The title of this post is a phrase often repeated in the onboarding process at my current company (and probably many others too). It sounds like a pretty straight forward thing doesn’t it? What kind of person would not automatically do this? I am afraid I’m one such person, and there is a reason why.
Once in my career I was bullied at work in a very subtle way for a long period of time. It was not obvious and I did not realize its effects on me until I was in pretty bad shape. The road to recovery was long and I think I won’t get completely over it. There are still times when my instincts kick in and I go into “protection mode” by some comment or a certain behavior. I have learned to recognize these feelings for what they are: ghosts from the past. However these things still affect me to this day.
What does my scars from bullying have to do with the initial quote: “always assume best intentions”. As I see it this statement comes from a place of privilege, by people who probably haven’t gone through similar things as I described earlier. My bully did not set out to bully me specifically (I think), having “no bad intentions” did not prevent this person from causing harm.
The statement “assume best intentions” is a bit similar to “don’t be an asshole” when it comes to how to codes of conduct on how behave in certain spaces. The problem with this statement, is that it ignores the unintentional assholes which cause a lot of issues. The same thing happens when some people use the phrase “assume best intentions” as an excuse to blurb out whatever they like without really taking into consideration the recipients or the current context. You can only expect people to assume best intentions if you have put in the work to build the trust and that trust has been built up over time.
I come prepared
Even in a welcoming and friendly environment where I trust people, I can still have those flash backs to past experiences.I react to comments or feedback in a way I don’t like and I get those old feelings back. In order to cope with this, I try to be vigilant when I react to comments. I pause, step back and try to see if this is “that old feeling” from a bad period causing my reaction. If it is, I acknowledge it and move on.
Certain things spark these feelings to occur more than others. Programming sessions with many people is a stressful event and does bring back those feelings of uncertainty. It used to feel like a battlefield or a test where I felt I was destined to fail. When I go into such sessions today I prepare myself mentally on the fact that I will have to deal with these emotions and know that I have to put to the side.
The road ahead
I am able to assume best intentions, but it’s only through working with these difficult feelings I can do it. It’s not always easy, but it’s part of me and I can use this knowledge to perhaps help others. Having had to deal with workplace bullying has broadened my horizon.
Being open and transparent about this is also important. By being open I can put words on feelings that others are experiencing, helping them realize they are not in a healthy work environment. This is the positive side of working through my own bullying experience: helping others.
I encountered this term for the first time when I was being vocal about an IT conference in Norway which I thoughts had a highly inappropriate name (post in 🇳🇴 Den Norske Dataforening sitt manglende gangsyn) . During this action in trying to get them to change, I was exposed to this behavior for the first time.
When I say first time, that’s a guess, as before this happened I didn’t know there was a word for this. Luckily I had someone by my side who, sadly, had a lot of experience in these sort of things. She helped me develop a vocabulary for what was going on. I didn’t know what it was, just that the situation was very uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to do. Without the guidance and help from someone who had words to describe what was going on I would have been lost and probably made a lot of mistakes and failed to grasp the situation.
Having experienced the meaning of this word, gaslighting, I took it seriously and started reading and digging deeper on this topic of manipulation. Slowly developing a vocabulary and a frame of reference for which to interpret what had happened. This work has been very valuable when I have found myself in similar situations, lost without the words to help me describe what I was experiencing at the time. The technique of gaslighting is not just something which happens during discussions on the Internet. Once you become aware of it you will see it in public discourse and also in your own work place. Using your knowledge, on subjects such as this one, to help others better understand their situation becomes a natural thing. You want them to be empowered to find the best way for them to deal with their situations.
Improved communication with a larger vocabulary
The power of words also applies to the art of engineering. One of the things you will notice as you have spent years in this industry is that your vocabulary grows as you go along. You can choose to use this power for good, such as improve the quality of communication. However, there are also ways to use this newfound power to alienate and put up gates preventing others from participating. It is entirely up to you how you use the power of words.
