Lessons learned in a corporate world by an Introvert IT Professional
Your career can provide you with far more than a steady income and on-the-job experience. Many people learn some of their greatest life lessons in the workplace. Being open and willing to learn these lessons and grow from them is key to both personal and professional development.
As an introverted IT professional in a corporate world surviving for the last 6 years, here are some of the life lessons that I have learned throughout my journey which has helped me shape my career based on the flow of the workplace instead of emotions:
Arriving early and doing nothing is viewed more favorably than staying late and working assiduously. It’s unfair, but it’s only the first boot of real-life to kick you in the ass.
HR and the ethics hotline don’t exist as a resource to you; they exist to cover management’s ass. I’ve worked for bosses who have used racial slurs, homophobic epithets, threatened and intimidated staff, used drugs in the office, and misappropriated their expense credits, but they were never so much as suspended. I almost lost my job for letting an incomplete requirement be part of customer canary release only to have the developer accept that of accidentally merging the wrong branch.
Always, always, ALWAYS document and organize files of communication between you and your superiors and you and problem clients. Did I say always? Discrepancies (read lies) in accounts of your interactions from either of these parties is a fast track to being escorted out of the building. Nothing shuts up a lying SOB like a time-stamped email with the intro, “Per my email on July 15, I mentioned….”
Always keep a pulse on the job market. At least twice a year apply for jobs in your industry to get a sense of what your skills trade for in the open market and to sharpen your interviewing skills. It’s also a great habit to be in the orbit of recruiters because they operate within a tight-knit ecosystem, network with, and know one another. If you’re not a great fit for one role, and they like you, they’ll refer you to a friend or colleague looking to fill another role as a courtesy.
Even if you’re not interested in a role that they may reach you for, always try to recommend or refer qualified candidates to recruiters. This pays dividends down the road.
Be wise as a serpent, yet as humble as a dove. Many people advise against making friends, but I would advise that you make them believe that you’re a friend. Being too cold and stoic in the office will make your colleagues withhold gossip, news, and politics from you that may be actionable. You can be friendly without being friends. Whatever your line is, find it and stick to it.
Never get comfortable. I had a former colleague who never placed photos of his family or accomplishments in his cube and I asked him why. He said he is always prepared to walk out of the building with the items on his person at a moment’s notice. Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more humiliating or anxiety-inducing than taking the security-assisted walk of shame with all of your belongings in a box and colleagues peeking above their cubes like prairie dogs to watch you walk the green mile. Work is a place where you should be as productive as possible; your family, spouse, hobbies, religion, proclivities, and creature comforts shouldn’t occupy the workspace.
Your manager is NOT to be trusted with personal information. Whether your mom has cancer, your wife left you, your kids are suspended from school, or you’re late on the rent, these aren’t the people to share your most vulnerable moments with for two reasons; 1. They don’t have the power to do anything about them, and 2. They are more likely to report these things up the chain of command to use against you should it ever become convenient as a manipulation tactic. I know this oversimplifies things for the truly empathic, and supportive managers out there, but for the sake of generalities, let’s leave those 8 people out of this and err on the side of caution.
Use your lunch hour as an opportunity to network with people within different departments to grow your customer base. Every employee has internal and external customers, and it will behoove you to learn how to cater to them. If you’re in sales, take someone in Dev Ops, Professional Services, R&D, or Customer Experience to lunch. You’ll learn all the horrible things salespeople do that make their job a living hell, so you won’t perpetuate that. You’ll also forge some great individual relationships for emergencies when you need to phone a friend.
Stay away from the office complainer. Every office has at least one, and he/she is cancer on your outlook and productivity. Regardless of how valid their complaints are about the quality of the snacks, the scheduled All Hands meetings, the increased co-pays on the new insurance for annual enrollment, the way management is trying to screw us with the new Comp Plan, etc., the best thing to do is to keep your exposure to this individual AT. A. MINIMUM.
Become a Subject Matter Expert in at least one or more topics within your department. This makes you indispensable among your peers and management because they don’t want to(or can’t do) do the job of training the whole staff or answering all their questions.
Volunteer to headline new products or services, and you’ll become more visible with leadership and ahead of the curve when those products/services become mandatory.
Make your career decisions for the people who will attend your funeral one day; not the people in that office. Days, or even hours after your death, someone will be posting a requisition for your position, and your duties will fall on the shoulders of another. Make sure you spend your strategic decisions improving the quality of time with the people who will be crying at your funeral. This puts a whole lot of unnecessary office bullshit into perspective.
If you’re in the US, talk to your colleagues about your salary. Corporations benefit from dwindling unions and individual, rather than collective bargaining by negotiating salary and compensation on an individual basis. This is our opportunity to gain solidarity with women who work equally to ensure that they’re paid equally. White folks, this is an opportunity to ensure Black folks, Hispanics, and Natives are paid equally. This isn’t a zero-sum equation; corporations make enough money to pay us all equally. They have the luxury of not doing so. Hold their feet to the fire, or have them risk losing the war of retention.
Be kind. Especially to the people who least deserve it. 9 times out of 10, they’re fighting prodigious personal battles, and the only place they can funnel their energy is at work. Be gentle, but don’t be a doormat either.
Bring your authentic self to work. I’ve seen introverts, extroverts, flashy dressers, frumpy dressers, those gifted with supreme elocution, and those with the longest, strongest Southern drawl succeed in business, which proves one thing. Success doesn’t care how you show up; just that you show up. I wish you the best of luck on your journey!