Thirteen Lessons on the Job

This post has been in the drafting stage for a while. Unfortunately, every time I thought I’d publish, one more item made it to the list, making me wonder if it was complete. I finally decided that enough is enough and, if I’ve missed something, I’m sure my readers will be kind enough to let me know.

These lessons are based on my experiences and observations. I thought sharing them might help others avoid the mistakes I made and, also, allow me to learn from others. So, here we go.

  1. Don’t work in a place where you’re not appreciated. When you put in your best and find that you’re not valued, silently leave. Don’t waste your time and effort in a job that doesn’t deserve it. Staying and hoping that this perception will change is a mistake. A good manager will recognise your worth and give you reasons to stay. A bad one will not care, which makes leaving a smart choice.
  2. Learn to Say “No” when you’re not comfortable with a task entrusted to you. If you’re asked to work on something that’s a complete departure from your skillset, and you feel like you won’t be able to do it justice, don’t take it up. If you are pressured to, communicate your limitations at the outset and limit expectations so that you’re not at the receiving end if things don’t work out.
  3. Be wary of whom you trust at the workplace. It may be nice to have a sympathetic ear for your frustrations and grievances but be careful of who you share your thoughts with. Not every person you confide in is worthy of your trust. Some may casually pass on what you have told them in confidence while others might throw you under the bus when it works to their advantage.
  4. Always remember that work is only a part of your life, not your whole life. Sacrificing health, hobbies and personal relationships because of the drive to do well at work comes at a cost. The success and adulation that recognition brings can be addictive. But, unless you’re very fortunate, there will be a time in your life when, despite your best efforts, you will find yourself disenchanted with work. And, if you don’t have something else in life that brings you joy, you will find yourself staring down a long dark tunnel.
  5. Don’t stay at the office longer than you have to. While this may seem like a repetition of the previous point, it’s not. A lot of people stay back after work hours just for the air-conditioning, internet, meals and other monetary perks. Sometimes, managers think that such employees are going above and beyond and expect the same from others creating a toxic workplace culture. While this may reap rich rewards in the short run, they are not sustainable later in life.
  6. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. The fastest way to learn is from the knowledge and experience of others. Experience matters because those who have it spent time and energy learning what works and what doesn’t. They also know how to get things done in an optimum manner, which saves the management a lot of time. When you interact with such individuals, you learn from them and avoid the mistakes they made.
  7. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. When we don’t understand something or have doubts about what someone tells us, it’s only natural to ask for clarifications. But, sometimes, either because we are afraid of what someone will think about our intellectual prowess or because of our ego, we tend to keep silent. There is no shame in admitting that you don’t know or understand something – whether you are fresh out of college or have spent years working in the field. Silence only furthers ignorance rather than addressing it.
  8. Always welcome change. While achieving mastery in the field of your choice is a worthy goal, the world is constantly evolving as is technology. If you don’t keep up, you risk being antiquated and expendable. Keeping abreast of the latest developments is just as essential as the ability to learn and unlearn as you go forward. As we all know, change is the only constant. And the ability to adapt is half the battle won.
  9. Never compromise on integrity. No matter how much you feel pressured into doing something unethical, bear in mind that if things go south, you’ll end up being the scapegoat. No amount of promotion or compensation is worth a ruined reputation. If you get fired or demoted for not following orders, you can always find another job. But bowing down to unscrupulous commands can mean anything from the end of a career to a long stint in jail.
  10. Respect everyone – whether it’s your subordinate, the office boy or the housekeeping staff. You may be a genius, but if you fail to understand the basic rules of courtesy and decency when it comes to treating others, it all comes to nought. Some people treat their peers or superiors with respect while showing disdain towards the rest. How you treat people who are not as knowledgeable or privileged defines the person you are. You have to give respect to get respect.
  11. Share your knowledge freely. Too often, insecurities, such as the fear of losing our importance or our job, prevent us from sharing what we know with others. Openly exchanging thoughts and ideas overcomes challenges, solves nagging problems, and all the participants learn and benefit from the resulting synergy.
  12. Never take credit for someone else’s work. It is unfair and unethical to use someone else’s efforts to further your career. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how it would feel to be cheated out of the fruits of your labour.
  13. Always give your best to your job – even if it’s your last day. Just because you are serving your notice, doesn’t give you the license to put your feet up. As long as you are paid for your time in office, you owe it to yourself and your employer to do a good job. Your employer may not be able to do much, now that you are on your way out. But your work ethic will stay with the company long after you have left. And you will be remembered for your professionalism and the job you did when you had nothing to lose than the effort you put in for the sake of a raise or a promotion.

The world is not as big as we think and people have longer memories than we’d like. A positive and professional attitude can go a long way in furthering a career.

These are some lessons I have learnt over the short span of a decade-long career. I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Please feel free to share them in the comments section.

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Types of Managers

I have worked with my fair share of managers over the years and thought it might be fun to write about them. Here are some types based on my experiences.

