You've got a new job at a new company in a new industry. It's been a few weeks, and things feel a bit off. Maybe you were excluded from a meeting, or your boss isn't being supportive, or maybe you're worried about keeping that new job. What do you do? Who do you call for help? Jaime-Alexis started a non-profit to solve this problem. She created a hotline where you can reach professionals to help you strategize how to tackle workplace challenges. She digs into some of common issues that folks run into, how the hotline works, and what the unique challenges are for those going into the tech industry.
[00:00:09] (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about workplace challenges. Working as a developer or in any other technical role can be challenging, especially if you’re coming from a non-tech background. The culture is different. The way you communicate is different, even the swag is different. How many other jobs, you know come with stickers? With all those differences come challenges.
[00:00:40] JF: I’m Jaime-Alexis Fowler and I am the Founder and Executive Director of Empower Work.
[00:00:45] SY: Jaime-Alexis created a non-profit to help folks navigate those challenges. Those challenges can be negative, like a conflict with a co-worker or positive, like getting two really good job offers and not being sure which one to take. Whatever the challenge, Empower Work connects you to volunteers who help you figure it out. And in building this organization, Jaime-Alexis has seen what people struggle with and what they need to be successful at work. She tells us all the stuff she’s learned after this.
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[00:04:00] SY: So tough work situations. What does that mean? What are we talking about?
[00:04:04] JF: We’ve left it intentionally open because what’s tough for people varies. For some, it might mean an ongoing series of microaggressions. For some, it might mean a time-sensitive immediate situation like a surprise performance improvement plan. And so we want to intentionally be open to provide a space to talk through whatever that challenge is and help partner with the person to think through a path that works for them.
[00:04:30] SY: Microagressions. I always have a hard time defining what those are. How would you describe those?
[00:04:37] JF: You know what we see in terms of people reaching out to us is that microaggressions can hold a lot of different meaning for different folks. And so we see the term used in a wide variety of settings. It essentially boils down to someone feeling… I mean some people use the term gaslighting as well, the sense that what they’re experiencing is happening in really small increments, but overwhelmingly is problematic and problematic can be of course defined in a lot of different ways. But it’s essentially racism, harassment, discrimination, broken up into tiny bits and pieces that come at you in different ways every day.
[00:05:12] SY: What’s an example of that? What might that look like?
[00:05:18] JF: It can look different ways for different people. We see situations where someone might be regularly not included in a meeting and they’re told, “Oh, there’s a reason you’re not included in that meeting,” and the person thinks, “Well, I think I really should have been included in that meeting and why wasn’t I included in that meeting?” And the overt suggestion is, “Oh, this meeting wasn’t for you.” And the person’s, you know, thinking like, “Am I going crazy? Like shouldn’t I have been in that meeting or would I have been helpful or would my perspective have been valuable?” So I think that’s one. I think that’s one type of it where there’s nothing you can really point to in terms of a concrete behavior or action. It’s almost an omission and a very intentional omission.
[00:06:03] SY: Yeah.
[00:06:4] JF: But it can also take the place of, you know, it can take place in terms of someone being asked in the case of for instance this audience like, “Where’s your badge?” You know, which is a sense of, “Do you belong here?” Right. “I need to see your badge in order to understand that you’re a person who works here.” And so those can add up in really significant, profound ways over time.
[00:06:27] SY: Yeah, and I like that example too because in isolation there’s nothing wrong with someone asking you for your badge. I’m sure there’s, you know, a company policy that says, “If asked for your badge, you must present it,” right? Like it feels like a very innocent thing the first time but then it adds up and then it comes from maybe not the person you expect it to or maybe it’s only you that’s being asked for their badge and no one else and it’s like all those things together, that context of it is what makes it feel like a microaggression.
[00:06:58] JF: Yes. And I think the context is important in terms of what someone else’s context is, right? The person who might be not including the person in the meeting or asking for the badge, like their context may be very different. And so when you’re thinking about bringing together workplaces that include a lot of different experiences, a lot of different lenses, a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different experience levels, you start to get into situations where people are bringing in different lenses, different experiences into those interactions in ways that someone may not intend, but the outcome of that feels really negative.
[00:07:33] SY: Yeah, you’re right because that person asking for the badge may have no idea, you know, how it feels or how it felt when that instant happened. They may be doing it for very different reasons and just may not see it at all. So yeah, that difference, that delta, you know, in context is interesting, makes it harder I feel like to have a conversation.
[00:07:53] JF: Absolutely.
[00:07:54] SY: Yeah. So you said that Empower Work provides support for people via text when they’re dealing with workplace challenges, microaggressions being one of the types of challenges. What does that support look like?
