Our First Gig: A Month Later

So my last post was 2 weeks ago. I still like the team and I like the mission and we’ve officially begun that part of team building where you get a more intimate look at how each other work and think. Hopefully I’m not coming across as too eccentric or different. That can feel like a hazard, even when I’m just being myself. Above all, I’m a professional and this isn’t the first or even 4th time I’ve worked in an environment like this. It can be tricky to know when to be an apprentice and when to assert my knowledge of business processes and workflows. And that’s tricky because my team has to balance the fact that I’m amateur at coding while being a seasoned business professional, but also that my apprentice status doesn’t mean I don’t have valuable input to share.

I’m beginning to see why start-ups are rumored to be not ideal places to apprentice. I hear mixed ideas on this.

On the one hand it’s kind of a paradox. A start-up should be a very ideal place to learn since it’s fueled by fresh ideas and experimentation, something a person like me could really dig into. And so far I have, as much as I can be expected to. On the other, there’s an approach to making apprentices efficient that’s missing here. And at a start-up that equates to a loss of time and resources, which is already in limited supply. I’m not entirely sure what I think right now except that there’s room for me to perhaps make an impact here and be apart of the improvement process for the company. I see this as my opportunity to help them where we definitely need it. At the same time, I feel like I need to be careful.

It’s easy to come off as opinionated, when all I really feel is impassioned to effect positive change and have my input visibly valued. I also have to be careful to not be talked over and sort of relegated the role of clueless apprentice. I like having the space to ask questions …and to be questioned. I don’t like the feeling that it’s assumed I have no reasons for what I do and I think that’s happening a bit too much. That’s missing with almost every coder I’ve met anywhere (this certainly isn’t unique my current team). There’s this assumption that I couldn’t possibly have good reasons for the decisions I make or that I when I get perfectly clear information it’s questioned as though I couldn’t have gotten it right. It’s not that the reasons matter more than the result, but that they act as teaching opportunities not to be missed. “Why did you do this that way? Oh I see, well here’s how we actually do it and here are better reasons.” This is the kind of transaction I expect as an apprentice.

Too much “are you sure that …” quickly comes off as “you can’t be trusted”. And if it’s the kind of information you don’t trust me to handle, then it’s best not to give it to me until you do. That’s how trust is built – small instances of giving responsibility while preserving the integrity of the results. At some point we have to leave room to be disappointed or for failure, and that means trusting the people you assign to the work with the work.

I want this to work, but no matter — I can’t help feel I’m an outsider. The friendly team, the great working relationship, the shared experiences …unless I’m an actual member of the team and not someone being evaluated to be thrown away in a few weeks, it’s impossible to feel part of it. I’m also somewhat of an outsider by default, something I remember becoming painfully aware of at the start of college years ago. It could be partly my own insecurity about that sort of thing. But this fear isn’t an illusion either — there’s reason to believe that this is actually the case based on some common interactions I’ve had with a particular person.

I’m questioning the whole 3-month contract thing. At first this seemed like a really ideal solution. What this lacks are any goal posts which would indicate to me and to my team that this relationship is on the track to a more permanent relationship. I don’t like this feeling. It’s like my life is on hold pending some arbitrary decision I won’t know about until it’s too late. I don’t think that’s good.

At the same time, being an apprentice and pilot for the GA mentoring program, perhaps I can improve the process. It just seems like I’ll be a casualty of it, even if it improves after me.

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