The Micromanager
As the name suggests, they are control freaks and have a hard time trusting anyone to perform their job. They always want things done their way and will not be open to others’ ideas and opinions. Obsessed with details about their employees’ work, they have a hard time letting go. They frequently ask for updates and monitor their subordinates and their activities to the point of being overbearing. They focus too much on the small details and miss the big picture. Status meetings involve individual discussions of such minutiae that the rest were left twiddling their thumbs. Needless to say, these meetings always exceed their designated time slots and fail to achieve desired results.

The Slave Driver
They take pleasure in pushing their employees to extract as much work out of them as is humanly possible. They demand nothing short of complete dedication from their subordinates with no room for a life outside work. No matter how hard the employees work, they expect more. They like their team members to work for long hours, frown on requests for time off and frequently boast about how they work 24×7 and never take vacations. Showing appreciation isn’t easy for them, but they are always first to find faults. Meetings are strategically scheduled in the evenings and always extend beyond working hours. People leaving on time will be asked if they are “leaving early” loud enough for everyone to hear. With this type, “urgent” tasks have a tendency to pop up when you’re about to leave for the day.

The Hands-On Manager
This kind is the proverbial techie. They play an important part in decision making but allow their subordinates the freedom to decide on implementation. In constant pursuit of technical excellence, they focus on new and innovative solutions to resolve a problem. They will step in when the situation demands and back off when they are not needed. Technically sound, they can be counted on for advice with challenging problems. But they have high expectations from their team and may not suffer fools gladly. Though they are masters of their field, managing people may not be their forte.

The Hands-Off Manager
These managers know their technical limitations and will give free rein to their employees to accomplish their tasks. Their strength is people management with assigning responsibilities and tracking their status their primary focus. They believe in “live and let live”. As long as things are on track, they do not interfere with the activities of their employees. But when things go south, they panic and find themselves helpless and unable to remedy the situation. They will listen to their employees’ concerns but can not be expected to solve technical problems when the situation demands.

The Selfish Manager
The sole purpose of this kind is the preservation and promotion of self, and they will do anything required to accomplish this goal. They will mollify their employees if they need to or cast them aside if the situation demands. When things go right, they are quick to take credit. When they don’t, they’ll be ready with a scapegoat. They will ensure that they are always in their superiors’ good books even if this is achieved at the expense of their subordinates. As long as things work to their benefit, they persist with their employers. The day this stops, they silently move on.

The Inept Manager
These managers are neither technical managers nor people managers. When technical challenges arise, they are clueless about dealing with them. When conflicts come up, they think that pretending they don’t exist will make them go away. They are usually found in organisations which value loyalty over excellence. Survival is more important to them than advancement. They are not willing to take risks or break conventions and will smother, and even punish, subordinates who challenge them. Because they are insecure, they like being addressed as “Sir” or “Ma’am” by their underlings which makes them feel important.

The Know-It-All Manager
As experts in their field of choice, these managers exhibit supreme confidence. Unfortunately, this sentiment tends to overflow to other areas making them think that they know everything and can do anything. As a result, they try to showcase their “knowledge” in areas they don’t fully understand and make a fool of themselves. They tend not to listen, constantly interrupt others and attempt to draw attention to their understanding of the subject under discussion. They attach more importance to their domain and trivialise the rest. To sum up, they always try to prove that they’re the smartest person in the room.

The Supermanager
These managers are a dream to work with. They are technically capable architects and excellent people managers. They set the course of the project and provide a free hand to their subordinates to achieve targets. They are quick to understand the nuances of implementation and provide guidance when required. They make their resources feel valued and promptly address any concern raised. Always willing to share their success, they accept responsibility for failures and insulate their teams from pressures from higher-ups. They bring out the best in their subordinates and always exceed the expectations of the management.

I’m sure you recognise one or more of these types. Please share your experiences in the comments section. If I have missed one, feel free to let me know.

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How I landed my first job

I’m sure all of us have had unique experiences when searching for a job. For me, the road to my first job was paved with surprises.

It was just after my sixth-semester exams at college. Vacations were on but there was little time to lose. The final year was looming ahead and efforts were on to finalize projects. Then, a few days into the break, a notice was put up for a campus recruitment drive to be held three days later at another college.

Shouldn’t you remember the day you landed your first job? Strangely, I don’t. Guess I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations. I had good reasons. I already had one failed attempt behind me. A company had come just before the exams and I had not even managed to crack the aptitude test. My résumé was what one would call a “work in progress”, made in a hurry for the first shot and, thankfully, not required. Truth is, even if I had cleared the test, the interviewer would have been shocked at my mess of a résumé.

My first task was to get my résumé in order and, after a few hours, that was accomplished. I inquired with others about what to expect for the aptitude test and was told that the general practice was questions based on mathematical ability and data interpretation. So, I armed myself with a book on Quantitative Aptitude. But thanks to the project, I couldn’t do much to prepare. The college was a good hour away by bus. I decided to utilize the time to look at some long forgotten mathematical formulae so that I wasn’t completely unprepared.