[00:08:08] JF: So it’s all… and I should say it’s text in the sense of it’s SMS and we also provide a web chat option. So our goal in establishing our type of support was really twofold. One, we certainly wanted to meet folks in need where they were and what we found was that overwhelmingly people didn’t want to be overheard. So a lot of the typical resources entailed, you know, talking to someone, right? So I’ll have to go talk to a co-worker. Well, someone’s going to hear that I’m having this concern or I want to go talk to my mentor. Again, someone may overhear the conversation. So part of that is, you know, we work in a variety of different workplaces where conversations may not be held in confidence. So that was one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is that people are often connecting with us in places and moments of time where they’re thinking about work, but they may not be in the workplace. So they might be on the bus, on the way home, or they might be, you know, waiting for the bus on the way to work, you know, whatever the case may be, and they wanted something again that wasn’t overheard, they could interact with it in a way that worked for them, and in some cases where people can practice conversation like if they’re going to have a conversation with their manager, they can practice that conversation and then they have a record of it as well. So it was really driven by a user need and a gap in available resources. And then on top of it, you know, one of the added benefits is that we’re able then to better leverage technology to facilitate a human connection. So being able to see trends in words that people use, in language doing analysis around the text data itself can be incredibly useful and valuable to understand the intersection of let’s say issues and themes and feelings.
[00:09:48] SY: Oh, that’s so interesting. Okay. When they reach out, are they in a crisis situation? Is it like calling 911 but for workplace challenges, you know, where it’s this is happening right now, what do I do? Or is it more of a reflection opportunity or as you mentioned, you also talked about it being a practice run for future conversations? In what situation do people tend to reach out?
[00:10:22] JF: All of those. So it can be… I would say, you know, we’re not a resource for an emergency situation. So if someone is in a, particularly a health or mental health related emergency, we’re not the right resource. But if your boss puts a meeting on your calendar in 15 minutes and that feels like a crisis for you, we’re a good resource in terms of you reaching out. You know, to put some examples around that, we’ve had situations where people have reached out and said, “You know, I was just handed a severance agreement and I’m not sure what to do.” You know, they’ve never navigated a severance before or on the flip side they just got a really exciting job offer and it’s time-pressured, “Oh, I have two offers. It’s really exciting. This is my dream. This is so awesome and I’m trying to really think through carefully how I weigh those two offers and both of them have a deadline.”
[00:11:07] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:11:08] JF: There can be a sense of urgency and time sensitivity to something that can be positive which is…
[00:11:13] SY: I was going to say, that second one sounds great.
[00:11:15] JF: Yeah, which is great.
[00:11:16] SY: It’s a great challenge.
[00:11:16] JF: We’re a resource for that too. And I would say, you know, in a lot of cases where folks are reaching out, it’s often because they’re looking for a third-party independent resource that doesn’t have skin in the game. You know, like, “Let me take a step back and recognize that, you know, my partner, my friend, my kid, you know, all the folks in my life, my colleague, my mentor, yes, their intention is that, you know, they want me to be the best and at the same time many of them are bringing a pretty solid perspective to that conversation, you know, like, ‘Take the highest paying job offer. Absolutely.’” And so, you know, it’s helpful to have a resource to think through what’s most important for you, what do you value, what are the factors involved, what do you want to consider in terms of whatever decision you’re making going forward.
[00:12:02] SY: Yeah. So in those examples, especially the positive ones, who’s answering the text? Who am I talking to?
[00:12:13] JF: All volunteer peer counselors. So these are all working professionals who dedicate their time to go through a really robust training and it’s 20 plus hours. So they really go through it. They really go through a training and leverage their professional skills to facilitate those conversations. And in a lot of cases, the volunteers join because they’re really motivated to bring, you know, their understanding of the workplace, their experiences, their thoughtfulness to create space for others in a way that maybe they had and they recognize that they’ve benefited from that and want to pay it forward or maybe they recognized they didn’t have and could have been really valuable and so they join because they know that that’s really important for someone else. And number of our volunteers are actually executive coaches, career coaches, counselors, organizational psychologists who have a lot of these skills already and then love to use them in different ways. So it’s interesting, you know, for them to work with folks who they don’t typically get to work with, right? And certainly not in 140 characters. So there’s a real interest I think in bringing professional skills that you have in a way that can give back, you know, from your couch or your pj’s, on your computer.
[00:13:24] SY: That’s my favorite place to be. Couch on pj’s. Very cool. So you mentioned that there is a data-gathering aspect of this where you get to see some of the concerns and the trends and the way that people navigate these challenges or even what challenges they encounter. What’s been the most surprising finding or trend that you’ve seen in the data that you’ve gathered so far?
