What I wish I knew on day 1 as a software engineer
My first job out of college was working as a software engineer at a HealthTech startup. I learned how websites worked, what “PR” meant, what “PM” meant, and how to work with these “PM”s and designers. But I wish, on the first day, someone had pulled me aside and told me: “be selfish”.
Now, I don’t presume this is a good tactic for everyone. But if you are a people-pleasing woman joining a male-dominated field, then you must be selfish.
So what does it mean to “be selfish”?
It means when someone asks if you have time to help coordinate an event (and that isn’t your job function), then you say “Sorry — I’m in the middle of X and don’t have the time. Thank you for thinking of me!” Also, you don’t have to say sorry but if it helps you say no, then say it and say whatever else you need to say.
It also means when someone demands you schedule a meeting and it’s not your meeting, then you email “Happy to jump on a call or zoom. My calendar is up to date — please feel free to grab any time where it says I’m not busy!” or you delegate to an EA.
It also means when someone schedules a recurring meeting, you message them “excited to chat :) I don’t think I have the bandwidth right now to meet weekly but feel free to add more time if you think we need more after”. If you already have these on your calendar, then send out an email saying you are doing a calendar purge and rescheduling meetings. Be selfish.
This still means doing your job and being collaborative.
This also means sometimes stepping outside of your job function to do something impactful. Generally, one will get promoted if they are doing a job that is a level-up from their current role or “going the extra mile”. But you have to be selective and, first, you must crush the job assigned to you.
I know being selfish is difficult because you may not understand the expectations and/or societal norms may say to always be nice. For me, it was both. But I’m telling you now, even though it is so hard and so uncomfortable, you must do it.
Find ways to make it easier for yourself to do this! I spend time crafting messages so that when a situation arises, I know what to say.
Reminder yourself what will happen if you don’t do this. I.e. you’ll spend all your time and energy on tasks that won’t help you grow and won’t get you promoted. If you care about learning and career success, then be selfish.
Also, if you train yourself to be selfish, then with time, you’ll figure out the right balance.
I’m now a product manager, and the advice still stands. My tendency is to do anything asked of me. And I work hard every work day to not end up in a rut where I’m only people-pleasing.
Lastly, I used the phrase “being selfish” since it’s concise and I’ve never heard that specific advice. But I don’t think this is being selfish. If you do this, you, your coworkers, your manager, and your company will all be better off.
Originally published at https://serenagupta.substack.com.