2021Q2: Professional Self Reflection

Every Quarter, I try to spend some time on professional self-reflection. It’s part of the journey of being aware of what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and getting better all the time.

This time, I’ve decided to blog about it, instead of just putting it in a notebook. Why?

  1. One of the things I want to do is communicate my professional profile better to other people, so this is a way to do that.
  2. I like blogging :)
  3. I’m going to be mentoring a lot in the upcoming months - this self-mentoring, in a sense, can give my future protΓ©gΓ©s a sense of how I work in this space.
  4. I’ve been non-stop listening to Bo Burnham’s new special, “Inside”. Some lyrics there really got me thinking a lot about the value of putting myself out there, both negatively (always need to be the center of attention) and positively (if that’s how you work, work like that). I’ve decided to go with option B.

Even though it’s me writing about me,

STFU

Without the extra incentives of the blog post, I won’t get this done, so…

STFU

Another note: While this is a professional self-reflection post, one can never really separate the personal, as well. This Quarter my wife and I had a daughter:

So, taking this into account, I’m mixing Q1 stuff as well. I didn’t really get a chance to think about it with Ya’ara joining our family, anyways 🐣

What skills, knowledge, or behaviors have I developed over the last Quarter that enabled me to be successful?

The big question here is what I define as enabled me to be successful. To define success in the context of this post, the analysis must be goal-driven. So; What were the goals at work? At my current role as VP R&D of a stealth startup, I’ve come up with this list:

As a… I need to…
Manager Empower my employees professionally.
Software Architect Lead innovation and creation of new company software.
Hiring Manager Build an exceptional team.
Scrum Leader Plan and manage sprints efficiently
Reporting Employee to the Founding Team Be delegate-able for the founding team. Instill a confidence to act within them - they should trust me to get things done.
Startup Employee Create a respectful, learning, unique and fun culture. Model its behaviors, not just empty words.
Programmer Learn more hands-on about various technical subjects.
Highly Goal-oriented person Not burn out.

So, which skills, knowledge, and behaviors have I developed that made me achieve (or somewhat achieve) these goals?

  • As any good manager will tell you, there are two main points to management - putting people where they perform best and in the place that’s best for them. These two places aren’t always aligned, and that’s where the balancing act as a manager - especially of smart, hard-working, tech-oriented, highly-paid employees - comes into play. This quarter, the main thing I’ve developed is a fearless behavior about empowering my employees. I’ve felt more confident about committing to growth plans and giving honest feedback. No examples here, as this is something between by and my employees! As always, most of the knowledge here is “soft”, but I have done feedback sessions with my employees and learned from them them about how I’m doing things, as well.

  • From a software architecture standpoint, I’ve learned a TON about how things are really done and which real-world problems (and solutions) software companies experience in the SaaS/cloud/data world. This is mostly knowledge gained from connecting to other architects in other companies. The behavioral side is mostly being less excited about new technologies and more skeptic about them. From a skills standpoint, I would say that sketching up solutions to architectural problems is something I’ve practiced a lot more this Quarter.

  • From a hiring manager standpoint, I think I’ve learned a TON about how to hire. I’ve specifically set up meetings with other hiring managers at other startups in the area and tried to learn more about how and why people do and don’t join companies. I’ve also practically tried to recruit many applicants so I’ve practiced the entire recruitment pipeline, from CV screening to interviews and technical interviews, and even to salary and term negotiations. I’ve also tried to improve my behavior as a recruiting manager from a ‘sales’ perspective. I tend to be negative and cynical in general, but when trying to convince someone to join my team, that’s not a good approach!

  • I’ve adopted the behavior of triage-ing every single message, conversation, request, etc. to my todo-list and honestly trying my best to follow up on all of them. This meant doing things like setting up an ITTT automation solution (I use Zapier) to move Slack messages into my to-do list (I use Trello at work), zero-inbox-ing daily, follow-up on follow-ups, and setting up an emoji-based language at our Slack Workspace to communicate stuff like “taking a look” and “on it” efficiently. This makes me very delegate-able - takes no effort to give me tasks. Not necessarily get them done, mind you!

  • Regarding the company culture - the main skill I’ve developed here is navigating how to change and mold the culture in the way I want it to without being out of line or stepping on other people’s toes. For example, after setting up a new way to sync at work (not a boring round-table update session), I’ve immediately collected feedback to make sure I didn’t just “force” my way onto everyone else’s schedules. I’m also REALLY trying to model the values I think our culture should include - whether it’s inclusive speech (and letting people know when they can improve there), learning all the time, being professional and respectful, and trying to keep things fun and “familial”.

Slackbot

  • I’ve done quite a lot of learning over the last few months. I’ll just list subjects that I’ve learned about, in a pretty random order. Some of the things I already knew and just practiced, so are new to me. I’ll mark stuff that I actually did hands-on with πŸ™Œ, other things I’ve learned from reading, or from other people, or from doing code reviews. Here goes:

    • Kubernetes πŸ™Œ
    • ETL Data pipelines πŸ™Œ
    • Argo Workflows πŸ™Œ
    • API design πŸ™Œ
    • Go πŸ™Œ
    • Python πŸ™Œ
    • Earthly πŸ™Œ
    • Clojure πŸ™Œ
    • Algorithm development
    • OAuth2
    • Design patterns πŸ™Œ
    • Content and configuration management solutions
    • Documentation πŸ™Œ
    • Fuzzing
    • Graph databases
    • AWS πŸ™Œ
    • PySpark πŸ™Œ
    • UX and UI (In Figma)
    • Code Reviews πŸ™Œ
    • Test Development πŸ™Œ
    • React πŸ™Œ
    • Micro-services based architecture πŸ™Œ
    • Product πŸ™Œ
    • Funding and VCs
  • One skill that I’ve worked on a LOT is journaling - I’ve written a daily diary at work almost every day for almost 7 months now. It’s become a part of my professional identity and it’s been a great way to always keep learning and staying motivated on my growth even when WFH.

