Be an apprentice!
Become an apprentice, not the Donald Trump kind. Find someone you work with that will apprentice you. They will show you the details of the job. This is different than a mentor although it could be the same person. The person that you apprentice with shows the in’s and out’s of the job. They will show you how to make a cable, how to troubleshoot a problem. Most trades once were apprentice programs. You would start out as an apprentice. In the past this would often start at about age seven and last for 10 years. You then became a journeyman and finally a master.
In the fast changing tech world, it would be difficult to spend 10 or more learning something since that would be obsolete after that long. You can still follow the idea and learn the basic skill that you will build on in the future.
Once you are a master, find someone to be your apprentice.
Make the Coffee!
Actually I already new this one. Don’t be the person that empties the coffee pot and doesn’t start a new pot. If you are the first one in, make coffee. If you walk by and the pots empty, make more. Do it even if you don’t drink coffee. This goes for tea or the beverage of choice at work.
I have worked with people that would not do the little things like make coffee. I have worked in a place that they took out the community pot because the secretary and I were the only ones that made coffee. She didn’t drink it, others did.
If it is not coffee, it will be something else. This will tell people that you are a team player. It will say a lot about you even if you never receive a direct thank you.
By the way, you can spring for donuts occasionally.
Find a mentor, be a mentor.
Mentors are often found in unexpected places. Most people will happily share knowledge and give advice if asked. Find someone you know and respect and ask them to mentor you. Those are the people that will tell you when you are wrong. They will do it without being mean.
Find someone to mentor. If you see someone that could use some advice, offer to mentor them. Most of the time they will take you up on your offer. If they don’t, it’s their loss.
Mentors will guide you in your career and life. They will not necessarily teach you the details. Find someone to apprentice with for the details. (Will be covered in a future post.)
Practice, Practice, Practice
A recent book says that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. I can believe that. As a student, I would go into the lab, do the lab and leave. The exception was in physics lab where I hung around to help the girls. That, by the way is what got me started teaching but that’s another story.
I see the same thing in most of my students today. They will do the lab and leave. If time runs out, they don’t bother to stay and finish. Even if it didn’t work quite right, they will just leave. Occasionally someone will stay in the lab and keep working.
Today, I know better. I will work on a project, do it over, do it a different way and repeat until I feel that I understand what I am doing.
Little things get you farther than big things.
It’s not the big thing you do that have the most impact. Over the years I have worked on big and small projects, designed and built large networks. I have written software that was critical for the operation of a company. Yes, those large projects were needed, but wait….
The little things were what were appreciated and kept me working.
One of the first companies that I went to meet with to bid on a contract showed me how the little things mattered. While waiting on the meeting with my partner, the secretary asked me a question about VisiCalc (yes it was that long ago). She had a TRS-80 and the spreadsheet took a long time to recalculate. I showed her how to do manual recalculation and saved here hours a day. We got the contract. I don’t know if we would have gotten it anyway but I am sure that she put in a good word for us.
Many times over the years while working on big projects, I would help someone with a little thing. A WordPerfect macro to print envelopes was something I did at least 100 times. These little things made an impact on that one persons job. That is what they remembered.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I, like many people don’t like to ask for help. Maybe it makes me feel weak. Over the years, I have learned that it is OK to ask. In fact, people are glad to share there knowledge when asked. When you start a new job, ask someone that has been there for a while to show you the ropes. It can even be someone that works for you.
I saw several baby ensigns in the navy that came on board ship and thought they knew more than the enlisted men because they were college graduates. I also some that came on board knowing they needed help. Those would ask the Chief to keep them straight. Those were the most successful officers.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Over the years I have come to realize that graduation from engineering school only started my education. In my job, technology changes so rapidly that I must try to keep and never can. I have also learned a number of other things that they do not teach in engineering school. Periodically I will relate some of the things that I have learned over the years.
Number 1: You don’t know everything.
After graduation, I thought I was ready to enter the workforce and ready to be productive. I found out very quickly that I was only ready to start learning. I had to be taught to apply the fundamentals that I learned in school. In meetings, I found that I was often lost in technical discussions.
I learned that I did not know everything and I needed begin my education. This time I did not have to turn in homework, life was a continual test.