ll be promoted and given more responsibility. 💪
You’re doing really well if you can impress your manager. Some lucky people make it into this category.
Your new job will go badly, you will struggle to fit in and won’t meet the expectations of your employer. Once you were like star-crossed lovers, (see figure 11.2) but the relationship has turned sour and could take a disastrous dive into tragedy. (Shakespeare 1597; Goble and Wroe 2004)
There are several relationship problems that could lead to you breaking up with (or being dumped by) your newly estranged “lover”. 💔
- Relationship problems: Your relationship with your manager(s) is not going well. You’ve tried solving problems informally by talking to your manager but you’re not satisfied with the response and want to raise a formal grievance complaint in writing. (Servant 2021c)
- It’s not you, it’s me: You might ultimately decide to you want to hand in your notice to terminate your contract of employment and leave. (Servant 2020b)
- It’s not me, it’s you: If things get really bad, your employer may take disciplinary action against you (Servant 2021a) and in the worst case scenario, you’ll be fired (dismissed). (Servant 2021b)
- Becoming unhappier: You were looking for a job and now you’ve found a job. Heaven knows you’re miserable now. (Marr and Morrissey 1984) Perhaps you’re not being challenged enough or given too much work that you’re not interested in? Perhaps the honeymoon period is over, you’ve experienced hedonic adaptation and start to get disillusioned? (Santos 2022b)
Dismissal is rare, but it does happen, even to interns and placement students. In this scenario in the UK, the employer has a duty to do everything they reasonably can to prevent this from happening. It’s not in your employers interests to fire you because they’ve invested a lot of time and money in you by this point. If they have sensible recruitment procedures, those procedures will root out unsuitable candidates long before they make it to the workplace where they can cause real and lasting damage to the organisation once in post.
All employers have procedures for making sure that you can agree on work that suits both of your needs. Better employers will have better procedures to ensure this happens. Employers don’t want their employees to “dive” and will try prevent this from happening wherever possible. So, speak to your manager(s) and keep the communication channels open. Talking of managers …
Building a good relationship with your manager(s) will be key to determining which of the dive, survive or thrive scenarios above plays out. At University, you didn’t have a manager. Yes you had deadlines, but you didn’t have a boss. That changes when you’re an employee so it’s in your interests to understand what your boss expects of you.
Software engineer Julia Evans has authored a series of programming zines, there’s one called HELP! I have manager! (Evans 2018) you might find useful. It will help you understand your managers job better so that you can work together more effectively. It will help you survive and thrive, not dive because it covers:
- understanding your manager’s job
- setting clear expectations
- talking about problems early
- reviewing performance and getting promoted
- asking for specific feedback
ask for specific feedback pic.twitter.com/wu4uWS0Ftc— 🔎Julia Evans🔍 (@b0rk) September 21, 2018
The zine has the benefit of being aimed at engineers just like you. Thoroughly recommended! You might also enjoy Julia’s other more technical zines such as:
As you develop new skills and knowledge at work, it is a good idea to collect evidence of what you’ve done. Whatever your career path, you’ll need to keep your CV updated. One way to think of the evidence is as badges, digital or otherwise. Your employer may already have training schemes that recognise and reward your accomplishments. These badges may be generic or specific to the particular sector you are working in. See chapter 12 on Achieving your future for more details.
Some examples of technical badges include:
- Microsoft Certifications docs.microsoft.com/en-us/learn/certifications
- Amazon Web Services Certification aws.amazon.com/certification
- Google Cloud Certification cloud.google.com/certification
Just three examples, there are many others covering both technical and non-technical skills. In many cases, your employer will encourage and possibly pay for you to get these certifications.
You are more than just a techie, so make sure you develop your non-technical skills as well. We introduced softer skills in chapter 4, but there’s plenty of other skills to think about:
- Building resilience
- Negotiating and managing conflict
- Leadership, influence and change
- Having difficult conversations
- Emotional intelligence
- Public speaking
- Active listening
There are many online platforms for building your skills and knowledge, some examples include:
- etonx.com like the famous college it comes from, EtonX courses are not cheap but there’s some good stuff here that’s aimed at young people like you
The choice of online learning can be bewildering. Some platforms provide free resources, others do not, but your employer may already pay for some services making them free to you while you are an employee. If that’s the case, make good use of the services while you can. There’s a useful comparison of four different online learning platforms here. (Chen 2020)
Your employer may provide other courses you can go on. Again, you should make the most of these if and when they are available.
Whatever job you’re doing, stay in school. Take advantage of any training on offer or go and find courses that help you develop professionally and personally. Remember that you are the person who cares most about your career, see section 1.5.
Let’s pause here. Insert a breakpoint in your
code and slowly step through it so we can examine the current values of your variables and parameters.
* PAUSE ⏸️
Besides collecting evidence and managing your manager, you need to manage yourself too. A proven way to do this is to periodically reflect on your work. Your employer may have procedures to help you do this, such as performance reviews or one-to-ones with your manager on a regular basis. Whatever the setup, you will benefit from taking time to reflect on:
- What have you been doing?
- WWW: What Went Well?
- EBI: Even Better If?
Briefly describe your roles and responsibilities. What projects have you worked on? What were the main technologies that you used? As well as describing this to colleagues, you should aim to communicate this with non-specialists, people outside your field. How would you describe your job to your friends and family and terms they would understand?
Are there any projects you are particularly proud of? What new knowledge or skills have you learned or improved? Remember to include both non-technical as well as technical aspects of your job. Non-technical skills include organisation, time-management, confidence, communication etc. What did you think about these achievements and how do they make you feel? What have you learned?
What areas have you identified for improvement in the future? Again, this includes non-technical as well as technical skills. What do you think about these improvements and how do they make you feel? What have you learned and what will you do differently in the future?
EBI activity in the breakpoint above is an example of reflective writing. You may have come across this already, but developing the ability to reflect is a key skill in:
- learning how to learn
- learning how to think more critically
The video in figure 11.3 summarises what reflection is and why its important to your future.
Too long, didn’t read (TL;DR)? Here’s a summary:
Making the transition from education to employment can be a big and daunting change. To make the change as smooth as possible, you may need to readjust your expectations because being a student is very different to being an employee. Some key differences include:
- You have a manager when you are an employee, who you need to maintain a good working relationship with
- Your performance is much more dependent on other people (your colleagues), unlike in education where you can often work more independently (e.g. when completing coursework or revising for an exam)
- You get paid, which hopefully makes it all worthwhile!
Some of the keys to surviving your future are therefore:
- Communicating early and often with your manager(s) about any issues you have in the workplace, see section 11.3
- Regularly reflecting on your progress, with and without your manager, see section 11.6
- Understanding that working with people is challenging for everyone (and enjoyable for many), see figure 11.4
- Staying in school. Despite leaving formal education, you should never stop learning, see section 11.4