[00:13:51] JF: You know in some ways I would say it’s sadly not surprising and that’s isolation. You know in terms of themes we hear a lot of the only. So, you know, I’m the only person on my team in some way, shape, or form or I am the only person in my workplace who might be experiencing this, a real sense of, you know, there may not be someone else I can talk to about this situation that I’m facing. But on the flip side, we see that people… I think one of things that’s really surprised us is how incredibly thoughtful and reflective and open people are in, you know, these 140-character exchanges. They go so much deeper than I think we could have imagined and it’s pretty surprising to see the transformation that can happen, you know, in a text message exchange that I think sometimes maybe we realize we’re doing with friends or family when we’re texting with folks, but you can do in a really thoughtful way, you know, in a coaching and counseling model.
[00:14:48] SY: So is it that the 140 characters forces you to kind of get the most out of it or is it the texting, the fact that you’re writing it down that makes it more thoughtful or where do you think that comes from?
[00:15:03] JF: There’s definitely a facet of writing down that I think helps with reflection and we’ve actually had some folks say to us, “Oh my gosh, I just thought about that in a different way writing it out.” And also there’s psychology around that too, around the process of writing, and what that looks like for how the brain takes in information or processes information. You know, on the volunteer perspective, it’s a muscle you have to learn to flex, to ask really a succinct thoughtful, open question in a really short amount and to be able to connect, reflect, show that you’re listening, and indicate emotion in such a short period is challenging, but it’s really inspiring to see those interactions take place in these really aha moments between volunteers and texters.
[00:15:50] SY: Yeah. So you actually did a workplace experience survey taking in data from all sorts of people. Tell us about some of the results of that survey. What did you find?
[00:16:03] JF: So part of our original start was around the time of the Susan Fowler Uber Memo, which I think many people are familiar with where Susan Fowler came out and shared her experience within Uber. And around that time someone in my personal network came to me and we were talking through the situation that they were facing in their workplace and I left the conversation thinking like, “What if this person potentially needed more than the conversation with me was something more immediate and discreet?” And so that took me on a search of trying to figure out where that resource was. Like I left the conversation thinking like, “Something must exist. I should find what it is and I should make sure that I know so I can share with folks when this comes up again.” And the result of that deep, deep search was that there wasn’t anything that was independent from a company and that raised a lot of questions for me because you have to be working in a company that would find that of value and pay for it, have the means and resources to pay for it or on the individual side you have to be well-resourced enough to have the means to pay for that.
[00:17:06] SY: Yeah.
[00:17:07] JF: So there was this really big gap and so to better understand that gap we launched a pretty wide survey across industries, demographics, parts of the US to really understand, “What are the challenges that people are facing? How frequently are they coming up? How significant are they? What is a tough work challenge? What does that look like for people and what are the outcomes of those?” So that survey started as like, you know, “Okay, I’m going to send this around to some people I know who are in different industries,” and they grew.
[00:17:38] SY: Yeah.
[00:17:40] JF: To go across all of these different parts of the US and as I mentioned industries and demographics, and what we saw was that challenges are universal. So, you know, almost 95 percent of people who responded to the survey had had a work challenge and that wasn’t that surprising. What was surprising was that overwhelmingly people said it was extraordinarily difficult. The most negative impacts were for those with less social capital. So of the 95 percent who’d had a challenge, about 80 percent said that it was extremely difficult, have left their job as a result.
[00:18:18] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:18:19] JF: For those with less social capital and that could be someone whose first generation to join an industry, first generation to go to college, a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ, they would leave an industry, leave a job with no next job lined up, take a pay cut, there were these extraordinary additional ramifications to the situation and a big piece of that had a through line to whether or not they had a resource. And so when you’re already in a situation where you’re feeling socially isolated to then face this extraordinary circumstance, you know, of course, there’s going to be a negative outcome. You know, it’s not surprising. So how could we provide a resource that’s available, discreet, confidential, and meet someone where they are? So that was our big question of like how do we create that last year?
[00:19:09] SY: Yeah, because we didn’t really talk about the outcome of these workplace challenges and leaving the job as you mentioned could be a positive or negative, you know, depending on who you are and what your options are. What are some of the other either positive or negative outcomes of these workplace challenges?
[00:19:27] JF: You know, our goal is that anybody leaves a conversation feeling heard and supported and able to take a next step that works for them and so what that next step could be can be varied. It could be, “I’m going to go have a conversation with my manager,” or, “I figured out my six steps to my exit strategy,” or it could be, you know, “I’ve flagged, you know, an ethical issue in the product development.” You know whatever the question may be and I’m figuring out how I am going to escalate that appropriately. We see that those can be really, really positive. And so for us, you know, in terms of thinking about the data that we collected last year and where we want to go in the future, what we want to see is if someone feels heard and supported and we hope that what that will entail is that someone when they take that action means that, you know, it’s more on the line of “I’m leaving a job with a great next job lined up” or “I’m leaving a job having considered the financial coverage that I need in order to do that.” And we have examples of that where people reach out and they think like, “I’m at such a breaking point, like there’s no way that I can go into work tomorrow.” And in a conversation, that may be the case, like they may decide, “My next step is like I’m just not going to work tomorrow.” Or it could be, “You know what? What I really need to do is kind of get this off like out of my head, off my chest, and to think about like, ‘Yes, I can make it through the next six weeks to find a new job and in order to best cover my rent and my student loans and whatever, I’m going to commit to myself to doing that and here’s my game plan for how I’m going to go about doing it so that I’m not inadvertently going into a job search thinking it’s going to be six weeks and suddenly, it’s twelve and I can’t pay rent.’”
