This is the story of Robin, a senior developer who has been at Thoughtworks for about three months. Robin was familiar with Thoughtworks because he had attended an event at one of the Thoughtworks offices and was floored by their passion for software. He immediately applied for the developer’s role. During the multiple rounds of interviews, what struck the interviewers about Robin was how curious and creative he was with code.
Robin was excited and looked forward to bringing his four-year-long coding experience to the project teams. But, three months in and Robin started feeling unsure of himself, stayed quiet at team meetings and hesitated to answer questions. His sunny personality dulled under clouds of doubt and a feeling of hopelessness.
Batman, a long-time Thoughtworker who happened to be on the same project as Robin, noticed the change and wanted to figure out a way to help the new Thoughtworker.
This was the conversation that ensued:
Batman: Hey. I was wondering how you’re doing. How long has it been since you've joined? Robin: Hi. It’s been about three months. Batman: Excellent! Listen, if you want a sounding board for ideas or anything else, I'm happy to listen and help. Robin (hesitantly): Thank you... I'll let you know if I ever want to chat.
At a team meeting a few days later, Batman noticed Robin looking confused. He observed Robin noting down questions, but by the end of the meeting, he had not asked a single one. Later that day, Batman walked up to Robin and struck up another conversation.
Batman: Hey Robin, I noticed you were taking down notes and jotting down questions at today’s meeting. Were they all answered? Robin: Um, yes. Sort of. Not really, no. Batman: There’s something troubling you, isn’t it? I really think it will help to talk about it. Robin (sighing in frustration): I feel like a fish out of water! It’s like the first day of college all over again! It feels like whatever I know and have learned so far is irrelevant. I used to be a hero in my previous organization. Batman: I hear you. I’ve been in your shoes, and yes, it can be very unsettling. Robin: No way! How could you have been through the same thing? Batman: I was a lateral joinee too, you know. So, what exactly is troubling you? Robin: I find myself struggling. Batman: Struggling with what, specifically?
All the fuss about unlearning and relearning
Robin: The way we develop software here is relatively new to me. I am finding it hard to relate to most of it even though I come with four years of work experience! I feel like I have a lot more to learn. Batman: Robin, I really believe that’s a positive sign. Robin: How can you mean that? I am overwhelmed by everything that I am expected to change to work here! Batman: I’d look at it differently. First of all, your experience and knowledge are valuable; have faith and confidence in it. Also, every lateral joinee that I have met brings in a new perspective. So, it’s important to realize that you are not starting at zero. Also, there is a reason you went through rounds of interview before you joined this company - a lot of people already know you to be both, knowledgeable and capable. My advice is to take it slow.
When you feel overwhelmed, prioritize the most important things to learn. Partner with seasoned Thoughtworkers and acquaint yourself with the practices we follow here. This will smoothen your learning curve.
Robin: That sounds like a good idea. But, it’s going to be really hard to change. Batman: Of course! Change is hard but only if you look at it as changing. If you look at it as learning something new, it becomes exciting, don’t you think?
Let me give you an example; I found Test Driven Development and Pair Programming really intimidating. But now, I believe, it’s a better way to develop software. Be patient and (re)learn the fundamentals if necessary.
Robin: You’re right! I have always wanted to learn better coding practices. And, this is my chance to do just that.
Robin: You know, it’s pretty often that even with my four years of experience, I feel out of depth here? There are so many smart people around, and they are up to date with recent trends, and I feel this pressure to be on par with all of them. Batman: I have felt that way a few times too. But instead of considering them the competition, think about looking at them as role models.
I find it motivating to be able always to find someone who can teach me something new. Be it a new technology or a new hobby; there is always going to be an expert sitting a few feet away from you. You just need to take those first few steps and talk with them, share your interest and they will be happy to talk you through all they have learned. Also, over time you become that expert that someone else will seek, know what you have learnt and so on.
A question (or opinion) at every corner
Robin: Also, what’s with the all the questions? Honestly, I think it’s a little arrogant to keep questioning everyone about almost, everything. It feels like my opinion is constantly being challenged. In my previous organization, if I’d give my opinion and people would agree with it. Batman: Yes, that’s definitely something we do differently here! Thoughtworkers don’t usually take opinions at face value. Nor do we accept opinions based on who is voicing it.
Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and if you have a solid reason backing that opinion up, you are alright! You might meet a lot of opinionated folks here and should expect debates too. Remember that these conversations are always about the opinion and not about you, the person. Either you will change your point of view, or someone else will learn something new.
Robin: That sounds fair. And, I would love to explain my points of view. After all, I have gathered them over years of hard work with an interest in reading up on certain topics and having discussions. Also, just to be clear that I understand this, I don’t have to worry if my opinions question or challenge top management or senior members of a team? Batman: That’s the spirit and no, you don’t have to worry. We strive to make better decisions all the time, and if your line of questioning supports that process, then it is welcomed.
Constructive trumps negative
Robin: Ok, so here’s another one. What’s your experience been of the feedback culture here? The concept of Open Feedback terrifies me. Batman: I completely understand that it can be very intimidating at first. Giving and receiving feedback is an art! And to be honest, no feedback is actually negative feedback if you think about it. I’d call it Constructive or Open Feedback because it helps you grow, learn and adapt. People are taking the time out to give you that feedback because they care and want you to improve.
The adventure begins
Robin: Thank you for this chat. I can see that I was struggling only because I was holding onto a particular way of working or doing things. I am going to give myself the time to settle down. I think this could be quite exciting for me as a technologist - an adventure of sorts! Batman: Yes, that’s the attitude!
Robin ended up taking his time but felt a lot more confident, over the next few months at Thoughtworks. He became comfortable in his own skin and was unafraid to ask questions. He actively sought and gave thoughtful feedback. He realized that as intimidating as new jobs could be, they were never impossible situations.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.