I remember being introduced to the concept of refactoring early in my career. It was mind blowing at the time as up until that time I would just change things and make random improvements. Going about changing my code using a vocabulary others could relate to and understand helped improve the quality on conversations about code. The word refactoring has been deluded to mean “change random stuff”, however it was defined as this:
Its heart is a series of small behavior preserving transformations. Each transformation (called a “refactoring”) does little, but a sequence of these transformations can produce a significant restructuring. Since each refactoring is small, it’s less likely to go wrong. The system is kept fully working after each refactoring, reducing the chances that a system can get seriously broken during the restructuring.
By using the terms and words outlined it enables effective and clear communication to those who share this vocabulary. It means you can spend less time describing the intent and the objective outcome, as it is implicit in the name of the refactoring. A senior developer would use this language, but in the presence of less experienced people they would take the learning opportunity to help them learn the words and their meaning. To use the power of words as a tool for education rather than gatekeeping is essentially what separates a mature developer from someone who is in it for their own benefit only.
Words carry meaning, power and the ability for you to easier grasp your current situation. Establishing a vocabulary is an essential part towards learning more about something. This is the same in all walks of life. Acquiring the words to best describe things within a domain enables you to gain a broader and deeper understanding. It is the first step enabling you to learn more.
Disclaimer: All my “On..” posts are things I write from beginning to end without any editing or thinking about structure (so it’s like all other posts?). They are just dumps of thoughts I’ve had which I deem that maybe they’re useful for something or someone, so I’ll just dump it here where nobody actually sees them.
A friend of mine told me his friends reaction when he said he was starting to learn how to play the flute. They said: “why do you want to learn that now?”. What they meant was why are you, a grown man, starting to learn to play an instrument? As if that’s an outrageous idea and that it’s not something grown up people do!
It’s a really sad outlook if we’re not supposed to learn anything new in what in most cases will be half our life time! We learn a ton of stuff and then suddenly because we’ve gained responsibilities and have obligations we are to stop learning? This is a preposterous idea. Learning and changing is the most natural thing we do, so why stop? I know some people think it’s too late to change and things like that. What I think is the case is that we gradually neglect and pay attention to our own willingness and openness to change. That’s why we stop, because our minds are closed.
You stop growing and evolving. One example is often see is music. You can choose to stop exploring and being open to new impulses, which means you enjoy the same music as when you where in your twenties. There is another option, which is to continue being curious and open to the idea that just maybe there is the odd chance of someone being capable of creating music you might enjoy even after you’ve surpassed the age of 35 🤷🏼♂️ It requires a mindset of being open to new impulses and challenge what you belive is good music. Engaging and making an effort to understand something new.
Many new parents find themselves in the same position, having suddenly to deal with the fact that their lives are forever changed with the arrival of the infant. You can choose to constantly look at what you are missing out and the life you used to have, constantly looking for opportunities to get a tast for “the old life”. I believe this will only make you miserable as that life will never return. Instead one could choose to be open to the new things that your life now offers you. This huge change is a great opportunity to grow as a person. Learn new things about yourself and also be open to all the learnings your child will give you. If you pay attention, you will notice that the child is learning you just as often as you are learning it things.
What’s the key difference between someone “stuck” and one that evolves? It is, I think, a willingness to seek out new impulses and to be open to the fact that you might be wrong in your current assumptions. In order to grow and learn you have to be open to receive new impulses. It means you must reflect on your view points, you must and should dare to change your position on things.When someone comes to you and say that you perhaps could have solved something in a different way. It’s natural to go in defensive mode and try to explain why, that you didn’t intend it that what and you explain all the reasons why you did what you did. I’ve learned that this is not how you receive feedback. First step towards learning from feedback and input is to listen, like actually listening. Take in and focus on understanding exactly what the person said, without judgement and without trying to defend yourself. In order to achieve this, I think it’s vita to be open to the fact that you might have to change or adapt how you do things.
Starting out in the IT industry you work on the ground floor and all you have to do is to show you know the craft. Gradually you’ll be expected to take into account things outside the realm of just the one thing you know. The progression from junior to senior is not about years, it’s about widening your perspective and to evolve you understanding of what it is that you do. Often a good senior will get offered the opportunity to lead. This is often done without any real formal training or coaching mechanisms in place. A good crafts person is somehow automatically a leader.
