Lessons Learned

My last employer went through a round of lay-offs in mid-Dec. 2020 and I got whacked. No biggie – I’ve been here before (I’m looking at you, 2001 dot bomb).

With a few months away from the job now, I find myself reflecting on my time there, trying to draw some lessons from the experience. While none of these are mind-blowing, perhaps some of them will ring true to you in your endeavors.

Disclaimer: some of these are first-hand, some aren’t. I won’t say which are which 🙂.

Find an ally

Companies are unique in how they function as an organism and coming in to one as a newbie can be a bit daunting. While you could figure it out on your own, seeking out allies who you feel safe posing questions to will turbo charge your ability to get up-to-speed.

This is something that isn’t just for the sake of onboarding, either – finding people whose opinions and input you value will benefit you for the duration of your career.

Pick your battles

We all want to be assertive as a way of proving our value. But be careful how you do it – you don’t know what things are important or valuable to your co-workers and spouting your mouth off about X or Y could cause more harm then good.

Be prepared to “own” it

We often find ourselves fronting projects that are based on the input and expertise of others. Make sure you agree with their directives because, if you don’t, when it goes south you can’t very well say, “Yeah, well, we made those decisions based on that person’s input” – you just come off looking petty.

Be aware of this and have the hard conversations about why the input is incomplete and run it to ground. Do whatever you can to avoid putting yourself in that situation of having to defend a bad thought process.

Always give credit

I’m a big believer in this one – there will be times (hopefully many) when something will go well and you’ll get the credit for it. ALWAYS remember to loudly and publicly acknowledge anybody else who contributed to the effort, no matter how small.

This is nothing but a win/win: it takes nothing away from your accomplishment, it shows humility and openness and it lets those people know that you see their contribution and consider it valuable. People want to work with others who make them feel that way.

This is a ridiculously obvious principle but it stuns me how frequently it’s overlooked.

Be transparent with your teammates

When you’re in anything other than an entry-level position, you’re making decisions that affect others. It’s really important to make a constant, consistent effort to inform the team what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and when it’s going to happen.

You’ll be surprised at how often someone you might not expect will have some great input and expertise.

Be aware of your own bias

I’ve been in IT long enough and worked on enough different facets of the profession that I’ve developed my own “comfort zones” when it comes to solutions. It’s easy to want to downplay something new with “Well, what is that really doing that our current solutions isn’t already doing?”

Be aware of this in yourself and do whatever you can to lean into it – better to fully explore the option you think you know then to cut it off at the kneecaps prematurely.

It’s almost always process, not tools

I left this last because, in some ways, it’s the most important of all. As IT professionals, we’re frequently tasked with fixing existing systems. Oftentimes, the blame goes to the tool itself – “The interface is impossible,” “It doesn’t let me break it by doing this thing I need to do that it wasn’t designed for,” etc.

More often than not, it’s not the tool but the process being followed (or not followed) by the staff using the tool. Perhaps there’s a lack of training. Perhaps nobody’s ever thought to revisit the communication process. Perhaps one link in the chain insists on using an out-of-date app to do their part and it’s gumming up the works.

Always use “This isn’t working the way we need it to” as an opportunity to re-evaluate the process first – there’s usually a way to fix it without incurring cost while bringing the parties together to re-think how they work together (which can be a valuable team building exercise in-and-of itself).