Document Everything

1 Sep

It can be overwhelming enough just getting used to your first 9 to 5 job since studying; you don’t want to also be completely clueless about the technology and systems you have been hired to support.  However, it is most likely to be the case that you won’t know much about anything.  That’s why it’s important to learn to document everything,

If you went to university, you would most likely already be used to note taking – that’s a great start, and the same technique will serve you right during your career.  However, instead of writing down ideas and notes about lecture slides, you will be jotting down notes about the clients systems, how they work, and how to troubleshoot them.

Carry around a fresh notebook and pen so that you can scribble down anything that is discovered, or taught to you.  If you know how to write in shorthand, that will make this easier.  The key is to write down your notes in a way that will allow you to come back to them later and understand what the note means.  There is nothing worse than writing down some obscure, but important note – only to come back to it later, and find only a cryptic phrase or symbol to greet you.

If you are comfortable taking down legible notes, you might want to consider a personal system to translate them to something more permanent and useful.  For example, after filling up a notebook, you might wish to enter the most important notes into an electronic document on your workstation, so that you can save, backup and search it at your leisure.  Personally, I use Microsoft OneNote to store my most important details, and allow them to save to a OneNote document on the Microsoft SkyDrive cloud environment – so that I can reach these handy notes and tid-bits anywhere I go (including my mobile phone).

The First Client Meeting

24 Aug

At my workplace, it was explained to me that in the first few weeks of work, I would not be directly exposed to clients; mainly in the form of meetings or phone calls.  It was explained that my employer doesn’t really get anything out of exposing newbies to such meetings straight away; I can only assume they don’t want nervous new guys to crumble and make a mess of things.

However, there will come a time when you will have to start getting involved with clients directly.  This means you will have to attend meetings, most likely under the supervision of your direct manager, or another of equal experience.  These could occur at your home office (giving you the comfort home advantage), at another of your organisations offices, or even at your clients offices.

When in a client facing situation, remember to dress up to the required level dictated by your organisation.  During a normal day I am able to wear black pants, black shoes and smart looking shirt.  However, during a client facing meeting, I should make sure I also wear a good suit and tie.  You need to ensure that you always present your organisation as professional.

When you find yourself in an actual meeting with a client for the first time, don’t be surprised if the only thing you say during the entire time you are there is “Hi, my name is whatever”.  Most likely, your manager and the client will be throwing around all kinds of buzzwords, ideas, suggestions and challenges, and you will be struggling just to keep up.  It’s possible that the client already has an active relationship with others in your organisation, and they will be discussing past projects.  Take this opportunity to get a feel for how these things work, and how people communicate.

If you are asked for your input during your first meeting, just be as honest as possible – if it’s something you can answer, then go ahead and have your moment to shine.  However, if you don’t have a clue how to answer, the best response is to state that you will investigate after the meeting, and get back to them.  To the best of your ability, never flat out say that you “Don’t know”.  The client is paying for a service, and they want to feel secure in the knowledge that they are being taken care of, and that you are an expert in whatever they are paying you for.

Dealing with work overload

17 Aug

You have been brave, and sought out new work.  You have decided to take on tasks that you are unsure about, and learnt a lot in the process.  Now let’s flip the coin, and take this work hunting to another extreme level – you now have too much work on your plate!  This is an undesirable situation for everyone, including your manager.  Despite your best efforts, you cannot do everything at once, and attempting to do so will result in poor results.  If you find that you are being swamped, let your manager know.

This can result in one of several things – your manager might agree and see if there is anyone else who might be able to assist.  Managers will often attempt to speed up a process by simply throwing more resources at it (i.e. another person).  Alternatively, they might see the problem in a different way to you, and suggest a quicker or easier solution.  For example, are you spending hour’s manually checking and importing flat files into a database?  Why not create some intelligent scripts to do the heavy lifting for you!

What if your manager does not seem to listen to reason, and give you some breathing room?  This is then an opportunity to brush up on your organisational and self-management skills.  You might have some of your own strategies for formulating a plan of attack, but the most important thing is to break down the big projects into small manageable chunks.  I myself am quite partial to To-do lists; I can create a list of everything I need to complete, and tick off each one as I complete it.  Individual tasks in a to-do list are nowhere near as scary as a great big project.

Not sure how to figure something out

10 Aug

Photo: iStockPhoto.com/TPopova

So by now, you have started working on some exciting new projects and are learning a lot.  There is a good chance that you will be asked to work on something you simply have no clue about.  If you find yourself in this situation, be completely honest with your manager and explain that you don’t currently have the knowledge to perform this work, but you will eagerly learn.

You admit this, not because you want to weasel out of the work, but because you want to ensure that the manager has reasonable expectations on the outcome.  Specifically, the manager should be aware that though an expert might complete the task in an hour – it might take you 6 hours to perform; including the time it takes to wrap your head around a task you are not used to, and time taken to do some self-learning on the technologies that are involved.

Often, a good manager will understand and be reasonable without you having to say anything, but you may find the need to iterate your concern if this is not the case.

Also, have solace in the fact that a new task that takes you 6 hours to complete the first time, will be much quicker to complete the second time around.  You might find you spend several hours trying to find out how to accomplish something, when the answer ends up being so simple – repeating the task can be measured in mere minutes.

Finding challenging work

9 Aug

Now that you are at least a week or two into your new career, you can start really concentrating on your work.  At University, you may have studied advanced topics on Microsoft SQL Server, developed and debugged ASP.NET websites, or trawled through ancient COBOL code.

It would only make sense that you would be finally working with these technologies in the real world, right?  Not so fast.  At this point, it is fairly likely that you have performed only a few menial tasks that you have breezed through with the utmost degree of professionalism.

You have helped out colleagues by drafting up simple Microsoft Excel spread sheets, or written simple documents.  Nothing terribly taxing, but incredibly important – well, that’s how it feels at this point in time.  My advice would be to savour it for now – your career won’t necessarily get any more relaxing or simple than this.  This period in time will serve a purpose for both you and your employer.

Firstly, it serves to give you time to learn the nature of the projects that your team is currently involved in.  Secondly, it allows your employer to get a feel for how competent you are at the given tasks.  If you are ploughing through your assigned tasks and delivering fantastic results, then your managers will naturally step up your game, and assign more complex tasks.

However, if you feel you are starting to get stuck doing simple work for over a month, it might be time to do something more drastic; simply go to your manager and ask for more challenging work.

Photo: iStockPhoto.com/Elenethewise

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