When you embrace learning as a lifelong job

I was in a dark place a few years back, and felt thoroughly overwhelmed with everything. Years of procrastination had come home to roost. I’d coasted, because you can just about get by for a while, especially at bigger companies.

Of course one day this came to a head. I worked at one place with some backstabbing colleagues who were polite to my face, but I got pulled into a meeting with management who told me ‘people had raised concerns’. I was infuriated with the betrayal, but that was more about the culture of the workplace. This day was sure to come wherever I worked.

A chance conversation changed my mindset

A chance conversation with one of the few sympathetic colleagues at that place set me on the right track. As I sadly told him ‘everyone here knows so much more than me’ – he just offered the well-meaning ‘well, think of it as all the people you can learn off in that case’. He was right, but he didn’t just know how right he was!

Question everything you don’t know, but don’t fix everything at once

So I thought hard about the techniques that were being used at work, why were they in vogue? What made them better than other approaches? What other approaches were there anyway?

Once I could see patterns emerging, I knew the sorts of things I needed to learn. I mixed a bit of theory here (the computer science stuff I forgot as soon as I left university, the books on subjects I heard people talk about) with practical labs here and there, and slowly my knowledge improved.

People I worked with weren’t the friendliest, but I was sure to ask them questions about the way they worked and I saw things I could script, principles I could use myself and improve on, nuggets of insight that I’d have picked up earlier if I’d have had the right mindset.

The joy of compounding habits

A little bit of investment every week will really pay off
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But what I didn’t realise was how powerful a habit I’d started to build was. Because I got a little bit better each week, I had started to go from treading water to paddling, to eventually swimming.

I could see fewer comments on my pull requests – so fewer gripes from colleagues about things. I’d contributed more suitable comments on pull requests of others. The little bits of theory I’d learned about Operating Systems helped me when it came to understanding some cloud concepts and Docker concepts too. Then, there came a point where I outgrew that company, finally I went from feeling like I was holding them back to them holding me back.

When I started working at the next company hired me, I said to the lady from HR that ultimately hired me I was surprised to be offered the job. The tech lead in question had a brilliant poker face and I was convinced I’d blown it.

She said that the tech lead and indeed everyone during the interview process was impressed at the answers I’d given and the thought that went into it.

Thank you, former colleague with the sympathetic advice!

By James