On Switching Jobs

Posted: October 22, 2016 in Thoughts
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Changing jobs can be both challenging and rewarding. People switch jobs for many different reasons: better compensation, career growth, wanting to do something different, not getting along with coworkers and/or managers in the old job, etc. The list of reasons can be endless. Often times, it is a combination of those reasons. And based on why someone chooses to switch jobs, their experience in their new position can be very different. I will not get here into what to look for when switching jobs, but rather into what to expect after already making the switch.

It is not easy being the new guy (or new girl), but then again, that depends on the position, and the people one would be working with. In my experience, I have seen two kinds of teams, in terms of how they work with someone new. One approach is when the team goes out of their way to guide and mentor anyone who newly joins. Such teams usually have a “Getting started” document which introduces the newcomer to various tools and tasks that the team does on a regular basis, which serves as a good starting point, and even as a reference that someone can always come back to if they forget something. New team members are required to read that document, follow the instructions in it, to set up their machines, etc, AND to update that document if they find that any of the information is out of date. That helps keep it up-to-date. In addition to that document, the team usually makes an extra effort to get new people up and running… every team member usually schedules some time with the new member to talk to them about the things they work on, giving them the big picture. Also, people often make sure to get the new team member to join them as they work on a problem, to see how they use the different tools and techniques. Of course, much of that information is forgotten, but when the new team members finds themselves later on wondering about something, it either comes back to them, or they know where to look, or who to ask. The downside of this approach is that the older team members need to put in extra effort, which may have a temporary effect on their productivity (or at least that’s how some would view it).

On the other hand, the approach other teams adopts is very different. This is more of a “throw them in the deep end” approach. In this approach, the team does not go out of its way to guide the new member. They provide a minimum amount of initial mentoring, mainly introducing a couple of tools and systems, but they expect the new member to figure things out on their own, and to ask questions when they need help. This is not to say that the existing members are not helpful. On the contrary, they are extremely helpful. However, they do not voluntarily provide help unless it is asked for. For example, instead of volunteering to show the new member how they accomplish a certain task, they just let the new team member figure it out, and answer any question that they might have. This helps the new team member become more independent, and learn to use the available resources on their own, and also learn to ask the right questions. The downside is that the new member may not know what to ask for, and may not know that a certain tool exists if they haven’t seen it or heard of it before, and may get stuck. However, some people thrive more in this environment.

Another challenge that might face someone switching jobs is figuring out the team dynamics. Every team works in a slightly (or significantly) different way, and it is important to understand how the team works, instead of trying to change it to fit how one’s previous team used to work. This can manifest itself in many ways. For example, it is important to understand the expectations of how to better communicate with the team? Does the team hold regular status meetings? If someone has a new idea, is it better to call for a meeting and discuss it with the team, or write down a proposal and send it out for feedback from the team? Are people open to someone walking up to them to ask a question, or would they rather get an email or an instant message first? How early/late are the team members usually in the office? Are there any early or late meetings? Is it okay for people to attend meetings remotely or not? Who are the most senior people on the team? Are they open to someone coming to them with questions or are they usually very busy? Are they open to new ideas or are they resistant to change? Many of these questions can usually be asked directly to one’s new manager during their first few days on the team (such as meeting schedules, how best to get someone’s attention, etc.) Others are better to be observed.

Note, however, that one can always propose new team dynamics based on one’s previous experiences. For example, if the new team member has used particular ways of communication that they think might be useful for the team, there is no problem in proposing that. They key is HOW to propose it. It is always a good approach to ask whether the team has considered method xyz before. If the team has already considered it and decided against it, then they must already have a good reason. If they have not considered it, then this would be a good way to pitch the idea.

Company culture is yet another challenge faced by those who switch jobs. This is a rather “elastic” term that can encapsulate many tangible and intangible things that might be done differently from one company to another. This is often also affected by the size of the company and its history. This includes things like how open the company is in terms of communicating with its employees, what things are encouraged and what things are frowned upon, how flexible the working conditions are, etc. Many of these things are easily carried over from one company to another, and many are quite different. So it is important for one to get familiar with their new culture as fast as possible. Fortunately, many companies (especially well established ones) tend to provide much of this information to new employees within their first week.

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