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[Episode 7] A day in the life of 2 graduates, straight out of ThoughtWorks University

We believe that no matter who you are or how you identify, you deserve respect, empathy and equal opportunity to succeed. We work hard to ensure everyone at ThoughtWorks—and everyone we work with—is treated this way.

There are more than 60 active diversity and inclusivity programs and groups across our offices worldwide. They focus on everything from race, gender diversity, LGBTQIA+, mental health, caregivers and neurodiversity. The goal for each is clear: to make ThoughtWorks a better home for all.
 
A big part of our commitment to diversity in Australia, is to bridge the digital divide by providing opportunities for Aborignal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in tech. Two of our talented Aboriginal graduates, Rowan and Daniel, recently returned from their placements at ThoughtWorks University (TWU) in China and India. Eager to hear all the details, we sat down with them about their experience. 
 
Let’s start with some introductions. 
 
Daniel: I live in Wollongong. I am a proud Dharawal man, which is one of the Australian indigenous cultures. I'm 22 years old and I've been at ThoughtWorks for the past month as a Graduate. And I've been an intern for three to four years now.
 
Rowan: I'm Rowan. I’m 23 and a Birri Gubba man whose people are from North Queensland. I've also interned at ThoughtWorks for two years and recently joined in April as a graduate developer and just got back from TWU in China.
 

What was a typical day like at TWU in India? 

 
Daniel: I’d typically start the day at eight-thirty, preparing what I needed to – a presentation or something like that. As a team, a lot of what we did was communication and pairing. I was happy to be part of more than just development. I also contributed a lot to the business analyst and analyst side of things, such as QA documentation and facilitating sessions like a bug bash, and just generally more things outside the scope of what the developers should do. Typically my days consisted of a lot of mixing it around. So I would say 60 percent of my day was actual development and the other 40 percent was more just experiencing all the different sides of ThoughtWorks and what other people did and how I could contribute to that.

group of ThoughtWorks grads out to dinner

 
After work it was different every day. So at least there were a few days where there was nothing on and I would stay back at the apartment. But generally it differed. So for example, there might be a birthday on and would go out for dinner or a couple of people would just want to go out then to visit a new place. I was more than happy to travel. But typically though there were a few nights throughout the week where there were things such as there was live music at a bar every Thursday night, and we would always go to the bar. So there would be set events sometimes, but most of the time it was just like spur of the moment things. There was always something different and there are always different groups of people wanting to do different things. You pretty much picked and chose what you wanted to do. And for me, it was good because there were very different groups to associate with. So I got the experience what those people enjoyed doing most. 
 

How did this differ for you at TWU in China? 

 
Rowan: Yeah, I think quite similar. We were a group of about 30 staying in the hotel together. There was a bus that came at 8:15 each morning and we had to make sure everyone was on it before we left. The office was a 20-minute drive away. Most days were structured with workshops or sessions in the morning and then the rest of the day would be allocated to working on the client engagement project. For sessions involving the whole TWU cohort, we'd get together in a large room and sit at tables together to pair, or group discussions. 
 
Outside of work hours, it was similar to what Daniel described, we had a WeChat group that people would use to organise activities in the evenings. You could just meet in the lobby of the hotel to get food, hangout or grab a drink. A lot of us were keen on travelling and being a tourist in China. We went to the huge markets in the Muslim quarter of Xi'an and visited its large bell tower in the city center. That was something that we organised ourselves by ordering taxis using the DiDi app.  

group of ThoughtWorks grads

 
While it was easy to form groups between trainees based on language and shared culture, we still just did everything together. Not knowing Chinese made it so difficult to communicate on our own. The Chinese trainees staying at the same hotel were really helpful because eventually they felt more comfortable actually leading us and translating and giving us recommendations of places to go. By the end, they were the most valuable people to have in a group because they were so knowledgeable about the culture and how to get to places and how to pay for food. I think they also really opened up their personalities and communicated more comfortably.
 

Did you both learn a lot about technology and technical skills that you didn't have before? Was it more learning ThoughtWorks methodologies and culture equally?

 
Daniel: So in India, at least for me, it felt a lot more about consultancy and the ThoughtWorks way and the culture that ThoughtWorks provides rather than actual technical hands-on skills. It’s not that there weren't any technical sessions, but they were very limited compared to all the other soft skills that ThoughtWorks provides. And it was very evident when it came down to the actual client engagement, as Rowan said, the sessions were very geared towards those things and you'd see that the sessions were there to prepare you for a proper client engagement. That’s how ThoughtWorks University really prepared you for what you're expected to do as a 
consultant.
 

So it prepared you for how to work in a ThoughtWorks team on the client side, but also how to handle a client?

 
Daniel: Yes. Very much so.
 
Rowan: Going into it, I thought it would be more of a technical training course where you do workshops about learning web development or a framework or something. While there were elements of that, just by nature of working in a client engagement team, a lot of it was really just about how teams in ThoughtWorks self organize and how they make decisions or iterate on improving their effectiveness. In the teams we held retros after showcases and discussed what we liked and didn’t do so well. The trainers facilitated the retros. We were really left on our own to come up with solutions. Someone put their hand up and said, well, I think we should do story estimations in the future or I think we should be more upfront with the PO about what our progress is and our own estimation. It was a lot of self-directed change and self organizing as a team which was the biggest thing I learned.
 

