I’m often asked for advice, that one secret formula to unlock your potential and thrust your career forward. As the year winds down and we approach a brand new year, let me share my best career advice..my secret formula. It’s a game changer. I’m living proof of it. Got a few minutes? Good, let me tell you a story.
The back story
I’m an engineer. I’m non-degreed. I’m a woman. Hold that in your mind as I tell you this story.
In the mid-1980s, I stepped into the engineering world working in the high-tech manufacturing systems industry. We built massive production lines and systems for the world’s largest manufacturers. Our playground was filled with amazing technology from vision-guided robotics to predictive modeling systems. I am not a self-taught engineer, but rather a student of my peers.
In those days, it was uncommon for a woman to be an engineer. It was unheard of for her to be non-degreed. I was surrounded by a plethora of credentials. The odds were stacked against me the moment I stepped into this field.
Yet, I rose quickly from technician to engineer to team lead to engineering manager to owning my multi-million dollar engineering firm.
How is that possible? How could a young woman rise to that level without the credentials? All of the jobs required a degree and most wanted at least a masters. So how did I do it?
My Career-Building Formula
Okay, here is my best career advice for you. Ready?
Surround yourself with people who
- know more than you;
- are willing to share their expertise;
Then become their unofficial mentee and student.
If you can find people who can teach you “the why” and translate complexity for you, that is the golden ticket for your career!
Think about what I just said. Imagine yourself embedded into a talented team of engineers. Every day, you are able to observe their approach, how they think, and how they solve problems. You can see the result of the choices they make. You can observe their processes, the tools they use, how they use those tools and when, and what they do something goes wrong. You have a front row seat to learn and grow.Be a sponge. Listen. Observe. Adapt it yourself. Grow.
In my career, I was a sponge and still am. I watched, asked questions, listened, and adapted their approaches for myself. I became a student of the people around me. I became their informal mentee and they were my mentors. It wasn’t a formal contract or arrangement per se. Rather, I took it upon myself to assume the role.Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Then become their student. Click To Tweet
But I work alone. How will this help me?
Your growth will slow when you work alone. Why? There is no one around you to challenge you, do code reviews, or check what you’re doing. There’s no one around for you to brainstorm or validate your approach.
For you, you want to find a team and then embed yourself into it.
Some ideas are:
- Volunteer for an open source project.
- Join forces with other developers to form an informal business co-operative or alliance.
- Take a contract job at a company and then become part of their team.
- Find a formal mentor, someone who will guide and challenge you.
It doesn’t matter what skill level you are. Everyone needs a mentor and team around them, helping them to grow.
Go find your team.
Where do I find a team like this?
In every company, there is a person or two who possesses great knowledge and expertise. The key is to find these individuals. Throughout my career, I always found people who would stretch me and from whom I could learn.
Teams of your seniors are prevalent. You find them at your company, a software project, a community, and professional organization like IEEE, SWE, and others.
If you are the senior person in your company, then seek this group outside of work.
One Last Bit of Advice
Never stop learning. Be a forever student.
Listen to me. I don’t care if you call yourself a Guru, Ninja or Expert. You will never know everything. People around you have something to share. You can learn something from everyone. Be humble and never stop learning…ever!
You approach problems in a particular way. Others will come up with different solutions. Observing and asking questions will help you to remain flexible and consider different approaches and methodologies.
Be humble and never stop learning.Pro Tip: No matter your skill level or seniority, be humble and never stop learning. Click To Tweet
Wrap it Up
Take this career advice. Put into action and actively make it a part of your daily process. You will accelerate your career and grow. It is a game changer for you.