This fallacy leads to many dysfunctional teams and some times destroyed careers.When accepting the challenge to lead you must be open to change. Everything you do is different when you are a leader and you have to be able to adjust your thinking and behavior. You have to put in the work to understand the power dynamics between leader and worker. In order to help your workers grow you have to learn how to activist listen to them and to turn that input into actions. It is an entirely new job, it’s like going from a car mechanic to becoming a nurse. The requirements of you as an individual have completely changed and you have to change. You have to be open to the fact that this will change you as a person and you’ll be a different one on the other side of your new position as a leader.
This isn’t only about the classic worker-to-leader scenario where openness to change is essential. During the Covid pandemic a lot of people have had to suddenly work from home. This is a great opportunity to learn new things about yourself, if you are open to change. One option is to dig your heals in and try to mimic “the good old office vibe” in a remote setting. We’ve all seen that it does not work and people just become really tired of the endless video calls. A different approach is to look at working remote as an opportunity to learn something. All trends point towards the new workplace being much more duos and flexible, so instead of fighting against it you should embrace it as a learning opportunity.
Jeg har tidligere skrevet om hvordan du kan se på karrieren din i “Pakk sekken med ting du trenger for turen”. Denne gangen skriver jeg om noe litt annet, nemlig hva du kan gjøre for å komme igang med å planlegge din neste tur i karrieren din. Det er mange ting jeg kan og enda flere jeg ikke kan, men er det noe jeg har dokumentert kompetanse på så er det å flytte meg i arbeidsmarkedet (bare sjekk profilen min om du ikke tror meg). Likevel er jeg kun spesialist på min egen karriere så alt du leser må du selv finne ut hvordan passer deg.
Alle som skal på tur som skal vare litt trenger å lage en pakkeliste over hva du trenger for turen. Denne pakkelisten er vanskeligere å lage jo lengre du har vært i en jobb. Det er lett å tenke at etter fem, ti eller femten år i samme bedrift så kan en ingenting som er nyttig noe annet sted. Ting du gjør hver dag føles trivielle og enkle. Situasjonene du har vært i, problemene du har løst flere ganger virker enkle og ikke spesielt interessante.
Det som er lett å glemme er at ikke alle steder er som der du jobber. Veldig mange steder har utfordringer nettopp du kan løse. Problemer du har løst et utall ganger er noe de mangler kompetanse til å løse. Ingen steder er perfekte og alle steder har utfordringer. Sjansen for at du etter lang tid i et selskap har noe å tilby vil jeg si er rundt nittiåtte prosent. Ikke undervurder hva du har lært og ikke ta forgitt at alle andre er så fantastiske som det de fremstiller det. Alle jobber og selskaper har sine problemer og gjør sine idiotiske ting. Derfor trenger du ikke være engstelig for om du har noe å tilby, selvsagt har du det. Ingen som har jobbet i fem til ti år er ubrukelige, så ta deg tid og ikke være kritisk når du skal skrive opp pakkelista. Pakkelista inneholder utfordringene du har møtt på, problemene du har løst, situasjonene du har stått i og kommet ut av. Det er tingene som gjør at neste turen din går lettere. Den sekken du har med deg er veldig mye tyngre enn du først tror.
Å se på karrieren som en tur, enn som en stige, er befriende på veldig mange måter. Det har derimot den baksiden at du faktisk må planlegge mer når du ikke bare skal oppover en stige. På samme måte som når du skal legge ut på små eller store ekspedisjoner så trenger du planlegge i forveien. Du trenger ikke en ferdig lagt rute som inneholder detaljer som tider, datoer, m.m. Derimot kan det være lurt å ta tida til å reflektere kanskje en gang i kvartalet for å se hvor du er. Lærer du noe? Er det noen andre arbeidsoppgaver som frister mer? Er du frustrert over at du ikke får brukt det du kan eller vist deg fra din beste side? Trenger du mere penger for å få hjulene til å gå rundt? Avhengig av hva du kommer fram til, så kan det hende du trenger å legge inn litt tid til å planlegge hvor turen går videre. Hvilke ting ser du etter i en ny jobb? Er det arbeidsoppgavene du vil endre? Ønsker du å utforske et nytt fagfelt? Trenger du bare miljøskifte? Savner du å jobbe i et internasjonalt miljø? Noter ned hva du ønsker, for det vil hjelpe deg finne veien videre.