At the heart of ThoughtWorks is our ambitious Third Pillar mission to be proactive agents of progressive change in the world. How did these values shine through in your experience at TWU?

 
Daniel: We got to hear a bit about our direct impacts through different programs on offer. Like technical courses for example in India, that enable women to get back into the tech field after maternity leave or long periods where they haven’t engaged in the workforce. 
 
Indirectly, I guess it was more about the different cultures and perspectives that everyone from around the globe provided. It really brought forth the values that everyone had, and you could see it in the way that they communicated, the presentation, and the initial styles from what the teams were formed and how they communicate with one another. And over the weeks, how we progressively got united, how that sort of came through in the end. For me, I think that the biggest thing was the general communication from the outset. I remember people who were very quiet and weren't willing to really make that step, they were a bit afraid. And by the end, you could see they were really coming out of their shells and they were willing to engage. They felt safe. 
 
It just really resonated with me how different people's P3 experiences are and it sort of made me ask the question, what areas of P3 should I get involved in? Because I've always been, you know, real passionate about Indigenous inclusivity in Australia. It really made me examine all the different areas.
 

Did you have a similar experience in China? 

 
Rowan: Yeah. From the start, they introduced the social contract throughout the team. Having interned at ThoughtWorks for two years, it's an environment that I was already used to. It's a respectful and inclusive working environment, but it was more obvious on that team where you had people with various levels of English proficiency. You have to be mindful of your communication and make sure you take the time to get everyone on the same page. And also, I think it was stressed in a lot of the sessions that each region has its own P3 goals and issues of interest, explaining that journey as a ThoughtWorker that you go from being uninformed to activated.
 
It was interesting seeing that everyone has stuff that they care about and they can be totally different. You could be completely invested in one P3 topic that someone doesn't really care about, but they've got something that they are also very interested in, a real range of social, economic justice topics. Also the China perspective was really interesting.
 

Past ThoughtWorks Universities are kind of famous for being quite overwhelming workload wise. Was there a stress point that you came to during your time? How did it test your resilience?  

 
Rowan: For me personally, I didn't reach a point where I felt overwhelmed. I enjoyed it. But I came to a realisation that there were a lot of people who were very stressed and overwhelmed, sometimes feeling almost hopeless because they felt like they weren't getting what they wanted out of it. It made me think back to when I first interned at ThoughtWorks and I had a lot of similar feelings, like when I was trying to learn this stuff for the first time. I think we're in a different situation because we have had a couple years of being in this environment. I've never had any work experience other than this, so I have developed within this culture and it's quite intuitive to me at this point. But thinking back, I have those memories of first interning and feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
 
Rowan: I think our flat structure was testing for a lot of people. It takes a bit of getting used to when you’ve come out of really structured environments like school, college or university. A lot of other graduates reached their stress points around this - wanting more direction, structure, people telling us what to do and how to do it and what the best practices are. I felt like I had a responsibility to help the team out and get the perspectives of other people. Not from a position of 'oh when I first started, I had to learn this and this', but just listening to them and saying, ‘yeah, that is very difficult to understand for the first time. That's right. It's complex and it's difficult.’
 

Do you feel you've changed after this experience? Are you more confident? Is there any sort of change in your feeling of being a ThoughtWorker?

 
Rowan: We had a lot of experience previously, but for me, it was the first time I got to take a leadership role, even though it was letting people try things and diverge and go in different directions. Our value was to steer people towards something that we know because we've done it before. Sometimes that was just sitting in a discussion, letting people talk and then just putting your hand up and saying, well, how about we try this? And then the team will discuss it and agree that sounds right. We supported or directed the team from behind. A lot of the trainers said that if you're working with a team of engineers, that's the leadership strategy. Don't just stand over people and say, all right, we're going to do this, this and this and you do this, it's more about having some tact and being subtle about leading the team. That was probably what I got out of it.
 
Daniel: Yeah, like Rowan said, discussing how to tackle a problem in a team meant I would put up my hand and say, okay, well, we tried this, and this was the value that it offered, and this is why it was better than other solutions. Then the team would understand why we would do that. In a way, it reinforced the knowledge that I'd learnt before, validating whether or not the things that I've learned were good practice or not. I guess it gave me a better idea on what I knew and what I didn't know. I think the feeling was definitely that I have a lot to learn. There are always different things we can try and experience.
 

And the people you met and lived with for five weeks – are you in touch with that network of people now scattered globally throughout ThoughtWorks? Do you feel like you’ve made lifelong friends? 

 
Rowan: We still have a WeChat group and we're still chatting and sending updates about what we're up to. It was kind of sad that last day, but we were all sort of saying, well, you've now got a couch in Australia, Brasil, Germany!
 
Daniel: We are already making plans to meet up. I spoke a bit with the UK people, there was one colleague who really want to do a long term assignment (LTA) in Singapore, and that's sort of the middle level for me as well. It's definitely friends for life.

Acknowledgement:  Thanks to Flick Ruby for the original content in this interview