One of the goals of Atomic’s Accelerator program is to help new hires not only transition from college to professional life but also to learn about Atomic and its culture. This culture-learning process has frequently reminded me of the opportunities I had in undergrad to study abroad. I learned a lot about assimilating to new experiences and different cultures, and I believe those lessons are helping me acclimatize to a new company culture.
If you’re starting a new job — especially remotely — here are a few things that might be helpful to bear in mind.
1. Learn the Slang
I took a few Spanish classes before spending a semester studying in Spain, but unfortunately, none of them included a lesson on slang. When I first arrived, I immediately noticed that Spaniards would rapidly say, “¡Vale! ¡Vale! ¡Vale!” as a response to nearly any question. I mistook this for the word, “bailé,” which translates to “I danced” in English. For days I thought, “Wow, what an interesting cultural response! The people are so enamored with dancing here!” It wasn’t until I asked a friend that I learned “vale” is Spanish slang that roughly translates to “okay.” That’s not quite as poetic, but it certainly made far more sense.
Since studying abroad, I’ve been more proactive about not repeating the same type of mistake when I’m in an unfamiliar communication situation — which happens often at Atomic. All kinds of slang and unfamiliar vocabulary get thrown around here. For example, Atoms seem to “noodle” a lot, as in, “I was noodling about…” or, “I’ll noodle on that for a bit and get back to you.” I’ve learned that it means, “to think about potential solutions to a challenging problem.”
Sometimes, I’ve wondered if there was an Atomic-specific Google Translate I could use, but after asking questions and hearing new phrases used in context, I’ve slowly started to work them into my own vocabulary. Now I can confidently say something like:
“I need the brain trust; either I seriously borked something, or Android is pants.”
“I need the collective knowledge at Atomic to help me out; something’s malfunctioning either because I just introduced a serious bug or because Android development is really rough.”
Learning slang can help you feel like you’re “one of the locals,” and my teammates have been more than willing to provide context on cultural phrases or stories without me asking.
2. Be Intentional & Learn Without Judgment
I believe that intentionality is crucial when learning about a culture — both in terms of withholding judgment and in how you engage.
In Spain, there were plenty of aspects of the culture that I had to be intentional about experiencing first hand if I hoped to get a deeper appreciation of the cultural practice. In Spain, there’s a strong “tapas” culture, in which restaurants give small portions of food along with every drink ordered. Spaniards will order drinks and then talk for hours into the night around a table of tapas. Without experiencing this practice, I didn’t appreciate why it was such an integral part of the culture.
In the same way, intentionally learning about or participating in aspects of a company’s culture is crucial, especially if you don’t fully understand them. For example, when I joined Atomic, one of the first things I learned in the Accelerator program was how to “punch” or keep track of my hours. It honestly seemed a little tedious at first, but the more I asked, learned, and actually “punched,” the more I saw the value in it, especially as it relates to larger company values. We have to punch because we’re paid for each hour we work, which is an awesome benefit of working at Atomic. It also allows for transparency about how much we’re working and on what, which relates to our cultural value of “act transparently.” Sure, punching feels like a chore at times, but it’s related to a huge benefit.
3. Notice How Cultural Values Translate to Behavior
It’s one thing to learn about a country’s cultural values; it’s another thing to experience or witness those values enacted. In the same way, reading about a company online or hearing about their culture in the interview process is completely different than seeing how (or if) those values are lived out in interactions between colleagues or clients.
Prior to studying in Spain, I learned about its collectivistic culture and that Spaniards deeply value relationships. I didn’t realize how this might translate into their actions, though, until I was in the middle of a two-hour meal that didn’t seem like it was coming to a close anytime soon. I quickly learned that this was fairly typical of my Spanish peers, who could easily spend large blocks of time talking between classes. To them, time was secondary to relationships, which meant that conversations were prioritized over being “on time” to class (… much to the dismay of my control-freak tendencies). Prior to studying in Spain, I would’ve said that I valued relationships above time, but when I saw those values enacted differently, I re-evaluated my own priorities.
Similarly, I knew that “own it” and “share the pain” were valued at Atomic, but it quickly became apparent how integrated these values were in interactions between coworkers and while working on projects. My teammates were swift to “own” their mistakes or claim responsibility for a feature they developed. When things weren’t going as planned before a demo one day, the team was also quick to “share the pain,” as several members dropped what they were working on to rally behind one another, fix what needed fixing, and provide a high-quality demo for our client. While I knew that these values were important to Atomic, experiencing how seriously my coworkers took them was different.
Spain’s cultural values challenged my values and caused me to improve how I view relationships. Seeing company values enacted can also determine personal areas of improvement. As I’ve watched how my colleagues live out Atomic’s cultural values daily, it’s challenged me to “own it” and “share the pain” to improve how I work.
Understanding and getting acclimated to a company culture can be challenging, and I’m thankful for the Accelerator program at Atomic. I hope you find the tips above helpful in your quest to adapt to your company’s culture, not as a means of being less of who you are but so that you can develop strong connections and appreciate — and add to — the vibrancy of the company culture.