[00:21:16] SY: Yeah. That is not a good position to be in. You don’t want to leave one workplace challenge just to deal with another one, right?
[00:21:24] JF: Exactly. Exactly. Or the additional burden of trying to figure out the finances around it, you know, and certainly we see a lot of intersection between financial and emotional well-being in making some of these complicated decisions.
[00:21:37] SY: Coming up next, we dig into some of the unique challenges of being in tech and working on a technical team and how you can navigate them after this.
[00:21:49] We’ve talked about open source a bunch of times on this podcast, but frankly, open source is so big and complex and fascinating that it needs its own show, and it has one. It’s called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat and it’s hosted by me. That’s right. I’ve got another tech podcast talking to incredible people about all things open source. We talk about the history of open source, the introduction of DevOps and then DevSecOps, and we even do an interview with the CTO of NASA. And that’s just the beginning. We also dig into cloud and serverless and big data and all those important tech terms you’ve heard of, and we get to explore. If you’re looking for more tech stories to listen to, check it out at redhat.com/commandlineheroes. That’s redhat.com/commandlineheroes. Link is in your show notes.
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[00:24:20] (Music) Tales from the Command Line. It gives us a chance to dig into one particular part of the episode and hear a different perspective from a really experienced developer in the field, Scott McCarty.
[00:24:31] SM: Yeah. My name is Scott McCarty. I am a Principal Product Manager and I focus on containers, like all the technology within containers that enables Red Hat Enterprise Linux and OpenShift.
[00:24:43] SY: Let’s begin. So let’s talk about the workplace. I feel like the workplace can be either a wonderful, awesome, really fulfilling place to be or it can be difficult for lack of a better word, toxic sometimes as well. What is the biggest workplace challenge that you have had to deal with?
[00:25:03] SM: So for me personally, one of the biggest challenges has been like being an ally. When I was younger I remember one time -- I used to work in a warehouse, like it was a plumbing and heating and cooling warehouse. So we would like to load trucks and unload trucks and insulation and pipe and all kinds of stuff. There were both black guys and white guys. It was mostly men. Some women actually still to that worked in the warehouse and it was like a TV show. You know, this guy like looks around, looks over his shoulder, you know, looks around and then starts telling a racist joke. Like this was new to me. Like it wasn’t something that I experienced and I didn’t say anything and I felt bad. I didn’t even know how to interject. I was still young. I was like 19 years old. Fast forward to like say five years ago and a similar situation occurs where we’re out, it’s a sales team and there’s a lady in the group and one guy and her are kind of talking and then he makes sort of a backhanded comment that could be interpreted as just strange or as like a pass, an unwanted pass at her, and I didn’t know what to say. And then I talked to a friend of mine. She’s like, “Here’s what you do. You just go, ‘Dude not cool.’ Don’t be specific. Just meet it with a very unspecific response because now you didn’t embarrass them too bad, but you called it out, you like one-up them and now they kind of have to respond to that.”
[00:26:25] SY: And they’ll never do it again.
[00:26:27] SM: Especially not in front of you.
[00:26:29] SY: Yeah.
[00:26:29] SM: So fast forward, a third one, not that long ago, and it was much less intentional. We’re in a room with a bunch of people, actually I was called in a room, it was a multi-part meeting and essentially just this one guy just kept cutting off this one lady. And so later I handled that one much better. I actually just had a private conversation with him.
[00:26:49] SY: Okay.
[00:26:49] SM: And I did put a little bit of it in writing, which I have to admit was a little bit on purpose, and it’s not like I wanted to get the guy fired or anything that crazy, like you have to respond to it in kind and in level and I think he’ll probably think about it next time.
[00:27:02] SY: So what exactly did you say to him? Because in those situations a lot when I’ll notice nothing that’s happened to me, but I’ll notice something, you know, just some power dynamics and you know other things in the room and I know it should be in a private conversation but even in that conversation, what exactly do I say? So how did you handle that?
[00:27:24] SM: I actually used a technique that I learned in a class that I recently went to for aspiring managers. There was actually an acronym called SBI, Situation, Behavior, Impact.
[00:27:34] SY: Okay.
