Everyone who has started any new job (software or otherwise) can probably remember the first few days spent desperately trying to retain as much information as possible while drowning in the torrent of new tech, new processes, new company culture, etc. After that initial fire hose, if you're like me, then you may find yourself feeling very proud that you remember some less important detail (e.g. that your boss' birthday is coming up) only to realize that you already forgot something much more important (e.g. how to login to your new company email account).
As I thought through the experience of the first few weeks and months of my current job, I found that there are some key things I learned that helped me adjust and come up to speed. Every company has different ways they approach onboarding, and some may be more effective than others, but in the end, that's probably not something you can control. What may be most valuable about these tips I learned is that they all are totally within your power to influence!
So with that being said, here are my 4 recommendations for starting a new tech job on the right foot
Don’t be afraid to come across as not knowing something…that’s totally fine!
As the new guy on the job it was really easy for me to catch myself feeling confused and alone simply because I didn't want to come across as helpless or, even worse, technically ignorant. Luckily my coworkers were awesome and quickly taught me not to be afraid of asking questions.
The truth is, no one knows everything on day one, and you have to learn somehow. There is certainly a lot of value in figuring out something on your own, and I don't want to discredit that approach at all. I only want to point out that banging your head against a wall for 2 days to learn something that you could have figured out in 5 minutes if you asked a question might not always be the best approach -- for you or the business.
Wait...what? Yes I realize this seems to contradict the last point, but I think there is an important balance to keep in mind. Asking another person to help you usually means a sacrifice of their time, energy, or valuable focus. So make sure to respect that sacrifice and avoid pestering the same person or people over and over again with small questions.
Generally it saved a lot of trouble if I made an attempt to figure something out myself before rushing to get someone else involved. Sometimes I was able to figure it out on my own, however even if I couldn't, that extra solo effort made it easier for me to understand a coworker's answer.
There is a balance between asking so many questions that you don't learn anything vs quietly spending hours, days, or weeks trying to "do it yourself" instead of asking for help. I never found a magic formula to perfectly determine when to ask someone else vs dig in on my own, rather to just be conscious of other people's time and energy.
I suppose if there is one concrete rule I found, it's to avoid asking the same question twice. If someone took the time to help me find the answer, it was the least I could do to write that down so I didn't have to waste their time later.
For whatever reason, starting on my first day I began taking short notes on what I accomplished each day. It wasn't an exhaustive, page long journal entry or anything. Rather it was a few lines each day about the main tasks and any tips or important things I might want to remember. As time went on I began to realize some benefits of doing this that I hadn't originally considered.
The first was in regards to repetitive tasks. Chances are when you are new, you might be assigned to do similar tasks often since there isn’t a wide breadth of things you know how to do yet. So having some notes you can reference might be helpful. And if it prevents you from having to bother someone else again, even better!
The other benefit of writing down my daily accomplishments was more subtle. Imposter syndrome is real…even after you’ve been at the job for years. Having something tangible you can look at to show yourself everything you’ve learned can be helpful in convincing yourself that although you may feel less capable than others (for now!), you really aren’t helpless. Maybe you are more confident in your skills than I am, and if so, this may not be necessary. But I found many times in the early weeks and months that I would turn back through the pages of that notebook and feel a slight boost of confidence as I realized everything I had learned. I suppose your mileage may vary.
Often there is a set process for how you are assigned work. That’s great, and make sure to kill it at those tasks. But, in my experience, occasionally there will be times when your manager or other department leaders may ask for a volunteer to <insert task here>. Even if you don’t know how to do it, raise your hand! It’s a great way to learn something new, while also building trust with those around you. Bonus points if it’s something that most people don’t like doing (or don't know how to do). It was through these volunteer opportunities that I learned how the puzzle pieces of the business fit together while also expanding my understanding of the system.
That's basically it. Starting a new position is overwhelming for so many reasons, and this isn't meant to be more urgent things to stress you out. In the end, the main goal is just to make a new job more comfortable, help you come up to speed faster, and perhaps to feel more confident in yourself too. I'm sure there are many ways to do that, and these are just a few that I found worked for me.