Seldom discussed tips for working in the tech industry

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jason tech tips

There are plenty of blog posts on the Web that give sage advice for anyone working in the tech industry. However, most of them focus on the same topics: time management, resourcefulness, continuous learning, verbal and written communication skills, caffeine consumption, and so on.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss 6 tech industry tips that are rarely discussed online, but that are equally (if not more) important from my experience over the past three decades in this industry.

1. Approach change carefully

Often disguised as “innovation” for buy-in, all change has the potential to alienate people and cause problems. In order to mitigate the chance of this happening, focus on user experience (often called UX) when making decisions, instead of other factors that satisfy one or a few other people or processes within your organization.

Secondly, attack your change ideas and approach from every angle. When you find a fault, don’t just ditch the idea or approach - try to find a solution. Around 90% of the time this isn’t possible and you just have to ditch it, but trying builds vital analytical skills that are transferable to other problems.

2. Take responsibility for failure

While it has traditionally been discouraged within corporate culture, taking responsibility for failure builds trust and respect with those people who matter (if those people don’t exist in the organization, you should probably switch organizations ;-). It’s also important to take responsibility quickly after a failure. This could be done using an email or meeting that:

  • Details the issues, how they could have been prevented, and that you accept responsibility for them.
  • Informs everyone that you will work to fix the issues, as well as prevent similar oversights from happening in the future.

3. Study your mistakes

The following is one of my favourite quotes from the famous philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates:

“It’s fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure."

Failed projects/tasks are an opportunity for learning and growth. Before moving on, spend a large amount of time to analyze the timeline of events from a failed project/task and identify the root causes of failure at each part. To do this, you must first collect project schedules, personal notes, proposals, and other documentation related to the project or task, and then extract the key parts so that you can build a visual diagram of what happened during the project, as well as identify the mistakes evident at each part.

Personal bias is often a major contributor to failure because we tend to be optimistic that something will succeed even if there are red flags indicating otherwise. To identify bias in your visual diagram, ask yourself questions like “Would I recommend this in a different situation?” and “Am I hoping that this will work for personal reasons?”

Think about mistakes you’ve identified for a few days, and discuss them with others to get their perspective. Once you are satisfied that you understand exactly why a particular project/task failed, you’re far less likely to make the same mistakes in the future.

4. Know and stick to your core values

Values are a key personal trait, and it’s important to be aware of your own. Spend some time thinking about your core values on a periodic basis (because they can change over time as you grow). Identifying your values is often easier if you start by identifying your mentors. Mentors are people whose opinions you value - they could be coworkers, managers, friends, family members, teachers, and so on. Some example core values include:

  • A belief that maintaining a healthy work/life balance is crucial.
  • A belief that honesty is always the best policy, and that trust has to be earned.
  • A belief that family commitments are more important than work commitments.
  • A belief that good humour and compassion are essential to building a positive work environment.
  • A belief that frugality in resource management is necessary for growth.
  • A belief that inclusiveness and diversity build a more cohesive and productive team.
  • A belief that Nvidia video cards are always a wiser choice than AMD video cards.

Once you’ve identified your core values, stick to them. Don’t be afraid to let others know that you’re not willing to do something because it is against a particular core value that you hold. This builds integrity and respect with others (and with yourself). Knowing other people’s values is equally valuable, and will allow you to work together in a productive and respectful way.

5. Don’t accept criticism from everyone

Constructive criticism is the process of giving someone specific, actionable suggestions. It is meant to be helpful, and is often necessary in certain situations. It is also important for personal growth as it can identify weaknesses and provide good suggestions for improvement.

However, there are many critics in an organization, and you should know which ones to accept criticism from in any situation. Accept criticism from people you respect, or who have adequate knowledge specifically related to the criticism itself. Reject criticism from all others, letting the person know why (lack of subject matter knowledge, misdirected, etc.). How you reject criticism will be tailored to the specific situation, but should remain civil and respectful. Following is an example of how to reject criticism:

Critic (John): “I noticed that you kept these systems online after the migration. You could have saved a lot of time and human resources in your project by decommissioning them during the process.”

You: “Thank you for your feedback, John. However, there are important reasons why we kept those systems online during the process that you were not made aware of.”

6. Stay active and eat well

Your physical health is closely tied to your mental health. The tech industry can be stressful at times, and this often translates to less physical exercise and poor eating habits.

Many of us who work in technical fields often settle for junk food due to convenience. When taken in excess, junk food can upset your metabolism and cause a wide variety of physical and mental issues. It is important to listen to the energy needs of your own body during work periods, and provide it healthy nourishment when needed. This can be as simple as keeping some healthy food and drink options with you at all times, or by saying “No” to meetings that would force you to skip a lunch break.

When used alongside a healthy diet, exercise can dramatically decrease your stress levels, as well improve cognition, productivity and happiness. Regular workouts, morning runs, or taking long walks during a lunch break or downtime are easy ways to fit in some extra exercise during your day.