[00:27:34] SM: There’s no point in beating around the bush, right? You want to be very direct. You just want to say, “Here’s the situation, here’s the behavior I observed factually. So that’s the B, and then like what was the impact to people around you? So explain, “Here’s the situation. Here’s what I saw you do and here was the impact that I saw.” You know, and it’s not accusative, it’s just direct and it gives like a witness cause, witness effect, and then you kind of just let it sink in for them.
[00:28:01] SY: Yeah, Situation, Behavior, Impact, I like that, and I also like that because, well, hopefully it decreases the chance of the person taking it personally because it’s not about them as a person, it’s the thing that they did in that situation that had an impact.
[00:28:18] SM: Exactly.
[00:28:19] SY: You know it feels very isolated to that incident. So hopefully it makes it less likely that they’ll get offended or defensive and get upset about it.
[00:28:27] SM: Yeah. And I found people will always get a little defensive. It is what it is. But you’re right. I think it mitigates it. It could be the difference between them listening and not listening.
[00:28:37] SY: Right. Right. Absolutely. Yeah. So one of the things in that situation though is you were kind of in a position of power, right? Even the fact that you went to this manager workshop means that you probably carry a little bit of weight, you know, around in the office and you have the ability to have these conversations and to have them taken seriously. What do you do when you are not that high on the org chart, you know, when you’re one of the maybe the junior developer, maybe even the intern, the apprentice, and you observe something and something’s not quite right, either it happened to you or you just witnessed it? What can you do in those situations?
[00:29:10] SM: I think back to when I was younger and it was so much harder to deal with these situations.
[00:29:16] SY: Yeah.
[00:29:19] SM: I guess what happens as you get older, you know you’re not getting fired, right? Like, “You’re not going to fire me.”
[00:29:20] SY: Exactly. You’re safe. Yeah. Yeah. You’re safe. Yeah.
[00:29:22] SM: And then that’s why you feel kind of guilty when you don’t say something.
[00:29:26] SY: Because you could have.
[00:29:26] SM: Because you could have.
[00:29:28] SY: Yeah. It would have been fine.
[00:29:28] SM: But I will say I think my recommendation to more junior people is this is not the kind of thing that having more experience gives you more right to chime in. It’s just something that gives you more confidence and those are two completely different things. Very early on in your career if you can focus on a skill set that helps you do these things, you know, it will help you in all kinds of other areas as well. Like obviously as engineers, it’s hard for us to focus on our people skills because that’s kind of a buzzword. But this is one of those things where like gaining the confidence to like chime in on what’s right and wrong I think that’s something that even junior engineers they all have the right to dignity and to help other people and these are all just basic human rights, if you will, in my mind. If you don’t feel comfortable in that situation, there’s probably someone else that’s more senior to you and look around, like if you can see people’s faces, like look for somebody that looks sympathetic to it and then offline wait till afterwards, go talk to them because they’ll probably know what to do.
[00:30:29] SY: That’s a great idea. That’s a great strategy. Yeah. Okay. So let’s say you did something that was a little unsavory, maybe not quite politically correct. You said something, you did something, and two people observed. You have your boss who kind of caught that and maybe a more junior person. How would you expect those two different levels to approach that conversation with you?
[00:30:53] SM: You should own it like immediately, like just own it and like apologize for it and own it. I would expect that the response from my boss would be the same either way, but the response from the junior person will be different because they might not catch it until later. They might have somebody else that was in the room tell them, “Hey, did you see what Bob did?” Or whatever, you know, and then they’re going to be really annoyed afterwards and then honestly it could actually hurt them more than you because they might get really mad about it and like over respond then it ends up that you offended them and they got in trouble, which is like a horrible outcome.
[00:31:27] SY: Yeah.
[00:31:28] SM: It’s like if you recognize it and you know it, then just own it.
[00:31:30] SY: Yeah.
[00:31:31] SM: It’s just so much better hiding from it never does you any favors ever.
[00:31:33] SY: No. Especially when there are witnesses because people can see… and even if they don’t say anything, they’ll remember, you know, they’ll hold that against you probably for a while.
[00:31:45] SM: Oh, yeah, even if there’s not witnesses, that one particular person. So here’s what I found. You know, good habits lead to good actions. There’s like the old Buddhist saying, “You know, thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits lead to character,” you know, like essentially in a nutshell.” And so like even if there’s no one around, you do it to five or ten different people even if it’s one on one and now that’s your character, right? So I would say just own it all the time.
[00:32:09] SY: Yeah. Yeah. That’s right. So if I’m a junior person and I hear something that my boss did or heard him say something that maybe I wasn’t too happy about, I wasn’t pleased about, like you’ve mentioned because I don’t have as much power, I don’t carry as much weight, even if I have that confidence to say something, I may not know the exact way to phrase it to keep my job, make sure I don’t get fired over this, but also to make sure that I call someone out for doing something that they shouldn’t have done. So what are some tools, tactics, maybe some language, ideas that might make that feedback a little bit more palatable if I’m talking to someone who’s bigger and more important than I am at the company?
