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How to Suck Less at Your New Job

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One thing I strongly recommend to developers when starting at a new job is to keep a list of everything that bothers you.

For every new company you work at, there will always be a set of things that you see as pain points, because you came from a place that did those things differently.

Notice I said differently, not better.

All of us have certain irrational attachments to the various things we are used to doing: things we do not because it’s the best way to do them, but because it’s become comfortable to do them that way. I have seen new developers come onto a team and complain endlessly about something that is clearly a net benefit for them and the team. However, the team is so used to doing it their way that they cannot imagine changing.

Allow me to share a personally painful example.

Much to my regret, when I moved into .NET development coming from the scripting world, I complained non-stop about how annoying it was to have to assign a type to everything.

“I mean, in perl and php we got along great without it, so why on earth should anyone have to go through all this extra hassle?”

I didn’t realize how strong typing enabled very powerful tooling, and to be perfectly honest, I probably didn’t care. However, I did realize that my complaints were falling on deaf ears. My co-workers, who had never even looked at a dynamically typed language before, didn’t care. Much worse, I was alienating myself from them, becoming that guy, the one who just complains all the time. I sucked.

So, I decided on a new policy. Whenever something offended my sensibilities, seeming worse, wrong or just different, I would document it in a to-do list (I use org-mode in emacs, because it’s mind-alteringly cool). I would stop complaining about it, stop making sidelong hints at it. I would just add it to the list. Apparently, I was pretty opinionated about how to make that team better, because that list grew monstrously large in just a few months.

Next, I would review that list every week. Whenever I had downtime I would pick something small and try to implement whatever I needed to make that work, things like:  like installing a CI server, or figuring out how to unit test this crazy actionscript fla.

If an issue was too large or I lacked the understanding to resolve all at once, I would do root cause analysis and brainstorm different ways to achieve the goal. Sometimes, I would take something off the list, either because it was too costly to justify its value, or because sometimes I realized I was grossly incorrect in my understanding of the issue.

So, back to my example about static typing. After about a year, I realized there was no way I could reasonably argue it was worth a change. No one but me cared, no one was interested in learning new languages to try to use for development, and the cost to convert anyway would have been staggering (and conversion was likely impossible).

steve shogren

software developer, manager, author, speaker

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