I det du har tenkt tanken om at turen kanskje går et litt annet sted enn den er på vei nå, så er det bare å begynne å planlegge. Ikke vent, for i det du har tenkt tanken er alt annet bare instinktet om å søke komfort som slår inn. Start planleggingen med å oppdatere LinkedIn profilen, begynn å følge med på annonser på steder hvor du tror en potensiell arbeidsgiver kan finnes? Kanskje trenger du å snakke med en gammel kollega? Ta en kaffe med noen du har likt å jobbe med? Søk litt impulser og se hva som trigger deg. Planleggingen vil ta tid og jobbsøking kan være ganske mye jobb om du ikke har en plan for hva du vil.
Du trenger ikke gå på tur alene
“Hva med alle de gode kollegaene?” spør veldig mange når jeg nevner det med jobbytte. Jo, jeg har hatt veldig mange gode kolleger og noen av dem er mine venner fremdeles (jeg har skrevet om dette i “Du får ikke venner på jobb”). Men, tingen er at det finnes veldig mange som venter på å bli din neste gode kollega. Selv om stedet du jobber nå føles spesielt, så kan jeg med min erfaring si at det finnes mange spesielle steder. Det er ingen grunn til å tro at du ikke vil få gode kolleger andre steder. Du trenger selvsagt å finne ut om et nytt sted vil gi deg nye turkamerater som du har lyst å være med, men sjansen for at det finnes noen er i følge mine beregninger rundt 80%.
Du angrer aldri for at du gikk på tur
Det eneste som er sikkert er at du aldri vil angre på at du bytter. Uansett hvordan det går, så vil du ha lært masse bare av prosessen med å bytte jobb. Du har fått klarhet i hva du ønsker og ikke ønsker i en ny tur. Gjennom intervjuer og prosesser lærer du nye selskap å kjenne og lærer ting om deg selv. Kanskje gjør du et feil valg, men det er jo ingen katastrofe (slik dagens arbeidsmarked er vel å merke) fordi neste jobb er faktisk rett rundt hjørnet. Jeg har aldri jobbet noe sted så kort at jeg ikke har lært noe. Selv om jeg har vært med på en tur på bare noen måneder har jeg lært verdifulle ting som har gitt meg mye som person og gitt meg ny faglig kunnskap. I mine femten pluss jobb bytter har jeg aldri angret på at jeg tok sjansen på å legge ut på en ny tur. Uansett hvordan det har gått, så er jeg en erfaring rikere og kommer bedre ut av det enn om jeg ble værende.
Å bli værende fordi du føler lojalitet eller at du svikter jobben er en vanlig følelse. Spørsmålet er om du egentlig tilfører jobben noe særlig om du er der fordi du tror andre mener du burde? Lojaliteten bør ligge hos deg selv og de viktige personene i livet ditt. En arbeidsgiver er noen som betaler deg for at du skal gi dem din kunnskap, muskelkraft eller lignende. De vil aldri gå det lille ekstra for deg, derfor skal du heller ikke gi det tilbake. Du skylder deg selv å tenke på hva det beste er for deg. Fordi du fortjener det.
I have been so fortunate as to be part of several young companies and starting new teams in existing organizations. This post is is a summary of my subjective observations, you should treat it as such.
1️⃣ Introduce departments too early
All young companies wants to grow up and become proper organizations. In order to get a head start, many young companies start splitting up their organizaiton into departments way too early in an attempt to look good for stakeholders and potential hires. “See, we know how to set up a business!”
The issues is that doing this when a company is just 10-12 people (I have experience this myself on more than one occasion) is setting your self up for problems you could avoid. With the introduction of constructs such as product, sales and operations you are creating boundaries and a need for synchronization. When you have a department, of course there needs to be someone running it. Hence you need to introduce a leader. Once you have three or more leaders, then there needs to leadership meetings, etc. What the company has been doing is creating the constructs which prevent larger companies from being efficient. Communication lines multiply, hand-overs and synchronization is introduced. You also formalize the tension which is between say sales and product.
