Start the conversation

This is a guest post from Tae Kim. Enjoy.

Heyo!

So you’ve entered the world of… development? Software engineering? Programming? Coding? So many words for the same thing! I usually stick with “Software Engineering” for the resume because that sounds the fanciest, and fancy === money. But when my friends or family ask, I say that I do “computer stuff”. That usually works.

You’re probably thinking, “wow… what lame advice”. But you’ll see. You’ll see…

So about me! I’m Tae. At the time of writing this letter to my fantastic reader (YOU!), I’ve been developing for about 6 and a half years. I work at Airbnb in Silicon Valley. (If you haven’t seen the show yet (Silicon Valley on HBO), I highly recommend it. First season was the best, but you gotta watch ‘em all.) I primarily work in the Frontend realm, typing my 1’s and 0’s in Javascript and React. If you are still playing with jQuery… stop that and learn React. Trust.

But enough about me-self! Today I’m going to give you my one piece of advice. The one thing that I do that makes me successful at my job. It’s not coding really really fast. Nor is it knowing how to implement Quick Sort in O(n log n) time. It could be that my JIRA velocity is off the charts – but it’s not. No no no. It’s something far more crazy. Something far more insaneeee! It’s this…

When I’m at a good stopping point from my work, I step away from my desk, walk over to a random teammate (sometimes a random person), and ask, “Heyo, whatcha working on?”. Bat shit crazy right?!?

Well, the responses vary from person to person.

You sometimes get a short answer like “Oh, just fixing this bug. *turns back to monitor and puts on headphones*”. That’s totally OK, they are probably in the zone and you should slowly walk away. Try not to judge them too hard. *whispers asshole under breathe*

Other times, they have something super rad to show off like “Yo! I just fixed this crazy bug in IE. Check it out!”. These responses are awesome because you can dig in and learn something new. That same bug will show up in your work, it’s just a matter of time.

Then there are times when they say, “Yo… I have to fix this bug but have no idea what to do :sadface:”. That’s a great time to sit down and pair on a hard problem. Maybe you don’t know the answer, but you can be there for both support and as a Rubber Ducky (google: rubber ducky programming). Don’t be afraid to pull in other people around you and have a group brain sesh too, those are the best! #teamwork

These types of responses aren’t actually why I give this advice though. Learning and helping is great, don’t get me wrong! But this action is more than that.

You are being a teammate. You are building relationships. You are creating culture.

I know I know. How can a single question create culture? That’s nonsense!!! And I agree. But it’s a great start. It’s the doorway if you will. Once you enter, you then gotta walk the hall, turn into the dining room, sit down, and start eating. No really, grab a meal with your teammates too.

Sorry if that didn’t make any sense. I do that sometimes.

What I’m trying to say is that if you are genuinely interested in your teammates, they’ll recognize this. They will appreciate this. It’ll lead to way more than a simple IE bug fix. Hell, it might even lead to a new best friend!

I don’t think we join a company to sit at our desks alone, heads down, without wanting to speak to anyone. I think we’re just not comfortable making the first move.

But if someone begins the conversation, we’re very willing to reciprocate.

So start the conversation! Get people interacting! That’s what culture is. That’s what a fun work environment is. Ping pong tables? Those aren’t culture. Those are doorways to get culture (I know, the damn doorway metaphor again).

Airbnb has a slogan of “Belong Anywhere”. At first, I thought it was some cheesy line that our CEO preached. But I get it now. Especially in the world of developers, where it’s so easy to get sucked into your computer. It’s very easy to become siloed.

Nobody wants to go home thinking “Man, I don’t really have friends at work” or “Aw shucks, nobody said hi to me today”. That would suck.

Instead, what if they went home thinking “Oh man, I’m really glad I got to work with <insert your name here> today” or “Wow, I really love my team”. That would rock.

So be that spark. Create that culture. Because you are fucking awesome.

Tae

P.S. Say “Good morning” and “Good night” when you come in and leave. It’s better that way. Trust.

Tae Kim does computer things at AirBNB.

Use a Conversational Hook When Networking With Strangers

Dear new developer,

Work on your network. It will help you in numerous ways as you progress in your career. Whatever you are looking for: a new job, to hire someone, to get a mentor, to learn about a new technology, having a list of people that you know and/or have worked with that you can reach out to will help you accomplish your goals.

But it can be tough, especially if you are awkward around people. I am awkward around people and learned how to be less awkward. My main technique is to both give and ask for a “hook” in any conversation I start.

Here’s a typical “networking” conversation of which I’ve had many:

Dan: Hi, I’m Dan.

Jan: Hi, I’m Jan.

Dan: Where do you work?

Jan: I work at Company X. Where do you work?

Dan: Company Y.

<crickets>

Compare that with this conversation:

Dan: Hi, I’m Dan.

Jan: Hi, I’m Jan.

Dan: Where do you work?

Jan: I work at Company X. Where do you work?

Dan: Company Y. We recently launched website Z and are evaluating technology ABC. What has your company recently rolled out?

See the difference? Dan has provided Jan with two avenues for conversation–one is asking further about technology ABC or website Z, and the other is talking about Company X. Jan can decide where to take the conversation, but Dan has provided the start of it.

Learning this trick, which comes naturally to many many people, changed the way I network. Another thing that mattered was my realization that everyone, every single person, has an interesting story or anecdote to tell, and that I can learn something. That understanding has made conversation much more fun.

Sincerely,

Dan