Chapter 2: From Advanced Beginner to Competent
After the novice/advanced beginner stage, I gradually began to become proficient and comfortable regarding my work. I would like to call this stage the "Advanced beginner" stage. As time goes by, we learn more about the business context, more about how our team’s systems work, and the technologies that our team uses. So how can you improve yourself efficiently in order to grow to the competent stage? The following points may be valuable for you:
1. Take more notes
The palest ink is better than the best memory. When someone describes complex business contexts or the special tools used by the team, you may be able to remember it on the spot, but as Miller’s law states, there is only so much information you can keep in your head at any given time, so there’s a high chance that you will forget it later. It’s better to record those things somewhere so that you can take a second look at them to refresh your memory later on. We may use totally different tech stacks/tools for different projects even in the same team. If we can write them all down, then we will no longer be scared of context switching/tech stack switching in the future.
In addition, for the knowledge and skills that you have learned on your own, you can also take notes and summarize them while you learn.
I personally use Typora to store business context and project related information locally. For items that I am learning from a personal perspective, I tend to use Notion since this one will sync everything for me on the cloud.
All those techs/knowledge that we have experienced cannot be stored in our brains forever, but writing them down will make them our own wealth of knowledge. Besides, if they are organized properly, you can use them to prepare for knowledge sharing sessions with others, killing two birds with one stone.
2. Take responsibility and challenge yourself
If you feel like you are not ready for new challenges yet, just take your time, contribute where appropriate, and observe what others are doing; if you are confident enough or have “thick skin”, then try to take on more responsibilities.
Don't be afraid of being an owner just because you are new to the team/company. In my opinion, these are all good chances to grow and evolve. For example, if there is a user story that seems to be difficult, stay calm and just give it your best effort. Even if you encounter a blocker that you cannot solve by yourself, you can always discuss it with the team and get the help that you need.
Personally, I would like to take on more challenges. After all, staying in my comfort zone all the time will make it impossible for me to truly become an expert.
3. Make yourself invaluable
By saying ‘find your role in the team’, what I mean is developing the tech field that interests you most if you have enough time/energy. Try to gradually make yourself some kind of specialist for this field in the team. The ultimate goal could be that whenever someone has questions, they know to come to you because of your experience/knowledge in this field. For example, my own “niche” was cloud infrastructure, so I got certified as an AWS SAA (Amazon Web Services Solutions Architect Associate) and became a touchstone for the rest of the team on this topic.
In general, at this phase, we need continuous intrinsic motivation to help ourselves with self-improvement. It's a fairly fulfilling stage. But on the other hand, be careful not to burn yourself out.
Intrinsic motivation neither means to outrun the others and beat everyone, nor to get a few extra annual review points. It should be about finding meaning in your work in a way that leaves you happy, fulfilled and satisfied. Everyone has their own choice. After all, self-improvement is a matter of personal choice, we should not put extra demands on people after they have already completed their own work.
Chapter 3: The story has just begun
In the journey of seeking knowledge and improvement, a person will go through many stages. The first stage is the initial confusion stage, where you feel that you are just a novice that doesn’t know much and trying to increase knowledge of new concepts and principles to become an advanced beginner; the second stage is a stage of maturation, where you start to become competent and deliver with confidence; and the third one is the stage where you come to realize that you are still in the dark. If you want to see the sunlight through the mist, you need to keep climbing to a higher mountain (proficient or expert), where decisions are made by intuitive understanding because of extensive experiences.
In the second stage, you don’t even know what you don’t know, but in the third stage, you will become aware of how long the journey of learning could be and begin to know what you don’t know. I have to confess that I am still at the second stage, so I cannot provide too many constructive suggestions for the third stage. The story has just begun, and I truly wish that we can all become what we want to be at the end.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.