Tag: career

Why I love my job

I decided I wanted to be a computer programmer from a very early age. This was a decision that changed briefly when I toyed with the idea of going into psychology, but ultimately – programming and coding is where it’s always been at for me.

The main draw for me isn’t just knowing that I am in control of a machine on some level. Let’s face it – all programmers are control freaks on some level, so it goes without saying. Mainly, it’s just how quickly it all keeps changing. When I first discovered programming. it was on my Dads old ZX Spectrum. I wrote out reams and reams of code on A3 sheets of yellow paper, before patiently typing it all in and watching my code run. We were short on tapes, so this really was the best method for me at the time.

Fast forward to college, and I started to learn Visual Basic 6. University introduced me to programming concepts, such as the Waterfall Model, Object Orientated programming.

The real world introduced me to Test Driven Development, WPF and .Net. The key thing here is that much of the knowledge I have gained – even over the last 10 years – very quickly becomes obsolete. I haven’t touched Visual Basic 6 for years, and the Waterfall Model is scoffed at in favour of Agile methodologies.

That is why I will always love my work. It’s constantly changing, I am constantly learning, and that keeps everything fresh as I get to put my mind to keeping up with the curve. This all stops me getting bored with doing the same old, same old.

I can hardly wait to see what the technology will advance to in the next 10 years.

Professionalism

Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as ‘the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well’. It goes on with a further definition of ‘the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person’.

I guess that my own confusion in terms of being seen as a professional is that unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), such expectations as defined in this context are not actually down to the person who wishes to be seen as professional.

I have been called unprofessional a few times in the past. Usually when I have disagreed with someone about something. Strange, that.

A comment once made to me did actually cause me to reflect slightly on *how* I disagree with people:

‘You always argue your point strongly, even when you’re wrong.’

Did the person who said this to me have a point? Possibly. I was raised to speak my mind, and engage in debate. While I acknowledge that I can be *very* stubborn, I can be argued around to a different way of thinking – because when all is said and done, I wouldn’t be arguing any point if I thought it was actually wrong. I have no patience to play devils advocate. That said, some people see any kind of headlong disagreement as an intimidating confrontation. I honestly still have no idea how to deal with that. Should I sugar coat my thoughts? Tip toe around an issue? I don’t know.

This does bring me to the point of this post, though. Which is more professional – giving (and occasionally arguing) an opinion in a professional capacity, or keeping your mouth shut for the sake of not disagreeing with someone higher up the food chain?

I guess the answer to that depends on who’s answering the question. I know where I stand on it.

So, for me, I guess showing professionalism comes down to the following:

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. *
  • Share your knowledge.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Always do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
  • Don’t play the blame game.
  • Get on with the job.

I freely acknowledge here that my list may seem incomplete to some. I’ll quite happily argue/debate the points and amend said list if I can be talked around. I’m not right about everything. On the flip side – I don’t think I’m often wrong, either.

* Though try and be tactful about it. My brain to mouth filter is malfunctional. Announcing to an entire room that something is stupid does not win you friends. Trust me on this.

The most aggravating compliment

Sorry folks. This is a dreaded women in STEM post. It’s sad that #ILookLikeAnEngineer is a thing. People still do not get it.

So, a true story.

A long time ago, in a job in my past, there was a week of BIG MEETINGS. It was a huge deal, with very important clients who we *had* to impress. The culture of the office was lax, and the usual code was ‘get in for some time, do all your work, and wear what you want’. For this week, we were asked to be in well on time for the BIG MEETINGS, come in suited and booted, and above all, behave.

So, I spent a week turning up to the office, wearing a nice skirt, blouse, and killer heels. Literally, killer. When the clients had gone for the day, I’d kick off said heels and start sticking plasters on all the bleeding bits, longing for my comfy trainers or boots. I kept my mouth shut, and smiled when spoken to. I didn’t really achieve much of my own programming work that week, in-spite of only having to attend a couple of the meetings, as the entire team was on tenterhooks with how said BIG MEETINGS were going. Things were going on that made it too difficult to concentrate.

I received three compliments that week. Take a guess which one infuriated me.

  1. Please don’t take this as harassment or anything, but you look stunning like that. I wish we could see it every day!
  2. I won’t sit next to you in meetings when you wear a skirt any more, as your legs are too distracting.
  3. I’ve been really impressed with your professionalism this week. Great work!

If you haven’t already guessed that the third compliment was the one that annoyed me, you still don’t get IT. So, I’ll explain further.

The week where I can honestly say that all I did was turn up, look pretty, and not share my professional opinion, is the one where I got complimented on being ‘professional’. This sent the message that I am only valued as a professional when I’m making an effort to look nice and keep my mouth shut. So for what reason had I been turning up and busting my arse all those years before?

I didn’t say anything, of course. I really do, even now, still get that the compliment was meant as just that – a compliment. It wouldn’t be right to give the complimenter a hard time over it. I do not believe that anything bad or insidious was meant by it. It was genuine, and not meant as a put down in any way. Normally, I’d be happy to hear it. But as a woman working in a male dominated field, where I have often felt that I’ve *needed* to shout out and dress down to be taken seriously, it really stung. It still does.

I subscribe to the saying ‘You don’t give offence, you *take* offence’. But before anyone shouts me down for this post, maybe try wearing those killer heels for a week in a similar situation, only to be hit with the reality of what counts higher up as ‘professional’, and tell me you wouldn’t be spitting fire about it to. This really does tie back to my earlier post. As much as I can look back on this incident, and know that logically, I took this in a way that was not intended, it just underscores that perception is an absolute bitch.