  • As a Scrum Leader, I’ve practiced the skill of defining tasks correctly, choosing the correct workflow for each task, and trying to find bottlenecks in time to make them succeed. That included setting up QA processes. This was especially important since we’re working with offshore teams as well.

In summary, I did a lot to enable myself to be successful. Writing it all down, while actively NOT writing the bad things (that was a struggle lol) feels sort of like looking back after climbing a mountain. πŸ—»

What skills, knowledge, or behaviors do I wish I had developed over the last Quarter but were not able to yet?

Well, that’s the other side of the coin!

I think that I don’t manage my time and my tasks well enough. Doing too much low-level stuff and not managing enough. Also, amazingly, I’m not learning enough. What I mean by that is that while I’m learning a lot “OTJ”, I need to invest time into learning BEFORE jumping into a subject myself. A lot of the learning that I did this quarter was done via the “fool me once” learning method, where I burn my hand on the skillet and learn about heat like that instead of learning about it beforehand and avoiding the pain.

There are some technical areas in which I’m not experienced enough yet, that I’d like to be. Specifically in the areas of Big Data, Data Engineering, DevOps, etc.

Another skill that I definitely DIDN’T work on is sleep, relaxation, and managing my emotions so that I don’t burn out or lash out while working hard and long hours.

Productivity is another area that I feel like I didn’t practice - I leaned on previous years in which I almost religiously worked on optimizing time and tasks, but this quarter I wasn’t productive enough. A lot of my days weren’t actually creating value, just going through the motions.

I’ve also discovered that the social aspect of the professional life has taken a tool on me, and I wish I was better there. I wish I had more focus working on my personal branding. I needed to better manage who to meet, for how long, and what to talk about. I think that I might be a professional introvert - while I like hanging out with people and talking about work, it is draining my energy more than working alone about something at night.

How have my goals and priorities (performance or development) changed over the last quarter?

Yes! I wasn’t clear on my goals (since I didn’t sit down to write them), until… well… Now, honestly. It’s overwhelming to think about how much stuff I wanted to get done and how much of that stuff wasn’t well defined, or even not achievable.

Changes in the startup, such as moving from 0 to 2 partners, my Head of Product taking the charge and leading in a very strong way, and technological maturity, have definitely impacted my goals.

Personal changes, mostly my new baby daughter, have really shifted the balance in my goals. Staying healthy and happy in the long term is not just for me now - it’s for her as well. I often find myself thinking about this picture from The Simpsons:

don't forget, you're here forever

do it for her

What skills, knowledge, or behaviors have I achieved over the last quarter that I could continue to develop?

I think that the number one thing for the upcoming months for me is Management. With so much of my time dedicated to hiring, mentoring, and managing, I better be better at it. Most of my learning time last quarter went into tech - this won’t work going forward, as the amount of people whom I manage grows into the double-digits.

This is the gap between my current skills and knowledge and what’s needed for the next steps.

How can I start to close it?

What skills, knowledge, or behaviors do I need in order to reach my goals for the next quarter?

  • How to manage complex sprints with more than a dozen developers.
  • How to build good tools - internally and externally. Both from the tech perspective but also from a product perspective, which I don’t know yet.
  • How to cope correctly with an overwhelming amount of tasks without suffering from anxiety and stress.
  • How to cope with failure.
  • How to manage which people to meet and for how long.

What skills, knowledge, or behaviors do I need in order to realize my long term career aspirations?

When I say “long term” here, I mean a few years. The aspiration is to do my best to make the startup succeed, without ruining people’s lives or becoming overworked and cynical. If that will happen, then my career will go where I want it too - me working with a few strong team leaders under me, managing managers, and trying to keep solving the hard technical issues.

It’s worth exploring if there are any stretch projects, L&D resources, or mentoring opportunities that could align with these aspirations - but the long and short of it is that most of it is the job itself. Staying hands-on in a healthy way means probably side-projects and pair-programming, but no real dev tasks as part of the team.

What are the potential obstacles I have to overcome to reach my goals?

The main obstacle I’m worried about is burning out. It really requires a specific kind of drive to want to do what I’m doing for long. I need to rely on myself to keep this motor running. Making sure that Family, physical and mental health, and friends are top priority while work is second sounds nice, and it’s a real obstacle to say “No” to work to put time into that.

This is a real obstacle, and to face it there’s only the unwavering hand of self-discipline. No external mechanism can make me choose where I put my time and effort.

Conclusions

It’s been a CRAZY few months for me. Looking back on things I’ve done and things which are to come, there’s a lot of things I’m proud of, a lot of things I’m disappointed by, and many exciting things to look forward to.

This post took me a week to collect the courage to write, but just two hours of focused typing to get out. Two hours are only 0.091% of each quarter, so definitely worth the investment.

In [7]: quarter_of_year = timedelta(days=91)

In [8]: two_hours = timedelta(hours=2)

In [9]: print(f"{round((two_hours.total_seconds() / quarter_of_year.total_seconds())*100, 5)}%")
0.09158%

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!

Based on Culture Amp’s Guide to Developmental Self-Reflection.


musings

2377 Words

2021-07-02 10:23 +0300