Relentless Growth: 3 Steps to Make a Functional Change in Your Career

Hello career sojourners – let’s talk about Relentless Growth!

You might have noticed that I’ve been fairly quiet on this blog for the past few months, but that’s only because I’m made yet another exciting career transition – this time into the Engineering organization, which is what I’ve affectionately referred to friends and coworkers as the “last (functional) bastion” that I had previously yet to experience firsthand!

Why the obsession with moving to the Engineering org, you ask? Is it because of the fantastical salary numbers we’ve seen reported by folks in tech all over social media? (P.S take everything you hear on social media with a pinch of salt, by the way!). Or perhaps because we often hear time and time again that most – if not all – Big Tech companies are traditionally “Engineering-led” companies?

Those are all good reasons, and certainly factored in my decision-making process, but the number #1 reason for me by far was because I’ve had people in my circle that doubted I could. To be clear, they weren’t necessarily doubting me and my capabilities per se; rather, they (perhaps out of purely good intentions) believed that it simply couldn’t be done because no one else they knew had successfully made the transition from marketing – with zero formal computer science/programming training, no less – into engineering before.

If you know me by now, that foundation of doubt and naysayers who say something can’t be done is always a huge driver in motivating me to disprove exactly that. I truly believe that the pursuit of relentless growth is what will help propel you to long-term success in whatever you choose to do.

So what did I do? I made a plan. You’ve heard it before – “when you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Here are 3 things I did that helped me successfully make a functional change in my own tech career:

  1. Compile a list of skillsets that I was missing (read as “skills I have not learnt yet“)

Having a growth mindset is to view the skillsets that you don’t already possessing as skillsets that you simply have not mastered yet – and not that you never will. I highly recommend watching Angela Duckworth’s TEDTalk about Grit and the Growth Mindset here. A common pitfall many candidates experience is to automatically write themselves off when they see that the required skills listed in a job description (JD) is not something that they have. When they give up, they miss out on what could have been a life-changing opportunity. The most successful career sojourners take a mental (or handwritten!) note of what skillsets they need to acquire to get to their goal, and then WORK to achieve it.

2. Research your network for people who have successfully made the transition YOU want to make

Remember, just because people in your network say that something’s never been done before does not actually mean that NOBODY has ever done it before. If you research hard enough outside your immediate network, you are bound to find someone who has accomplished something similar before- even if it’s not the exact same technology area or functional area you want to switch to. Ask friends of friends for introductions, and share with them your vision on why this is important to you and how they can help. People usually want to help other humans be successful – just come prepared and make a compelling case as to why they should help you. When you’re successful, pass on the favor too!

3. Give yourself time (and space, and grace!) to acquire these skills, then put yourself out there!

Once you:

a) Have the list of skillset gaps that you need to bridge, and

b) Have the list of folks who have sojourned this path before you and successfully made the transition

then all that’s left to do is to put yourself out there and apply for the job in the team/organization you want. You might get rejected a few (or a lot of) times, but don’t give up. Many teams look for “benchwarmers” i.e people who they might not be ready to hire right now due to lack of role/expertise fit, but getting on that benchwarmer list helps bump you to the front of the line when they do eventually become ready to backfill or create a new position that’s just right for you. Patience is the name of the game, and remember, you’re playing the long game here.

Stay relentless, stay strong – you’ve got this, career sojourner!

#CareerTransitions #NewBeginnings #CareerSojourners

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An Ode to October

Can you believe that November is finally here? I know most people are anxious to get the rollercoaster year that 2020 has been over and done with, but I personally enjoy reflecting on the months that have passed and truly internalizing all that has happened so far. What about you?

October has been a good month for me. I finally made the (frankly, terrifying and bold) decision to move on from a team that I dearly love, where I was doing meaningful #HumansofIT community work I am deeply passionate about. Instead, I’ve chosen to dive head-first into an exciting new job (in the midst of a global pandemic, no less!) to work on a new piece of technology that I currently know next to nothing about (having worked on primarily mature technologies to date) and would have to learn from scratch.

Most onlookers would probably scratch their heads, thinking, “Why would she go do this?”. I most certainly pondered that for a long time as well and discussed with many of my mentors before coming to my decision, but I’ll try to distill my reasons below and hopefully it will inspire you to review your own career journey, too. Remember though: No two people’s journeys are the same, so never compare yourself with others. Do what’s right for YOU in your current phase of life, and with your existing circumstances and unique challenges in mind. Check out this fantastic blog post by one of our Humans of IT Community members + MVP Megan Walker on this very topic, which I encourage you to read as well.

  1. Being uncomfortable is how you know that you are growing

Moving to a new job is never easy. Believe it or not, even for an extrovert, it can be super intimidating! Now compound that with the impact of the global pandemic, which means you could quite realistically be working from home from a full year and never getting to meet your new coworkers face-to-face during that time. You will not be able to recreate those surprisingly productive hallway conversations, experience grabbing lunches together in the building cafeteria to build camaraderie, or yell down the hallway of your office hallway to help one another with a quick question. That said, instead of focusing on the negatives and being mired in anxiety, try reframing the situation instead:

  • Give yourself kudos for taking the uncomfortable path and know that you are growing as a human because you are doing things you’ve never done before. A mentor once told me, “If you can do your current job with ease, then you’re already 6 months too long in role.” I’ve pondered on that piece of advice a lot since – it’s a good gut-check to know if you should be challenging yourself to learn and grow. This mentor of mine is very intentional about her career development, and sets up quarterly reminders for herself to stop, pause and reflect on where she’s at in her journey, and whether adjustments need to be made.
  • Be kind to yourself especially for making tough decisions in the midst of a pandemic. It is OK to feel anxious and afraid – after all, it’s only human. Take a moment to acknowledge those feelings, internalize it, then consider your next step on what to do next so you can move forward.
  • Celebrate the fact that we have technology to connect us, which means that you are free to schedule coffee chats with coworkers outside of the country, not just those you work in close proximity with. You can now be more intentional about gaining perspectives outside of your core circle of coworkers, and broaden your horizon by meeting with people you normally would not have scheduled time with because you were too busy caught in the day-to-day of your immediate circle.

