Five Career Questions to Ask Yourself

The many recent grads that step their foot into the Bay Area to begin their career are highly ambitious, motivated, full of good intentions, and in general, just want to do well. There are many opportunities, meetups, people to talk to, and things to do that revolve around careers, so at times, there are a lot of low-hanging fruits for us to pick. We have a lot of questions. Recently, I hit my six month mark working as a software developer at Looker Data Science. I was very curious about my progress at the company so far – am I hitting my stride? Am I meeting expectations? How and what can I do better moving forward? Have I disappointed? Am I going to be fired today?

Insert quasi-deep photo of me looking "forward" here (ha ha)

Insert quasi-deep photo of me looking "forward" here (ha ha)

As you can already tell, I had a lot of questions. After speaking with my mentor and manager, I learned that I was asking myself the wrong questions.

One of my favorite things about working at Looker is the culture of mentorship – it is one of the core values of Looker. The first day I joined Looker, Adam Markowitz, a senior engineer at Looker, was assigned as my mentor. I am able to go to Adam and ask him pretty much anything. Mentorship extends to the higher ups as well, as I have weekly one-on-ones with Roland, my manager, to also discuss pretty much anything - my progress, what is stopping me, what I need help on, what is going well, how many dogs I’ve pet, and more.

Recently, I scheduled a lunch chat with Adam to talk about my career. I also told Roland prior to our weekly one-on-one that I wanted to talk about my progress so far in the past six. I prepared a few questions going into each conversation:

1.       What are an engineer’s expectations at Looker, and how does one meet those expectations?

2.       How does one exceed those expectations?

3.       What are some things you wish you learned earlier when you first started your career?

4.       And a super open-ended question – how do you become successful?

While talking to Adam and Roland, one thing is clear – hitting expectations is easy. Hitting expectations as an engineer can be as simple as doing the work assigned to you to the best of your ability, testing your fix or feature to cover many cases, and not rushing to finish in order to make a release. That’s really not that hard.

The parts I was dying to know were – how do I exceed these expectations? How do I become successful working at the company?

To sum it up into one sentence, exceeding expectations is about saving time. Are you saving the company’s time? Are you saving a department’s time? Are you saving someone’s time? Are you saving your own time?

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After talking to them, I summarized what I learned into five points:

  1. Work on side projects that helps the company in some way

    An example of a side project is the recent Slack bot for Looker created by Wil G, one of our product engineers. Slackbot was a weekend project Wil implemented that ultimately received a ton of use by customers and good press. The use is stupidly simple – you ask a question on Slack, and the Looker Slackbot returns the answer about your data.
  2. Check out the open issues an engineer may have on their Github and dive right in

    Every engineer has a task list on their Github. Check out what is an open issue and dive right in (permission may or may not be needed). Before you dive into someone else’s issue, ask yourself – will this issue save not only the engineer’s time, but also someone else’s time? Will it bring the team or company forward? Do note, this is not an excuse to ignore smaller bugs or maintenance issues, so use your best judgement!
  3. Just ask

    Talk to fellow coworkers, ask them what they need help in, what is blocking them, what is something they would like to implement, and then work together on this.

    Adam is one of the engineers that works in the performance and scalability side of Looker, something I am also interested in. I talked to Adam expressing my interest in this area, and at the same time, requested with Roland that I would like to work more on projects that involve the performance of Looker. If there is something you are interested in, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  4. Do things that ease the burden of other departments at the company

    Does our customer support team, as an example, have a bottleneck on a certain issue that continuously wastes their precious time? Can you think of a solution and implement it? If so, this could be a good problem to solve. Saving time and providing a solution to a problem is not confined to just the engineering team – if you can ease the burden of another department, it is highly encouraged to do it.
  5. Do things that save engineer’s time, where time quite literally is money

    Looker’s dialect unit tests routinely take over two hours to complete. Adam knew this was an issue, so he just went ahead and worked on a fix that optimized the tests to run up 30 to 50% faster. Saving an hour or so time from an engineer is quite literally saving money. That’s huge.

Other than saving someone’s time, all of the previous points also have another thing in common – they are proactive actions. If your company culture permits this sort of attitude, when you see a problem, just go ahead and fix it. No permission needed. No barking at the fence. Just do.

In response to the question of “what are some things you wish you learned earlier when you first started your career”, the general consensus seemed to be that if there’s an opportunity that scares you, will challenge you, and is difficult, you should take it. Leave yourself little room to regret. Also, take maximum advantage of what you have right now, which is time. Invest in your 401k, no matter the amount. The earlier you start, the better.  

