This is my first job at a tech company. Before this, I spent 13 years in the film industry, which has a strictly- and inconsistently-enforced hierarchy. Stepping on someone’s toes, on the wrong day, with the wrong person, can get you fired and never hired again by that group of people.
My most “corporate” experience was working on the cooking show “Chopped,” for which I did the lighting design. I was on that for 6 years, on and off as shooting goes, managing a small team and finding ways to execute an established look over and over, with slight variations. The downside was dealing with a lot of people above me explaining their unreasonable expectations badly and being expected to execute multiple contradictory instructions for less and less money. The upside was that it was a great team, and I had time to work on my side project: my app.
I spent the last 9 years of that time running my own film-related iOS app. I designed, coded, and improved my app continuously, speaking with dozens of users about their problems. Eventually, this led me to realize I liked tech more than film; the problem-solving, the building, the iteration all appealed to me. When the pandemic hit, I made the switch.
My first part-time role was with a film lighting company called Hive Lighting. I improved the iOS app used to control their lights over Bluetooth. They’re a very small company and hadn’t paid much attention to their app, so when I started shipping updates and delivering insights about their users, they took notice and started to increase my responsibilities. They were planning to bring me on full-time when Clipboard found me, and I decided that if I wanted to progress in my career, I’d need to be a small fish in a big pond rather than the other way around. Hive was great to me and I love their company, but they were a dead-end career-wise. They didn’t really have much growth planned, and there certainly wasn’t anyone I could learn anything from.
When I began here, I had an expectation. This was the best guess on my part since I had never really worked for a “Tech Company” before; Hive was too small and too disorganized to count, and Chopped was just a film set that happened to drag on for a long time. More than anything, I expected to be taught The Proper Way To Do Things. I was prepared to execute a formula, to leverage certain frameworks to move an idea from “design” to “build” to “evaluate.” This is what my boot camp and my reading had prepared me for; this was what I had been trying to execute at Hive. I had generated user personas, organized our roadmap with timelines, and all the other proper things we were supposed to do.
Clipboard Health doesn’t necessarily work that way. So, a few things to take to heart that will help you start strong:
Do it your way.
The most helpful thing Bo told me, on day two, was that they didn’t hire me because they thought I was capable of executing a formula. We don’t deliver a thought process, or a series of steps, or an organizational structure; we deliver a product. They liked a product I had made, so they brought me here to make their product.
Toe-stepping does not exist.
You have a manager you report to, and a task you’ve been assigned. Your job is to execute that task quickly and well. Don’t worry about how it may seem to be overlapping someone else; as long as you’re not working at cross-purposes, there won’t be a problem and no one will be offended. (Personally, this was the hardest for me to overcome.)
Work with speed and self-reliance.
Reach out and ask someone if you need something from them (especially in the first weeks you’re here), but if you see you will regularly need something, try to figure out a way to get it yourself. As a remote company, it would be easy to grind to a halt while everyone waited for something from someone; the more you can work at your own uninterrupted pace, the faster we can all deliver. And we ship frequently, so worry less about failing and more about losing momentum. If something fails, it fails quickly and we move on.
No user personas.
Our customers are individuals, and one of the key points is that everyone at the company has the means to call them on the phone. Ask them whatever you want; the worst thing that could happen is that they won’t call you back. Personas discard the nuance we gain by speaking to real people, and because it’s easier to skim a person than it is to call a person, it would be easy for everyone to fall into that rut.
Write it all down.
We all contribute to the company’s knowledge base. We organize our collective thinking piece by piece. Writing down an idea is the way to make it stable; even if it ends up changing, while it is written, it exists in a stable state, available for all to see.
Just start somewhere.
There will be a lot of reading to do. The company’s writings are maybe not as organized as they’d like, and they’re working to improve that, so by the time this gets to you, things will be better than they were for me. But it’s easy to feel paralyzed by all the information you’re expected to absorb. Just keep reading, and in the meantime, your manager should deliver some kind of project for you. Start the project. Even if it’s just writing the title on the page, you’ve planted your flag and you now have a space that’s yours. The first step is the hardest, and all that.
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