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Thriving in that first job

Once you get hired into an entry-level job in a technology field, the best thing you can do is to start observing your surroundings immediately. Take a look at all the different departments and groups of people, find out what they do, and what if any of that work interests you. As you are trying to figure out the work each area is doing, make contacts with people that work in the group you are attempting to learn more about. This could start as a very simple conversation in an elevator, lunch/break area, outside common spaces, etc.

While you are investigating the different areas within the company, don’t lose sight of your initial job assignment. Be sure to put as much focus as you can on doing the job you have well and exceeding all expectations your leaders have of you. Before anyone would consider you for another position with more responsibilities, you must demonstrate a good work ethic and show a strong drive at wanting to succeed.

A good rule of thumb is to always try to provide more than is expected with each task you do. Don’t look at it as a reward system where you expect a ‘good job’ or ‘well done’ at the end of each day. Instead, just focus on doing your absolute best always without expecting anything in return. Once you begin to gain knowledge and learn how to do your job well, a strong work ethic will allow you to stand out for future considerations. For example, once you get to the point where you have learned what you need to perform the job you have well and you continue to outperform each and every day, a good boss is not going to just let you sit there and do that same job at 110% for years on end. Instead, as jobs become available in other areas, you will be a natural consideration due to the way you handled your current work.

Of course, with an entry-level position, on-the-job training will be a key part of being successful. In addition to whatever resources the company provides to get that basic training done, look for other ways to get additional knowledge. The best recommendation I have is to find other people who are high performers and try to work with them when possible to get as much from them as you can. When it is not possible to work directly with these people, observe their work from afar. Try to emulate the parts of others that make them successful and eventually you can put your spin on that to make you unique in the work being performed.

The best way to partner with someone you want to learn from is to find out how you can help them. Start by offering to do tasks that you know how to do or find other areas that the person can utilize your help with. By taking this approach, you will have a much better chance of that person opening up and being willing to share if you have already made contributions to them. If for whatever reason, that person doesn’t reciprocate, be respectful of that and continue to find ways to help as you go along in your working relationship.

In my first technical job, I was a computer technician. One of my responsibilities was to install an operating system onto a desktop computer along with additional software used for a particular function. The OS and additional software all had very specific configurations that had to be done accurately. As a computer technician, I followed directions that were written by another team to perform the tasks of loading and configuring all the software on the new computers, before going out and installing it on a user’s desk. Often times there were changes that needed to be made in the process, which meant the technicians would have to go back and work with the ‘systems programming’ team in order to get the changes made, tested, and written into the documentation we followed.

As I worked more and more with a particular systems programmer that was willing to show me how changes were made and tested, I began offering to make some of the changes myself, as I became more knowledgeable and comfortable with the process. This was a huge help to the systems programming team as it took some of the previous responsibility and shifted it down to me, so they had more time to work on other things in the queue. It wasn’t more than a year after I started doing that, I was offered a position in the systems programming team, which I accepted. From that point forward, I went from just following documentation on how to perform a task to work on building new tasks, documenting, and passing them along as standards for the technicians in my old job to implement.

Depending on the size of the company, there could be times where there isn’t another person to learn things from. The best thing I can suggest in this scenario is to go above and beyond any provisions given to you for learning a task. This might involve reading additional documentation or books in your off time on a subject, taking the opportunity to learn and understand everything you can about the tasks you are performing. Once you are able to do this proficiently, the next logical step is to identify parts of a process you are doing that could be improved and work to do just that.

Way back in the day, I used to hear people say that if you improved processes too much, you could work yourself out of a job. I’m here to tell you, in over 25 years in this line of work – I have never known anyone to lose a job because they worked so hard at making the tasks easier and more efficient. That just doesn’t happen, period. In reality, the people that can identify parts of a process that can be improved and then can implement those improvements always have a job – because they are the highly valued people that continues to make an overall workforce stronger and more efficient.

Oftentimes these efficiencies come in the way of automation when it comes time to implement solutions for process improvements. People that think about automating a task the first time it is presented to them (as opposed to doing it manually or as-is) are a different breed of thinkers. Often times it is very hard for traditional technologists to get into a mindset where they will automate first. With traditional thinkers, a person might perform a task manually or some other non-efficient way multiple times before even considering how to incrementally improve it in the future. On the other hand, a person who automates first will set aside all the time needed to create a solution to prevent them from ever having to do the task at hand manually. This line of thinking can be intimidating for someone who is not comfortable with creating an automated solution as the initial step to performing a task. The quicker you can start thinking about process improvements and get comfortable with solutions like automation, the better chance you will have of standing out over others.

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