This essay is featured in our ebook, “Hello World! A new grad’s guide to coding as a team”. Check it out online, or download it for your Kindle.

young-man-meeple-narrow-marginsHi, I’m Jamie, one of 80 new graduates to recently join Atlassian as a developer at our headquarters in Sydney and working on the JIRA team. I’m in the middle of transitioning from “full-time study and part-time work” to just “full-time work”. Seems like that should be easy, right?

It’s not.

It’s hard in all kinds of ways I didn’t expect. Habits and attitudes that worked well for me and my peers during university (we call it “uni” down here in Oz, btw) are now unproductive in full-time life – possibly straight-up toxic.

Unlearning the behaviours I worked so hard to develop over the last four years is both mechanically difficult and a little bit soul-crushing. Luckily, I have experienced peers who tolerate my confused questions, share their wisdom, and generally help me make the move from uni life to real life. They’ve been good to me.

Now it’s my turn to share what I’ve learned with other new and soon-to-be grads. Maybe this will give you a head start on the massive brain rearrangement you’re about to undergo.

Toxic habit #1: overwork and brute-force timing

I’ve heard friends, family, lecturers, and even bosses stress the importance of work/life balance. And I quietly rejected them as lazy.

If you want better marks in uni, the recipe is simple: sleep less, study longer, and work ahead. So everyone who’s even slightly motivated keeps calm and quietly soldiers on. And this has always worked – regardless of how tired your Nana says you look.

What’s different now? I don’t actually know yet (I’m still working on breaking the “overwork” habit). But I have a new perspective now:

Maintaining a healthy work/life balance isn’t lazy. It’s actually harder than working 80 hours a week.


Saying “no” in the name of protecting your off-hours time is harder than saying “yes” and taking on more work than you can handle. Eating right and getting enough sleep requires discipline, but it’s worth it because that boosts your long-term productivity.

Maybe you (ok: I) genuinely think burnout won’t apply to you (i.e., me). But if we keep moving at the speed of uni, one day it will.

And when it does, we may not even recognize it. Burnout might be like in the movies, where you dramatically declare that you “just can’t go on” and collapse in a heap in your flat and eat nothing but ice cream for a week. Or it could be a slow, persistent, erosion of enthusiasm. Of course it is possible to keep crazy hours, but is your work as innovative as it could be if you had more balance? Are your interactions with your team as positive as they would be if you weren’t so tired?

We’re playing the long game now. So if you really care about Getting $#!τ Done™, go to bed on time and eat your peas. Call your Nana this week too (because love). Take it on as a personal challenge. It’s not a lapse in work ethic.

Toxic habit #2: competition and one-size-fits-all evaluation

I’m not a competitive person in that I don’t care about being the best. I do, however, desperately strive for adequate.

It’s easy to evaluate yourself against your peers in uni. Everyone completes the same prescribed work at the same time under the same conditions, and everyone gets a nice, clean, quantifiable outcome at the end. If your marks are above the mean, you’re doing OK, and you can wallow in something other than self-loathing for the next week (I recommend fear of the future).

What’s different now? Direct one-to-one comparisons are totally invalid.

How would you, even? We were all hired for different reasons, we all have different skills, and we’re working on different problems. You can’t get down on yourself because someone knows more Scala than you or because they’re “more creative”. They’re equally in awe of a different trait in someone else. The awe goes around like links in a chain and links back to you eventually, whether you know it or not.

meeple-team2-narrow-margins

In uni, we were expected to be on top of everything. But the products, services, and systems we work with in the post-uni world are too big and too complicated for one person to be across it all. So relax for two seconds and adjust your perspective.

More importantly, grading yourself against your co-workers is irrelevant. Who cares how capable you are relative to everyone else? What’s important is to figure out what you can contribute to the team, do that hella hard, and never stop trying to be awesome. Growth mindset FTW.

This is by far the hardest adjustment for me to make, and I’m still struggling with it. How do you know that you’re progressing fast enough as a developer/designer/whatever if you can’t compare yourself with your peers in similar positions? How do you know that your personal goals are ambitious enough? Where is the baseline? AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY GRADE ME, PLEASE?!?

The advice I got was to maintain open communication with my manager and let them help guide my progress. It’s definitely helping. I recommend it.

Beyond that, I’m replacing “compare myself to other new grads” with “aspire to someone way above me”. Atlassian has some pretty smart people – people who are incomprehensibly capable in my squishy little grad mind. Your workplace is no different: it’s full of people who are clear examples of “what to be”. Work with them on a project or chat them up every once in a while and figure out how they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved.

New habit: take a different road for your extra mile

Maybe you scoff at a 60 hour work week as “casual”, and are still desperate to commit more time to your craft – but how?

It used to be easy: if I had a quiet week at uni, I turned it into a busy week at work by getting ahead on projects or going deeper on them. And vice versa if it was a quiet week at work. I used to think just doing more of whatever it is I’m already doing was the best use of my excess energy.

What’s different now? I’ve discovered loads of auxiliary activities that make me more productive because they make me more balanced. For example:

  • volunteeringOrganise volunteer work for your team. A day at a soup kitchen? A longer-term engagement with the tutoring program at that nearby school? A hackathon in which you help a local non-profit jazz up their website? You will feel so good for it. And speaking of hackathons…
  • Make the most of 20% time and hackathons. Maybe your team allows people to work on passion projects 20% of the time. Maybe your company does 24-hr events like Atlassian’s ShipIt days. Use these opportunities to fill in gaps in your knowledge, explore your crazy new ideas, and/or tackle a hard problem.
  • Help a team member. Or me – if you’re in Sydney, come help me specifically. But seriously: someone somewhere is struggling with something and could use a hand.
  • Write a blog (smile). Share something on your company’s intranet or LinkedIn Pulse or just your Facebook page. Somebody somewhere will learn something from it. Promise.

And if you really insist on doing more work after you go home, at least work on your own projects. Learn a new language (whether spoken or coded), build that sculpture you’ve always dreamed of taking to Burning Man, write a short story. I hear about people who get into software development or design or architecture because they love it… only to hate it once it becomes a career. Let’s not let this happen to us.

I have no idea what I’m doing in my full-time life

I may have tricked you in to thinking I’ve nailed down how to survive in the workplace long-term, but I’m still struggling to put all this into practice. Maybe you are, too.

Working full time is learning to walk again. Except my legs are made out of pudding and the floor is lava and there’s a shark in the lava (I think his name is Bruce). But that’s cool. I’ll get into my comfort zone soon enough, and then I’ll get bored with that zone and move outside it again. It’s the circle of life for us career-minded kids.

The people around us are awesome at what they do (literally inspiring awe), and we’re properly inadequate (in a good way, because aspirations). For now, it’s enough to be thankful for the opportunities in front of me and the support I’ve had so far.

Good luck out there, everybody.

 


This post is featured in our new ebook, “Hello World! A new grad’s guide to coding as a team” – a collection of essays designed to help new programmers succeed in a team setting.

Grab it for yourself, your team, or the new computer science graduate in your life. Even seasoned coders might learn a thing or two.

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