I have been part of companies lulling themselves into the corporate mentality way before it is required (yes, it might be required at some point. However not when you are so few people). As we all know, the c-title people in young companies are usually the ones who where there first. Not necessarily the ones who’s best equipped to handle the role (I have first hand experience of this, I was CTO because I was the first hire!). You might need to have all kinds of titles and thing in your pitch deck to investors, but you should probably not actually have any of it in reality until there is a dire need of them. There is no going back once you introduce it.
2️⃣ Prematurely introducing processes & practices to scale
Software organizations are like crazed teenage fans when it comes to processes and tools. They blindly follow their idols without really taking the time to contemplate why. You will see small companies mimicing companies the aspire to become, as they think that is what has made the great. That is a grave mistake, as most unicorn or gazillion euro evaluated company probably did not start out with those processes. They needed to install certain processes because of any number of things. Maybe they grew into a thousand people company in two months. Perhaps they acquired a company in a different timezone. Someone gave them a truck load of money and they suddenly need to ramp up quickly. Or they have a total lack of trust in their organization and therefor install rigid processes.
Whatever the case may be, one of the key factors for rapidly growing small companies is their lack of these processes. It is a huge competitive advantage to not have to do the Spotify model (which is the go to model of choice the past years in my country Norway). Instead of trying to do what the big ones do, young companies should cherish and embrace the time when they don’t need any of it. It is the most fun you’ll probably have and the time you’ll be having the most creativity and being the most productive. Young companies should postpone installing processes as long as possible and most likely invent their own thing once they do.
The same thing goes for tools. There are certain tools which inevitably will make your organization less efficient (yes, I am talking about that product starting with Jir). Why does a 4 person development team need a bug tracker? If you only have the capacity to do two things in a cycle, do you really need a roadmap tool? I would say no. In my first startup we had a bug tracker, it was a sheet of paper which could only fill 10 bugs. If there where more, we’d either need to solve one or take one out. The sheet was visible for everyone (this was in ancient times when we used to go to things like The Office) and when it changed there was always a discussion about priorities. We did the same thing with items to do in a cycle. To date, this has been the best tools I have used to get work done in a small company.
The problem with task managers etc is that they put focus on the items, not on what value you want to create. Everyone gets focused on the individual work items and forgets about what it is that we bring of user value this cycle. The outcomes of each cycle becomes less important than completing the things we thought was a good idea when the cycle started.
3️⃣ Letting the engineers decide on their own
You know what is going to happen when you let some engineers have free reign and build The Greatest Technology Platform Ever™ to propel your startup into the stratosphere. They will prematurely create something they think resemble what their idols do. It will be Planet Scale from day 4 for all of the companies 4 customers and 1 concurrent user. I would not say that this is a big exaggeration, I have seen it happen on many occasions. The enthusiasm to finally be able to architect the system they’ve envisioned all this time. To finally put into practice all the blog posts that they have read, all without really paying much attention to what the company actually needs in the beginning.
You should never let the engineers decide all things on their own, they need to articulate how it relates to where the business is right now and the next three months. There is no need for planet scale if you’re shut down in two months because you’re failing to get users. Opting for a serious cloud provider because “it will enable us to scale easily later” might be a decision which prevents you from shipping what you need right now and eventually kill the company.
Engineers should be allowed to choose many things, but they should not be doing it in a vacuum without close collaboration with everyone else. Prematurely architecting something complex has prevented companies from getting the chance to succeed more than on one occasion.
What should young companies do?
Take a deep breath, hold it for ten seconds and then exhale. Relax, put your shoulders down and instead try to enjoy what is the best time of a companies life. Rather than rushing into becoming a proper company, you should embrace the competitive advantage you have of not being such a company. The small size, lack of processes and hacky technology is the secret sauce unicorns are made of. They are not made up of practices from Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft. If investors want structure, make a power point. Don’t mess up what potentially could be the best time!