2. Time is of the essence

I don’t know about you, but I’m a massive planner. While some people prefer the scenic meander-in-the-park approach to life and career (which is awesome if it works for you!), I believe in having a plan and not simply coasting aimlessly through life. If anything, 2020 has shown us that life is indeed unpredictable, and we are all here for only a very finite period of time. Make sure that you squeeze as many valuable experiences as you can out of it. Want to learn something new? Go for it. Want to get to know people in an area of technology or expertise you have zero clue about? Do it. You will emerge all the better from it. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? Failure? Rejection? Embarrassment? Those are gifts that help shape you into who you are. The only thing worse than all of that is regret for not having given it a shot.

Be bold and dive right in – trust me, you will live to tell the tale, and inspire countless others along the way. This new job in the mixed reality space is coming at a perfect time in my life as I begin an exciting new decade in my journey (my 30s!) – perhaps there’s a big milestone age in your life coming up that you can aim to line up a new experience with as well.

3. Make a plan

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’m a planner but that doesn’t always mean that plans magically fall into place for me either! It takes mindfulness to shut out all the noise, and consider what is important in these next few months as I begin on this new journey.

Things on my checklist include:

  • Who do I need to talk to/get to know in the next 30-90 days?
  • What should I read up on/learn to familiarize myself in this space?
  • How do I establish credibility in this area? Can I find allies to help me navigate the ropes and help me ramp?
  • When do I ask for help if I still need more assistance after figuring out as much as I can on my own? (P.S. contrary to what many people think, there is power in asking for help. People often want to help too, because it helps reinforce their own learning and knowledge of the subject matter, so don’t be afraid to ask!)

One thing that I always tell my own mentees is to be authentic and vulnerable. Treat others with sincerity and be earnest in trying to learn from others. People can smell inauthenticity and fake enthusiasm from miles away. Nobody likes a know-it-all; in the spirit of having a growth mindset (read this book by Dr Carol Dweck), strive to be a learn-it-all instead. When you’re genuine about learning and being better, you’ll know that you have experienced true transformation, and these are the lessons that will remain with you for life.

In summary, I am grateful for all the lessons and closure to a beloved chapter that October brings. As we go forward into November, I am excited to see what new learnings, friendships and life experiences await.

I wish all of you courage and boldness in discovering (and celebrating!) your inner discontentment, and may you chart own adventures in the path less travelled!

#NewBeginnings #CareerJourney

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Why Non-Tech Passions can Fuel Your Tech Career

It’s a fact: Non-tech passions can FUEL – not hinder – your tech career.

You heard me.

Surprised? It’s true. You don’t have to only talk or be interested in tech 100% of the time. If that is what you personally enjoy doing, great; power to you. However, I have always believed that it’s actually better if you have a diverse range of hobbies outside of just tech because you get that unique multi-disciplinary perspective.

Last month on the Humans of IT Community, I invited a few inspiring folks in the tech community who have non-tech passions and non-traditional tech backgrounds. Whether they built vintage mini PICO-8 games, had a gig in musical theater or custom-designed their own clothing line, one thing all these folks had in common was that they eventually found their way into tech. More importantly, they didn’t just stop there – they discovered their own way of blending their non-tech superpowers with their tech ones!

When I was a 15-year-old student at a Christian all-girls school in Singapore, I had a form teacher named Mr Anthony – a strict, stoic man who (back then) was frankly quite terrifying and had the uncanny ability to make teen girls cry with his lectures, only because the things he said were not only profound, but they were hard truths. Even though at that age most teenagers are often not amenable to constructive words of advice, one thing in particular that he said has always stuck in the back of my mind.

There are many routes to the same path,” he would say, his brows furrowing intently. When students came to him seeking advice on what courses they should take, or internship opportunities to pursue, treating every decision like their lives depended on it, he would firmly remind them to avoid pigeonholing themselves into one category or area, but instead be open to following their passions. After all, they will never steer you wrong. There’s that famous saying, “Do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” – in the same vein, if there’s something you enjoy doing outside of your “day job”, eventually you will always find a way to infuse that passion into the work that you do.

In my time at Microsoft so far, I’ve met so many people with interesting career paths – military veterans turned cybersecurity professionals, former Catholic nun turned Ethics and Compliance manager etc. Most of them were unplanned; these individuals simply followed what they were passionate about – eventually things clicked together and they found the right opportunity/role to bring their passion (and authentic selves!) to their work. You can, too. It starts with knowing what your passions are outside of work, embracing them and bringing that unique lens into all that you do.

Do you have a passion outside work that you don’t often talk about? Perhaps you have a skill that you think nothing of because it seems so “basic”, but could in fact be something people find valuable? Write that down, and tomorrow when you log into work, think about how you can infuse that passion and hopefully in doing so, make your work a little more fun + meaningful 🙂

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