Perception is more important than results.

I am a failure when it comes to office politics. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I generally just act like myself. This is a problem when it comes to managing other peoples perceptions of you – and a bad perception can be incredibly damaging.

As a person, I am hard working, fast working (and talking!), I can pick up new things quickly, and I see a job through to the end. I’m honest and upfront – I’m not afraid to say exactly what I think. My memory is great. I’m enthusiastic, and love my job. All great assets in an employee, right?

On the flip side of that, I am so caught up in flying through my ‘to do list’ that I can lack attention to detail once I mentally check something off – meaning I can make some mistakes that I really should have caught before the QA team started giving serious consideration to lynching me in the car park.

I’m upfront to the point of being blunt. Without meaning to, I can really put someones back up by not stopping to think before I open my mouth.

My reaction to stressful times is to make fun of a situation, usually in a sarcastic manner.

My most recent encounter with office politics taught me a very harsh lesson. The work that I was kicking bottom with didn’t matter. The extra hours I’d put in did not matter. The perception people had of me was that I was not taking things seriously, and that was the feedback I was getting. The things I was doing well at weren’t even being considered by this point.

I railed against this in my head for quite a while. From my perspective, I was working harder than I ever had in my life. I was hurt that my actual results weren’t being examined fairly. I was putting in huge amounts of effort to take more care with what I was working on to produce fewer mistakes. It sucked. With a capital SUCK.

It still feels incredibly unjust in my head, and it feels really unfair. I will be taking on board the lesson, though – how your peers perceive you means more to your career than anything you achieve. It really is an attitude I’d love to see change, as perception often has little correlation with the reality of a situation.

Developer, Love Thy QA.

I suck at testing things. Always have. I keep trying to be better at it, but I’m just flat out awful at it. I don’t have that twisty way of thinking that would cause me to try and use something in a way that doesn’t seem logical to me.

There have been a few times in my career where I have been in a position where I was expected to fully test something that I’d been heavily involved in. It is after these experiences that I am convinced of two truths in software development.

  1. You shouldn’t be testing your own code. You get caught in a ‘pattern blind’ trap, because you coded that thing from the ground up. You know exactly how it’s supposed to work, and it’s incredibly difficult to conceive anyone attempting to use it in a way that you have deemed stupid in your own head.
  2. A good QA is worth their weight in platinum. They care enough about the quality that they will make your application sit up and dance until they break it. And they’ll break your application in all sorts of exciting ways in which you could never imagine.

We’re in a world where deadlines seem to trump quality. This is really bad from a consumer perspective. To give an example – I no longer pre-order computer games, or even buy them on release day. I wait until the first patch comes out to fix all the issues with the game before I even think to throw money at it. This has happened with every single game I’ve been paying attention to for the last year.

As a developer, I want anything I work on to kick bottom. As myself, I know that inspite of my best efforts, a tester I am not. An aggressive QA person constantly bouncing something back to me, while demoralising, means that I have an extra set of eyes making sure that my app is going to kick arse.

A bad review can completely destroy customer confidence. Which is why, as a software developer, my alarm bells start ringing if I interview at a place where they proudly proclaim ‘We don’t have a QA team’. Those same bells start ringing when a team is pushing a tight deadline, and the first thing to be pushed back on the table (or sometimes off it all together!), is the QA.

Dropping QA should never be acceptable. Love your QA, because by doing what they do, they are covering your backside. Instead of dropping QA to meet a deadline, I think anyone who cares about your product would much prefer you to just push back the deadline instead.

Things my Father told me.

My dad has the advantage of having numerous t-shirts in the ‘been there, done that’ category. I would do well to pay more attention to the advice he has given me over the years. Here are some of his nuggets of wisdom that have stuck with me – even if I haven’t always followed them when I should. My navigation of office politics or life in general would have been much smoother if I had.

  • To be seen as just as good as the boys, you have to be better than the boys.
    • I strive to do this. Probably the only place I consistently succeed is playing computer games. Unfortunately, this is coupled with being a rather graceless winner.
  • For once in your life, keep your head down and your mouth shut!
    • Father brought me up to be outspoken, and to question everything, and this does run counter to that. However, not every situation is helped by speaking my mind. Sometimes, I do need to just shut up. I’ll work on that.
  • You’re responsible for your own happiness.
    • I sometimes forget this. In a bad situation? It’s up to me to get out of it. There is no knight in shining armour waiting to save me, so I’d better get up and slay that dragon myself.
  • Don’t be a victim.
    • Sometimes, it’s too easy to wallow in self pity. In times when I’ve been depressed, I wish I’d kept this at the front of my mind.
  • You don’t give offense. You *take* offense.
    • Nothing is more annoying than someone who *looks* to take offense. Although the main thing that has happened as a result of taking this on board is that I find people more annoying.
  • Stop cutting off your nose to spite your face!
    • I’m a stubborn person. I don’t think this will change. Oops.

I think that will do for now. There are plenty more, but it would likely turn into a book. I guess the point of this post is that all the above pieces of advice, if I’d chosen to follow them throughout life more consistently, would have improved so many rubbish situations I’ve managed to land myself in. Make no mistake – the common denominator in all of my problems past and present is me.

I should probably listen to my Dad more. Even if he is leaving all the money to the cat.