I had a lot of assumptions, expectations, and fears starting as a developer right out of college. Partly because it was my first full-time, professional job as a software developer. But on top of that, I was starting at Atomic Object. If you were a Computer Science major at Grand Valley State University, you knew Atomic Object. I remember I attended a “speed interview” exercise while attending Grand Valley where Atomic Object was present — the buzz of the entire room was that Atomic Object was there. Needless to say, I was nervous and overwhelmed.
Over the past year, I’ve learned a few things that I think can apply to anyone starting in any field right out of college.
1. It’s alright to be wrong.
Learning that I can say something and be wrong without being laughed out of a room is probably one of the biggest sources of advancement for me.
Why did I think it was such a bad thing to be wrong? Well, like many people, I was in school from the age of 5 until the ripe age of 22. Along the way, I picked up a few priceless gems like reading and writing, and math of course. But another thing school taught me was that it is not all right to be wrong.
Schooling is centered around the idea of grades, which are determined by a plethora of things including homework, tests, and projects. Grades are responsible for your GPA, they influence scholarship opportunities, and they are reflected on resumés. Grades are directly affected by whether you’re right or wrong. If on a multiple choice question you select A and the answer is C, there is no gray area. You are wrong. You could look at this and say that getting marked down for the wrong answer should be a motivator. You should be embarrassed to receive a low score and strive to improve next time. I agree with this. However, it can also cause what it did for me — a fear of being wrong.
When you are afraid of being wrong, you question all of your thoughts. When you question your thoughts, it locks down your creativity and your problem solving. These are some pretty important traits. That is why it is important to understand that it is all right to be wrong. Being wrong is a part of being a professional. Nobody makes all the right decisions all the time, especially someone in the first year of their first job out of school. What is important is taking the times you are wrong and turning them into an opportunity to learn. It is all right to be wrong, but it is not all right to make the same mistakes over and over again.
2. Ask questions.
You are just starting a job out of school, but that doesn’t mean all of your coworkers are as well. Likely you will be working with someone that has a lot of experience in the field you are entering. Why not tap that knowledge pool?
Even if a question sounds dumb in your head, you should still ask it. A “dumb” question can still lead to a number of intelligent and important follow-up questions. As long as you have coped with the fact that it is all right for you to be wrong, you can be comfortable asking any question.
The more you ask questions, the better you will get. Asking the right questions will help fill voids in your understanding and help you grow as a professional.
Even when you are all right with being wrong and you ask the right questions, a first job can still be overwhelming. It can be frustrating when you realize how little you know or how little school has prepared you for your job. It is important to always stay positive and keep pushing forward.
It can be overwhelming at times, but I’ve found it best to look at the job as a series of small battles. A small battle can be meeting your first deadline, or creating your first budget. As you win small battles, you progress towards larger battles, like completing your first project. If you focus on the little battles, it will make the larger battles seem a lot less intimidating.
It is also important to remember that everyone had to start somewhere, and if not for perseverance, they would not be where they are today.
Starting a first job can be scary, intimidating, and overwhelming. If you remember that being wrong is all right, asking questions is important, and perseverance is key, you will stop being afraid and start growing.