How to become a better professional

What most successful professionals have in common is a great attitude and strong work ethic that help them improve and progress on their careers. Let’s see a few ways to do it.

Have a good attitude

People with great attitude and no so good skills perform much better than others that are more skilled and don’t care. Whatever you do, try to do the best that you can and show that you are willing to learn from your mistakes and do it better the next time.

Focus on quality

Some people try to do stuff as fast as they can so they can get more done or they can go home early, and then others struggle fixing or maintaining what they have done. Paying attention to the detail, testing thoroughly and writing good code will take a bit more time but it will pay off because you won’t have to go back later to it and it will take less time to maintain it in the future. Learning best practices is an investment that will help you through your career.

Try again and again

You may not get things right the first time but you will achieve it if you keep trying. Masters were once novices who improved learning from others and trying until the became experts.

Discuss things that sound wrong

Some people just do what they are told to do without thinking much about it and then deliver a different solution to what was expected. If something feels wrong or doesn’t seem to fit in the project, discuss it with your team or your manager. It could be that either you have understood wrong the requirements or they have missed something. Remember that Steve Jobs didn’t become great because he was smart but because he discussed ideas with his team until he thought that they were right.

Help those around you

We succeed as a team and fail as a team. You may be overwhelmed with a tight deadline but if someone of your team gets blocked and needs help, it is better pause and help so they can continue working. The goals of the team are always more important than your individual ones, and being a good team player will make you be considered better and allow you to promote.

Remove distractions

We are in the age of social media and have notifications all the time from family and friends, but they can wait until we go for lunch or finish work. We can disconnect the internet connection of our phones so nothing distracts us when we are totally focused on a task. Nowadays we also have communication tools at work like Slack that shows alerts all the time, but we can silence them and look to them when we take a  break.

Get out of your comfort zone

We all know that there are tasks that are less exciting or in which we don’t have experience and would require us to make extra efforts (e.g. spending time at home learning about them). Great professionals don’t become better doing easy things, they do it taking every challenge as an opportunity to grow and become better, and that increases their self confidence for the next time that they have a challenge as they know they will be able to do it.

Go the extra mile

Sometimes we have to stay until late because a project was underestimated or we are still not fast enough because we haven’t done certain tasks before. While that shouldn’t be the norm (that would mean that there is bad management that doesn’t estimate the work well), it is ok to stay a bit later if we have to meet a deadline. Our families and friends may tell us to leave as we are not paid extra time, but think that you are not doing it for the money but to help the team and gain strength that will allow you to succeed on future stressing projects.

Don’t take corrections personally

When people do the effort to correct us it is because they want to help us improve our skills and do it better the next time. Take those corrections in a positive way as they are opportunities to improve and become a better professional.

The world is not against you

Some people may think that others don’t help them or are more strict with them because they have a different background, they come from a different country, etc. While this could happen, it would be a very rare case. Most of the time others push us more because we are new to the team and they want us to learn good practices or get up to speed faster, or don’t help as soon as we ask because they want us to do the effort to learn by ourselves. Also they may be in projects that are very important for the team and have tight deadlines, and may not have time at that moment to help with a task that you may think that is important but it is not really relevant to the team. Remember that most people are nice and want to help others and if they don’t do it is because they really can’t.

Be fair

There are people that we like more than others because we have more similar personalities. However we should be fair and manage and evaluate everyone the same way. If they need help or we have to evaluate their progression, we should focus on what they have done and what they have tried to do to improve and help the team.

Be honest

At the beginning of our careers we may try to impress others and act like we know how to do everything. This usually backfires quite soon and just shows a lack of self confidence. if someone asks if you we know how to do something, it is better to be honest and say the truth and show that we are willing to learn, instead of creating false expectations.

Avoid surprises

If you don’t know how to do something ask for help or try on your own and then ask someone to check if it is correct. This is better than crossing fingers and hoping for the best as people won’t be happy if things go wrong and you didn’t alert about them.

Compete against yourself

Some people may look more talented because they are better at public speaking or coding. However most of the times is not about natural talent but skills that they have spent time improving. Try to learn from them and see how you can do it better, but don’t try to be the best one as there will be always someone better than you at certain areas. Try instead to be better than how you were a few months or years ago, as it will allow you to get the skills and the self confidence that will allow you get better positions in the future.

Keep learning

The world is changing faster than ever due to internet and what we learned a couple of years ago may not be relevant anymore. Everyday appear new technologies and methodologies that allow us to perform better, so we should try to keep up to date reading newsletters, watching videos or assisting to meetups.

Conclusion

We can be good professionals doing what we are told to do or become great ones doing a bit of extra effort while keeping a good work-life balance. Is up to you to decide what you aspire to become in the future and what you are willing to do to get there.

Rafael Borrego

Software engineer specialised in working for startups and helping them grow.

Disclaimer: the posts are based on my own experience and may not reflect the views of my current or any previous employer

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