Getting To Know Yourself

To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.

Socrates

Before embarking on the job hunt, it helps to be prepared with a few things. There are the prescriptive aspects such as asking people if they are willing to give you a recommendation, and we’ll get to those, but before we do I need to ask you one thing: why.

I want to choose your next step in your career with careful deliberation. Once you have graduated college with a computer science degree or a software development bootcamp with a certificate, it can feel like the next step is to get a job. That’s the natural order of things.

I know I have been there, wanting to find any job because the wolf is at the door. The rent, car, and credit card payments don’t stop. Looking back, there has been a hidden cost to my desperation. Early in my career, I didn’t take the time to figure out who I was and why I was here, and I paid the expensive price of not spending my time as wisely as I could. And time is the only thing we haven’t figured out how to make more of, it’s our most precious resource, so I want you to learn from my mistakes.

Does this all sound aloof and a bit philosophical for a “getting hired as soon as possible” guide? It is not. I have seen how skipping the step of knowing who you are, why you are here, and what you want out life leads directly to spamming hundreds of companies with resumes and falling short of ever getting an interview, and then dropping out of the job hunt altogether to go back to whatever it was the job seeker was doing before. Searching for a job can be brutal and I want you to go in with full health and armor.

Your task is to set aside an hour and answer these two questions:

What are my values?

Values are long-lived core rules that you live by. Values are important because if you look for a job that doesn’t align with your values, you will not be satisfied with your job no matter how much you learn or how much you make. Values might include family, fun, generosity, innovation, or justice.

Brené  Brown has a list of common values to choose from. Pick just two, or include your own. For me, making a difference and growth. I fiercely want to leave this world better than I found it and I to continue to improve. That said, I also felt drawn to caring, future generations, growth, learning, curiosity, optimism, autonomy and others. Through the process of considering our values we can get an idea of what jobs will or won’t contribute to our fulfillment.

Why am I here?

By this I mean, “why am I here on this Earth,” “what is my purpose in life,” etc. Answering this should help you understand as you search for a job if you are getting closer or further away from your purpose. This is the action that comes from your values.

If one of your values is caring, perhaps you believe that the reason for being is to eradicate poverty. If you believe that, getting a job at a scissor manufacturer may not feel all that gratifying to you. Dig deep here. Write down a few ideas and pay attention to how attracted you are to them. Think about the year 1900 and the year 2100. Would your answer stay the same?

If it helps any, my biggest goal in life is to leave the world better than I found it. I know that is incredibly vague. This broad goal manifests itself in different ways. For example, in this very guide for helping junior software engineers land their first job. I would also say the ongoing climate crisis is also a big focus of mine; it’s one of the biggest questions for humanity that needs answering: how do we overcome our own impacts on the earth? How I leave the world better than I found it could change in 1900 and in 2100, but ultimately that core reason for being would stay the same.

Discovering Your Interests

You’ve broadly scoped your reason for being, which is fantastic. I’d also like you to write down your interests. Pay attention to what you pay attention to – how do you spend your free time? What kind of news do you read? Write down the websites, forums, YouTube videos, or other media you consume on a daily or weekly basis. Consider the categories or general areas that interest you. For me, it would be something like:

  • YouTube
    • Car News
    • Engineering Fundamentals
    • Scientific Discoveries
    • City Design
    • Tech To Solve The Climate Crisis
  • Websites
    • Electric Cars
    • Car news
    • Tech news
    • Hardware news

Designing Your Dream Work Day

I hated my alarm, especially when it screamed into the twilight for a second time after having been snoozed. Bleary-eyed, I got up to follow the scent of coffee into the kitchent at 6:00 AM. Sarah had been up for fifteen minutes and gave me the side eye for sleeping in while she had started breakfast. I took Carl and Bailey out for a short walk, grateful to escape the oppressive mood of the morning. The ride we took to the Metro station was quiet. In January, the platform was not touched by the sun while I waited. I rocked on my tiptoes and exhaled a chimney stack of breath hoping the Metro wouldn’t be late. Sliding into an empty seat, as we rode into the city the car became increasingly full. By the time we got to Farrugut West, it was standing room only.

At 8:00 AM, I walked into the swanky building and down the stairs into the remodeled basement. A clean, bright room without windows starts to feel like a cage given enough time. At 9:00 AM, we had done standup and explained what we were going to work on that day. More coding, as per usual. I enjoyed the freedom of working alone, but not necessarily the burden. The project was nearing an end and the deadline had slipped once, but the client was understanding. We were making progress but I just wanted it to be over so we could move onto the next project. I fixed a few bugs, at least I thought I fixed them. It would be a few days before our tester could come in and verify.

At 5:30 PM I headed out and walked through the whipping wind a quarter of a mile before gratefully ducking into the warmth of the metro station. The penalty for the heat was the accompanying odor of brake dust. The constant dust had settled into every dark nook and cranny of the cavernous station. I wondered if there was any relationship between riding the metro and lung cancer as two Metro trains slid by me, filled to the brim with humans.

Finally, at 6:10 PM I managed to get on a mostly full Metro car. Standing for the twenty-five minutes it took to take the Orange line out of the city meant there was no opportunity for reading. I listened to a podcast and tried to ignore the man bumping into me as the car swayed. Once I got to the station, I texted Sarah, who left home to come pick me up. Finally, at 6:45 PM I arrived home.

It went on like this, more or less, for three years. The years went by very quickly. There were good moments, weekends were fun, and I learned a lot. With the pressure of the job came a lot of growth for me, personally. I learned C#, learned a lot more about CSS, HTML, and JavaScript, and learned how to build projects from scratch again and again. But my time in DC also took their toll. I gained about 20 pounds. The novelty of dressing up a bit and going to work in the big city eventually became a grind. I appreciate a great deal about these times, but also I wonder if I could have learned more quickly about what I enjoyed and what was important to me.

Imagine your dream work day. Describe it in detail.

  • What time do you wake up?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you commute to work or work from home?
  • What do you before and after work?
  • What is it like at work?
  • What kind of a team do you work on?
  • What time do you leave work?
  • Are you working on many different projects or one big product or something else?

Answer these specific questions and then write out what a day is like for you in this dream job of mine. For me, a perfect work day might look like this:

I wake up at 7:45 AM. I make breakfast with my wife and do the Wordle, get a shower, and have enough time to do some writing or make some blog posts before work. At 9:30 AM, I get online at home and get prepared for standup at 9:45 AM. At standup, I talk with 5-6 other people on my team about a common goal that we’re working toward. We are a cross-functional team and can generate ideas, define features, build them, deliver them, and gather feedback as a unit. I then do pair programming with one of them for a couple hours to fix a feature and deliver it to production. At 1:00 PM I have lunch at home with my wife, and then walk into the office for the afternoon, which I’m able to get to in ten minutes or less. I then have a meeting with a few people from my team about defining a new feature and write some documentation. In the afternoon, I learn about a new technology and then leave at around 5:30 PM. On the way home I stop off for a pint with a friend. I invite my wife out and she comes, and so we both get home around 6:45 PM and put a pizza in the oven. After that, we watch a favorite show on Netflix, and I spend about an hour writing. Then I get ready for bed and read there until about 10:00 PM and go to sleep.

Believe it or not, this describes pretty closely what my current work is like. It took me a while to get here and what I want my perfect work day to look like could change in the future. For now, I’m grateful I get to work how I’ve always wanted to – with intensity, but also without running myself ragged.

Take the time to figure out what you would want your typical work day to look like, as it will help you again to narrow your focus as you look for a job.