It turns out, being successful at the company is about bringing success to the company, the team, and your customers. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to reflect on what you do:

  1. Are you doing things that save someone’s time?
  2. Is it easing a particular burden that someone, some team, or some customer is experiencing?
  3. Are you communicating with others on what should be done?
  4. Is there an inefficiency somewhere that you can provide a solution to? Can you do it?
  5. What am I doing well? What can I do better in?

I entered the conversation with Roland and Adam with questions for them, and I left the conversation with questions for myself. Six months went by quick; I wonder what other questions I will come up with in another six months?

Thank you Christine and Om for editin, and special thanks for Roland Blanton and Adam Markowitz for letting me ask them stupid questions all day every day.

New Year, New Me... Maybe..

Hello all!

Happy New Year!

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, California

In June of 2016, I officially graduated from Drexel University and relocated to Silicon Valley to begin my career in software development. I currently work in Santa Cruz at a company called Looker. Looker is an analytics tool that brings data and business teams together by making it easy for everyone to explore and understand the data that drives business. You will definitely hear more about Looker in my future posts, especially since it is quite an exciting time; Looker is growing rapidly.

I have always been a big fan of new years resolutions -- I think it's a great time to consolidate and focus on some core areas to improve on each year. This year is no different. 

One of my goals this year is to write more. I have always written in my personal journals, a ritual that I do (almost) every night to keep track of tasks. I use my journal to analyze my feelings, log what I have done, and reflect on what happened during the day. One reason why I want to blog more is to improve my writing skills. I honestly think I have pretty bad writing, something my girlfriend is trying to help me out with! Another reason is that I just want to. As a result of my own desire to want to write, I think these blog posts will be less forced and come more from the heart. As a result of this desire to write more, I am going to try to publish a blog post every two weeks

I came up with a list of things I plan to write about. In no particular order, here is what I have in mind:

  1. Career and work
    1. Making an impact in the company you work for

      I intend to discuss with my manager and mentors on defining what "impact" is and how one can make an impact in an organization; perhaps I will provide some personal thoughts and insight on what worked for me as well.
    2. Finding your career goals

      What does this mean? I don't really know yet, but it will be interesting to see what exploration will come out of this piece.
    3. Finding your passion

      What is passion? Is it possible to combine your career with your passion?
    4. Finding the right company to embark in your career

      How should you choose the company you work for (given the choice?). Is it even possible to find a company that has your interests at heart? 
    5. Tips on networking

      How do you meet and connect with the people you admire? 
    6. Building good company culture

      One of the invisible (and often overlooked factors) factors of a good company is culture. What is good company culture? Is it as simple as having ping pong tables and free food? Not quite. I want to explore this topic by using the company I work for as an example of incredible company culture that radiates to the customers. I plan to interview with various people within Looker including the CEO Frank Bien and Founder Lloyd Tabb on what makes Looker Looker. 
  2. Travel
    1. Travel hacks

      This will document some of the tips and tricks I use to get lower rates at hotels, cheaper car rentals, better rooms, and more.
    2. Travel diaries

      One of my other goals in 2017 is to travel more, and I am excited to document these trips as travel diaries.
    3. Why travel? Thoughts and lessons on traveling

      Traveling is more than sightseeing. Traveling allows you to learn more about different cultures, teach you lessons on life, think differently, and feel different things. I am looking to explore the things I have learned through my travels.
  3. Investing and wealth management

    This is probably the topic I have the least experience in; I'm just a new grad.

    However, it (evidently) appears that this is the best time to explore options in investments and managing one's wealth. Lessons will come from various online sources as well as talking to people that have more experience in this area.

    I will try to do research on everything from 401K retirement funds, exchanged-traded funds (ETFs), life insurance, education funds, and real estate. 
  4. Personal
    1. Goals and resolutions
    2. Personal reflections
    3. Living as someone with exposure to multiple cultures
    4. Hobbies such as cooking (joint post with my girlfriend?), selling sneakers, gaming, and more.

This (incomplete) list should give me a lot of material to start off with!

P.S. there is a glaring lack of topics regarding programming. I am also mostly trying to avoid discussing stuff that is directly related to my work (haha). 

If you are interested in hearing more about other topics or have any comments, feel free to contact me or leave a comment below! 

A big thank you to Christine for editing this post.