Three Lessons Learned from Year One as a Professional

I’ve been working at Atomic for a little over a year now and, in that time, I’ve grown as a consultant, a software developer, and a person. Reflecting on year one, I realized three important lessons that I want to share with anybody entering their first job, regardless of the field.

Some of my examples are specific to software development, but the overarching concepts apply across industries.

1. Ask (More) Questions

Asking questions can be scary. Trust me, I know. Asking a question means I have to admit that I don’t know the answer to something. In an industry where many professionals (including new employees and industry minorities) struggle with imposter syndrome, it’s easy to feel scared of asking questions. Overcome that fear.

The truth of the matter is that you’re not supposed to know everything. I’ve heard colleagues mention that it’s both okay and good to be a sponge early in your career. Now is the time to absorb knowledge from your coworkers. They don’t expect you to know everything, so ask questions! I believe that my willingness to ask questions now will help me build the knowledge necessary to become a great senior developer down the road.

Give this a try

When you’re nervous about asking questions, reframe your perception of the underlying message. Instead of thinking, “Asking this question will make me look stupid because I don’t know this,” think, “Asking this question gives my colleague a chance to share their knowledge and allows my team to align on why this decision is being made.”

Over the past year, there have been many times where asking a question has brought team clarity around a technical decision. On a few occasions, it has even provided an opportunity for a colleague to say, “Good point. Maybe we’re overthinking this.” In the end, my willingness to ask a question led us to a simpler solution. Next time you’re nervous to ask a question, remember that questions are powerful tools that can help your team.

2. Use Failure to Grow

Failure isn’t fun. Whether it’s your sports team, your favorite video game, or a muffed presentation at work, nobody likes to fail. Despite that, failure is something we all experience. How we react to failure can change it from a negative experience to a growth experience.

There have been times in the past year when I’ve forgotten important details in my code. When colleagues reviewed the code and pointed those details out, I felt like I had really failed to deliver in the way I wanted. While it would have been easy to be frustrated and upset in those moments, I’ve chosen to treat failure as a growth opportunity. Instead of, “Wow I failed and I’m so bad at my job,” I try to think, “Well I messed that up; now it’s time to learn from it and do better next time.”

Give this a try

When you make a mistake, identify what you missed that led you to make the mistake in the first place. Write down some tips to yourself on a sticky note, and put it plainly in view near your desk. Next time you’re working on something similar, check the sticky note every now and then to make sure you’re not repeating the same mistakes.

Also, lean on colleagues to help—two brains are better than one! Don’t feel bad asking a colleague to review your work so you can make corrections and learn early in the process.

3. Learn to Recharge

This is my most unexpected discovery in year one at Atomic. I assumed that I knew how to recharge as needed after juggling many activities in college. I was very wrong. While I’ve always considered myself an extrovert, I found that being around people at work all day was exhausting. When my workday finished, I had no social energy left to hang out with friends, family, or even my spouse in the evenings.

After some painful months of feeling worn out and frustrated, I started to discover that I needed dedicated quiet time away from people to recharge. While I relied on studying in college to provide this quiet time, I’ve had to learn to carve it out intentionally as a working professional. Whether it’s quiet time or social time, create time for yourself to recharge. For me, this allows me to bring my best self to work and to be excited about my own projects at home.

Give this a try

Experiment with different routines to find something that works for you. Schedule one evening per week that is set aside for whatever activity gives you energy. For me, that looks like quiet time in my house. My spouse prefers to spend quiet time at a coffee shop, so we’re able to coordinate our quiet evenings on the same night of the week. We’ve both agreed to either work ahead on chores around the house or neglect the household to-do list on those evenings. This lets us focus and fully take the night off. For me, half of a night off and half of a night working creates more stress. Taking the full night off really lets me settle down and recharge.

As I move into year two, I’m excited to continue growing in these three areas and to discover new ways to focus on growth. If you have any tips, leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear more ideas that I can carry into year two.