[00:32:55] SM: There is like an expectation like you can’t just go up to the president or the CEO and be like, “That idea you said sucks.” Like clearly that’s not going to be received very well, right? Like who would receive that well if you said that that way? You still have to respect them, right? Like if you’re annoyed because you weren’t respected, disrespecting them isn’t going to help. So you could… you know, again specific situation, you know, behavior, impact. You know, “Hey, I noticed that when you were, you know, giving that speech on stage, you know, you made a comment about blah, blah, blah. I noticed that some of the people in the audience winced.” You know, you’re not offending them. You’re not. That’s how I’d approach it, right? Like no matter how junior you are always try to approach it in a way that you’re like just explaining the situation, the behavior that you saw and then the reaction that you saw in a nutshell and I think that helps.
[00:33:50] SY: Yeah, absolutely. And for a more junior person, is it better or worse to do that via email?
[00:33:58] SM: I think that’s a power move.
[00:33:59] SY: Okay.
[00:34:00] SM: I think I would generally especially as a junior person probably… like if somebody made a sexual pass at you or tried to do something, then I’d put in writing a hundred…
[00:34:09] SY: You want that on record. Yeah.
[00:34:10] SM: If it’s just a minor transgression that you’re not trying to escalate, I would say try the verbal thing first.
[00:34:17] SY: And now back to the interview. So for our community, our listeners, we have a lot of folks who are already working developers, but we also have a lot of folks who are hoping to one day be working developers, people who are new to code and still figuring it out. And what’s interesting about that first job that you get in tech as a developer is that you’re new to a lot of things, right? You’re new to the job itself, you’re new to the company, the team, but you’re also new to the industry. What I found from working in a few different industries is that the tech industry is very different. The culture is different, the expectations are different, even the way people communicate is different. So when you think about those folks in particular who are entering this new industry for the first time, what are some common challenges that they might face?
[00:35:12] JF: I think it’s hard to say that like writ large here are some and then you laid some out, which are really helpful. I’m like, “Is there a common language? How do people approach humor?” I know for me that was a big at least personally when I moved into working in an organization that was an intersection of government tech and social change was like people were coming from three different sectors. We all had different ways of talking about things and those who came from a tech background had a very different sense of humor and it meant that like…
[00:35:41] SY: Was it really nerdy? It’s okay. You can say.
[00:35:44] JF: Sometimes there were moments we’re like, “Are we all on the same page?” Like, “Was that supposed to be funny?” Like, “Are we on the same page?” And you’re like, “Something that was meant to be collaborative suddenly became a question.”
[00:35:53] SY: Oh, interesting.
[00:35:55] JF: So I think it’s… you know I think in terms of putting kind of the armor on to go in and I do think in some ways it is like you’re thinking about whether you’re going to the tech industry or whether you’re starting your first job in another industry like figuring out what you need to be successful for yourself. So like how do you stay true to yourself? How do you stay true to what you value? How do you be thoughtful about the ways in which you’re showing up in relation to others and that’s not to say that the onus is totally on you, but you want to be conscious of what you need for yourself and not losing that amidst the excitement of what’s ahead and I think that’s just a natural like, “Oh, I can just throw this value out the window because I’m so excited about this new job,” and then you realize, “No, this has been a value for me for a reason and I want to hold on to that as I’m going into something new.”
[00:36:45] SY: Yup.
[00:36:46] JF: You know, one of the things that can be tough in any industry but I think certainly in tech, you know, people talk a lot about imposter syndrome and walking into these new things that can be very intimidating. Sometimes, you know, I remind myself like everybody’s human. It’s like everyone fails, everyone’s human, but that can be really, really scary, particularly I think coming in as someone newer, particularly on teams that might be more seasoned.
[00:37:13] SY: Yeah, yeah, the seasoned teams, and I think also there’s a… depending on the team and the company, I don’t want to generalize too much, but when a developer is working they’re generally staring at their computer and they might look a little angry because they’re concentrating. You know what I mean? When things get really good or bad when I’m coding anyway, like I think I look a little upset, you know, physically. And so it’s hard to communicate with me and you kind of don’t want to interrupt at that moment and it’s just different, you know, from talking to someone who’s just doing emails, you know, or writing a report. You know what I mean? Like the communication in the dynamic, I think we might look a little more upset as a team than we feel because of the facial expressions made during coding. That might be something to navigate.
[00:38:05] JF: Absolutely. And I think it’s one of the things where not enough time is spent in tech or really in any industry figuring out how to communicate with other people, you know, and what are these signals? And we see a lot of that where it’s like, “Well, I’m interpreting this information in a certain way because of what I perceived,” right? Exactly as you said, like I’m seeing a sense like their face looks angry. So I’m attaching meaning to that like that they are angry.
