More Muc Than You Can Handle

Reflections on 2 Years at ThoughtWorks

I cannot believe I’ve been at ThoughtWorks for 2 years now! My colleague Aaron Erickson has written an excellent writeup on why (work at) ThoughtWorks. I couldn’t agree more!

Reading another colleague’s post a while ago inspired me to write a little retrospective of my own. Thanks Rose, you are wise beyond your years!

ThoughtWorks has been a place I wanted to work for since I attended DevTeach in 2007. I met some really smart people who were excellent at articulating their perspective. Also, I observed many of the best blogs I read at the time were written by ThoughtWorkers. Yeah, I was also a BFF (Biggest Fowler Fan), but now my experience has shown me that there’s so much more.

So far I have worked on 3 large projects. This scale of work wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to do when I joined. I’m now thankful I got to work on them because they’ve all provide unique experiences.

  • Project 1 – This was a pretty hostile environment where I learned how ThoughtWorkers band together and deliver.
  • Project 2 – I worked on this one for over a year on the largest project at the time. Here I met my sponsor (here’s him in a monkey suit at the ThoughtWorks North America Away Day)who has become an awesome friend in a very short time. The work done there will inspire me for quite a long time. It’s the reason why I yap about PowerShell so much. Project 3 – This project was even larger than the previous one. Over 400 people distributed across the globe. Here I learned how to be patient, consistent, understanding, and observant. Large systems have so many variables that coming in complaining and pointing out the flaws gets you nowhere. For 8 months we chipped away and I think we made a difference. It wasn’t the most interesting project from a technical standpoint. I don’t think I’m mature enough yet to understand all the I’ve learned during this time. Plus I got to work with @manderbabble!

Here are some other take-aways from the last 2 years that I did not expect:

Be Organized

I’m pretty organized in general but have realized a lot of people aren’t. I got the feeling that this ability to be organized help instill confidence in those that depended on what I did. I personally know that it’s a relief to have people that you can depend on. However, I did feel that I had to nag people on occasion. In large projects there’s already many different ways to become distracted and I think my organizational skill helped me keep a cool head no matter what kind of perceived chaos was ensuing.

Be awesome to your office manager! He/she runs the joint and when you need that private meeting room, or need lunch ordered for a meeting, they are your go to people. Also figure out logistical tasks like your client email, userid, and network access so soon as you can. Everyone else in the organization will have an expectation on you to have all that stuff sorted out.

Lastly, get a guy (for taxi service). While working in Bellevue I made friends with a father son taxi company (call Harry (206)-724-9525). They reduced the stress of travel big time. I could text them when I needed a lift and they would monitor my travel itinerary and be ready to pick me up at the airport. Their service was absolutely top-notch, thanks Harry and Gill!

Know Your Org

Understanding the organizational structure is hugely valuable. As much as we like to complain about how the structure holds you back, that effort is just a waste of energy. Learning the structure and how to use it is key when working with larger organizations. Changing that structure requires lots of time, and the will to build up a lot of trust. This can be, unfortunately, beyond what we can offer as technical consultants.

It’s funny how often technical help is seeked but the problem is usually human and requires a much different angle to work with. It’s sad that often I see people try to solve human problems through technical measures. Sometimes it doesn’t appear to be clear to people that we use computers and work with people, not vice-versa.

Travel

For the last 8 months I’ve been on the road, and I probably only slept in my own bed for about 15 nights in that entire time period (except the Christmas break). This is really fun and exciting (and one of the main draws of ThoughtWorks for me). Here are a few things that it has made me realize:

  • Home is where the laptop is. It’s amazing how no matter where I traveled to, I would feel quite comfortable as long as I have my laptop and an Internet connection. At all times I’ve been able to connect with friends and family.
  • Autonomy is important. No matter where I am, I always try to keep my life autonomous. Some days I would hang out with friends and go with the flow, but many times I would consciencly be sure to break off and do things on my own.
  • Ok, maybe home isn’t where the laptop is. Over the holidays I’ve come to realize that Calgary is truly my home right now. The level of comfort I got from my own bed, couch, diner, and friends was a warm reminder to slow it down every now and then. I can see how traveling makes it hard for many people to stick with ThoughtWorks. I’m lucky to be at a point in my life where this amount of chaos is exciting. As much as I enjoyed my week of over the holidays I was ready to get back on the “road”.

When You Don’t Know

The biggest thing I’ve learned is how to ask for help. I used to pride myself on being able to do things on my own. Unfortunately I cannot scale, and doing things on my own severely limits my capabilities. Asking for help has been the best thing I’ve learned. It’s enabled me to venture into territory that I know little about, but do so without much fear because I know I have awesome colleagues to fall back on.

Even in the personal space I’ve learned to ask for help. ThoughtWorkers make amazing friends too and provide a support structure that is beyond comprehension. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for some of the push and support they’ve given me.

Saying “I don’t know” amongst a group of ThoughtWorkers is an invitation to be taught without being scoffed at which is better than the snickers and scoffing you get amongst other technical crowds.

Validation

This one is a little selfish but working at ThoughtWorks these last couple years have helped me become more confident in my intuition and analysis. Many strategies and tactics I’ve done earlier on in my career were actually on a correct path, albeit not executed as well because of my naiviety at the time. Before ThoughtWorks I had 8 years of IT work, and I feel even better about the work that I did. Of course I wish I could have done it all differently, but that’s with todays knowledge.

I now feel even more confident that I can take on problems and solve them even when I really don’t know exactly what I’m doing. I’ve proven to myself that I can solve problems. Hey, if we knew the solutions ahead of time, they wouldn’t be problems now, would they?

Also like to wish Tyler a happy two years! We started on the same day back in 2010. He’s managed to put up with my humour longer than any ThoughtWorker and that’s a pretty good accomplishment.

I’m now realizing this sounds like a pitch to get people to join ThoughtWorks. It didn’t start out that way but having more awesome people around doesn’t sound like such a bad idea! If you’re interested please check out join.thoughtworks.com.

And now for something completely different (the best image from the last 2 years):