The Perks of Being New

Whether fresh from a coding bootcamp or a computer science degree program, many aspiring techies fear joining a new team and showing off their green skin. They worry that their teammates will regret hiring someone so fresh and inexperienced. I am here to shed some light on the value you bring to your team from day 1.

A Fresh Perspective

Imagine yourself walking into a Big Tech office, it could be LinkedIn or Google or Meta. You feel a bit disoriented, maybe a little small, but you make it through, you get your badge, get a laptop at the onboarding session and finally catch your breath as you figure out how to setup your browser and tools just the way you like them.

Everything feels new. Even things you have touched or seen before. Context makes things different. But what’s even more important, is that nobody else around you is experiencing this the same way as you. Our experiences are filtered through our upbringing, formative childhood experiences, culture, language, and unique perspective through which we have decided to understand the world. This view that belongs to you is your fresh perspective. You get to bring that to your team when you meet for the first time, it comes across in the ways you communicate, the practices you agree/disagree with, the problems you notice, and the places you focus your precious time and energy.

After a time, a team settles into a rhythm, and most people are unwilling to rock the boat even at the cost of introspection and improvement. Your fresh perspective is invaluable to nudge a team that may have solidified into a singular way of thought and action.

A Drive for Knowledge Sharing

A few days later, you’re settling into your role and you realize that it’s hard. You can’t find the tools you need, you can’t understand the README in the codebase to get set up, you tried asking a senior dev on your team but they just point you to the README again. You could do one of two things: 1) You could believe that it’s your personal failing and that were you smarter you might magically decipher the scant documentation that’s available, or 2) You could see the gap between what anyone in your position might need to get setup and the actual resources to enable that to happen.

Your fresh perspective into a broken system is what pushes for information to be freely available and well documented. It not only helps you, or future new hires, but also anyone else who needs to understand what decisions were made, why, and how to move forward with features or process. That anyone could be you in 3 years.

But for now, you dig deep and you write down what you find. You get to know your team along the way, you find treasures in every conversation, treasures that the speakers themselves don’t recognize after years of saying similar things to others before. Write it down.

A Lot of Energy

Friday finally rolls around and you notice that everyone has left. There was no bonding, no chatter around the water cooler, nor happy hour. You’re new. This goes against what you’ve been promised by the internet on tech culture and also your own need to get to know your peers.

You noticed that you were afraid to talk to Naida because you don’t know her that well yet, or that Paul’s pull request reviews seemed curt and edged but that’s also because you don’t know Paul and he doesn’t know you. The only solution to the social anxiety of novel spaces is to get to know your peers.

You talk to your manager about the lack of socialization, you plan happy hours, you request a budget and your team gets to have a sponsored event for the first time in a long time. The energy you inject into new spaces is part of your superpower as the new member of the team. You ask lots of questions, you love the amenities and you help older employees see their organization with fresh eyes.

A Drive for Community Building

A few months later on your team and you are finally comfortable with process, relationships and your manager’s style of leadership. Now your eyes start to see beyond the trees into the forest of your company. You dabble in clubs, join employee affinity/resource groups, work on open source, or volunteer your free time. Just like a team can grow into patterns so can other groups within your organization. The same friendly, but tired, faces organizing event after event. You have the chance to join and make an impact early on by planning, participating, and advocating for more funding. If you want! You can also opt to invest that time in your own growth, with family and friends, or getting some much needed rest and relaxation.

A Chance for Reflection and Change

Finally, you have been on your team for a while. It feels like you have always been there and people look to you for opinions or help. Now you are in a position to inject new process or ideas into a team of people that trust you. Here is where your values can come to the table. It might mean advocating for ways to support and mentor new hires, or hiring from new pipelines instead of just Ivy League universities, or even having workshops with the team to discuss racial equity. Your perspective, your values and your ideas become part of the fabric that makes an organization.

I think a lot of people see themselves as conforming to the places they enter. They see themselves as a penny in a fierce furnace melting copper into a pot. But that’s not quite right. You don’t disappear into a group of people unless you decide to or the environment is engineered that way. You are uniquely you, independent of others, and a force for change.

Whoever you are, dear fellow human being, please don’t be scared of the new opportunities, of entering new spaces, or of meeting new people. Don’t look at your inexperience as a fault but as a superpower. Being new to any subject or role is something you can only experience once, and the wonder and beauty of learning and growing exponentially is a gift to be embraced and treasured.

XKCD comic strip about learning something for the first time

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