[00:38:30] SY: Yes.
[00:38:32] JF: And in fact it might just be that they’re really focused and that’s a tendency and it can be tough, I think particularly when you’re newer to say like, “How do we get more information about that? How do I stay curious in a way that isn’t going to put me in a vulnerable position where I can get more information and not assume, you know, that someone has an angry face on?” When all of our senses are telling us, you know “I’m a human who’s been in the world and I understand what an angry face is,” you know, and so trying to take a step back and create that space for yourself and ask and like, you know, whether that’s, “Hey, find someone else new on the team who you can talk to about it or get some more information or check in,” you know, whatever that path looks like for you so that you can confirm like, “I’ve got this sense of something, it might be accurate, it might not be accurate, I want to do a gut check and see if like what I’m interpreting is in fact what’s going on.” Or, you know, “Is there another view of this situation that might be helpful to get a lens on?”
[00:39:34] SY: Yeah. Yeah. The other thing is interpreting whether it’s a challenge, meaning it’s something that needs to be fixed and addressed versus it just being different and we’re not used to it, you know, especially again going into a new company, a new team, a new industry. You know, if the shorthand abrupt communication style of the team isn’t something that I’m used to, is it something that needs to be fixed or is it something that I need to accommodate and kind of adjust my own expectations? How do you tell the difference between those when it’s just like, “Hey, this is new and new things in general are uncomfortable and I need to get comfortable” or “This is actually a problem, I need to leave or talk to someone or fix it”?
[00:40:34] JF: I would say the number one thing is to trust your gut. You know, if there’s something that feels off enough to you that you’re thinking about leaving, that’s an important signal to pay attention to. You know, if there’s something off in terms of, “Hmm, okay, I wonder what this means,” right? Like that’s something worth exploring, the piece that we see a lot with folks who reach out to us is that they are the expert in their own experience and they have a very good sense of what might be going on even if they’re really new. A lot of what we explore is like, “Could there be anything else going on in this scenario?” And often, the person has been really thoughtful about all of their components that could be going into it, people know themselves really well, and we don’t always have the best lens on ourselves, but we’re able to at least understand what’s impacting our own experience and being attuned to that. I think the more difficult thing is what do you do in light of that situation and to your point of like, “Can I effect change or not?” And that’s a really big question. It’s one of the main issues that people reach out to us, like, “Is it worth staying in trying to change something or do I just cut my losses and move on?”
[00:41:39] SY: You need to get out. Yeah.
[00:41:41] JF: And part of it is like that exercise in and of itself can be really helpful to understand what’s at the heart of what you want in a job or in a team or in an opportunity that works for you? And so in some cases people might decide, “Yes, I want to stay and effect change because this is work that’s really important to me. I really care about the company. I really care about my team.” There could be a lot of different reasons. “I sense that the company is open to change. I sense that my team would be open to adjusting or shifting or hearing me.” Or in other cases, it might be like, “Oh, no, I realize this is totally not in line with what I value,” or, “I have major questions.” And, “Yes, I haven’t seen anybody be able to change other behavior and so it’s not worth the time and energy for me to invest in it.”
[00:42:29] SY: Yeah. You mentioned earlier that one of the biggest issues is simply being isolated. So if you are feeling isolated at work, whether it’s your first job or maybe not your first job, maybe you’re more experienced, how do you deal with that? How can you be less isolated at work?
[00:42:52] JF: Sometimes it’s a matter of sitting down and thinking about, “Have I exhausted all the possible internal support mechanisms?” So that could be like, “Oh, you know, I forgot that I was on-boarded with this other person who sits wherever they sit, super far away and we haven’t talked since that onboarding. Well, we on-boarded at the same time and maybe we should go grab a coffee or something. Sometimes there’s that piece where it’s just kind of like, “Right, I forgot that we came in together because then we went to different teams and we’re in different setups.” So part of it is thinking about like what exists internally, what can I tap into, and then part of it is what communities am I part of, like maybe I’m on a Slack channel of folks who I could ping about this, or I could check in with that mentor that I met a couple years ago and I drop that email and I feel bad about dropping that email. I wonder if I could pick that email back up again. What’s the worst that could happen?
[00:43:54] SY: Yeah. I use that logic all the time.
[00:43:55] JF: You know, they say no to the coffee or they don’t respond to the email and it’s scary because it’s vulnerable and again feel awkward totally, you know?
[00:44:07] SY: Yeah.
[00:44:08] JF: But you know sometimes taking that little action can unlock a type of connection that was unexpected. The other piece I think is thinking about recognizing that in any situation, particularly in a workplace, there are multiple people involved in any interaction and they’re all people. And so picking up on some of those human threads of like, “How was your weekend?” What’s something that’s kind of human that came into work? And not all workplaces are like that, but there is an aspect of connection that can happen just by asking, you know, a simple question about like how someone’s Friday was.