The process was to begin at 9:00 AM and I reached a few minutes early. On entering the auditorium, I met a few classmates and we settled down into some seats as the company presentation began. The presentation lasted for about half an hour with an overview of the company, the work environment, what the company was looking for and what it had to offer. As the presentation was drawing to a close, the presenter informed us that as part of the recruitment process, the aptitude test would be conducted first followed by an extempore, then a technical interview and finally an HR interview. He then mentioned that the test comprised Visual Based Matrices and asked whether everyone was aware of what that was. I had absolutely no idea. I am sure I had a blank look on my face. I thought, albeit mistakenly, that there might be others like me, and turned to look at my classmates only to find everyone around nodding. I felt like a fool for being the only person in a room of two thousand students who had no idea what the test was going to be about and was too embarrassed to ask. Believing that I would make a bigger fool of myself by asking someone, least of all the presenter, I kept my mouth shut.

We were allocated rooms for the test and I proceeded to the room with apprehension and a sense of dread. The papers were distributed and we were instructed not to open them until everyone had a copy. The suspense was killing me. When we could finally start the test, I opened the booklet and realised that what I’d read that morning wasn’t going to help me. It was some sort of jigsaw puzzle. But, thankfully, I was able to put some of the pieces together.

After the exams, began the long wait for the results. And, then, came the doubts. The test had been easy. And if a person who’d never given a competitive test in her life thought that, it must have been a cakewalk for the others. At lunchtime, I saw my classmates studying programming languages. I had no software background. I wouldn’t blame anyone who wondered what I was doing in a recruitment drive for a software programmer. Seeing them study made me aware of my lack of preparation. But I knew that studying a new programming language at the eleventh hour was a lost cause and decided not to try. Besides, I had to clear the aptitude test and get through the extempore before the technical interview. As I entered the auditorium after lunch, I saw some students scribbling away. I didn’t know it at the time but they were preparing for the extempore.

The test results were announced and surprise, surprise, I was shortlisted. We were divided into groups of twenty and asked to proceed to different rooms for the extempore. The assessor told us to select any topic of our choice and speak about it for about a minute. Here, I was caught off-guard for a second time. I expected them to provide the topics. But I was wrong. Picking a topic was going to be hard enough. In addition, I had to speak for a minute. A minute might seem like a short time but it’s surprising how much can be said in that duration. What’s more, we had only five minutes to come up with both. I knew I was in trouble. Five minutes were up and I hadn’t even decided on the subject. Thankfully, when others were taking their turn, I managed to come up with something.

When my name was called, I stood up and proceeded towards the platform. I have a serious case of stage fright. The thought of standing in front of a group of people with everyone staring at you and hanging on to your every word scares the living daylights out of me. What if I couldn’t remember anything? Somehow, I pulled through the minute that seemed to go on forever. I was shaking but the gestures that accompanied the speech masked the trembling of my hands. After everyone had their turn, the results were announced. I had made it through again.

We were asked to make our way to where the technical interviews were being conducted. When it was my turn, I was ushered into a room. After a few questions, the interviewer realised that my software fundamentals were nonexistent. Then began the awkward part; the part where she was trying to figure out what questions to ask. She was a software programmer and, I, clearly, was not. However, she made an effort to find some common ground based on my past projects and internships. Twice, during the interview, she expressed concerns about my ability to work in software. I replied with more confidence than I really felt. After the interview, I was asked to wait outside.

Before my interview, I’d seen a coordinator enter the room after each interview to get the interviewer’s feedback. He would then inform the interviewee about the decision. But, after my interview, the coordinator was nowhere to be found. It was evening now. I was tired and the wait was agonizing. I just wanted someone to tell me the outcome and put me out of misery. As the minutes ticked by, I began to worry. I didn’t realise how stressed I looked till the person who was serving tea to the interviewers arrived outside the room. He looked at me and asked, “Are you next?” I said, “No, I am done. Just waiting for the result.” He smiled and said, “Then, relax.” I couldn’t help but smile. The coordinator appeared shortly and asked me to proceed for the HR interview.

We were asked to fill out an employment application form after the aptitude test. This form had a lot of questions but had to be filled in a hurry. One of the questions was, “Why do you want to work for this company?” I hadn’t done any research about the company which, though I was not aware, was a big mistake. At that moment, the only thing I could remember was the presenter talking about how the company encouraged the all-round development of its employees. So, that’s the reason I put down. Unfortunately, my HR interview was conducted by the same person who gave the company presentation. After the initial round of questions, when he looked at my response to the question, he smiled and said, “Where did you hear this?” I calmly said, “From you.” He was amused by my frankness. After some more questions, the interview concluded. I was told I was done for the day and that they would get back to me.

A few days later, the list of selected candidates was put up on the college notice board. To my surprise, my name was on the list. And, that, is the story of how I landed my first job.

Please share your fun and unusual experiences in the comments section.

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