What habits are you developing?

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should definitely be prepared for.

After months of preparation and studying, you’ve finally found yourself a job. And not just in any field, but the one you want to be in most: IT!

That’s great! Now, it’s time to take a long hard look at whether you should leave that job.

Huh?

You need to be mindful if you are learning good or bad habits. Let me explain. IT work can be like learning a musical instrument: if you’re teaching yourself, you’ll pick up some bad habits that can make it harder for you to learn more advanced techniques in the future. The shortcuts of yesterday can become tomorrow’s roadblocks to learning… and furthering your career.

Put simply, at the start of your career you should be receiving mentorship and training from a more senior team member. Better yet, multiple senior team members should be mentoring you. In an ideal situation, you’d be hearing the word “no” a lot in the first year of your career. This is actually a good thing, as it shows that the people around you are trying to make sure you’re doing things the right way!

In your first job, you want to start learning industry standard best practices. Your team should be looking over your shoulder and verifying your work, not to micro-manage you, but to ensure you’re doing just that.

In my first job, I worked for a place that had no IT budget. The focus was on results no matter what shortcuts you needed to take. There was no money for security or scalability. No one cared how I did something. As long as it worked, that was all that mattered. I was not taught about testing before productionalizing something. I was not asked to verify my work. I was not encouraged to seek out industry best practices and put them in place.

You do not want to stay at a place like this for years.

If you have the bad luck to end up in a place like this, you have two viable options. If you’re able to, consider giving your notice right away. If you’re there less than a month or two, you can leave the experience off your resume and start clean somewhere else. Of course, this assumes that you’re not hurting for the paycheck. If you’re fresh out of school and living at home, this works, but if you’re the sole breadwinner and your family depends on you for a paycheck, this won’t be the route for you!

Another option is to work there long enough to hit that one year mark of experience. When you’re at the ten month mark, start sending out those resumes! You’ll have to make a conscious effort to unlearn some bad habits, but after only a year it should be feasible.

I remember the first year at my new job – I heard “no” dozens of times per day. At the time, I found it annoying, but I’m grateful for it now. Rather than let me do something the wrong way, I’d be told to do it another way. It didn’t always make sense to me, but there was always a reason for it. In time, I came to understand what management wanted and I hear “no” a lot less.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. If you’re not being encouraged to do things the right way, you need to find a place that will help guide you better.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Efficiency. The right way is usually efficient without taking any shortcuts. The right way is usually repeatable and scalable. The wrong way will either be a shortcut that won’t be sustainable long-term, or it may be grossly inefficient. Force yourself to be more efficient in everything you do, even the small stuff. It’s a good habit to pick up.
  • Security. The right way emphasizes security. Doing things securely will take a bit more time, but security is not something you want to get wrong.
  • Scalability and sustainability. If something works just fine once but it doesn’t work five hundred times, it’s not scalable. And if it’s not scalable, you won’t be able to sustain it.

To help make the above make sense, compare the onboarding process at my first company with my second company.

At my first company, I was told that a certain person would be starting soon, and I was given their name. I would then buy a laptop for them and manually (as in, using a CD) install the operating system. Sometimes, I had to scramble to find a spare laptop because I wasn’t given enough lead time to order one. I would then install some software I thought they would need, and I’d manually (as in clicking through the GUI) create a user account for them.

At my second company, we had an up to date new hire list that ensured we’d always have enough lead time. Just in case, though, we had spare laptops on hand. We imaged laptops from a pre-created images. A script created the user account and provisioned it with the right permissions based on department, title, and geographic location.

It should be obvious that my second company was more efficient. They had a repeatable process that scaled easily – it worked for one hundred new hires as well as for one. How easy would it have been to onboard a hundred new hires at the first company? Their process just didn’t scale and became completely unworkable with anything more than one new hire.

The second company was also more secure. Imaging a laptop from a pre-created and hardened baseline is a much better practice than manually configuring each computer by hand. Humans make errors and forget or overlook things; why not take that out of the equation and have all your laptops come out exactly the same?

Make sure you find a company where you’ll be learning the right way to do things. You never want to be looking for your next job after having anchored in habits like the ones you’d have picked up at that first company.