[00:44:49] SY: Yeah. I really like that. Just making sure you’ve really tried, you know, because there are tons of people, I bet there are tons of people at your company, at your team that are willing to help, willing to support and just making sure that we’ve looked and there’s lots of company resources that are available and ready for you to tap and to leverage and we just need to make sure that we’ve put in some effort too.
[00:45:13] JF: And I would say part of the reason I start there is that the company and the people that you’re working with are usually invested in some ways the most, like you’ve already been hired there, you’re already part of the team, and so there’s a sense of “We’ve all agreed that we want you to be successful, we want the company to be successful.” Of course, that’s not universally true, but it’s usually a good starting point, and trusting that gut of like, “Yes, I think this might be a place where I could have that conversation or I could do that outreach or it’s not,” right? And if you have that sense that maybe it’s not, figuring out an external resource whether it’s a mentor or a friend or a partner, something like Empower Work, some kind of place where you can do that gut check in a way where you’re really going to feel supported. And for some people that is a mentor or a friend, for others it’s not, and I would say we all have those friends who’s like, “Have you tried X, Y, or, Z or like have you tried this?” And like you’re sitting on the receiving end of that. You’re going like, “Yes. Yes, I tried that. Yes, I tried that.” “Are you actually hearing anything that I’m saying?” “Yes.” And so I would say like seek out someone who is going to ask you thoughtful questions whose intention is your success.
[00:46:29] SY: Oh, I love that. That’s great. So if we are starting a new job, new team, new company, new industry, what are some things that we can do to make sure we are as successful as we can be at that company? What can we do to put ourselves in a situation where hopefully we don’t have to call Empower Work?
[00:46:50] JF: Exactly. That’s the goal. I think it really starts before you even start that job in the interview process. Coming into those interviews, feeling like it’s a mutual decision, we’re always so focused on selling ourselves and recognizing that like it’s a mutual sales process and like you want to be in a place where you’re set up for success and you want to make sure that you’re identifying the team that’s going to help you do that. And so before you even walk into that job on the first day, walking into that first interview with an understanding of like what’s important to you, but asking specific questions that can help you understand what’s that culture like? What’s the team like? How do people communicate? What are the rules of engagement?
[00:47:39] SY: Yeah.
[00:47:40] JF: And does that line up with what is important to you? So I would say that for me is like almost like the pre-starting point.
[00:47:48] SY: Yeah. Oh, I love that. So next, let’s do some fill in the blanks. Are you ready?
[00:47:53] JF: I’m ready.
[00:47:54] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:47:57] JF: Move fast and break things.
[00:47:58] SY: That’s a controversial one. I like that one.
[00:48:02] JF: Yeah. You know, I think that that’s gotten folks in trouble.
[00:48:08] SY: Unmentioned folks. Yeah.
[00:48:09] JF: Yeah. I had that advice shared with me and my professional career as well and I found that like it just doesn’t jive for me personally and it ends up with bad outputs.
[00:48:24] SY: same. Yeah. It’s one of those things where the first time I heard it I thought, “Wow, that’s so cool. Let’s be a rebel.” And then now I’m like, “No, not a good idea.”
[00:48:34] JF: I much prefer a DJ Patil’s, “Move thoughtfully and fix things.”
[00:48:39] SY: Yeah. Oh, I like that one. Number two, my first coding project was about?
[00:48:45] JF: Still a work in progress. Well, the first thing that I ever built and it’s not even code, it’s an HTML website back in like 1999.
[00:49:02] SY: That counts. That totally counts. You did some a fun work.
[00:49:06] JF: Yeah, but it was not pretty, it wasn’t even functional.
[00:49:11] SY: Wait. What? What was it about? What was it for about?
[00:49:15] JF: It was to be a repository for a researcher’s work that I was helping with.
[00:49:20] SY: Oh, that’s very useful. That sounds very functional.
[00:49:23] JF: Except it didn’t function.
[00:49:25] SY: Okay. It had good intentions. Number three, one thing I wish I knew when I first started Empower Work is?
[00:49:36] JF: Everything’s going to be okay. I think being a founder you get the sense of like strong urgency and knowing that like it’s okay, right? Like I can pump the brakes a little bit here and there and everything’s going to be okay.
[00:49:52] SY: I want a T-shirt that says “Strong Urgency” because that is my entire existence for no reason, like no reason. It doesn’t have to be urgent, but it feels like strong urgency all the time and I completely understand.
[00:50:07] JF: Absolutely.
[00:50:08] SY: Yup. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the show and sharing all the awesome work you’re doing to help people with their workplace challenges. Do you want to say goodbye?
[00:50:17] JF: This has been so great. Thank you so much for the time.
[00:50:20] SY: And that’s the end of the episode. Let me know what you think. Tweet me at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast and join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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